Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer


Already Gone

A friend dropped this book off at my desk a while back and I finally had time to read it. This book is worth your time. Don’t stop, go get the book and read it this week. OK?

The subtitle of the book is this: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Is that provocative enough for you? The scary part is that they are correct! In my circles, kids are less likely to stop going to church; they are more likely to migrate from very conservative churches to more standard evangelical churches. So I’ve been asking the question: why is this generation leaving conservative churches. Ham and Beemer ask a more fundamental question: why is this generation leaving church?

The answer is the same: a lack of relevancy in modern churches. And by relevancy, I don’t mean “cool,” but rather “useful for life.” Ham and Beemer have done a series of studies on twenty-somethings who attended evangelical and conservative churches as children and now rarely if ever attend church. (Beemer is a professional pollster and has real-world experience creating legit polls and evaluating the data.)

The results might surprise you; they ought to shock you. Most of these young adults have a good view of the Bible and evangelical theology; they’ve left because the perceive the church to be less than useless to their lives. The book begins by attacking Sunday School as the main culprit. I disagree with that assessment (though I do think we screw up by teaching Bible “stories”). Sunday School may have implementation problems, but Sunday School is just a manifestation of a larger issue. Really the problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of spirituality amongst Christians. Second, there is a refusal to utilize logic and critical thinking skills.

To the first point, may Christians set their spiritual lives on autopilot and refuse to rock the boat. This shallow approach to Christian living teaches the young that the Bible is a great morality tale and is sorta useful as a guideline to life. Ham makes an interesting point at the end of the book. It is insufficient to read your Bible each day. You must study it and more importantly you must think about it. I’ve noticed that the times that I am called on to teach are the times that my walk is deepest. Before I teach a Sunday School class, I spend 10+ hours in preparation with most of that time thinking through the meaning and purpose of the text. So yeah, I think he’s right on that point and that this case can be made from the Psalmist as well. (By the way, in Psalm 15:2, we find that the righteous man “speaks the truth in his heart.” I recommend you spend time thinking about the ramifications of that point.)

How many Christians do you know that look down on those who smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage and sniffle about that great sinner? How many of those Christians lie, cheat, play politics for position in the church or generally whine or snap at people? Which is worse: worrying or stealing? Matthew 6 implies that worrying is the defining characteristic of unbelievers…. Kids see this hypocrisy and recognize that while the people might be nice/good people, they aren’t trustworthy role models.

To the second point, failure to utilize logic and critical thinking skills leaves children with unresolved dichotomies. A friend once told me that though he grew up in a good home and in good churches, he assumed evolution was true. This was not because his parents or church taught him it was true, but because it was what he learned non-stop in school. It was not until college when someone detailed the scientific case for creation that he realized the fallacy of evolution. So here was a child who believed that God created in six days and that evolution was true. He kept that as an unresolved dichotomy for years.

The surveys taken by Beemer discovered that many kids (starting in upper elementary school) begin developing these dichotomies. Often authorities tell them: the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. That’s no answer! That’s blind faith and we have a reasonable faith. Give the kids a reason to believe. Unfortunately, we seldom do that. Kids want to know the pros/cons of smoking or drinking, they want to know why premarital sex is bad, they want to know why their parents believe the Bible is true, they want to know how they can trust the Bible to be error-free and what inspiration means. They want to know! They need to know why they should base their belief in this book that their friends tell them is useless for anything more than moral guidance. Tell them! and don’t tell them that this is what the church or pastor or someone else believes. Don’t tell them that you said they should believe it and never question it again. Have honest open and forthright discussions. Ensure that your answers are grounded in logical thinking.

I remember a fight (or four) I had with a friend growing up. I was taught not to do things like attend the theater or listen to “bad” music. I look back on these fights/debates today with chagrin. My reasons were simply parrotings of illogical statements. My friend was pointing out all the myriads of holes in the arguments I had used. So don’t tell me that kids won’t see through stupid arguments. They do. And when you tell them that they should believe something or not do something and back it up with illogical fluff, don’t be surprised when they ignore you. You let them down and you gave them no reason to believe you.

Pat answers won’t cut it.

I’ve been arguing for some years now that my generation is leaving our churches because they don’t get answers. (If you spend any time in very conservative churches, you’ll discover that they this makes me unpopular….) The truth is, this survey confirms that idea and reveals that the problem is much greater than I had imagined. What are you doing about it? I know where I need to work personally.

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White Corridor by Christopher Fowler


White Corridor

It’s always a gamble to pick up books by unknown authors. And I seem to do a bad job of it at Christmas every year. Each year we spend some time in the car, so we grab audio books. This year’s selection was a mixed bag of known authors and unknown authors. We listened to this title and it was definitely a mixed bag.

The story revolves around two older gentlemen who run a Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. They are quirky, cranky, and odd. Which of course makes them fun. They can get away saying and doing things that a younger detective would be fired over. In this story, the two detectives are stranded out in a snow storm miles from anywhere with a killer, the killer’s intended victim, and plenty of innocent people. A blizzard trapped many cars on a busy bypass through the English countryside in subzero temperatures. This situation becomes a race for personal survival in the cold and an effort to rescue the victim from killer.

Meanwhile, back at the PCU, their staff has a mystery on its hands that could eventually give their political enemies the leverage to shut them down. The two older detectives attempt to help solve that crime as well using their cell phones while stranded out in the cold.

All in all, it makes for a great setup. There are a few downsides to the book though. First, two of the characters have an affair. (I have no idea how descriptive it was as I skipped it.) The author uses this as a plot device as the girl believes she is now psychically bonded to the man.

Update: From the author’s comments below: “My romantic scenes are chaste; imagination is better.”

Second, there is profanity in the book. Third, the author is very anti-God and anti-religion. The lead spends much of his time supporting, encouraging, and getting assistance from witches, warlocks, and all sorts of cultic groups. (They were traveling to a cultist convention when they were stranded.)

I can ignore the cultist things. What I have less trouble accepting is the affair and the language.

I did find one other thing disturbing. Despite the modern setting, so much of the described English life could have been pulled right from an Agatha Christie novel that I found the modern technology jolting. It’s not the author’s fault; most of my experience with English detectives come from Christie and books set in the early to mid 20th century. So, I often dropped back into that mental picture until a cell phone appeared again. Whoops….

Have you ever had that experience?

Wizardry Compiled by Rick Cook


Find it Amazon

This sequel to Wizard’s Bane raised my hopes for a great discussion about the decentralization of power. Sadly, Cook passed on that opportunity.

In book one, Wiz shook up the world by creating basic spells as one creates computer programs. previously to his appearance in this unfamiliar place, only a select few could control magic. Now Wiz had granted magic to all people through the use of “magic programs.”

What happens when a society with no power is suddenly granted the power to be equal with their overseers? Chaos for one thing. The people began moving into the dark places and destroying every magical item in their path. Wiz created a spell for the people (called DDT) that granted a defense against magic. Someone hacked the program to destroy magic.

At the same time, Wiz, now elevated to the Wizardry Council, is playing politics and attempting to teach other students about “programming magic.” He is failing miserably and tearing up his marriage in the process. Ergo, Wiz heads out into the woods in a huff and is promptly kidnapped and transported to a far off continent by the remnants of the evil wizards he had banished. Wiz escapes, but is being hunted by a vicious creature created to sniff out his brand of magic and slaughter the one casting it. Now Wiz spends the majority of the book fleeing for his life and unable to use his magic.

Back on the farm, the people’s destruction of all things magic is creating a war between the magical people and humans. Since Wiz and his magic are the only things who can stop the coming war (and Wiz is missing), the wizards seek alternate solutions for defense. They send Wiz’s wife Moira back to Earth to retrieve some of Wiz’s friends. And here is where the book shines. Moira’s presence in the real world, her efforts to bring back programmers, and the responses of these geeks to this other life creates endless scenarios of fun.

The downsides: more profanity, crass situations and one adult situation. The last was really annoying as the only purpose was to create a situation that would setup book three. Seriously, there were other options. I couldn’t tell you how graphic it was as I skipped ahead. Just be aware.

Overall, if you read book one (and that is fun regardless of whether you continue in the series), then book two might make sense. I didn’t like book two enough (combined with the problematic material) to move on to book three.

Thoughts?

Thanksgiving

This site is about book reviews. And only book reviews. But, as I own this site, I get to make exceptions on the (very) rare circumstances that I want to do so. Deal with it…. :-p

So, I was thinking about all the things for which I am thankful. It is two days till Thanksgiving after all. Now, I could compile a list of things for which I am thankful and post it here online, but I won’t, because I am paranoid about security. Let’s just say, that God has done many wonderful things for me this year.

There is one thing that I will share with you. Romans 8:1 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s step back and take a big view of Romans:

    Chapter 1: Man rejects God and God’s standards; these standards are required to enter Heaven
    Chapters 2-3: Men attempt to achieve God’s standards in their own way
    Chapter 4-5: The only way to meet God’s standards is to repent of your sinful actions and trust in the work of Christ to save you. You can’t do it on your own. A Christian is one who chose God’s way.
    Chapter 6: The process by which a Christian attempts to reach and maintain God’s perfect standards (clearly not accomplished in this mortal body…). This is the goal for daily living.
    Chapter 7: The struggles by which Christians try and fail to maintain God’s high requirements. Paul, the author of this book, expresses great frustration at his inability to maintain this perfect standard. This is our failure to maintain that goal.
    Chapter 8: The assistance needed to reach that goal and overcome failure.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

Often as a Christian I fail to live up to God’s standard. OK, most of the day I actively fail to measure up. That becomes frustrating to say the least. God expects better and yet I, like Paul described in chapter 7, fail miserably. Failure breeds depression, frustration and a desire to give up.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

This simple statement grants great reassurance. God isn’t judging Believers over their failures. He has forgiven those failures already. (That’s not a license to sin. In Chapter 6, Paul soundly rebukes that concept.) Rather this is the ability to step past my failures and try again. Romans 8:4ff argues that those who follow Christ “Set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” In other words, they choose to think about Godly things. Further, we learn a few verse later that those who walk according to the Spirit “through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.”

So victory comes through knowing that I am forgiven, actively focusing on things that honor God, and relying on the power of Spirit to say no to sin. That’s a formula that I’m not doing so well at, but I am starting to understand and grasp the ramifications of that first piece.

What am I thankful for this year? There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

You?

Wizard’s Bane by Rick Cook


Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook

I’m not much into fantasy, but this book caught my eye. Well, actually, my boss recommended it and it intrigued me. The one line description: a Unix programmer is pulled into another world where he develops a programming language for magic. That was enough to spark my interest.

Now, I’m not much of a programmer; mostly I can muck around with higher languages a little. Still, I understand enough to appreciate some of the finer points mentioned in the book. Don’t get turned off if you aren’t a programmer though. This is still a fun book.

Wiz, our hero, steps out of his office and into a strange world. He has just been sucked away from Silicon Valley into a world ruled by magic. The great wizard that summoned him is promptly killed by the Dark League; that would be before he tells anyone why he summoned Wiz in the first place. That leaves Wiz with a hedge witch named Moira fleeing the Dark League. Fleeing straight through the dangerous Wild Wood toward safety.

A good portion of the book details their flight to safety. Wiz is lost and confused; Moira bitter and resentful about her “babysitting” job. Wiz, while self-pitying, is also a bit of a martyr. He’s unprepared for this new life (he’s a programmer after all) and no one seems willing to recognize his frustration at being unceremoniously dumped into a foreign lifestyle with no preparation. They don’t particularly care about him nor understand why he was considered valuable.

Wiz is no magician, but he has an interesting skill. He can program. Everyone in this world can perform magic, but only wizards have skill at it. Wiz desires to create a programming language that will allow non-wizards to be able to run safely magical “programs.” (This idea of democratization of power is an interesting discussion and is being explored in the sequel that I am now reading.)

Once Moira is kidnapped and sequestered in the heart of the Dark League’s capital, Wiz enters a one man crusade against the evil. A non-wizard begins wages war on the strongest magical army on the planet. The stuff epics are made of….

Still, this was a fun book. Even if you don’t get into fantasy or programming, I’d love for you to pick up this relatively short book and tell me what you think. (There is some profanity.) I’d like to hear what other people think of this story and whether or not the whole programming thing works for you. Personally, I enjoyed it. What about you?

Say, anyone here have any programming experience? My best efforts can be found on this site: hit the forensics tab at the top of the page. That’s the best I’ve done. (And if you ask my old college professors, that’s probably miraculous as well….)

:-p

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein


The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Once I would have said that I leaned Libertarian in my political views. Then I started hearing more about what Libertarian actually believed. From what I can tell, it’s far more than a free-market small government attitude. I started realizing that the underlying philosophy was aggressively anti-God. It just so happened that some of my beliefs overlapped tenents of Libertarianism. So, when I heard that this book would demonstrate the world as a libertarian saw it (and I like some of this author’s other works), I decided to give it a try.

End result: Good story, terrible philosophy.

Briefly stated, the philosophy is that when left alone, men will naturally choose to develop a society in which everyone works together. Government is evil and non-government is good. Unfortunately for that point of view, mankind has a thing called: sin nature. In a perfect world, Libertarians would be right, but as Judges points out, men choose to do what is right in their own eyes and that is often a detriment to others.

Libertarians miss the fact that the government has a legitimate purpose as a restrainer of tyrants, bullies and shysters. Without a strong government (and I still believe in a small limited government) we would be back in the Middle Ages with lots of petty tyrants abusing the locals and trying to usurp one another’s power.

As to the book, the story is quite good. The story is told in retrospect by one of the main characters. The moon was turned into a penal colony. But, if one stayed on the moon too long, they would be unable to return to Earth as changes in their body would prevent it. So, after a person’s sentence was finished, they were stuck on the moon. Soon a colony of free people developed. Without any form of government, this colony “developed” into a wonderful place. Unruly people were spaced. Of course everyone agreed with the decision because it was “obvious” that these people deserved it for violating the understood social contract.

As an aside, Heinlein falls into the trap of assuming that their is no government outside of the people on the moon. But, that’s not true. The environment is truly a harsh mistress. Stupidity and a failure to get along will result in the entire colony dieing a brutal and sudden death. So, while there isn’t a fickle and tyrannical man made government, there was still a restraining inhibiting man’s inherent selfish desires. Failure to do one’s part could lead to a rupture or other cataclysmic event in the life support systems…. So, it is wrong to imply that mankind could live in freedom and harmony without a government. Besides, since evil governments are made up of men, the evil nature of the government must be a result of the nature of men. That point is a bit to subtle for the author.

Anyway, back to the story. 🙂

So, this story is about the struggle between an oppressed colony on the moon and their exploitative masters on earth. The main character Manny and his two compatriots architect a revolution from earth with the assistance of their friend: the world’s only self-aware computer. The story spends as much time discussing the nature of the conspiracy against earth as discussing the lifestyle of life on the moon.

Personally, I found the story to be quite exciting though it *is* a style that would probably annoy others. The story is an action story, but it is presented in a recitation of facts manner. In my mind, this works and of course plenty of others agreed, but your mileage might vary.

As for negatives, you have my opinion of the philosophy. Still, there is a small amount of profanity and the moral character of the family lives is problematic. They have strange open marriages and all sorts of odd stuff that is portrayed as acceptable because “it works.” A major underlying philosophy of the book is pragmatism: whatever achieves my goals is OK. gag….

Anyway, despite all the problems or rather because of them, I recommend that you read this book. Learn more about what a Libertarian thinks. And while your learning, enjoy a legitimately good story.

Timeline by Michael Crichton


Timeline

Can man travel through time? As cool as that sounds, I doubt it could be possible. I doubt it from a philosophical point of view: if I could travel in time, why couldn’t I change history? Crichton argues that no significant changes can be introduced, but his explanation falls a bit flat. Science teaches us that the introduction of new elements will always change the environment (ergo, by adding a new person in the past, we change history). So, could you go back and evangelize someone who has already died? So, no, I don’t think time travel could work even though it would be really cool.

In this book, Crichton bases his time travel on concept of the multiverse. This theory is based on quantum physics and Crichton does a good job of explaining it. (It’s a little disconcerting to have journalists treat this theory as tested fact….) Still, instead of actually traveling back in time, they travel via a worm hole back into an alternate universe at an earlier point in time via quantum mechanics. One of the biggest flaws with the logic is here: how can I modify something in a parallel universe and have it affect my current universe? Anyway, that’s nit picking. 🙂

If Crichton does one thing well, it’s that he manages to explain science in an understandable manner. Whether it’s a discussion of compression algorithms or quantum mechanics, he does the science justice.

Now, for the negatives: profanity, some descriptive Middle Ages violence, and an honest portrayal of the sins of the past. Not that he goes graphic in these sins, but they are stated and treated as common and unremarkable for that time. These things tend to be glossed over in modern histories, but Crichton doesn’t do that. He makes every attempt to ensure reality in this book.

In fact, this leads us to the benefit of the book: his historical accuracy. This book could be a treatise for the Middle Ages. Repeatedly, the characters lecture each other and passing people about an erroneous term: Dark Ages. In fact, the characters repeatedly tell us that western civilization owes the Middle Ages for modern financial, political, and industrial systems. All three areas were founded in the Middle Ages. In many ways, the time travel and the adventures of the time traveling team are merely artifices used to bring the past to life.

Any book that can cause my wife and I to stop and carry on scientific, political, sociological, or historical discussions is worth reading.

Oh wait, you wanted an idea of the plot? Novel idea for a book review…. This archaeologist is stuck in the past. His assistants/students go back to save him. Now go read the book and revel in the discussion and descriptions of an early period of life.