Review of J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

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Genre: Biography

Recommended.

This biography of Tolkien’s life, writing, and faith is certainly interesting, though not as impressive as I had expected. Tolkien had a hard life. He experienced the loss of both parents and many friends, and had to work very hard to earn himself an education and to make enough to support his family. This biography was successful in capturing the essence of his life and character, but did not go above and beyond that mark.

It is a well-researched snapshot into Tolkien’s life. There could have been more regarding his Christian faith (especially considering this is part of the Christian Encounters Series). I am not convinced by this work that his faith was actually a driving force to his life and writing, though the book does describe him as having strong convictions regarding the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless it was certainly an appealing and worthwhile read, especially for its short length, and I feel I learned a bit about Tolkien’s life and its reflection in his writing. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the basics of Tolkien’s life, and although many details of his literary works are discussed, I think it would be easy to follow without being familiar with his writing.

I received a complimentary ebook as a part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogging Program through booksneeze.com.

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Is God Good? (Part Four: Why didn’t Jesus abolish slavery?)

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The slavery question is complex, but I want to share a few thoughts regarding why Jesus didn’t outright abolish slavery and why slavery is not advocated against in the New Testament.

Throughout scripture, God typically works from the inside out. He’s a God that cares that the cup is clean first on the inside and then on the outside. Outside appearance (if one seems good) is much less important than the heart of a person (if ones thoughts and desires are good). When it comes to slavery, it is the same idea.

How can we transform a corrupt and wicked system? Can we do it by forcing people to follow set rules and patterns? This almost never works. I don’t think many people would advocate slavery as an ethical system irregardless of their views on slavery for productivity or economical reasons. Yet, various forms of slavery have and do exist. It seems such tendencies of selfishness and ownership go hand in hand with human nature. And if this is the case–if slavery is a manifestation of unethical thoughts and desires within certain people–then the solution is to change those thoughts and desires. Would it be possible to transform the hearts of the masters to such an extent that they willingly set their slaves free? If so, this would be more efficient than forcing abolition.

So, instead of coming to the masters (the rich, the intelligent, the beautiful, the healthy, the prosperous), Jesus comes to the slaves (the poor, the weary, the beaten, the imprisoned, the prostitutes, those in physical slavery). Instead of dictating a system of rules to the ones who lead the world, He comes to the ones who are owned and weak and weary within the system. And what would you say to those ones? Slavery is wrong, it should be abolished? This is obvious. No need to tell the slave that he shouldn’t be owned–he knows that already. Instead, Jesus gave to the slaves and the lowly–to everyone who would listen–a better gift: an inner freedom.

Jesus did free the slaves, but He freed them from feeling oppressed. He promises that in Him is fullness of joy, perfect love, unprecedented peace, and hope that one day the corrupt system will be overturned in a physical way when He comes again to rule as King of the earth. This is an inside out process. The slaves receive freedom beyond what their masters are capable of experiencing. Oh the irony that those who think they are free are not while those who are physically oppressed can be free! But then the slaves can pass this freedom on to the masters, and as the masters are renewed internally they can begin to change the system. In this way, the weak minister to the strong. It is one of the great biblical paradoxes.

The fullness of this process has not yet come. God is still working to grant freedom to new hearts. But a time is coming when everyone picks a side–for God or against Him–and when that time comes, the Lord Himself will return to earth to free us in a physical way from the corruption of the world systems.

??Be sure to also read Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this series.

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Review of Safely Home (10th Anniversary Edition) by Randy Alcorn

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Highly Recommended!

American business executive Ben Fielding seeks out his Chinese college roommate Li¬†Quan in order to gain business strategies by living amongst the Chinese people. But Li Quan is a Christian involved with illegal house churches and Ben Fielding does not understand his former roommate’s faith or the lengths he goes through to keep it. The story closely examines persecution and the gospel message while painting a comparison of the American and Chinese churches and lifestyles.

This is both an exhilarating story and a challenging glimpse into spiritual realities. I was encouraged and provoked by the story and especially valued the new insights emanating from the dialog. Safely Home is beautifully written and strongly felt.

I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of the Tyndale Blog Network.

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Review of The Final Hour by Andrew Klavan

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Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure

Series: Book Four of the Homelanders Series

Recommended.

I’ve really enjoyed Klavan’s Homelanders Series and this final book is an excellent end to a suspenseful and action-packed story. Teen super-hero Charlie West is in one of the most dangerous prisons in the country for a crime he didn’t commit. And amidst his struggle to stay alive in prison, he is also one of the only people left with knowledge of an upcoming terrorist attack on America. He struggles through his fear and circumstances in order to save the people in this creative and fantastic adventure.

Each book in this series brings a piece of the mystery and character of Charlie West. It’s not a “deep” story so much as it is action-packed, but many important issues are brought up in the realms of faith, politics, violence, war and terrorism, patriotism, good versus evil, and even identity. As a mother, this is the kind of story I’d want to discuss with my teenagers after each book, and I am pleased that The Final Hour does have a Reading Group Guide for further reflection.

I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogging Program through booksneeze.com.

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Review of The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan

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Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure

Series: Book Three of the Homelanders Series

Recommended.

This third book of the Homelanders Series opens as Charlie West finds the man he’s been looking for–the one he believes will be able to fill him in on the gaps in his memory. But as Charlie is slowly able to piece together his memories, the plot thickens, and the adventure grows even more intense.

This series is really intended for teenage boys or tomboys (middle school-high school), but as a woman and mother, I found it to be enjoyable light reading. The stories should really be read in order as they build on each other, and I’d also recommend that parents of teenage readers use the Reading Group Guide to discuss the book further with their young adults since the stories provide an easy and excellent opportunity to talk about some very important issues including faith, morality, and patriotism.

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Review of The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan

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Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure

Series: Book Two of the Homelanders Series

Recommended.

The Homelanders Series continues with this second book as teen hero and fleeing fugitive Charlie West makes his way home to investigate the murder he was falsely charged with and to re-connect with his girlfriend, Beth. The action and suspense climax along with the character development as the confused and amnesic Charlie tries to figure out who he is, who the good guys are, and what he should do next.

This was one of my favorite books of the series because the budding romance added another layer to the story, and also because it ended neatly with some resolutions despite the remaining mysteries.

This book, unfortunately, didn’t have a Reading Group Guide as the previous and latter books do. With all the books in this series, I think there is an excellent opportunity for parents to discuss the book and it’s elements with their teenage readers. And certainly, this book, which delves deeply into questions of identity, morality, faith and patriotism, is an important one not to overlook.

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Review of The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

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Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure

Series: Book One of the Homelanders Series

Recommended.

Teenager Charlie West wakes up strapped to a chair after being tortured by terrorists and can’t remember how he got there. As he tries desperately to escape, he replays his final memories, looking for clues to how his normal teenage life transformed so suddenly.

This all-action book reads like a nightmare where the bad guys chase the good guy from one terrific scene to the next. There’s not much character development and the story is quite fun but a bit outrageous. If all the books were like this one, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Homelanders Series, however, it does set up a great mystery which carries on with more strength in the next three books.

As a parent of (so far) one young boy, I was constantly considering how I’d feel about my son reading this as a teenager. I imagine that to a teenage boy (or girl), this book would be quite thrilling and suspenseful, though as a Christian parent I would want to discuss the violence, possible eastern religious influences of karate, the character’s faiths and spiritualities, and a few of the other plot elements. There is a Reading Group Guide included, which I think would make an excellent start to these discussions.

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Review of Why God Won’t Go Away: Is New Atheism Running on Empty? by Alister McGrath

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Genre: Spiritual Growth/Academic Theology

Recommended.

Why God Won’t Go Away is a great introduction to New Atheism, how it was started, and what these particular Atheists believe. (There are several groupings of Atheists just as there are many sects of Christians and this book focuses specifically on New Atheism.) It is not too thorough–as I said, it’s a great introduction–but this would be an excellent resource for the Christian who wants to understand the basics. It is clearly written, logically presented, offers many interesting and philosophical ideas for further thought, and has an exceptional list of both Christian and Atheist materials throughout the footnotes and Further Reading section. I would premise that this is not really a debate or even reply to New Atheism, rather, a critical view of their position and mission intended for the Christian audience (or any person looking into New Atheism from an outside perspective).

McGrath is a former Atheist, now Christian, who currently engages in public debates with prominent Atheists as well as being renowned for his scholarly theological work. I was particularly impressed with McGrath’s kind and humble acknowledgement of the Atheist intellectuals despite his disagreement with their thoughts and pronouncements. I felt he was fair and rational in his critique and opinion that New Atheism is in decline. I look forward to reading his other books!

I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogging Program through booksneeze.com.

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