Category Archives: Authors

Now That the Movie THE SHACK is Coming Out in theaters …

shack-cover-noncomm-no-modI published this post a while ago when I first read The Shack. The original post was lost when my WordPress server had to be decommissioned. Now that the movie version is coming out, this may be of interest.

‘The Shack’ by William P. Young

Warning: If you haven’t read The Shack and are planning to read it, leave this review until later since I do discuss the content.

My overall rating is 4 stars. The Shack is a thought-provoking book well worth reading.

The Shack is a novel that tackles very difficult questions in a way that puts the reader in the very middle of the action and challenges him to tackle the questions in a personal way..

Mackenzie Allen Phillips lost his young daughter to a serial killer. MacKenzie called this trauma, which tormented his life, THE GREAT SADNESS. One day he receives a letter from Papa (his wife’s personal name for God) that invites Mackenzie to meet ‘Papa’ at the shack in the woods where Missy, his daughter, was brutally murdered. The shack is the last place in the world he wants to go, but eventually he decides to go without telling his wife.

God appears as three people (Papa, Jesus and another woman called Sarayu (wind)). Mackenzie is able to watch them interact, watch them serve him, and answer his questions. What Young achieves are scenes that are not simplistic, but rather convey to the readers the complexity of fashioning and then sustaining a world that has free will, independent agents that make moral choices (e.g. human beings) and God. Although God is All Powerful and Good yet He still has to work within His own rules and His own character and honor the free choices made by human beings.

For me, this book caused me to think about who God is and how simplistic my own caricatures of Him are because of the unconscious assumptions I bring to the table when I think about Him. For example, as C. S. Lewis has pointed out somewhere, in God moral character and will must coincide in some fashion. For human beings, morality is something objective that is above us, and we have a duty to obey these moral imperatives. However, if God had moral imperatives in the same sense we have, then He wouldn’t be God, since the moral law would be above Him. On the other hand if moral law were simply an invention by God, it would be arbitrary. As I read the book, I had to grapple with this conundrum. I saw that this fusion of morality and will in God is one of the things that puts Him beyond my understanding.

If you go to amazon.com, and read comments on this book, you will find many that laud it, and some that most emphatically do not. Some of the objections are theological. Respondents argue that the book fails to properly account for some point of theology. I think that claim is fair, but it misses the point. Young has written a novel and wanted to bring us into an interaction with the person of God in a new way. I think it is better to learn what one can from the book, without trying to make it into a theological treatise.

If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, I would like to know what you thought of it.

 

A Response to Stuart Aken’s Blog on “Why are we required to respect religion?”

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Writer Stuart Aken, in his blog entitled I’d Like to Know: Why? #3 Religion, asks the provocative question: “Why are We Required to Respect Religion?” This question is of interest to me as a Christ-follower (even though I would not characterize myself as religious—I know other people would characterize me in that way).
As I thought about Mr. Aken’s blog, it led me to think about how the phrasing of the question channels the responses that this question elicits. It’s always handy to set up a contest or a discussion so that only one side is given the bows and arrows while the other is left only with a shield. It’s like a Canadian or American football game where the rules of the contest allow only one team to play offence (and hence is best set up to score points) while the other is perpetually on defense. I think such a rule-based asymmetry is neither sporting nor does it readily necessarily let the better team prevail.

If one looks at the question in its current form, then Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other adherents of a religion are on trial to justify their beliefs and explain why their beliefs merit respect, but atheists, agnostics, materialists, and secularists are excluded from scrutiny by the form of the question itself.
It seems to me a more instructive and fairer form of the question would be: “Why should I respect the World View of others when their World View differs from my own?” In this context I use “World View” to mean how I and others view reality. I think this re-configuring of the question has important advantages:

1. Now everyone, religious and agnostic alike has a chip in the game and has beliefs that may be called into question.
2. It ought to be understood that everyone intrinsically believes that their World View best explains the real world (material and spiritual).
3. Any criticism that is leveled at another World View can also properly be asked of one’s own. So if one asks if religious world views are prone to violence, one has to ask if one’s own World View is different in this regard and why.
4. In this kind of a discussion, if one begins to believe that many of the key things one genuinely believes about the nature of reality are wrong, this will be a very unsettling development for everyone who experiences it—not just religious people.
5. Finally, I think it prevents participants in the discussion from making the disastrous mistake of assuming that all religions are really the same, merely because they are religions. Even within a religion there may be substantial differences in World View by adherents because of differences in emphasis, in interpretation of sacred texts, in theology, or by reconciliation with other sources of evidence.

Thank you Mr. Aken for raising this important topic. Perhaps as time becomes available, I will be able to give my perspective on some of the other follow-on questions you raised in your post.

Peter’s Review of THE KINGDOM: HERE BE DRAGONS, HERE BE DREAMS

The Kingdom: Here Be Dragons, Here Be DreamsThe Kingdom: Here Be Dragons, Here Be Dreams by Joanne Rolston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy reading independent works by authors who are beginning their writing journey. The combination of autobiography and fantasy (my favorite genre) intrigued me. I thought I would give Rolston’s book a chance and I was delighted. The book is well-written and immediately drew me in. Once I started I could not put it down. I rated it a four out of five stars meaning I enjoyed it enough to read again and again.

Why did I like it so much? It has been difficult to put it into words. On reflection I think I was intrigued that I was reading about real-life events that happened to a real person. On the other hand, it was written in the third person and so gave an analytical and objective perspective that I appreciated. It was filled with many remarkable occurrences that Materialists would ascribe to improbable coincidence and Christ-followers to providence. Mirroring the objective description of what was happening in the “seen world” was the insightful interaction with the King in the unseen world. The interweaving of the two was a delight and very thought-provoking for me.

In summary I would highly recommend this book whether you have an interest in the spiritual or not. It provides a profound and exciting view of one person’s life, both trauma and triumphs. It provides insight into the role the unseen plays in some people’s lives. I recommend it without reservation.

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THE HALCYON DISLOCATION featured on Kay MacLeod’s Indie Advent Calendar

THD-2_Front_PageMy novel The Halcyon Dislocation was featured on December 19th on Kay MacLeod’s Indie Advent Calendar. Why not check it out?

Check Out Featured Indie Authors at Kay MacLeod’s Author Advent Calendar

advent-calendar-indieFantasy author, Kay MacLeod had a wonderful idea—why not set up an online advent calendar that features Indie authors from many different genres?

It starts today. Why not check it out?

Review of Jean Chamberlain-Froese and Patricia Paddey’s GAME CHANGERS

Here is my review recently published on Goodreads:

The Game Changers: True Stories About Saving Mothers & Babies In East AfricaThe Game Changers: True Stories About Saving Mothers & Babies In East Africa by Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Game Changers is a powerful and moving book that gives a snapshot of the lives of key leaders, healthcare workers, and teachers in Uganda as they struggle to solve the huge problem mother-and-child deaths during pregnancy and delivery. Through the lives of front line workers, Dr. Jean Chamberlain-Froese (the founder of Save The Mothers) and Patricia Paddey (a journalist) provide heart-wrenching accounts of the magnitude of the problem as well as a look at the courageous men and women that are working to solve it in East Africa.

This book will move you and also give you a sense of hope as you see the commitment of these Ugandans, see how their deep faith moves them to action, and marvel at the progress that has already been made. It will also leave you (as it did me) with a profound sense of gratitude that we are not forced to go through the same trials here. The Gamer Changers is worth reading several times and can also be picked up and read in short sittings. I highly recommend it.
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On Steven Erikson’s Preface to GARDENS OF THE MOON

gardens-of-the-moon-coverI’ve just started reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (Steven Erikson is the pseudonym of Steve Rune Lundin). My edition has a preface by Erikson telling a little bit about how the story came about.

As an author, its always interesting and instructive to read other people’s descriptions of how their stories took shape. One quote in particular caught my eye and got me thinking. Erikson was explaining why his book took a long time to get published and he mentioned how “Gardens marked a departure from the usual tropes of the genre [fantasy]”, and he went on to say that his work followed in the footsteps of Glen Cook …

“I could certainly strive for the same tone of dispirited, wry cynicism, the same ambivalence and a similar sense of atmosphere [in Cook’s books]. Maybe I was aware of the swing away from Good versus Evil, but that just seemed a by-product of growing up—the real world’s not like that, why persist in making Fantasy worlds so fundamentally disconnected with reality?”

Now I haven’t read Glen Cook’s books and I must say reading a story with a “tone of dispirited, wry cynicism” is not a comment on a book’s back cover that would move me to rush to acquire it. But is Erikson right? Is the sense of a battle between Good and Evil that’s so central to The Lord of the Rings “fundamentally disconnected with reality” as Erikson states?

I don’t think he is right. First of all, the nature of reality is not a settled question, otherwise we would all agree on it’s exact nature. Now what I believe Mr. Erikson is saying that in his understanding of the nature of reality, Good versus Evil is a view that he discarded as he grew older.

As a theist and a Christ-follower my convictions about the reality of a cosmic battle between Good and Evil have only grown stronger as I have grown older. I live with great hope. It’s not that I don’t see the pain and suffering around me (indeed Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings had a great deal of loss, pain, and suffering) but I believe we are somewhere in the middle of our story, and so we feel like the defenders in the last desperate hours of the siege of Minas Tirith or Frodo and Sam felt as they set out on the last impossible attempt to the Cracks of Doom. But its not the end of the story. There is an ending coming where Good triumphs over evil. Those are my convictions about reality which give me great optimism. Given my view of the nature of reality it seems to me it makes good sense to write stories that have exactly those story lines.

Steven Erikson’s book has already given me much to think about. I expect to have more to contemplate as I progress through the story.

I’d be grateful if you checked out my books at Amazon.

Review of SKY GHOSTS: THE NIGHT BEFORE

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before (Sky Ghosts #0.5)Sky Ghosts: The Night Before by Alexandra Engellmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sky Ghosts are superhuman freedom fighters that clandestinely fight renegades of their kind (beasts) in order to protect the innocents, that is the rest of us, from the beast’s depredations. Sky Ghosts: The Night Before, like the sequel is filled with non-stop action, martial arts and blade combat interspersed with gallows humor. I enjoy that and I find Alexandra Engellmann handles the action scenes very well.

This novella (my e-book was 40 pages) is easy to read at one sitting and will let you know if you want to go on to the much more substantial Sky Ghosts: All for One.

As I understand it, from Alexandra Engellmann’s biography, english is not her first language. I would not know that from the quality of the writing. Indeed, I had a few complaints about word construction and unexpected point of view changes in my review of Sky Ghosts: All for One, but I find these little grammatical intrusions have disappeared in this later work.

A word of caution: I enjoy stories with lots of action. This one has a  lot of “hacking and hewing” mainly of beasts. At times the language is also quite strong.

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Review of SKY GHOSTS: ALL FOR ONE

Sky Ghosts: All for One (Sky Ghosts, #1)Sky Ghosts: All for One by Alexandra Engellmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sky Ghosts: All for One is a fast-paced, action-filled fantasy that kept me engaged from the beginning to the end. The beings, Sky Ghosts, are a faction of super humans (they can fly, have extraordinary strength, and can heal themselves of injury) that at night battle their evil counterparts (Beasts), led by a corrupted, but very powerful former Sky Ghost called Eugene.

The story begins with a fortuitous rescue of two regular humans (Chad and Dave) by Sky Ghosts Jane and Pain (Patricia) in New York City. As the story unfolds, Dave and Chad have an interest to Eugene that causes him to do his best to kill them. Their protection and ultimate significance to the Sky Ghost cause is the enduring theme of the story.

My rating of three stars means that I liked the story a lot, but would not read it a second time. This really should have been a four star story (meaning I would come back to read it over and over again). However, the author often changes point of view within a scene so, as a reader, I’m surprised suddenly to find myself in different character’s head. There are also grammatical imperfections and sometimes the wrong word is used.

Having said that, I found this story contained a wonderful, exciting plot, with characters I found interesting and that I cared about. If you like fast-paced, plot-driven fantasy with strong female leads, I think you would enjoy this book.

A word of caution: I enjoy stories with lots of action. This one has a  lot of “hacking and hewing” mainly of beasts. At times the language is also quite strong.
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Personal Thoughts on Peter Kreeft’s BACK TO VIRTUE.

I have previously published my review of Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Back to Virtue. In this post I wanted to provide a more personal view of how the book changed or perhaps broadened my thinking. At one point, Kreeft talked about how Christianity brought together the best of what Hebrew, Greek, and pagan thought and tradition had to offer. This is depicted in the diagram below (reworked to capture my own musings on this important idea from a similar diagram in the book).Christian Nexus

The Hebrew Foundation

If one reads the New Testament, one can’t help but notice how Christianity is grounded on, and grew forth from Hebrew history, revelation, and practice. All of the very early Christians were Jewish. The Old Testament is cited again and again in the New. Even the Christians called out of Greek and pagan backgrounds were steeped in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. When Paul spoke in 2 Timothy 3:16 about “all scripture,” he was primarily referring to the Old Testament.
Jesus had to be born into Jewish society because they had a high view of God: his Oneness and His creation of the world out of nothing. Had Jesus been born in Athens, as pantheists and polytheists, they would have happily put Jesus alongside Zeus and so missed the whole point of the incarnation. The shocking incredulity of the Jewish mindset to the incarnation was absolutely necessary for us to get the message and import of what was taking place.
This Hebrew ground or environment for the incarnation did not come without cost or loss. As far as I can tell from my reading, the first century Jewish people were remarkably free of idolatry. A by-product of this achievement was a complete lack of development of some of the arts such as sculpting and painting because they were too closely associated with idol worship. Kreeft helped me realize how this temporary omissions were build back in to the Christian community after the significance of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ were recognized.

The Greek New Testament

The use of Koine Greek (the lingua franca of the Mediterranean and Middle East) as the language of the New Testament had profound consequences. Not only did it bring the Good News in the common language of the Roman Empire, but it could make use of the nuances of language and thought brought into Greek by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. So for example it enabled the distinction between the old nature (flesh – sarx) from body (soma), drawing a clear distinction between Gnosticism and Christian teaching by putting a high value on the body as well as the spirit (Gnosticism values only the spirit). It also made God-guided reason an important way of testing truth claims and made reason an integral part of understanding teaching.

Pagan Imagination

When viewed as a religious system, pagan polytheism was simply a branch of pantheism. But pagan practice had given rise to stories, plays, and poetry that showed a wonderful imagination and a longing for truth. Here again, it seems to me Christianity was able to keep the good. Much if not all of the ancient literature was preserved by the Church as the Roman Empire collapsed and the anarchy of the Dark Ages replaced it. The use of imagination as an engine of the written arts and also of science has played a significant role and life of the church.

So What Does This Mean to Me?

Kreeft’s analysis and synthesis has allowed me to see a number of things in a new way. Here are some of them:
1. God is always working toward the summum bonum, the greatest good.
2. Sometimes because of our weakness and frailty, we miss out on some things as the Israelites did as they were learning to avoid idolatry and so gave up some of the arts. These temporary omissions are part of our growing process.
3. In the end all genuine good comes from God and we as his people are not wrong to seek it. You cannot go far wrong if one truly seeks the good.
4. My own Christian walk is founded on my personal interaction with the Lord Christ through His received word and His Spirit. Imagination and reason play an important role in that interaction.

Note Added on “Reason”

In The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Kreeft points out the differences in the way the word “reason” was used by Aquinas and how it’s used by modern philosophers. Aquinas and other ancients used reason to denote knowing, judging, as well logical processes such as inductive and deductive analysis. Modern philosophers, according to Kreeft, tend to use it only in the third sense.