An Amusing Apologetics Book? a book review

I like Christian apologetics book as much as the next guy which means not a whole lot. I do like the idea of them. A reasoned, rational defense of Christian truth is a great idea–something that answers questions and addresses difficulties can be very helpful. But let’s be honest, most apologetic works suffer from  some serious defects. A few are overly simple and don’t really offer more than trite answers to tough questions. Some books are just dry and boring. Rare is an apologetics book that answers questions well while remaining entertaining.

The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments by Andy Bannister is both highly entertaining and thoughtful. Bannister is the Canadian Director for RZIM.  Hailing from the UK, his prose is full of  British wit, humorous asides and puns. It is rare to read a book where the footnotes are this funny. Bannister takes on the rhetoric of the so-called New Atheists, exposing  bad argumentation, false claims, overstatements made by these antagonistic unbelievers. Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and the Derek Zoolander of New Atheists, Sam Harris, are all skewered by Bannister’s masterful wit. He also endeared himself to me by taking several cheap shots at the Toronto Maple Leafs (the NHL team in his adopted city). I haven’t read an apologetic book this entertaining since Randal Rauser’s The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetics Rabbit Trails. 

Each chapter begins with a humorous story (most often a bit fiction) which highlights significant issues with these Atheist’s arguments. Bannister then goes on to make some serious points about :what constitutes a good argument, the saneness of Christian belief, the reason why not all gods are the same, the problem with psychological arguments against God, why religion doesn’t poison everything, the limits of science’s explanatory power, the necessity of God to underscore morality and meaning, why everyone has faith and our reliable knowledge of Jesus. I doubt seriously he would win many converts from died-in-the-wool-atheists, but Bannister certainly demonstrates the warrant for Christian belief.

Bannister focuses on the New Atheists, though some of what he writes applies to ‘Old Atheism’ as well (he peppers his prose with occasional references to Bertrand Russel and others).  What sets the New Atheists apart from the old, is the vitriol they direct at religion and faith. They don’t describe religious people as wrong or misguided. They see us as evil. While their arguments against God are not always the most philosophically sophisticated, I’ve spent enough time on college campuses to hear Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris described as intellectual heroes from bright young people. Bannister does a good job of showing some of the places where their arguments are more flash than substance.

However this book doesn’t tackle every issue. One of the stickier points for some unbelievers is God’s track record. Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens point to the Canaanite Conquest and some troublesome stories in the Bible and posit that the God of the Bible is a ‘moral monster.’  Bannister doesn’t explore this issue or theodicy (the problem of evil) in any great depth and yet I think that this is the major issue for many people today.  This signals the limits of this volume. A skeptic may follow and appreciate Bannister’s points and still come away with their principle objections untouched.

But for an entertaining and thoughtful romp and critique of New Atheism this is well worth reading. I give it four stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Monarch Books and Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.

Highway to Hell: a book review

Ten years ago UK journalist Matt Roper published an exposé on the trafficking of children in Brazil. That book (Remember Me, Rescue Me) found its way into the hands of Canadian Country Star, Dean Brody. Wanting to make a difference in the lives of those stuck in prostitution, Roper and Brody travel to Brazil and make the 1,500 mile journey along BR-116–Brazil’s exploitation highway. What they find there is heart-rending.

Highway to Hell: the Road Where Childhoods are Stolen tells of their trips down BR-116 and what they found there. Along that dusty highway whole communities exploit their children. Girls routinely are forced into prostitution by abductors, gangs and even  their parents. Roper tells the horrors these girls face: violence, injustice, sexual slavery, addiction, murder. Some of the girls that he and Brody encounter are as young as ten or eleven years old when they are forced into prostitution.

In a conversation with a woman named Rita Marques, a woman working with the children’s council, they hear just how widespread and culturally permissible child prostitution is in the towns along the highway: “‘Everyone’s happy when a baby girl is born,’ she said not because of the prospect of their daughter playing with dolls or dressing up, but ‘because in abouta decade, they’ll have a valuable source of income'”(24).  Later, Roper observes that along the entire 1,500 mile stretch of highway, he doesn’t know of a single case where ;a girl’s abuser, pimp, brothel owner, trafficker, or even murderer, had been tried and jailed” (216). This is a place where injustice reigns and girls are victimized. As a father of girls, these stories make me sad and angry.

Roper isn’t content to just describe the horrors of BR-116. He shares personal stories of the girls that he and Brody meet along the way. Some of these he has been able to help through Meninadança, a non-profit he started which works with at-risk girls along the BR-116 corridor. They provide residence for girls leaving prostitution and dance-therapy as a way of building self esteem into girls who are used to being devalued, used and abused.  Brody also starts his own foundation to help raise awareness and support for the girls of these communities.

So Highway to Hell provides a ray of hope and a means for connecting tangibly with the work that Roper and others are doing to end child sex trafficking in Brazil. through his organization. I highly recommend this book. It will open your eyes to injustice and break your heart. But it also tells the story of two men who were moved to do something about the suffering and injustice they saw. five stars:★★★★★!

Thank you to Kregel Publications and Monarch Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

The Candle Classic Bible: a kids’ book review

I  like discovering a new children’s Bible because I am always trying to teach my kids the story of scripture. There are several good ones on the market.  Because they are aimed at a certain age group, they are all selective in which stories or details they include (sex and violence appropriately sanitized).  Generally children’s Bibles follow one of two approaches. Either they attach life lessons to individual stories (‘the moral of the story is. . .’) or they relate the particular story to the wider biblical story (as the brilliant Jesus Storybook Bible does).

What is refreshing about the Candle Classic Bible is that it does neither of these. It simply tells the stories of the Bible in brief without feeling the need to comment on the text at the end of each episode. This allows for more biblical detail than your typical children’s Bible.  The stories follow the arc of the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. In this edition, the chapters are divided into ‘365 stories,’ making it perfect for daily reading with your child.  Biblical references for each story (or part of a story are given) so you can easily point your child to the Bible for more detail.

For the most part, this is solid collection and fairly comprehensive.  Because it focuses on ‘stories’ there are gaps in its biblical references.  Occasionally the Bible stories are truncated in a way that I find unhelpful. For example, God tells the serpent after the Fall (the fourth story in this collection), “From now on you will have to crawl on the dusty ground. You will be a special enemy of the woman and her children. You will strike at their heels, but they will crush your head.” While this is essentially the message of Genesis 3,  it obscures the Christological content of this Divine prophecy.  It is not the woman’s offspring in general who are victorious, but Jesus God’s own son come in the flesh.  The apostle Paul picks up on this language in Galatians 3:16 referring to the woman’s singular offspring (seed) rather than plural seeds.  So there could be greater attention to how these stories fit together in the wider biblical canon.

Of course this my ‘adult brain’ critique. My children love this ‘Bible’ and love the pictures.  The stories are brief enough to hold the attention of young children, and allows you to read through several with older children.  My six year old likes to read four or five  stories at a time. I give this Bible four stars because I think it is pretty great (if not perfect).

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Radical Hospitality Meets Tough Love: a book review

The Weight of Mercy: a Novice Pastor on the City Streets by Deb Richardson-Moore

One of the formative experiences of my life was the year I interned at a Christian community development organization working with homeless people. We partnered with a downtown church to offer a worship service, meal, showers and clothing exchange.  The organization I worked with was sensitive to making sure that we were helping people and not just enabling people. I was responsible for coordinating and training volunteers and regularly preached and led worship for our homeless congregation. I befriended a number of street people. Sometimes I was able to offer real help to people. Other times I got snookered. I am currently not involved with ministry to the homeless population; however I am grateful to the men and women of the streets who helped shape me and my approach to ministry.

In the The Weight of Mercy Deb Richardson-Moore shares her journey as pastor of the Triune Mercy Center, a congregation in Greenville, SC which works with homeless people and families and individuals in transition. When she became their pastor she inherited a mission which fed, clothed and cared for the homeless and destitute. She also inherited a staff riddled with problems. Under her leadership Triune was transformed from a ‘mission’ which put a band-aid  street people’s problems to an organization which empowered people to leave the street and addiction.  Triune Center works to help addicts walk the road to recovery, help people find housing and help them find employment. Richardson-Moore shares her story of steps and missteps, hope and heartbreak as she works to bring about real transformation in the lives of Greenville homeless.

With too many homeless ministries mercy triumphs over justice in a way that does more harm than help. Well meaning people provide food for the hungry but do not do the hard work of challenging the systems and situations that make people homeless. It is refreshing to read a book by an author who is attentive to how she can bring real change into people’s lives. Richardson-Moore  is gracious and welcoming of those she serves but is not afraid to issue challenges and call people to take responsibility for their lives. Radical hospitality meets tough love.

This isn’t to say she has done everything right. These pages do not just tell stories of ministry successes. Richardson-Moore tells stories of tension with her staff, mistakes in leadership, places she’d been too judgmental or inattentive to those she pastored. She is vulnerable and seeks to love her church well. Richardson-Moore has a good sense about how to care for people but some lessons were learned the hard way.

I really appreciated this book in part because in a small way I have traversed the same ground and pieces of my story resonate with hers. She also has a vision for ministry with people on the margins which I find deeply compelling and hope that when I am in a pastoral position I can bring the same sensibilities to the table.  But I think that any one who is concerned about carrying for the marginalized will be encouraged and challenged by her story. I commend this book to you. It is moving account and well worth reading. It doesn’t hurt that Richardson-Moore spent years as a journalist, so writes well. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.