Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review | “The Bishop of Rwanda”

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DISCLAIMER: While I understand that this is one man’s retelling of the events, I will engage and comment based on the good faith effort of the author to represent the events he related.

There are few times that I can remember when I have read a book and been moved by its content. The Bishop of Rwanda by Bishop John Rucyahana is one of those books. It truly is not for the faint of heart. The gut wrenching, horrific events described (sometimes in graphic detail) are terrible to imagine and even more tormenting to the heart to know that other human beings endured. With the precision of a historian and the compassion of a pastor, Bishop John diagnoses the multiple streams that led to the murder of close to 800,000 of the nearly 1.2 million total Tutsis killed. Think of it for just a moment. The following description helps to put in perspective what that means.

“The typhoon of madness that swept through the country between April 7 and the third week of May accounted for 80 percent of the victims of the genocide. That means about eight hundred thousand people were murdered during those six weeks, making the daily killing rate at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.” [Kindle Location 1626]

The shear horror that was endured by the Tutsis and those who stood for and with them could not even be portrayed in film, described on paper or evoked through words. There is simply no way of understanding the full fledged depravity of the genocide. I would read descriptions of what happened and catch myself shaking my head at what I had just read. I know that we are almost two decades removed from the events Bishop John described, but there is a freshness to it all.

There are two aspects of the book that were particularly poignant. The first was the historical overview of what took place in Rwanda on a national-political level. The picture painted of the “imperialist” and colonial nations of Belgium and France are so unflattering as to be caricatures. The problem is that the truth will many times be unflattering and down right scathing. If even a portion of what was done by outside nations was done to Rwanda it reveals the tendency of the Western, first world nations to attempt to get away with whatever they can. The misconduct of the international community in the events leading up the genocide are not only deplorable, they are reprehensible. The intellectuals of the west failed to see the barbarism that was being unleashed in a small African country. The western world needs to look in the mirror and stop acting in such a duplicitous manner.

The second aspect of the book that stood out was the reality that what took place in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity was of a spiritual nature first. Bishop John is quick to recognize the demonic currents underlying what took place among the general population. Even if those who killed were not motivated by hatred, to be carried along with the wave requires a kind of acquiescence to the spiritual forces at work. There is no doubt in Bishop John’s mind that the reason the effects of the propaganda and fear was so far reaching was because there was not true conversion among many who claimed to be Christian. The most disgusting of the acts enacted, and that go to the heart of my identity as a clergy person, were those of the religious leaders who became accomplices to the murders, sometimes even participating in them. It just doesn’t make sense!

As I finished the book and read of the changes that have come to Rwanda I was shocked to see that reconciliation was at the heart of the healing process. The programs and efforts by those who suffered and those who caused the suffering to reunite the nation were impressive and awe inspiring. Over and over again the reality of repentance and of forgiveness were put on display. Probably the greatest lesson that I will take away from reading The Bishop of Rwanda will be that forgiveness is a power designed by God himself. I leave you with the following insight forged in the crucible of suffering and pain.

“Forgiving something does not make the forgiven act less horrible, but it does break the power that act holds over you. The truth is that those who don’t forgive are dying from their unforgiveness. The bitterness eats them up. When you forgive, you are healthier and more alive.” [Kindle Location 2262]

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Book Review | “Love is an Orientation” by Andrew Marin

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This is my video book review of Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation. I know that there are many on both sides of this issue. My review will focus on what I have learned and what I am learning.

Feel free to comment and interact with what I say. Please keep it cordial and respectful. Thanks.

Here is another video conversation with a friend of mine around the topic of homosexuality.

Book Review | “Where Do Babies Go When They Die?”

Summary

I acquired The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig R. Brown because it was free at the time. I have always tried to understand the Calvinistic system of theology and have studied it for many years now. There are many things that I like about reformed thought. Just look at the name of this blog. In many ways I am reformed. But, there are also several questions that the Reformed point of view does not answer for me. I do not think, for one moment, that I am the final word on these questions. It is just that the answers provided by the Calvinist camp tend to, at times, resort to a type of logical gymnastics when an answer is not readily available.

One of the major strengths of the book is that it frames the concerns that some have about Calvinism in very provocative questions. Questions that you might see yourself asking.

  1. If God is in complete control of everything, to the point of predetermining all human actions, how can a man be held accountable for what he does?
  2. If we are saved by grace and not by works, why shoudl we do anything good? What purpose do good works serve? Are there rewards in heaven for what do here on earth?
  3. Continue reading Book Review | “Where Do Babies Go When They Die?”

Book Review | Teaching Through The Art Of Storytelling

Summary

Teaching Through The Art Of Storytelling by Jon Huckins was not at all what I expected. It was better! I have read many books and articles on preaching and communication, but this book provided something that was both refreshing and thought-provoking–it provided a biblical rationale for storytelling.

Growing up Baptist with the stereotypical “three points and a poem” paradigm of preaching, this book provides a solid understanding of the place of storytelling as a vital and invaluable tool in a communicators repertoire. Does that mean that I will be switching to teaching in this way as the only technique I will utilize? No. But, I have reconsidered my tendency to give my listeners “just the facts” about the biblical text.

My Thoughts

There were three ideas that caused me to pause and think. They were

  1. The historical context of Jesus own upbringing
  2. The teaching style of Jesus himself and,
  3. The application of this method of teaching given our modern context.

I will touch on each of these points and the impressions that Huckins book left.

1. The Historical Context of Jesus Own Upbringing

It is so easy to forget that Jesus was a kid and that he went to school like the rest of us. Now the context of that education was very different because of the 1st century’s cultural realities. But, this does not change the fact that there were teachers, schools and methods and principles of instruction, commonly called pedagogy. What Huckins points out is that Jesus would have been familiar with these practices and that he would have, more than likely, used these methods with his own disciples.

It is so easy at times to forget that Jesus was a human being. A special human being, there is no denying this, but he was a human being nonetheless. And, just because we do not have a complete account if his upbringing, there is no reason to think that Jesus’ educational experiences were that much different from that of his contemporaries. That being said we turn to the second idea that Huckins describes and extols.

2. The teaching style of Jesus himself

The first question that we have to answer is, “What was Jesus teaching style?” What do the Gospels tell us about how Jesus taught and shaped the understanding of his disciples? If we can, at the very least, approach how Jesus went about the process of teaching we to can learn, glean and practice these same principles in our own teaching.

Huckins points out that the majority of what Jesus did was to tell stories or parables. This was not an uncommon practice for rabbis to make up stories that would help their pupils to grasp the concepts and ideas that they were learning. By focusing on one or maybe two key ideas in each story made it easier to address and understand the point being made. Jesus would have been following the educational norms of the day by doing the same. While for some this might make them uncomfortable to think of Jesus using fictional stories, it really is not outside the realm of possibility or probability. Culturally it wold have made sense for Jesus to use a method that the people were accustomed to. Jesus primary concern was the teaching, preaching and spreading of truth.

3. The application of this method of teaching given our modern context.

As I see it there are two issues. They are related because they represent the two extremes. The first extreme is to try and be too creative for the sake of being compelling. The second, is that we are afraid of telling a story or multiple stories because we do not want people to find Truth through a fictional (i.e., false) story.

In response to the first extreme we have to be careful about the reason we tell the story. Does the story actually convey or capture the truth that you are trying to communicate? The way that Huckins’ talks about the story, the purpose is to tell the truth. What this means is that the truth IS being told in the story. It is obvious in that sense. The story causes the hearer to think, but direction and ultimate conclusion can be understood when the full story is revealed.

The second extreme is not better than the first. Out of fear of “deceiving” or “misleading” others we shy away from a helpful tool. If you enjoy reading a good book or watching a new movie or television sitcom is evidence that stories are a part of our experience. To not tap into the imaginations of those who listen to us teach the life changing truths of the Bible would be foolish.

Conclusion

This was a very good book. I enjoyed reading the history of the use of storytelling during the first century. If you are interested in improving your storytelling ability this is a wonderful introduction.