Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review - Dual Citizens

"Dual Citizens" - by Jason Stellman

This book has the subtitle "Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet" which I found to be very intriguing. From the title, subtitle, and brief description of the book I found I thought the book would be about the seeming push-pull relationship between living on earth but living for Heaven. I was fairly wrong and disappointed.

The book is divided into two sections. The first 7 chapters cover the worship aspect of Christianity and the last 7 chapters deal, somewhat generally, with life. I felt that seven chapters on church was a little much, partly stemming from some issues I had with his theology of church. The second half is definitely the best half, with chapters 9 and 11 being my favorites. The book doesn't always make sense in it's flow from chapter to chapter. I especially found it odd to end a book for Christians on a chapter detailing the assurance of salvation provided by the Holy Spirit. I think placing it at the beginning would give you a better context for the rest of the text.

The first half of his book is dedicated to explaining various aspects of corporate worship and how they show the world that we, as Christians, are called out and different. Perhaps it was his writing style or just my thick head, but I had difficulty at times understanding the weight he intended to convey in various points he made regarding the church. There were several issues I had with his beliefs regarding the church that made it hard for me to accept his more general ideas regarding the church. First, he places in inordinate amount of weight on what he calls the sacraments - baptism and communion. I don't mean to say that they are insignificant. But he goes so far as to say that the main ways we are to grow in Christ are baptism, communion, and corporate worship. I think he overlooks and seems to dismiss some other important aspects of a Christians life - prayer, personal reading and studying, and fellowship with other believers. He also appears to believe that anything with the label "evangelical" is directly opposed to "true Christianity", which in his view means the Reformed tradition. I adhere to many parts of Reformed doctrine and there certainly are problems with some things labeled as "evangelical". I was uncomfortable though with the extreme position that he seems to take in the book.

Another important difference is that, as a Presbyterian, he believes in infant baptism. I don't believe that faith can be passed from parent to child by means of baptism, but that faith come from the Holy Spirit working in someone's life and is a personal, individual belief.

My biggest concern comes from his view of pastors/preachers within the church. Not only is his view of sacraments rather exalted, but so is his view of pastors. He seems to veer into Catholicism every now and then, both by his language and choice of words, his quoting of several Catholic scholars and theologians, and by his stated beliefs regarding the church. For instance, on page 83, he writes, "When your minister faithfully expounds God's Word, that is Jesus talking. When he declares the forgiveness of your sins, that is Jesus forgiving you. When he administers the bread and cup, that is Jesus feeding you His own body and blood. The keys of the kingdom have been entrusted to the officers of Christ's church for the holy purpose of opening, shutting, binding, and loosing (Matt. 16:19)." (emphasis original) From my understanding, that's essentially Catholic doctrine right there. He also views the words of preachers to be as authoritative as Scripture itself, using verses out of context to attempt and support his position. "In fact, Paul insists that when the saints hear Christ preached, they are actually hearing Christ Himself preaching (Rom. 10:14, NASB; Eph. 2:17), a point made powerfully in the Second Helvetic Confession, which states that 'the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.' Personal "quiet time," therefore, can never replace the regular hearing of the gospel preached in the context of the local church, for it is here that God addresses His people in a unique and powerful way." (p. 13)

As for the second half of the book, I found it to be rather uninspiring on the whole. I felt that only chapters 9-11 really dwelt on the subject of "dual citizenship" with any real clarity and applicability of subject. Several chapters didn't make sense to me in light of his purported topic. (boasting, and the Holy Spirit's assurance of salvation) There were some good nuggets tucked away in a few chapters, but overall it felt a little dull and disjointed.

I enjoyed his discussion of the tension we feel between physical and spiritual, and the pursuit of pleasure. I particularly liked this quote he had in his book which is referenced from "Ahlquist" - "The problem of paganism and puritanism is partly a problem of pleasure. The old paganism degenerated into the mere pursuit of pleasure. The old puritans reacted against it by the deliberate and elaborate avoidance of pleasure. The new pagans reacted against the old puritans. The new puritans reacted against the new pagans. Reactions against reactions, all missing the point. Both puritanism and paganism misunderstood pleasure. But, more importantly, both misunderstood what is good. The pagans emphasize the physical to the neglect of the spiritual. The puritans emphasize the spiritual to the neglect of the physical. Both miss the point of the Incarnation. God created a physical world and said it was good. He created us in his image. We are both spiritual and physical beings. And though we have taken a good world and misused it, though we are sinners, God himself redeemed us by becoming flesh."

I felt the book fell short of it's title and purported topic of discussion. Apart from a couple chapters I enjoyed, it seemed almost stoic and stodgy in it's presentation. And it's riddled with what I would consider as rather sketchy theology - particularly regarding the church. It's not a book I would necessarily recommend, unless you were looking for a different viewpoint on the importance of the church. I'll be giving my copy of this book away as I'm not interested in re-reading it so if you are intrigued by it, let me know and I'll get it to you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review - Dick van Dyke

"Dick van Dyke - My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business" by Dick van Dyke

I was randomly typing names into the search engine at my library when I came across this book. I immediately requested it and picked it up a few days later. I love the Dick van Dyke Show - it's hilarious and such a classic. His sense of humor and his expressions of it are just fabulous. So I was eager to read this book.

He gives some of his background and experiences growing up. One of my favorite parts was the mention of his time in the Air Force. The way he talked about his experiences made me think of Gomer Pyle - it was pretty amusing! He also documented his entry into stardom. He spent many years working from paycheck to paycheck and traveling the country before his talents were finally discovered and utilized. I really loved reading the parts about the filming of the Dick van Dyke Show. He talked about how everyone genuinely had a fabulous time working on the show together, and I think it's very evident in the features they produced. For the rest of his career highlights, you don't quite get the amount of information and behind-the-scenes look as you may desire, but it's still interesting to hear about.

There's a few things I wanted to highlight. The first would be his bought with alcoholism. I found this section to be very honest and straight-forward. His life serves as an example for one of the main reasons I choose not to drink. Unlike some teetotalers I've read, I don't see where the Bible clearly speaks to moderate drinking being a sin. My personal decision is largely based on not starting down a road that could easily become an addiction and sin - one you may not even be aware of while you're doing it. Mr. van Dyke's life is an example of this. He started off not drinking at all. After some time in Hollywood, he started having just one glass to help loosen him up and cut some of his shyness. That developed into 2-3 drinks, which eventually led to him getting drunk fairly frequently. Right before he sought treatment, he seems to indicate it was an almost daily occurance. I think one of the inherent dangers of alcohol is that you don't know if you will be attracted/addicted to it until you try it - and then it's too late. Not that it's too late to overcome the addiction, but now you have the addiction and the strong temptation to over-indulge. Mr. van Dyke also is very open about the long struggle to overcome this addiction. He candidly shares his setbacks in his 6-year journey to overcome what he calls the "disease" of alcoholism.

I also found his musings on life and the purpose of life to be interesting. From piecing together bits and pieces from his book, it seems fairly likely that he doesn't have a clear understanding of the Gospel and possibly even Scripture as a whole. Even though he was an elder in a church at one point, his own words don't really portray him as a Christian. He admitted to spending a lot of time throughout the years, and particularly during a mid life crisis, wrestling with life - what it's meaning and purpose was, and what his own life was supposed to be for. In the end, it seems in all his searching he missed the Truth. For Mr. van Dyke, the meaning of life is love. As he says near the end of the book, "Hope is life's essential nutrient, and love is what gives life meaning. I think you need somebody to love and take care of, and someone who loves you back. In that sense, I think the New Testament got it right. So did the Beatles. Without love, nothing has any meaning." (p. 271) I hope that soon he comes to see the riches and beauty of the true Gospel.

Another thing that bears mentioning- Mr. van Dyke divorced and lived the next 30 years with his girlfriend. The topic is covered in a gracious way - there's no dirty talk or very deep details of their relationship - either before and after the divorce. Though it's certainly disappointing, it's not an uncomfortable read. In the end, he decided to go with what felt good to him instead of what was right before God. I found this to be especially ironic as he would emphasize his desire for his public persona (people he portrayed on the film and tv screen) to be very family friendly and values oriented.

While he kept his relationship details clean, there were a few comments about movies or shows he participated in that weren't quite that way. I felt they could have been left out and not been detrimental to the storyline in any way. He also has a penchant for cuss words, even taking Christ's name in vain a couple times near the end of the book. It's something to watch out for as there's an average of about one per chapter. (some have none and some have several) Overall, I found it to be an interesting light read into the life of a beloved entertainer and comedian. It won't be finding it's place at the top of my favorite's list. But I would recommend it, with discretion, if only for the forthright dealing with alcoholism which I found very intriguing and honest.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review - Ginger Rogers

One of my goals for the new year is to read at least 2 books per month. Along with that, I thought it'd be nice for both my writing and analyzing/critical thinking skills to post a review of most of the books I read. So - here goes!

"Ginger, My Story" by Ginger Rogers

This book combines two things I've long been fascinated with - biographies and movie stars. One of my favorite things as a youth was to randomly wander the biography aisle at the library looking for new and interesting people to read about. Even today I often gravitate towards the biography sections in the bookstores. I found a sad thing though as I grew up. Biographies were no longer guaranteed to be wholesome and compelling. I started to realize that many people's lives weren't as "clean" as children's literature made them seem. After taking home books only to give them up in disgust a little ways into them, I started scanning books while still in the library. That led to even more disgust (particularly with movie stars!) and a decision to put away that genre for awhile. (unless it came from a really reputable source or was about a very holy person)

Why this long intro? Well, as you know (and if you don't, you should! ;) ) Ginger Rogers is a movie (and Broadway) star. When I picked the book up at a library sale, I noticed that Ginger specifically stated in the sleeve that this was not a "tell-all" dirty secrets book. Since the book was very cheap and it's a subject I love, I took a chance and bought it. And I'm glad I did! She truly meant what she said and I found it to be, overall, a relatively clean book. Coming from a woman who was married 5 times and had numerous other romances, that's something! Her marriages and romances are covered in the book, but tend to be handled very delicately - never too explicit. She also never mentions how far her romances went leaving you room to imagine them as innocent as you please.

One of the best parts of the book is the "behind-the-scenes" look you get into the movies. She has at least one paragraph talking about every single movie she was apart of. It may be something as simple as a short comment regarding who directed it and the plot line, or as expansive as giving insight into other actors and funny happenings on the set. She also handles it with grace. You won't find her ratting on other actors or difficult directors - she loved working with just about everyone. And those who did rub her wrong - you're really not going to find an expose on all their supposed sins. She comes across as a fun, energetic person with a bubbly personality and an occasional sense of the prankster. The book is filled with interesting and funny memories about actors, sets, and pranks.

The one thing I didn't enjoy as much was the sometimes heavy handed way she talked about her religion - Christian Science. Most of the references to her religion come when someone gets sick (and they're healed through a certain kind of prayer) or when she needs wisdom with a major decision. There are about half a dozen or so in depth explanations of healings attributed to her religion. While she never put out a call or plea, it felt like she was advocating and promoting her religion throughout her story.

Overall, it was a very good book with a fascinating look into old Hollywood and the old movie stars - while at the same time maintaining a gracious tone and mostly clean stories. I would definitely recommend this book if you'd like a peek into Hollywood in the 30's and 40's and Ginger Roger's life in particular.