Of all the Reacher books I have read so far, I liked this one least. I had a difficult time deciding if I should rate this book three stars or two stars. I finally decided on two stars. I primarily have two reasons for the low rating: the over-used modern literary trope of the evil preacher (or lay preacher in this case) and the implausible ending.
The over-used trope led to a number of contradictions in my view. The story portrayed a lay preacher (Thurman) who believed he had the key to understanding the Book of Revelation and it’s prediction of the future, yet felt he had to help events along by setting off a depleted uranium bomb designed to blame the Iranians for the blast and start a global apocalyptic conflict. To me this is inherently contradictory. He believed the prophecy yet acted as if he did not.
The ending was also implausible. Thurman, the lay preacher and his workers, had assembled this bomb containing twenty tons of TNT surrounded by depleted uranium in a container that had been welded shut. The TNT was triggered by a simple cell phone. As soon as the cell phone number was called, the detonator exploded. No security code, simply a phone call. Who would do such a thing? A wrong number, a telemarketer auto-dialing numbers in a particular area code, even Thurman’s cell phone provider asking how he liked their service, would set off this explosion off prematurely.
To add implausibility on top of implausibility, Reacher told Thurman he was going to dial the detonator number. A steel container completely shields microwaves. If the cell phone is outside the container, all Thurman had to do was disconnect the phone. If the phone was inside the container, Thurman only needed to disconnect the external antenna to deactivate the bomb. He had considerable time to deactivate the trigger but did nothing until he and the whole complex was destroyed by Reacher’s phone call from several miles away. Why assume Reacher won’t call?
Having said that I enjoy novels that, as a side benefit, explore science, theology or philosophy. There was some of that here with Reacher the Preacher attempting to put Thurman in his place with some well-placed theological one liners. That was the best part of the book for me. Reacher’s one liners and statements deserve some thinking about and make up for some of the plot deficiencies.
Perhaps it was because I am reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent book Amazing Grace that the words of the hymn Amazing Grace (John Newton, the ex-slaver-Christian-convert likely influenced William Wilberforce to work to eliminate the slave trade) struck me so forcefully at the Good Friday service at my church The Meeting House in Oakville.
It was the lines:
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
It struck me how often this sequence of “ grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is followed.
The fear of the crucifixion … was followed by the joy of the resurrection
John Newton’s fear that his sins were too great to be forgiven … was followed by the joyful revelation that grace is greater than all his sin
The Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus had to endure the fear of blindness … until grace restored his sight and gave him a new mission [Acts 9]
When Peter, James, and John fell on their faces, terrified at the transfiguration … Jesus touched them and said “rise and have no fear.” [Matthew 17:1-13 ESV]
When Isaiah in his vision of the LORD was compelled to cry out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” … one of the seraphim touching Isaiah on the mouth with a burning coal was able to say: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” [Isaiah 6]
For me this pattern of “grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is important. The first step teaches how dangerous my current state is and how insufficient I am to rescue myself, while the second proves that my rescue is taken care of by someone who loves me. All I have to do is give my honest permission.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
David Kinnaman is president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches. Along with his co-author Gabe Lyons, Kinnaman and Lyons use a host of polling data to build the case that Christians are viewed as extreme and irrelevant by American society.
Kinnaman and Lyons then go on to describe, based on their own investigations, the best way for churches to fulfill their historic mission of following the teaching of Christ while benefiting society and relating to a society given that they are painted as extreme and irrelevant. Churches ought to continue to contribute to the betterment of society as a whole through their charitable work.
Every church that I have been a part of over the years has, of course, done this to some degree (my wife and I have had fellowship with many different denominations in Canada), but now a church’s participation in a charitable event either alone or in partnership with others will almost never be recognized as such by the media. The church’s involvement will either be unrecognized altogether or the charitable activity will be treated as if it is unrelated to the church’s main mission (of course it is not). The message for me is to recognize this charitable connection in other church organizations and to point it out, since the media will not.
For me the most helpful discussion was found in Chapter 7 on how to respond to modern secularism which works to banish all religious expression from the public square on the grounds the very presence of religious expression would be offensive to some members of the public. Kinnaman and Lyons advocate on behalf of a view by John D. Inazu which is called Confident Pluralism or Principled Pluralism. A metaphor of a potluck dinner is used to explain this concept. Everyone is able to bring their best and favorite dish to the potluck, but no one is required to try any dish. So everyone, regardless of their World View is allowed to participate and present their best in the public sphere but no one is required to subscribe to that view or participate in whatever activity that view engenders. This has been helpful for me but means we all need to champion access to the public sphere for all views, not just our own.
In summary, I had some points of disagreement with the authors, but I appreciated their data-driven approach to the subject. Their description of Principled Pluralism as a common ground in the public sphere was most helpful. I very much recommend this book to others.
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I received some bad news yesterday. I learned from my publisher that the vendor that was producing the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation has declared bankruptcy (I don’t even know the vendor’s name). This is particularly unfortunate since the editing of the audio edition was 98% complete (as I understand it, even after the audio editing is complete, there was still a good deal of post editing processing to do before it would be ready for download and sale). The only significant piece missing was an audio list of the dormitories at Halcyon University that were all named after famous philosophers. Unfortunately many of the unusual names were mispronounced in the last audio mp3 and needed to be corrected.
In all of this, I must say my partnership publisher Word Alive Press has acted with grace and integrity. I appreciate this very much, since this was their loss as much as it was mine (perhaps more so). Going through this painful experience has underlined for me why I remain a loyal partner of Word Alive Press.
I’m going to go through my various bios and descriptions to look for places where I had promised that the audio version of The Halcyon Dislocation will be coming out soon so that I can delete those expressions of hope and avoid raising unrealistic expectations. I will do my best to be thorough, but if I miss one or two, I hope my readers will be understanding.