Archive for the ‘ Book Reviews ’ Category

True Truth

I’ve just finished reading a novel by Randy Alcorn entitled Deadline. I’d heard of Alcorn previously and was told he was good, but now I can say from personal experience that the recommendation was accurate.

Alcorn has an ability to write from a thoroughly Biblical perspective about the reality of heaven while simultaneously reflecting the reality of earthly life. I won’t make this a review of the plot of the book or of his writing style, but I do want to provide an excerpt that struck me as wondrously concise in its description of the unreality of the “broad way that leads to death.”

In this excerpt, an angel is explaining to a man newly arrived in heaven just what the problem is with the majority of mankind. I love how he expresses it. This excerpt may seem a little long, but if you patiently read and meditate on it, I believe you will grasp its value.

You come from a world where truth is obscured, shrouded, reinterpreted. The father of lies dominates, and the world order has become built around lies, which are mistaken for truths because the majority believe them, as if the universe were a democracy and truth subject to a vote. Men choose to believe certain things because they find them flattering, comfortable, and popular. But truth is seldom any of these. . . .

Men take their favorite lies and make them sound grand and noble by calling them “truths.” But they cannot be truths, because they have been invented by men, and men have no power over truth. Truth by its nature prevails, and lies by their nature wither in truth’s eternal fire. Every untruth, every half-truth, every pretense—no matter how fashionable and widely believed—shall be shown for what it is, declared a lie in the sight of all men for all time. . . .

Heaven and hell are the high stakes that give meaning to life on earth. Man denies the stakes are real. He says all life’s roads lead to the same place, and that therefore it makes no difference which road men choose. But the truth remains the truth, unimpeded by the lie. The roads lead to very different places, opposite places, to infinite joy or infinite misery, to unimaginable glory or unimaginable tragedy. That is why a man’s choice of roads could not be more important. . . .

In the darkness, men can shine flashlights on a sundial and make it tell any time they want. But only the sun tells the true time. The flashlights are the changing and fleeting opinions of men. The sun is the eternal Word of God. Only God makes truth. Men either discover it or fail to discover it. They either interpret it rightly or interpret it wrongly. But they have no power to make truth or change it. For truth is no man’s servant. Ultimately, the truth must become each person’s friend or his enemy, his master or his judge.

May God’s truth prevail in your life.

Going Rogue, Part III: The Palin Political Philosophy

When Palin’s book first came out, I remember Rush Limbaugh commenting that it was a great book on public policy. Others who commented on his comment took him to task for seeing something in the book that wasn’t there. At least that was what they said. Now that I’ve read it for myself, I can say that Rush was correct.

No one disputes that the book is primarily autobiographical. The intent clearly is to reintroduce Palin to the public from her perspective rather than through the lens of her critics. Yet a significant part of who she is pertains to what she believes. Throughout her account, she offers insight into her governing philosophy, whether as a town council member, mayor, or governor. In each case, she is consistent in what she believes and how she attempts to govern.

Then, at the end of the book, after all the trials of the campaign and the false ethics complaints that led her to resign her office, she spends time laying out more clearly her foundational principles.

She calls herself “an independent person who had the good fortune to come of age in the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.” She realizes that politcal labels get attached to individuals, so she decides to call herself a Commonsense Conservative.

Upon what is her Commonsense Conservatism based? Palin says, “I believe in a few timeless and unchanging truths, and chief among those is that man is fallen. This world is not perfect, and politicians will never make it so. . . . I am a conservative because I believe in the rights and the responsibilities and the inherent dignity of the individual.” This means

We don’t trust utopian promises from politicians. The role of government is not to perfect us but to protect us—to protect our inalienable rights. The role of government in a civil society is to protect the individual and to establish a social contract so that we can live together in peace.

On economics, she sees cycles of booms and busts that are natural, given man’s fallen condition. Then when government steps in to “help,” things only get worse.

It’s easy to promise free medical care and a chicken in every pot. It’s more difficult to explain how we’re going to pay for it all and to explain why social programs that were supposed to help the poor have ended up hurting them, becoming unsustainable financial liabilities for all of us. Ronald Reagan was the last president to really explain this to us.

Palin refers to Reagan continually. She’s obviously influenced by him and wants to see the nation return to his way of thinking. This, of course, wins points with me.

President Reagan used to speak of reducing the federal government. Now some Republicans barely bat an eyelash when helping create whole new federal bureaucracies. Today if you ask, “Why exactly do we need that federal program? Can’t we do without it?” people will look at you as if you’re from outer space—or perhaps from Alaska.

As she analyzes the bailouts and stimulus bills that have heaped unprecedented debt on the country, she responds,

Our massive interventions in the economy today haven’t “fixed” anything; instead, we’re rewarding a few large firms for being irresponsible. We’ve told them they’re “too big to fail”; we’ve told them that the bigger they are and the more trouble they get themselves into, the more likely the government will be to bail them out. . . .

The lesson in all of this is that we can’t abandon free-market principles in order to save the free market. It doesn’t work that way. The cure only makes the disease worse.

Palin stresses energy independence, and from her background and experience with Alaskan resources, believes that America can achieve this. She also stands strong on doing what is necessary to win the War on Terror. For her, this is not simply a criminal activity to be dealt with by the courts.

With her stalwart prolife views and Christian moral precepts, her principled position on the free market, her pro-military, pro-strong-America stance, and her ability to communicate these concepts, generating enthusiasm among the grassroots conservative movement, Sarah Palin is probably the first politician since Ronald Reagan who has the potential to unite all factions of conservatism.

Will she do so? If she does what she says everyone must do—follow the leading of the Lord in all areas of life—she may be the person who can achieve this.

I encourage everyone who has taken the time to read these three posts to do the same with Palin’s book. Examine it for yourself and determine in your own mind if my analysis is correct.

Going Rogue, Part II: Politics of Personal Destruction

The Palin Family Became a Target

Some reports on Palin’s book made it seem as if she spent the majority of the time complaining about the treatment she received from the press, the Democrats, and operatives within the McCain campaign. In fact, all she did was chronicle what actually took place during the campaign and afterwards. She points to actions that she considers unfair, foolish, and indefensible, yet she doesn’t turn it into a diatribe against her opponents. She is analytical about it, not resentful.

It was Bill Clinton’s apologists who originally coined the term “politics of personal destruction,” accusing Republicans of trying to oust him by pointing out his moral failings. Well, in his case, there was a case.

Until Sarah Palin got the nod for vice president, she was admired by nearly everyone. No one accused her of any wrongdoing. Democrats in Alaska appreciated that she took on corruption within her own party. But once she was on the ticket, all that changed.

The Accusations Even Focused on Baby Trig

Her family was a target; some even fantasized that newborn Trig, the Down Syndrome baby, was actually her daughter Bristol’s child, and that Palin was lying about being his mom.

Suddenly, she was no longer the efficient administrator, but a dumb “Caribou Barbie,” according to some commentators. Her first interview, with Charlie Gibson of ABC, took on the nature of a stern civics teacher challenging her knowledge of the world.

All of that is well known. How does Palin handle it in the book?

While she doesn’t pull any punches about her feelings over the maltreatment, her faith shines through. There is an inherent optimism in Palin that mirrors Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Reagan suffered through many of the same accusations: he’s dumb, he’s lazy, he’s a simpleton. He refused to respond in kind; Palin follows in his footsteps.

She quotes David Horowitz, a former radical-turned-conservative, who notes that the political left uses the rules enunciated by activist Saul Alinsky—make accusation after accusation until something sticks; overwhelm the target with so many accusations that he/she gives up. That is how Palin was treated after the campaign. She hoped to return to her gubernatorial duties as before, but opponents without any credibility raised ethics issues one after the other, overwhelming her staff with all the paperwork needed to answer them. Every one was debunked, but the Palins were left with $500,000 in legal expenses because of this onslaught.

Incidentally, Saul Alinsky was a big influence on two prominent politicians: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They have used his techniques as a foundation for their political success.

I can hardly imagine the stress all of this placed on her family, and on her personally. Yet her attitude in the book is that you cannot expect to escape such trials. It’s the nature of politics, so you simply must face it and move forward. Even as she eventually decided to resign the governorship [because no real work could be done due to these tactics], it was not a retreat in her mind; it was, instead, a “reloading.” She was eager to see what new doors God might open.

Many commentators wrote her political obituary after her resignation. She acknowledges that, and even says it may preclude her from further political office, but she took that action believing it was right, regardless of the political consequences.

Sarah Palin’s persona in Going Rogue is that of an open, honest, down-to-earth woman with whom everyday Americans would feel comfortable. Her responses to the personal attacks are admirable. That is one of the key things I look for in a potential leader. It goes back once again to character. And she has it.

Well, it’s one thing to possess an enviable character and to be able to handle whatever life throws at you, but anyone who harbors the least ambition for higher political office must also have a clear philosophy of government. What is Palin’s philosophy? How is it revealed in the book? That will be the subject of my third, and final, part of this review.

Going Rogue, Part I: The Palin Character

When Sarah Palin’s book first came out, I was too occupied to read it right away. I did promise, though, to review it later. I’ve now finished it and have concluded that one posting will not suffice. There are different aspects to the book that I want to concentrate on, so I’ve decided to spend three days on it.

Let me say right off that Going Rogue was better than I expected, and my expectations were fairly high. I never accepted the mainstream media’s portrayal of Palin as some kind of frontier hick with only half a brain. As I’ve said before, she is being attacked so vociferously because she is deemed a major threat to the liberal establishment (and to a lot of the Republican party as well).

This is a deeply personal account. She chose to make this autobiography as true to her personality as possible. I detect no whiff of pseudo-sophistication. So I am pleased by the genuineness of the writing style. She acknowledges receiving professional help getting it into its final form, but she says she did most of the writing. I believe her simply because the style reflects the person she seems to be in public. It would be improbable for a ghost writer to copy her way of speaking and thinking so completely.

How do I perceive Sarah Palin’s character in the book? She is the following:

  1. A woman who has a relationship with the Lord and who seeks to do His will in every avenue of life;
  2. Someone who has a determination to be productive with her life and make a difference in the world, one way or the other;
  3. An excellent administrator with a penchant for detail, as shown by her dissection of budgets both at the local and state levels;
  4. Someone who is willing to face down those who are abusing the public trust;
  5. A fearless politician [not always a dirty word] who had no qualms taking on the corruption that was overtaking politics in Alaska;
  6. A determined public official who fights for limited government principles [more on that a few days from now];
  7. A “real” person who genuinely loves those whom she serves;
  8. A dedicated wife and mother who puts her family first.

I may have missed some traits that will come to me later, but that’s a pretty good list for a start.

Her ability to inspire enthusiasm was evident once again on her book tour. The talking heads in the media were astonished by the outpouring of affection. All they could assume is that those thousands who turned out [and the one million plus who bought her book] had to be as backwoods and unsophisticated as she.

Sarah Palin worries them considerably. Which is why, as I noted before, they have tried to destroy her reputation so assiduously. In fact, she deals with that in the book, which is what I want to examine in my next posting.

Christian Coalition: A Tale Well Told

I rarely have two book reviews the same week, but I wanted to alert you to this new book by Joel Vaughan that traces the history of the organization called the Christian Coalition. The title is accurate: it rose and it fell.

I was drawn to the book not only because I am acquainted with Joel, but also because I used to be a Christian Coalition county director back in the early 1990s, when I taught at Indiana Wesleyan University. Then, when I moved to Regent University, I was just down the street, more or less, from the Coalition’s headquarters, and a number of my students in the master’s program in government worked there. I attended the annual Road to Victory conferences in Washington, DC. So I remember the glory years, but also the not-so-glorious ones.

There are so many tell-all books in the market that I wondered how Joel was going to handle this one. He was with the Coalition almost from the start, and was one of the last to leave before it rapidly disintegrated. How could he tell the tale well, being honest about its demise without being censorious?

Well, I believe he has accomplished that nearly impossible task. It is evident from the first pages that he shared the vision of Christians influencing public policy and making their voice heard in politics. He speaks of the sincere, genuine believers who wanted to make a difference, and he points to the many ways Christian Coalition achieved its goals during the 1990s. It’s obvious he loved being a part of it.

When he turns to the downfall, he does go into the problems in a straightforward manner, clearly showing why it fell. Yet even as he spells out the issues and talks about the people who made bad decisions, he does so in a thoroughly Christian way. This is not a bitter memoir; instead, it carries a tone of sadness—an appropriate tone because what happened was a tragedy. A Christian voice in politics became a mere shadow of what it once had been.

I appreciate the Christian spirit in the book. In effect, Joel Vaughan has provided a case study of the highs and lows of Christian political involvement. We can read this book and learn significant lessons about how we should go about our involvement, as well as how to avoid the common errors: overextending ourselves financially or losing the humble servant heart.

Next year, I plan to use this book in a new course I’ll be teaching called Biblical Worldview and Public Policy. It will be a valuable guide for this new generation of Christian leaders. I’m hoping this account of a high-profile Christian political organization will help them carry the work forward and do so in the right spirit.

Book Recommendation: The Shack

On my main website, I have annotated lists of recommended books (check those out if you haven’t yet). Every so often, I like to use this blog to let you know what’s worth reading.

William P. Young’s The Shack has been out now for over a year. I had heard of it previously, knew it was a bestseller, but also that some people considered it controversial. Busy as I am, and needing to read other books for courses, etc., I didn’t rush to buy it. This past week, I finally made that decision. It was a good decision.

The writing is top-rate. The opening chapters, which tell of a terrible family tragedy, grip you from the start. Then a note comes from God (hang with me here) inviting Mack Philips, who has lost his youngest daughter to a murderer, to return to the scene of the murder.

Once he does, the whole tenor of the book changes. Young leads us from the details of everyday life into a world where spiritual realities overwhelm the senses. Along the way, Mack argues with God (portrayed quite creatively by the author), has to learn what forgiveness and relationship are all about, and emerges a transformed person. This is not formulaic. It is designed to make you think. You may disagree with some of his doctrinal points or his portrayals, but any disagreements I had are merely quibbles in comparison with the truths that come alive in his pages. Any book that stirs within the reader the desire to see God face-to-face has a lot to commend it.

Character, plot, style—they all come together here realistically (even in the fantasy-like portions) and persuasively. If a book points people to the essence of the Christian faith, and does so in a manner that makes one think anew about the nature of the God-man relationship, it is worth your time to read.

The Forgotten Man: A Recommendation

Every so often I like to recommend a book. I’m about halfway through The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Although I haven’t yet completed it, based on what I have read up to now, and on the numerous positive reviews of the book, I am confident I can recommend it without concerns that I will have to retract that recommendation by the time I have finished it.

Some of you, I know, may be reluctant to tackle a book dealing with the Depression. All that economics, all that . . . well . . . depressing stuff! Shlaes, though, manages to cover all the “stuff” in a most interesting way by focusing on people.

She carries forward the stories of a number of individuals—both those who worked for the New Deal and those who suffered from it—so that you don’t feel as if you are bogged down in an economic treatise. In effect, she personalizes what some authors have turned into impersonal events. She tells a good story. History should be a story about people who are affected by the times they live in.

Her storyline is that the New Deal did not accomplish what its defenders claim it did—it most assuredly did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. The old liberal mantra that FDR ended the Depression has been under siege for quite some time, and deservedly so. Recently, President Obama commented [and I’m paraphrasing here because I cannot find his exact words] that there is no debate on the effectiveness of the New Deal, indicating that he believes it was a success. If he truly believes there is no debate, he is woefully uninformed.

The Forgotten Man makes it clear that the debate is real, and that the weight of the evidence is against the liberal interpretation. Some of you, before buying the book, may want to read a few reviews. Here is one that is quite good. I encourage you to peruse it and check out others. I trust you will be convinced that this is a worthwhile read.