Art by Gina J. Duque; Bloody, Brutal, & Barbaric: Troubling War Texts (Webb & Oeste); Craft, Cost & Call (Paddey & Stiller); The Unknown God: A Journey w. Jesus From E. to W. (M.P. John); Wonderlove (Jeremy Benjamin); A Better Man (Louise Penny)
Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric: Wrestling With Troubling War Texts
By William Webb and Gordon Oeste
IVP Academic, 2019. $48 (e-book $56). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca.
THIS BOOK deals with the Old Testament conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, a part of the Bible that is troublesome, if not a stumbling block, to the faith of many.
Authors Webb and Oeste, both of Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, propose an incrementally redemptive approach. They argue God willingly accommodated Himself to Ancient Near East cultures and that the Bible shows Him beginning to move His people toward more humane and just treatment of enemies.
Webb and Oeste contend the biblical war texts actually point to a larger, more redemptive story.
While there are similarities between the war practices of ancient Israel and other Ancient Near East nations, there are also striking differences, making Israel’s war practices seem moderate by comparison.
This approach doesn’t entirely eliminate the ethical problem, but it does mitigate it significantly. At least it situates the troubling passages within the larger biblical story – that God will one day make all things right through the return of Christ and the just judgment He will bring.
This book’s framing of the troubling war passages within God’s unfinished justice story is substantial and significant. Anyone seeking to wrestle with these biblical texts now has to wrestle with Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric as the new standard of scholarship on the subject. –DEREK MELANSON
Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer
By Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller
Friesen Press, 2019. $18 (e-book $7, hardcover $25). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca.
THERE ARE many preconceived notions about writers and the writing life. Writers are introverted. It’s a tedious profession, fraught with rejection. This new book by two professionals in Ontario examines such notions in insightful and inspirational conversation.
The authors, whose long careers include work in Faith Today, invite us to sit and listen as they share all they have learned as writers who are Christians. Throughout the book they offer exactly the kind of heartfelt and transparent conversation that’s needed by anyone wondering about becoming a writer.
The first of the book’s three sections deals with the craft of writing itself, including research, interviews and querying editors. The second part digs into business strategies, work routines, deadlines and marketing. The third focuses on how writing can be a call from God and the roles it can play in the Church.
Each chapter ends with a "try this" exercise to kickstart creativity. The authors make excellent use of personal anecdotes to convey typical experiences of failure, success and rejection.
Craft, Cost & Call offers all the trustworthy tips and gentle encouragement that novice writers might hope for. –LUCY PAVIA
The Unknown God: A Journey With Jesus From East to West
By Mathew P. John
David C. Cook, 2020. $24 (e-book $14, audiobook $19). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca.
CHRISTIANS BELIEVE Jesus is the only way to God, which makes it difficult to relate to other religions. This book proposes a way to respectfully and sensitively engage in gospel conversation – it highlights the Christ figures in other religions and how they point toward the true Christ revealed in the New Testament.
It’s an approach that follows the example of the Apostle Paul who did the same with the altar "To the unknown god" in Athens (Acts 17:23), writes author Mathew P. John (who divides his time between Toronto and Los Angeles). All evangelistically minded Christians will find his book a fascinating read.
Hinduism’s avatar is an embodied god on a salvific mission. Buddhism’s bodhisattva is an enlightened teacher vowing to rescue us from a suffering world. Sikhism’s guru is God revealing Himself through the personification of His Word. Islam sees Jesus as a prophet who had no father and will return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. And Judaism has its struggle with two Messiahs – a triumphant king and a suffering servant.
All of these point to the true Christ – Jesus, the Son of God.
While reminding readers Jesus is the one and only way to God, and disavowing any credence to universalism, the author suggests the Christ figures in world religions may be God’s way of providing multiple roads to Jesus – an example of God’s common grace extended to all.
It is here I find the book troublesome because the support garnered for that assertion comes not from the Christian Bible, but theologies and theologians many Evangelicals will find problematic. For example, how many Evangelicals would accept the assertion that Hinduism has more in common with Christianity than Old Testament Judaism? Is it possible to be a Christ follower without actually knowing Christ?
Despite reservations with some of the theological conclusions, I commend this accessible introduction to six major world religions. Read discerningly it will provide Christians with valuable insight and entry points for gospel engagement with others. –DAVID DANIELS
True North Records, 2019. $11.99 (download $7)
Jeremy Benjamin Zeyl has a mellow, slightly husky tenor voice entirely suited to the kinds of songs he writes – about joy in his life, in his wife Lara and in his faith. Most have brisk tempos and elements of folk, gospel and contemporary Christian worship music.
The title tune celebrates Christ’s love for us. "It’s a Wonderlove,/Lifting us up above/Taking me to You/Making us feel so brand new." Some might hear it as a straight love song, but given the other lyrics here Christ’s love is surely intended.
Other songs talk about letting go ("Something broke today…, I never thought it would break all the way. Something broke today. I’m free"); the need to love and be yourself; his marriage ("It don’t matter if things don’t go right, I got love in my heart from the love of my life"); a friendship with three buddies now developing in their own sons; and treating others as equals in Christ ("From the dirt, all our hurt, The same blood, the same earth,/Only ground, lost and found, /On the road homeward bound").
The album ends on a paraphrase from the 16th-century Heidelberg Catechism, foundational to the Reformed churches where he grew up. "This is my only comfort in my life and in my death. You have fully paid for all my sins and all my debts… I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in my life and in death to You, Lord, Christ my Lord."
In 2018 he, his wife and two children toured Canada, performing 150 concerts to raise money to reduce local and global poverty. At each stop he recorded the audience singing "I Am Not My Own" with him, so the album version has 20,000 voices on the refrain. An apt summation of the wonderlove that clearly motivates him. –MARIAN VAN TIL-CASSIDY
"My work strives to bridge the gap between the immaterial and material world through the exploration of biological systems and their ‘hidden’ structures as seen through a microscope. Inspired by a personal experience with cancer, nature’s complexity and informed by a Christ-centred understanding of reality, I am interested in visually exploring the most basic of human intuitions – that life in all its forms has been personally, thoughtfully and purposefully designed."
Centre of Origin (Clematis), 36" × 36", mixed media, by Gina J. Duque. www.GinaDuque.com
READING THE BESTSELLERS
A Better Man: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
By Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2019. 448 pages. $20 (e-book $16, audiobook $30). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca.
A Better Man is Quebec writer Louise Penny’s 15th book since Still Life was published in 2005. You might expect boredom to have set in. Instead, returning to the small village of Three Pines and a somewhat simpler whodunit format seems to have invigorated Penny.
After Gamache’s last investigation seemed to go wrong in Kingdom of the Blind, the premier of Quebec had hoped to rid himself of Gamache by demoting him from chief superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec to chief inspector of homicide. But Gamache seems content to lead an investigation into finding a missing pregnant woman whose desperate father has accused her husband of killing her.
As with every Gamache mystery, there are subplots. Social media is attacking both Gamache and artist Clara Morrow, who wonders if she’s lost her talent – assuming she had any. Gamache’s son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir wonders if he was right to resign from the Sûreté. An ugly spring storm hinders the investigation and threatens to flood Three Pines.
Of course, in the end Penny ties threads together and brings resolution. We know whodunit and more. For Gamache it’s about swallowing his pride, accepting demotion and focusing on the job (none of which is easy). For Clara and Jean-Guy, it’s about accepting/realizing who you really are.
This book left me with a lot to consider. Is truth objective or subjective? Was Gamache’s decision the right one? Why do similar struggles result in one person taking the easiest path while another takes the difficult one? Why do we so often misjudge other people? Above all, how will justice, forgiveness and love survive in these days of unreliable social media and outright lies?
This book contains some strong language. –N. J. LINDQUIST