Friday, June 29, 2012

Tales of the Not Forgotten by Beth Guckenberger

Tales of the Not Forgotten by Beth Guckenberger, written for kids, follows the real life stories of the challenges faced by kids in other countries.  The author is a missionary, and she draws from her experiences as a missionary to communicate to children that through faith, God can work miracles and accomplish a lot.  In fact the subtitle includes a "warning" that tells the reader "These stories may change the way you see the world".

Many of the kids in American privileged society do not know what it is like to go without basic neccesities such as food, medical care and a home.  But in other imporverished nations there are so many orphans and homeless children in desperate need.  Each chapter focuses on a unique child and his or her story: Joel from Mexico, Seraphina from Haiti, Ibrahim from Nigeria, and Christiana from India.  The lives are portrayed as stories that are personalized to make them real to the reader.

The graphics, illustrations and visual effects throughout the book are sure to grab a young reader's attention.  Also included are stories written in the voices of other providing additional points of views for a well rounded experience.  Educational facts and statistics are scattered throughout the text of the book as well as biblical verses and passages.  Also included are many photographs so that the reader can actually see who the stories are about.  This book will not only inspire, but brings to light the reality of the world we live in. We see children who are homeless or live in shacks without parents, who must make daily trips to the local dump in order to find food.  Parents die from illness leaving behind orphaned children to fend for themselves.  In some areas, a hamburger is considered a treat. There are children who appreciate and savor the taste of a piece of fruit and are thankful for little they do have.  It gives a young reader a glimpse of the world beyond our own society and it shows faith in action and what it can accomplish- such as feeding the hungry, educating those who cannot afford to go to school.   The book shows how faith in God can help one overcome life's circumstances and of the neccesity for those to listen to God's calling and offer help to those in need. The last chapter includes a short biography and interview with the author.  Included with the book was a cd with additional resources to help leaders or teachers to integrate the book into a class or school curriculum.

As a blogger I received this book, published by Standard Publishing for the purpose of writing this review.

Fatal Distraction: Conquering Destructive Temptations

Fatal Distraction: Conquering Destructive Temptations by Kay Arthur, David and BJ Lawson is a short 6- week bible study in the Precept Ministries International's 40 Minute Bible Studies series.  I found this bible study to be a little too cliche in its marketing and presentation.  Firstly, the references to the "seven deadly sins" of which this book covers six of the "seven deadly sins"- (because lust is a significant topic of its own and there are two books dedicated to the sin of lust in the series)-  make this approach more appropriate for a weekly tabloid than a bible study.  The photo of a rotten candy apple covered with blood- like red candy sauce is a bit too dramatic, and the bold warning "Don't become a spiritual statistic" plays on fear and paranoia of the new Christian. These features may grab the attention of the reader, especially in a market saturated with small group home bible study books.  It is true that this book visually stands apart from the mild, bland aqua and pastel covered books with their comforting messages and serene spa-like scenes. Nevertheless this book still appears to be too commercial in nature.  It may serve its purpose of providing a wake up call to the problem of sin in even a Christian's life. 

The book is divided into six study lessons to be read in a small group setting over the course of six weeks.  The sins covered are: pride, anger, jealousy, gluttony, slothfulness and greed.  As mentioned in the intro chapter, lust has two study books dedicated to the topic, which simply seems like an advertisement to get the reader to purchase to two additional study books for the complete effect.

The lessons themselves do address the issues using relevant biblical quotes and commentary.  Actual biblical passages are included with the lesson.  There are observation and discussion sections. The discussion questions prompt the reader to think about the material.  There is some space-  for short notetaking but not enough space for  journaling. There are also leader prompts- which may not be applicable for those who choose to use this book as a personal study.  In the end if you can get past the sensationalism, the reader will complete this study with a biblical insight or perspective of relevant issues that invade the lives of Christians and even churches.  In fact as an example, it is illustrated how even churches become greedy when they ask for more and more money for projects such as renovations or activities.  As a blogger for Waterbrook press I receieved this book for the purpose of writing this review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Fourth Fisherman byJoe Kissack

How Three Mexican Fishermen Who Came Back from the Dead Changed My Life and Saved My Marriage byJoe Kissack- is basically two stories in one book. The author combines the tales of two entirely differnt, non related stories.  The only common bond has to do with the interaction of the characters after their own stories are basically complete. 

On the one hand, the account of the five Mexican fishermen, in which three of five men survived- after being considered long gone-  after spending nine months in a small open boat without any food or supplies, aimlessly drifting across the Pacific Ocean was told with vivid realism. Graphic details describe their nine month ordeal in the open ocean: starvation, fear and death. Realistic and vivid accounts of eating raw shark organs, drinking sea turtle blood and rainwater and death capture the reader's attention.  Their story was truly inspiring- the fact that they held on to faith and equated the bible- God's word, with essential food on which they survived.  Nevertheless I felt that this exciting portion of the story was too brief.  In of itself, this could be an entire book. 

The book alternated with a chapter from the lives of the simple, poor yet courageous fisherman, with that of the author, Joe Kissack-  a successful Hollywood executive, in a world of American excess and materialism- complete with a mansion, expensive cars, expesnive entertainment, fame and more. I found that that while the real account of how the author changes his life and was reborn- is an inspiring example of the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, it was not entirely interesting to read about.  Nevertheless as written in the book, those chapters dedicated to his life, did not hold my attention. The author went over laborous detail about his childhood, his relationship with his father and his relationship with his wife.  These personal details did not hold my attention.  The account of his interpersonal relationships read more like a personal journal- or memoir. I found myself looking forward to the account of the fishermen instead. 
Despite the prolonged discussion of his personal life and his road to faith, the author made some very good, notable points.  Kissack  recognised the irony that when faced with few choices, the fishermen turned to God and were fulfilled.  For example, the fisherman appreaciated God and relied on faith rather than materialism.  They were satisfied with few choices.  In fact, a meal of simple white rice was adequate for their needs.  In contrast, tn the prosperous cultures where wealth and entertainment is common and choices are available, so fewer people turn to God.  Wealthy people become dependant upon a standard of living and an enourmous number of options and choices. Yet, in a way, I felt this was a bit self serving, as perhaps giving an author an excuse to block God from his life by claiming it is harder to rely on God when your life is comfortable and easy, and  and full of materialism and wealth.  Perhaps the author is trying to compare his spiritually devoid life with the extreme ordeal suffered by the fisherman.  Perhaps the reader might even go so far as to interpret the author's intention as to imply that it was easier for the fisherman to hold on to faith because they faced death daily and had no other choice- and that it was harder for a wealthy executive to break free from his life of excess in exchange for faith.  As a blogger for Water Brook publishers I received this book for the purpose of writing this review.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Jesus Gospel by Osman Kartal

 Osman Kartal's religious conspiracy genre of novels appear to center around a main  purpose to discredit large established religions.  His elaborate works of fiction are best described as a unique hybrid of a spy story and religious intrigue; whereas  history, fiction and myth are rolled together into one.  Kartal's newest work, The Jesus Gospel, centers around the common fascination  with the so-called elusive deuterocananical and apocrypha  literature.  The hero, an educated, ruthless, modern young man, finds himself caught up in an international government and religous conspiracy to hide an ancient papyrus scroll supposedly written by Jesus during his lifetime on Earth. 

Historically, there are countless claims that other "gospels" exist- this is perpetuated in fiction and movies. These  ancient documents are best described as pseudepigrapha works which essentially means- it is written by an anonymous author (perhaps even an anonymous ancient writer) who took on the name of an apostle and attempted to pass it off as authentic.  These are fraudulent documents, in that they claim to be by the authentic source.  They are, in essense, the equivalent to the ancient tabloid.  They may be interesting to read supplying the reader with "answers"- but they are false nonetheless. Many are written to fill alleged gaps in the biblical or ancient record.  In fact, Kartal alludes to alleged inconsistencies and riddles when making refernces to the New Testament, early in his book. He draws the attention of the reader to arbitrary portions of the bible, claiming that there is an "untold" story or truth out there- perhaps even  leading the reader to believe that there must be another written record or gospel to fill in the missing pieces.  For example on page 41, Kartal draws the reader's focus to the gospel account where Jesus is depicted as writing on the sand.  Instead of sharing the intended lifesaving message about forgiveness, he asks the reader to focus on an insignificant part of the story, drawing attention to  the so-called mystery of what Jesus inscribed in the sand. The focus is on what is not explicitly stated or written.  In essense, Osman  is asking the reader to speculate or create his or her own fantasy or myth or theory of what Jesus may have or perhaps should have written. Additionally, Kartal uses his concordance to find all references to the the word "dust" elsewhere in the bible.  He then correlates an unrelated old testament passage with the account of Jesus writing in the "dust".  Next thing you know- Kartal has created his own religious theory or doctrine, by arbitrarily linking an old testament account to a new testament account. This is very clever.  This is exactly what many cults do when forming new heretical doctriness! This in fact the fuel that the ancient writers or plagerists used to create and perpetuate their false gospels.  They preyed on the curiosity of public.  They questioned the accuracy of the biblical accounts as if more information was needed.   In ancient  and midevil times, it was common that an  anonymous writer's work would be purposely or unintentially  misrepresented or falsely depicted as an authentic apostle who wrote a record. For example, consider the popularity of the  gospel according to Peter and Thomas or the writings of Enoch attests to this.  In fact entire cultic religions are build on similar claims such as the Gospel of Abraham in the Mormon church or the letters included in the Koran.  There are many pieces of fiction literature that center around the "what if" theories and consequences. There are many new cultic religions formed throughout history, based on the what is stories that seek to solve "mysteries" or "gaps" in biblical literature. They prey on human curiosity and the desire for an easy explanation.

This new novel is the Muslim equivalent to the popular Dan Brown novel that served to attempt to undermine the bible,   Under the umbrella of "historical" fiction, the author presents to the reader, a conspiracy theory in which a so-called gospel, allegedly written by Jesus, was  purposely concealed by religious authorities. This is a complex work of fiction and myth that combines some authentic historical details with religious myth. This eccentric writer presents his conspiracy theories of hidden gospels- specifically, the so called lost gospel of Jesus as a plausible theory. He does this first by manipulating the thinking process of the reader to focus on alleged mysteries and riddles of the New testament.  In fact, the same readers that actually believed Dan Brown's intricate tales of church intrigue and conspiracy theories in the fictional novel, The Davinci Code, may be the very same gullible readers who may believe that Osman Kartal's stories and theories, about a missing gospel written by Jesus, are in fact real. This detailed writing and insertion of historical figures and geographic places may make this work seem almost plausible to many readers. One problem is that the public eye often associates Christianity in general with the Roman Catholic church.  Therefore any indiscretions of specific figures of the Chruch are erroneously applied to the bible and biblical Christianity in general.  Kartal, in essense is considering the possibility if Christianity was in fact built upon a lie.  The implcations would be extreme- and it would have the power to change modern society as we know it.  Obviously, one can easily see the appeal of this to the secular world and atheists alike.  
This book is an interesting attempt at an anti- ecumenical movement- perhaps an attempt to bridge together dissatisfaction and undermining the authority with all the major feuding religions. After discrediting the established motives behind Islam, and Christianity, his next target may be Judiasm. The author is fair in that he does not simply target one religion.  The pseudo-historical ideas and historical-like scenes make the story seem almost plausible. The problem is that many readers, who are largely ignorant when it comes to theology and history, will have trouble sorting fact and fiction. If one takes the time to dissect this work of fiction, you get a recipe or how-to book on how to not only discredit a religion but how to make a new one to boot!  I received a free copy of this book for review from the author and the ideas expressed are my own.