My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Review: Nanoverse

Nanoverse Nanoverse by Theophilus Monroe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Story: ***
Performance: ***

Fantasy with a SciFi Facade ...

This is a collection of four(4) quick (3+ hours ea) fantasy stories set in a fantasy world wearing the skin of a cyberpunk genre … because it’s all about uses the new buzzword nano as much as possible without any real knowledge of what they are are how they would actually work. Maybe that is just my inner geek chanting that is not how that works in my head for almost the entire book (IOW I know too much about the tech and had a hard time letting go). Regardless … while the story doesn’t work well within the generally accepted norms of SciFi, it was a fairly typical Fantasy that is build to leverage a virtual (fantasy) world concept along the lines of the matrix, upload or free guy where the bad guy mysteriously works toward the total destruction of the real world. It’s not a bad plot … however, it has been done much better else where.

The story begins with an example of unintended consequences despite good intentions when a vaccine is developed to introduce nanites into the human body that would be tasked with healing wounds and preventing disease. Patient Zero is a badly wounded soldier who would probably have died otherwise, so with that success story behind the program, the government mandates nanovax for everybody … and hidden within those nanites is the ability to network into the public cloud to spy on the host AND take over the human conscious … a la mind control (maybe I am reading the tealeaves wrong here, but this part of the story starts to read like covid antivax conspiracies that didn’t help with the whole suspension of disbelief needed to fully enjoy the story).

That is where the algorithm comes in … which works sorta like minority report in that it predicts aberrant behavior ahead of time and reports it to the authorities who controls the nanites which can then control the host. Of course, in this paranoid fantasy, our hero is a threat to the system because his PTSD has change his mind enough that he can’t be controlled and that makes him a terrorist … only before the government can take him out back and shoot him, he is rescued by the resistance so that he can eventually defeat the algorithm.

Of course that is not the end … in part 2 the nanites can now swarm (in say 500 in each cloud) externally and possess others in the physical world … and apparently host an uploaded consciousness and associated memories all in readable code with individual global network addresses … so the resistance moves from minority report into the matrix here … again with a lot less finesse. We also begin to see the hero’s daughter make her debut as the bad guys cats paw … something that didn’t really work for me. This actually becomes a central theme in Post Human as the action moves almost entirely into the virtual world and a race to avoid an apocalypse in the real world. This part of the story calls to mind elements of the bobiverse with all the consciousness cloning. It all wraps up with a redemption arc in the final installment, which for better or for worse can actually stand on its own with no significant inspiration from other stories, but which does get a little preachy with a hint of Judeo-Christian theology … for me, this was actually the best of the four (4)

Book 1: Algorithm (3:56)
Book 2: Nanoswarm (3:43)
Book 3: Posthuman (3:15)
Book 4: Nanowar (2:32)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Nanoverse #StoryOrigin

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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church

The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church by J.R. Woodward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very thought provoking book for me. The initial draw was an examination of the fall of high-profile [christian] leaders with an eye toward identifying the primary or root cause. It was intriguing because I felt it should be fairly obvious … pride; however, this analysis took a different approach and dove more deeply into the human mechanisms that contribute to the fall. It was not, as I had expected, a screed about personal responsibility, and yet it does not totally let our leaders off the hook. The basic premise where is that our leaders, like all people, are tempted (or influenced) by various communal forces that are generally identified as powers and principalities … so if they imitate worldly values instead of the image of Christ, they will become trapped in the cycle that eventually spirals out of control. It makes a solid point there and would be worth a read just for how it defines what the author calls a memetic cycle which operates on the principle of imitating what we love or desire. Along with that are plenty of anecdotal and/or practical stories on how to recognize when we come under the influence of the memetic desire and scapegoating. Still, there really is no “silver bullet” solution, so the practical applications were less helpful if still good (it mostly boils down to an exhortation to imitate Jesus).

Still … the introduction to several (for me completely new) scholars in a multidisciplinary effort to explain what the mimetic cycle was, as well as what the powers and principalities and powers might be (was well as how they work in a fallen world) was extremely well down and accessible (especially considering this is really based upon an academic dissertation). The idea of Satan as an emergent power (as well as the impact of fallen, human systems) were absolutely thought provoking and deserve careful consideration. To support the foundation of the author’s imitation based framework, he progresses brings in the likes of Wink, Girard and Stringfellow as he fills in a table that maps expression of principalities & powers to fallen and redeemed leadership across the dimensions of identity, praxis and telos which was very helpful in understanding the general concept as a whole.

The chapters and sections in this work are

Section One: The Challenge of Missional Leadership.
1. A Deeper Diagnosis of Why Leaders Fall
2. The Need for Missional Leadership
3. Domineering Leadership in the First-Century Church

Section Two: Missional Leadership and the Powers
4. Comprehending the Powers
5. Interpreting the Powers

Section Three: Missional Leadership and Imitation
6. Mimetic Theory
7. The Power of Imitation

Section Four: Missional Leadership and Subversion
8. The Work of the Powers
9. The Subversion and Resistance of the Powers

Section Five: Missional Leadership Worthy of Imitation
10. Toward a Theological Remedy
11. A New Way of Being and Belonging
12. The Scandal of Imitating Christ

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

We can often be tempted to put guardrails around our leaders, try to keep them in line, or perhaps encourage a set of spiritual disciplines to keep their character in check. But there is no putting a Band-Aid over the problem of domineering leadership in the church.

High-profile “fallen” leaders often share common characteristics: pride, manipulation, seeking status, isolation, a lack of community to hold them accountable, using status to push an agenda, love of the crowds, an abuse of power and role, a push to “succeed,” and a sense of self-importance.

There is a growing resistance to institutions. But the church relies on people being a community, which requires organization, politics, systems, and structures. The answer, therefore, is not to demonize all forms of power and structure—for all living things have structure, power, and the capacity to cultivate a flourishing life.

And although the principalities and powers were designed to bring life, humanity experiences them in their fallen state, where they seek to master us. No longer do the principalities and powers bind us to God; they separate us from God, seeking to be gods themselves. The principalities and powers still fulfill half of their role, preserving society from utter chaos, but “by holding the world together, they hold it away from God.”

Roxburgh demonstrates how easily leaders tend to uncritically mimic the leadership style of the day, seemingly unaware that a leader’s telos and identity not based on Christ will ultimately lead to unfaithful praxis.

Collective Possession. The second manifestation of the demonic that Wink speaks of is collective demonization. He states, “In a highly individualistic society like ours it is rare to encounter single individuals who are possessed. Instead, the demonic has in our time taken the form of mass psychosis—what Rosen called ‘socially shared psychopathology.’”

The first word is thrones, which is more about the symbolic location of power, like the “county seat, the judge’s bench, the chairperson, the oval office,” more than it is about the person inhabiting that place of power.

Another key word is dominions (NKJV; kyiotétes), which refers to the sphere of influence over which the thrones hold sway. This sphere of influence could be “visible (the actual land or area ruled) or invisible (its capacity to influence other Powers by threat or persuasion).”

Principalities (NKJV; arché) specifies not so much the person themselves, but “the person-in-office, the agent-in-role.”92 In other words, it only applies to the person when they are in that office, like when a person is serving in Congress or the Senate.

Finally, there are authorities (exousiai), which Wink says refer to the way in which authority is maintained. “These are the invisible and visible authorizations and enforcements that undergird the chair. Legitimations would include the laws, rules, taboos, mores, codes, and constitutions by which power is licensed, and all the customs, traditions, rituals, manners, etiquette, and ideologies by which is it rationalized, justified, and made habitual.”

Mimetic desire pushes against the romantic notion that we are isolated individuals uninfluenced by others. Instead, it teaches us that we borrow our desires from our models.

When a mimetic crisis broke out in archaic (pre-state, nonlegal) societies, the scapegoat mechanism would be enacted as a way to establish and maintain social order. “When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its fury is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand.”

Croasmun considers these “superorganisms” social bodies, and he uses the category mythological to describe the social minds that emerge from these social bodies.

Girard deconstructs Satan as the mimetic cycle, while Matthew Croasmun reconstructs Satan as the “body of sin,” giving Satan cosmic personhood. Although Wink follows Jung and identifies Satan more psychologically as the inner spirituality of the domination system, Croasmun’s emergent view locates Satan as a cosmic entity, the mythical that emerges from the social and acts back upon it. In both cases, Satan is an emergent reality.

The relationships we form with others have profound effects on our lives, and because of mimetic desire, we will ultimately become like the people closest to us. This is why Scripture tells us that if we walk with the wise, we will become wise (Prov. 13:20) and that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).


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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: MAIDEN

MAIDEN MAIDEN by Charles Brass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

Great Concept, Weak Execution

The premise is good if well worn. A post conflict dystopia where a group of scrappy exiles hold out against the collective/empire (aka The Brethren) where everyone mysteriously fights with archaic close combat melee weapons (aka swords/blades and electroprods) despite being part of an interstellar civilization. Enter the Last Jedi … er … Maiden who was specifically created to battle the evil Sith … er Brethren. So much potential that just didn’t hit home for me. To start, the world building was so extremely loose and haphazard that I still don’t know how it all holds together. Most confusing is how slip rings (star gates) appear to come if two sizes (person transporters and ship transit points). Then is is how the Brethren are actually organized and who (or what) is a Master, a Knight, a Drone, or a Minion. I think I figured it out towards the end, but it was pretty confusing until then. More problematic is the interaction between each estate was full of overly aggressive bluster and all around idiocy that they worn thin long before the end.

The quasi-good guys (aka Exiles) are even worse, with an irritating display of imperial arrogance and pod measuring in virtually every scene (at least among the leadership). I absolutely hated ever part they were in. Fortunately the main characters, Crystal Maiden (The title character), Builder Scrounger (who is somehow related to the Brethren) and the Smart Ship (AI) are refreshingly innocent (read juvenile) and somewhat likable. However, even that didn’t make up for the slow pacing and buildup (all the interesting action is almost at the end of the book). Unfortunately there was way too much incessant dialogue and unnecessary detail that the lack of action made the first half of the story painfully boring (where my difficulty concentrating on what was happening might be the reason I didn’t follow the world building very well). In addition, the narration, while featuring very good accents and character voices, only reinforced the issues that I had with the aggressive interactions of both the Brethren and Exiles (in most cases it felt unnatural and way over the top).

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Maiden #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, June 9, 2024

Review: The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message

The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message by Jonathan Paul Brenneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

Solid Foundation; Very Repetitive

This was an interesting treatment of the concept of tithing and how this idea for the foundation of doctrine within the charismatic/pentecostal wing of the Christian churches. While it appears to me that most of the scriptural interpretations are supportable, the author is mostly targeting fellow pentecostals … a community that I am not personally a part of. As such, there is a tremendous amount of virtue signaling and argumentation along with anecdotal characterization of current doctrine that didn’t really do much for me (you might say these are distracting segues or “rabbit holes’). In addition, that are several references to people/figures that are apparently well known to this community for which I have not exposure … so that does not really add much to the debate for me either. However, references to scripture always seemed appropriate for the topic and his interpretation appeared to be reasonable given what I know of the context (again … I already subscribe to spirit-led giving over tithing, so I don’t need to be convinced here). Then we get to the author’s own experiences within his community and the harm done by the teaching of a tithing doctrine and without any means to refute those specific examples was truly dismayed by them … which I think was the point … but makes the whole come across a lot more angry that I was comfortable with … which again … given the inclusion of the concept of the Trojan Horse … is probably the point … but which meant that I simply tuned out portions of the audible that seems repetitive and targeted for emotional manipulation. Over all this was an average book, but it was well researched and important enough of a topic that I am adding 1 to my overall rating.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Ch. 1: Let’s Get Ready To Take On an Intense Topic! (36:34)
Ch. 2: My Tithe Story (41:36)
Ch. 3: Who’s Teaching Salvation by Tithing? (43:59)
Ch. 4: Subtle Deception Paves the Way for Blatant Error (39:02)
Ch. 5: Is the Tithe “Law?” (16:52)
Ch. 6: Dealing with bullying and teasing (60:43)
Ch. 7: The History of Tithing (41:33)
Ch. 8: You Break God’s Commandments for the Sake of Your Tithing Tradition (45:38)
Ch. 9. “But Tithing Works!” (31:33)
Ch. 10. Tithing Undermines Spirit-Led Giving (66:31)
Ch. 11. Spirit-Led Giving (34:00)
Ch. 12. Corrupted Wisdom and Jesus’ Temptation (34:00)
Ch. 13. What About Ministerial Support? (27:20)
Ch. 14. Good News for the Poor (22:52)
Ch. 15. When Not To Accept an Offering (17:54)
Ch. 16. Mothers Are Pleading for Someone To Tell Their Children the Truth (15:38)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review: The Foundry: A Hard-Science Fiction Space Opera

The Foundry: A Hard-Science Fiction Space Opera The Foundry: A Hard-Science Fiction Space Opera by J. Fitzpatrick Mauldin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **** (3 1/2)
Performance: ***

A Typical Space Opera

This book was billed as a Hard SciFi Space Opera … which for most people would be an oxymoron … and in this specific case holds true; although there is an inconsistent attempt to keep the science good, the primary focus is on the drama at the expense of the science. Fortunately the story is still entertaining, once you get beyond the extremely boring and frustrating prospect of a very young child (age 5ish) stuck on a 40 year deep space mission (presumably because the original crew might not make it the whole way). Unfortunately … that takes up a good portion of the beginning of the book.

The mission is a response to an ET message saying come find us … so the earth, in a desperate attempt to find help that might save humanity from its poor stewardship of the earth, sends out a handful of ships (redundant missions show how desperate the situation is). There is a lot of juvenile drama on the trip out until the finally get to The Foundry … and everything falls apart. Not only are we not alone, there is a veritable menagerie of aliens and they are not all friendly. One one side are competing philosophies on how to protect ALL life and a few trippy parts exploring post humanism and genetic manipulation (just a little). It does get a little over the top and preachy at times … but you should expect that with a space opera … so set phasers to max and just bring it … and have a little fun.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, June 2, 2024

Review: Mere Apologetics: How To Help Seekers And Skeptics Find Faith

Mere Apologetics: How To Help Seekers And Skeptics Find Faith Mere Apologetics: How To Help Seekers And Skeptics Find Faith by Alister E. McGrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ****

An Excellent Discussion About Christian Apologetics

This was a very accessible book on what apologetics is, and more importantly how and with whom apologetics can be used (ref: Ch 2 & 4). The fact that the author identifies limitations to apologetics when used by itself was a new take for me and was a welcome addition to the discussion (ref: Ch 1 & 3) where we look at the need to combine this with evangelism. After that we get more of the traditional aspects and arguments of apologetics without much new (Ch 5 & 6), and this is the primary reason I didn’t give this a perfect score. That means this is more useful when addressing folks that are already believers, or at the very least open to belief. Finally, Chapter 7 provides four (4) methods for applying apologetics that was very helpful before it ends with basic challenges (questions) to faith in chapter 8 that were, once again, fairly standard in addressing suffering etc. Overall it was a solid effort with chapters 2, 4, and 7 making the whole worth the effort.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

1. Getting Started (29:56)
2. Apologetics and Contemporary Culture (27:25)
3. The Theological Basis of Apologetics (34:13)
4. The Importance of the Audience (31:13)
5. The Reasonableness of the Christian Faith (44:45)
6. Pointers to Faith [8 Clues] (76:17)
7. [4] Gateways for Apologetics (67:00)
8. Questions about Faith [2 Case Studies] (49:42)
9. Conclusion (8:53)

#MereApologetics #AudiblePlus

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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Review: Mesoamerican History & Mythology: Aztec, Inca, Maya, Toltec, Zapotec & Central American Myths, Legends, Mysteries & History Uncovered

Mesoamerican History & Mythology: Aztec, Inca, Maya, Toltec, Zapotec & Central American Myths, Legends, Mysteries & History Uncovered Mesoamerican History & Mythology: Aztec, Inca, Maya, Toltec, Zapotec & Central American Myths, Legends, Mysteries & History Uncovered by History Brought Alive
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

A Good Survey of MesoAmerican History

At just over 3 hours (for 120 pages), this a a very brief overview of the history of Mesoamerica; a history that has largely been ignored by most people outside academia and tourism. As a summary, this was quite good; my only real compliant that it was way to short to be very satisfying, but what was they seemed to be well researched and pretty solid … in fact, the addition of the Teotihuacan civilization was new to me (I had previously learned the city was created by the Toltecs). The narration was good as well, especially with the many names and terms that I presume he was not familiar with, but I hesitate to mark it much better that having Alexa read it to you (it is tough getting a high performance score for what is arguably a history lecture). Regardless, I enjoyed the topic and would recommend it to any who are curious but have not yet started to explore mesoamerican history.

Chapter 1 - Mesoamerica (12:43)
Chapter 2 - The Olmec Civilization (16:06)
Chapter 3 - The Zapotec Civilization (17:02)
Chapter 4 - The Teotihuacan Civilization (19:23)
Chapter 5 - The Maya (19:45)
Chapter 6 - The Aztec Civilization (10:51)
Chapter 7 - The Incas (14:12)
Chapter 8 - The Spanish Conquest (14:05)
Chapter 9 - Mesoamerican Religion (14:32)
Chapter 10 - Mesoamerican Mythology (12:03)
Chapter 11 - Mesoamerican Legacy (15:14)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#MesoamericanHistoryAndMyth #FreeAudiobkFacebkGrp #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Review: More than a Sermon: The Purpose and Practice of Christian Preaching

More than a Sermon: The Purpose and Practice of Christian Preaching More than a Sermon: The Purpose and Practice of Christian Preaching by Douglas D. Webster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having just completed a homiletics course, I was very interested in another book on preaching; however, from the beginning, it was very clear that as a catholic clergy, I was not the target audience here. To begin with, catholic homilies are generally tied to the readings for the day, so I really don’t have much flexibility in picking the scripture text that I want to use … it is given to me. Additionally, the order of service (aka liturgical rubrics) and also fairly strict as well … so I was down to mostly looking for tips and ideas on how to preach better. For the most part, I didn’t get that much as most of what I did get was very generic or straight appeals to emotion/motivation … the you must have a solid relationship with God/Jesus and live a spiritual and moral life … which comes across more like a “just do it” speech … in other words, I didn’t find as much of the practical advice that I was looking for … it was still decent and I did pick up concepts and ideas from the examples in the second half that should help, but a lot of it didn’t really work for me.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Prayers for Discernment
Scripture to Sermon: Ten Steps

Part I: The Purpose of Preaching
1. More than a Sermon
2. Harder & Easier that We Imagine
3. Compelling, Not Manipulative
4. The Whole Counsel of God
5. A Lifelong Commitment
6. Life-on-Life Discipleship

Part II: The Practice of Preaching
7. Preaching Advent & Christmas Sermons
8. Preaching Lenten Sermons
9. Easter Sermons
10. Memorial Meditations
11. Wedding Meditations
12. Preaching Crisis Sermons
13. Preaching with Social Impact

Seven Theses on Good Preaching

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

What is true for teachers is true for preachers. The word of God ought to be heard, as authentic speech, voiced out of the integrity of the disciple, stripped of religious jargon and free of cliché. It is a message that issues from the preacher’s heart, mind, and soul.

Exegesis without exposition results in knowledge without wisdom, and exposition without Christ produces religion without faith. Alcántara advises pastors to “avoid the common tendency to preach a sermon that sounds like it is a running commentary on the text. People might learn a lot about the text in its context, they might acquire new information or new understanding, but they will not hear the proclamation of the good news. If you preach the text without preaching the gospel, then you have failed at both tasks.”

His sardonic quest to make life harder was directed to those who wanted to blend Christianity with the world and make it easy. The proponents of cultural Christianity sought to remove the offense of the gospel and the stigma of the cross. They wanted “to be Christians only up to a certain point.”

Either sermonic formula, whether the existential subtext sermon or the heavy-laden informational sermon, leads to the same familiar and pedantic conclusion. Come Monday morning or as early as Sunday afternoon, whatever hint of impact that was felt is conveniently forgotten as Christians go about their secular lives.

Repeated exposure to religious jargon renders the hearer impenitent and callous: “One hears and yet does not hear. One receives and yet is not helped. God’s forgiveness is not accepted but the person learns how to deal with himself gracefully. Forgiveness is taken into one’s own hands.”

Martin Luther likened the Old Testament to Christ’s swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ was laid. […] All the work that went into Israel’s postexilic period was God’s way of building a cradle for his ultimate revelation.

Christian hope is anchored in four gospel realities: 1. the parousia—Jesus’s final coming; 2. the Paraclete—Jesus’s gift of the Holy Spirit; 3. the passion—Jesus’s death and resurrection; 4. the presence—Jesus’s abiding fellowship.

Our reluctance to weigh in on important social issues such as pandemics and racial reconciliation suggests that preaching is focused mainly on individualistic spiritual concerns. Apart from a few notably important issues such as abortion and gay marriage, pastors seem to practice self-censorship. Pastors are silent on many issues that affect their congregations, such as public health, economics, poverty, politics, creation care, climate change, and guns.

Many sincere Christians fear that they are losing their country, but I am afraid they will eventually realize that their power tactics and shrewd efforts have caused serious harm to the Christian witness.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#MoreThanASermon #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Review: Brave Rider

Brave Rider Brave Rider by Harvey Goodman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

A Quick Feel Good Western

It is pretty much like you would expect from a clean western story. Just an average dude trying to be good in the Ole West despite desperadoes taking advantage of a general lawlessness as Americans begin to move into the new western territories. In this case, the MC manages to find work riding for the pony express, but before too long, end up convalescing with a tribe of native Americans … with the expected trope running true to form … which undermines any potential for edge of your seat drama … especially when there really isn’t a specific bad guy or major identifiable conflict. The research seems to be pretty good though, and this does help make the story more interesting to me.

The performance was okay as well. Character accents were good, but the range and timbre of the voices was pretty limited. Still better than having Alexa read it to you … although the default voice was a bit rushed and the enunciation was lazy enough that I missed heard a few words that confused me for a time.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Review: The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary

The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary by Jared Ortiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most of Christianity is considered to be a creedal religion, that is, governed by a specific statement of faith that members of a particular church must assent to (from the Latin credo meaning ‘I believe’). While not emphasized much, the Protestant tradition in which I grew up held to the 7th century Apostle’s Creed. Once I was confirmed into the Catholic faith, I became more aware of the Nicene Creed as well (Catholics pretty much recent one creed or another at the drop of a hat) … and I learned a lot about how these creeds came to be (predominately in response to various heresies that the early Church was struggling with), so I was extremely interest in this book to see if it confirmed what I already knew and if it presented anything new [to learn]. I am happy to report it delivered in spades.

The book is organized into six (6) chapters, each taking part of the Nicene Creed to examine (in broad strokes or themes). Each chapter begins with a general introduction of the over all theme or topic before it is further divided into sections that go into details on a phrase or statement within the chapter theme (such as what it means to say ‘I believe’ or say ‘one God’ et al). Included with the section header are references to the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Catholic Catechism (so obviously this is a very Catholic centric book). In addition, we get this section of the creed in three (3) languages (English, Latin and Greek). Each section generally has four (4) parts: A Theological Exposition to talk about the theology behind this part of the creed, A Witness to the Tradition that references early Church thinking about an element of this theology with source citations (this can repeated for different elements and/or viewpoints), Contemporary Issues that talk about current thinking and/or struggles with this element of the creed, and finally a part called Living the Mystery which talks about how the faithful should live out this part of the creed. There are a generally number of callouts/sidebars under the headed of Lex Orandi that review how a particular element is reflected within the liturgy as well. Finally at the end we get a straight up side buy side comparison of the different creeds, including the latin and greek versions plus a glossary of terms that is simply fantastic on its own … making this book incredibly well researched and organized; I highly recommended it.

The chapters and sections in this work are


1. Belief
2. God the Father
3. God the Son Divine
4. God the Son Incarnate
5. God the Holy Spirit
6. Life in the Trinity

Appendix 1: Three Creeds Compared
Appendix 2: The Nicene Creed in Latin and Greek

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Faced with these considerable deviations in teaching, the Church needed to find a way to communicate and confess effectively the true faith received from the apostles. One response was the development of what we call “the †rule of faith” (or “the rule of truth”)

In the early Church, the primary form of the creed used in catechesis and especially in baptism was interrogatory—that is, it was delivered through question and answer: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty?

Creeds used in preaching, teaching, and worship were typically declaratory in form—that is, they confessed the faith through a declaration of the truth: I believe in God, the Father almighty, and so on.

The Creed serves as a fixed rule of faith, a measuring stick of what we as Christians believe. It helps us to interpret the Scriptures we just heard, to confirm the orthodoxy of the sermon just preached, and to unite our minds and hearts in confession of what we believe.

The important thing was “orthopraxy.” It did not matter that Polycarp was not truly devoted to the pagan gods; it did not matter that his heart was not really in his action; what mattered was the action. Roman religion was civic religion, and participating was required for everyone.

In the first category were groups such as pagan polytheists, †Marcionite dualists, and Gnostic emanationists. In the second category were modalists, like Noetus and Sabellius, and subordinationists, like the Arians who inspired the Council of Nicaea.

Paternal imagery was common when treating the ruler of the city and the divine ruler of the cosmos. In the ancient world, fatherly rule was the primary model for rightly ordered monarchy, so it was natural to think of the chief god as father over the world. Zeus was considered the father of the gods and humans.

In Christian theological terminology, to be “father” means “to pass on a nature” (this definition fits human as well as divine begetting). The Father is God; therefore, the Son is God (“God from God”). The Son is the same nature as the Father, which he receives not in time (that would make him a creation) but eternally.

This opening line, “for us men and for our salvation,” communicates three things: (1) the recipients of the Son’s work (those for whom he came); (2) the purpose of the Son’s work (why he came); and (3) the opening act of that work (how he came).

More generally, the Spirit leads the early Christians in mission (8:29; 11:28; 13:2; 16:6–7) and guides them as they seek to resolve difficult issues in the Christian community (15:28).

The Spirit not only distributes a multitude of gifts to the members of the Christian community (1 Cor. 12:3–13), but even reveals to us the mind of God (2:10–14). The Spirit is the one who dwells within us and sanctifies us in both body and soul (3:16).

Now it is a property of love to move and impel the will of the lover towards the object loved.”164 Because the Scriptures identify the Spirit particularly with the love of God (see Rom. 5:5), Aquinas concludes that it is fitting that we call this †procession of love by the name “Spirit.”

But in addition to this, if the Spirit is truly Lord, then we have an obligation to follow the Spirit and be utterly docile to him. Just as we follow and obey Jesus as Lord and follow him wherever he leads (Rev. 14:4), so too we should follow the Spirit, who is also our Lord.

The unique quality of the Spirit’s “speaking” is that the Spirit always makes use of a human being (and a human voice or pen) to speak. We never hear the Spirit’s words coming down the wind or out of the blue—the “Spirit speaks,” but he always speaks through the words of a human being.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheNiceneCreed #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Review: Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure!

Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure! Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure! by Andrew Beery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: *****

More Silly Fun in Space

In the Boneyard Dog trilogy, the original Ryker was sent off into the Black to ensure the survival of the human species … eventually establishing three (3) human colonies, each with their own unique struggle to survive. Each book is pretty much dedicated to one of the three colonies … with the prequels detailing the founding of the colony covered in that book and the main event dealing with some form of galactic level [alien] extinction threat that must be stopped here if anybody is to survive. This trilogy takes place several centuries after that when another Ryker seeks to reconnect and save those lost colonies … starting with his own - Azul … where powerful and corrupt corporations maneuver against a benevolent and enlightened monarchy to keep the bulk of humanity enslaved. In fact, Ryker is a Battleborn which are actually permanently indentured soldiers (because debt has and servitude is inheritable) … sort of like the Janissaries of the early Ottoman Empire … and he is not happy about it. Because he is the spitting image of his amazingly near perfect great grand pappy several generations back (complete with the same sense of humor), Ryker soon find himself in a position to do something about it … which of course leads to a ship and then a fleet (how else does a drunken reprobate get promoted to Admiral).

As I said … this is basically the same story as the previous trilogy with a few new interesting details … so the rating here reflects my thorough enjoyment of the previous adventure with only a minor mark down for redundant plot (it still works, so why change it I guess). The main characters are still pretty much Mary Sues, but they are generally easy to like and the snarky comments nearly always draw a smile (if not an out right chuckle). The tech is almost deus ex machina level … but the science was good enough that it didn’t feel ridiculous (which is always a risk when an author goes into this much detail about this stuff … but I am a geek at heart, so I found it interesting). The military tropes were descent… just a tad better than a typical Trek episode (which I am usually am with). The prose is pretty basic without much nuance … so a fair amount of time it was just mindless listening for the fun of it. Over all the series is Much Better

Prequel 1: Chp 0-4 (0:46)
Book 1: Battleborn (4:34)
Prequel 2: Chp 29-36 (1:23)
Book 2: Battleborn 2 - Paradise (4:46)
Prequel 3: Chp 61-68 (1:15)
Book 3: Battleborn 3 - (5:26)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Review: How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence

How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence by Christopher Hearn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book as an interesting premise; however, it is by no means an academic or scholarly work. The entire focus is on proving the Resurrection of Jesus, and while it marshals an impressive amount of circumstantial evidence, there is little to no direct evidence (as might be expected), so it is unlikely to convince skeptics; although it might comfort believers. No where does it cover anything about the origins of Christianity outside of the resurrection narrative, so if that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you. The book is divided into three (3) parts, with each part organized differently. Part One proposes that the resurrection has been denied with the claim that all witnesses were experiencing some form of mass hallucination … and makes the unsupported point that this is the principle means by which the resurrection story is denied. I count myself as fairly knowledgeable in christian apologetics, and I have never found this to be true, not have I encountered this anecdotally; however, there is still some good information here (such as a convenient table of all the biblical post resurrection sightings of Jesus) as well as provides a few basic reasons for the early resistance to the message of christianity … and then it undermines its own credibility with poor scholarship such as the insistence of inserting a creedal statement into 1 Corinthians that was adopted no more than 9 years after the crucifixion with no supporting citations. That is not to say anything in this part is complete wrong, just that what is there is not really a strong supporting argument if you are trying to convince a non-believer, so the best use here would be as a supplement to private or personal reflections by believers.

Part Two focuses on the Empty Tomb … with the basic claim that resurrection deniers attempt to explain how the early believers could have found the tomb of Jesus empty. There are 10 more specific claims here, each with a response. And while I don’t have the credentials needed to verify how accurate this information is, it seems reasonable in many cases and does have some supporting citations (from people that I have not previously encountered in my own studies). For example, there is an interesting connection on why Joseph of Arimathea was the one who had to claim the body of Jesus that was connected to his belonging to the Sanhedrin that was pretty investing and not something that I had heard before (will still need to do some follow-on research to verify though). Additional there was an interesting discussion about why the tomb had to be new in order not to run afoul of custom and law; however, the discussion of why we are so certain of the tomb’s location doesn’t appear to follow any consensus and fails to mention any of the competing claims, giving the a impression of certainty here. Additionally he talks about the James ossuary as if it has been determined to be authentic, while that is actually still contested. This might be inferred by the fact that Oded Golan was eventually acquitted of personally forging the ossuary, but the courts made no ruling on the items actual authenticity.

Part Three attempts to defend the New Testament as a whole; doing so with a combination of strawman arguments and historical inferences (the later being a list of extra biblical documents that mention Jesus by name). An immediate problem here is the inclusion of Thallus, who, while a favorite of Christian apologists because of its early date (52AD), really only confirms that solar eclipse around the time of the crucifixion and it was Africanus writing nearly 200 years after the fact that made the connection to Jesus. So the best external reference we have is actually Josephus as part of his histories, who mentions Jesus primarily in passing as the founder of a Jewish sect that was [believed to have been] executed on a cross by the sect members. In short, all of these arguments have potential, but they are all circumstantial and fairly weak on their own.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part One - Hallucination Theory (1 claim w/ 8 responses)
Part Two - Empty Tomb (1 main claim w/ 10 subclaims and responses)
Part Three - The New Testament (1 main claim and response with 4 counter arguments and responses)

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Jesus made thirteen recorded appearances, at different times and locations, over the span of forty days.

When we look at what happened to people who gathered followers in Israel both before and after Jesus' life, we find that all of the movements failed and were finished off. Done. Yet only Christianity survived the death of its leader and did so in a spectacular way.

This brings us to the second hurdle. Jewish custom at the time stated that if a Jewish person was crucified, being a criminal, his or her body could only be retrieved by a member of the Sanhedrin. Family members or friends were not allowed. This explains why Mary, Jesus’ mother, or any of His siblings or even His disciples did not ask for Jesus’ body for burial.

According to the rules and customs of that time, Jesus' body should have been buried in a tomb for criminals. But Joseph asks for Jesus' body and places it in his own, brand-new tomb which had never been used. This works because as a new tomb, it is neither a place of honor or dishonor.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#HowDidChristianityBegin #LibraryThing

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Review: Natural Theology: Five Views

Natural Theology: Five Views Natural Theology: Five Views by John McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This books aims to capture five (5) current, and competing, viewpoints of natural theology, each championed by a different author. Almost immediately it becomes obvious that even defining what natural theology is always becomes part of the debate and it can seem like each proponent is spending at least some effort talking at cross purposes. In simple terms, it is basically the study of the creator by the study of the creations. The five views stake out positions that run from a maximal view that focuses on “proving” the existence of God and presuming an ultimate good through extension of man’s goodness to a complete rejection of any applicability for natural theology at all (quite a surprise actually). Each chapter begins with a basic premise statement describing the specific viewpoint, followed by a response by each of the other contributors critiquing that statements and ending with a final reply by the original author providing a follow up counterpoint to the critiques. 

Amazingly enough, the exchange was actually very constructive and respectful, without what I have come to expect between scholars on opposing sides of an issue … which I appreciated greatly. In fact, I found it exceptionally helpful in understanding the specific strengths and weakness of each position … having a lot more familiarity with the classical and contemporary positions than the deflationary and Barthian position, it should probably not come as a surprise that I still favor the catholic viewpoint where natural theology augmented by grace can be used to know God, but there were strong arguments from the deflationary viewpoint that emphasized revaluation and experience that connected with some of my charismatic roots … and while I can understand the more calvinist viewpoint from Barth, I found the apparent rejection of natural theology there problematic and overly concerned with an error of naturalism/idolatry with an over reliance on scriptural revelation that for me, borders on fideism. That is not to say that I gained nothing from each point of view, because all of them had some excellent points that highlight the tension and struggle that is perhaps necessary for a healthy faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

1. A Contemporary View
2. A Catholic View
3. A Classical View
4. A Deflationary View
5. A Barthian View

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

For some, natural theology is an enterprise that provides wonderful apologetic resources for those defending the faith. But for others, natural theology is a failed experiment that is filled with theological compromise, weak philosophical arguments, and poor scientific data.

As Alister McGrath notes, it was Augustine’s view that “laid the foundation for the assertion that whatever was good, true or beautiful could be used in the service of the gospel. It was this approach which would prove dominant in the western church, providing a theological foundation for the critical appropriation by Christian writers of philosophical ideas and literary genres whose origins lay outside the church.”

Unlike revealed theology, which may presuppose the truth or reliability of the Christian Bible, natural theology develops a philosophy of God based on observations about the cosmos, pursuing questions about the nature of the cosmos, its origin, and its continuation.

An immediate issue concerns what kind of “goodness” figures in this claim about the explanatory power of theism. Goodness comes in different kinds, such as moral, prudential, and aesthetic goodness; inquirers will need to know which kinds are relevant to the alleged explanatory power of theism. Otherwise, they will be unclear about how, if at all, the alleged goodness of the cosmos fits with the goodness of God.

“The mood of apologetics is assertive, rather than interrogative. The apologist sets out to teach rather than to learn, to prove or refute rather than to enquire, to give rather than to receive. Academic theology, on the other hand, as I understand it, is—or should be—fundamentally interrogative in character. . . . The theologian’s . . . responsibilities are critical, interpretive or clarificatory rather than declaratory.”

God is beyond such categories—beyond, in fact, any and every category.69 Yet, under the broad theological modification that began to occur in the seventeenth century, “God” instead becomes the maximum of being: the apex of being in metaphysics functioning from univocal ontological assumptions and differing from everything only “in degree rather than in kind.”

In other words, Aquinas holds that some theological truths, including the existence and unicity of God, can be known through natural reason alone, but the truth of the existence of the Trinity, and by implication many other teachings of revelation, surpass unaided reason. After Aquinas, these two ways of theological reasoning came gradually to be described respectively as natural theology, and what is variously called theology, without qualification, or revealed theology, or supernatural theology.

Alasdair MacIntyre argues that writers of the Enlightenment believed it was possible to engage the natural world in an empirical, presuppositionless way, so that a natural theology could be constructed independently of “social and cultural particularities.” This project failed, partly because it adopted “an ideal of rational justification which it has proved impossible to attain.”

First, the “god” disclosed by such a natural theology was essentially a creator who had no necessary connection with the ongoing governance of the world (a theological idea traditionally expressed in terms of divine providence) or with the redemption of humanity.

As I noted previously, Newman here warns that the study of the sun, moon, stars, and laws of the universe, while showing the handiwork of God, cannot enable us to know the purposes or the will of God, let alone bridge the unthinkable gap between God and ourselves.

After production, the artifact comes to have a presence of its own, and the imprint is as much a sign of absence as presence. That is certainly not what an apophatic theology means by divine mystery: it is not the darkness of absence abated only by moments of enlightening presence but is instead an indication of the sheer excess of divine plenitude in the thoroughness of God’s presence that can be received only as a darkness of overwhelming light.

Therefore, he explains, “Because white theologians [in particular] are well fed and speak for a people who control the means of production, the problem of hunger is not a theological problem for them. That is why they spend more time debating the relation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith than probing the depths of Jesus’ command to feed the poor.”

Many Christian philosophers cannot shake the idea that natural theology plays a role in increasing the probability of theism. They hold that the reality of apparent design in nature, of a first cause, or of human moral agency increases the probability of theism, even if it does not confirm the existence of a God worthy of worship.

When the Scriptures refer to the hiddenness of God, or God as hiding his face, the issue is not about the loss of belief in God’s existence but, rather, a breaking or suspension or apparent suspension of enjoyment of the covenant with God. In other words, one knows that God exists, but one’s relationship with God has been destroyed or suspended.

What argument does, at its best, is hold a claim up to public accountability—that is, to its responsibility to test that it is not the product of misdirecting desires. Moreover, it is a communicative act that does something other than simply assert, “It’s my experience, so trust it and me,” and therefore holds off, as well as it can, the potential for ideological false consciousness.

Yet, again, there is simply no common mind on how “experienced” Christians should deal with, and make judgments on, any moral matter—from the generation and distribution of capital, to whether war is ever justified and if so what kind of conflict is theo-ethically legitimate, to how immigrants should be treated, to how to live within a global environment requiring maintenance for future generations, to what role women should play in public society and ecclesial communities, to how to reason about and address issues of poverty, and so on.

I have not claimed that some “Christian texts” are “normative” in themselves. Instead, I hold that some texts earn their evidential value for some people by their unsurpassed explanatory worth relative to the overall experience of those people. Abduction (inference to best available explanation) plays a crucial role here, as it does in justification in general.

This love, in Paul’s thinking, is evidence of God’s reality and presence. It is the self-manifestation of God’s unique character of righteous love. That self-manifestation is not a belief or a theology, let alone an axiomatic belief or theology; it is, as understood by Paul, a feature of a religious experience, and it can serve as evidential support for theological commitment.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#NaturalTheology #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 9, 2024

Review: Boneyard Dog Omnibus

Boneyard Dog Omnibus Boneyard Dog Omnibus by Andrew Beery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ****

A Fun Space Opera

This is a basic space opera in the same vein as what you might expect from Star Trek … in fact the debt owed here is visible from the frequent references to ST lore (and other 20th century anachronisms design to support the author’s sardonic sense of humor). Over all, you get a fair amount of the typical sci-fi tropes and campy style to be entertaining without going too far. In fact, there are clear cut good guys and bad guys, so character development is pretty shallow, so if you don’t like the humor, this book is not for you. They world building is also not very extensive; however, the science is done well enough that the various detailed info dumps that regularly apparent are actually interesting as speculative fiction (author has done his homework here) and the military structure and interactions is “close enough” not to be totally irritating.

The primary character (Ryker … perhaps another nod to TNG) is an officer of an earth space force that is recruited to head up a battle between heretofore unknown alien races (and various AIs) after a battle crippled ship limps into the Sol system. There are several stereo typical supporting characters, including one Mr Murphy who seems to have a knack for showing up when over our team starts winning; however, the also provides an opportunity for the MC to spout various snarky witticisms and creativity as he works through each setback … in fact, that is really the major part of the fun in this story. There is a bit of a Christian flare to some of the MC interactions and internal monologging, bit it has a light enough touch that it should be fine … although if you are within that tradition, there are element of the story that you might pick up on that others will miss (such as what appears to be a celestial or heavenly civil war between two “ancestor races” (maybe angels) with the bad guys being known as the defilers … doesn’t really impact the story … but is fun to think about.

Book 1: War Dog (5:25)
Book 2: Mad Dog (5:30)
Book 3: Hunting Dog (5:21)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Review: Engaging the New Testament: A Short Introduction for Students and Ministers

Engaging the New Testament: A Short Introduction for Students and Ministers Engaging the New Testament: A Short Introduction for Students and Ministers by Miguel G Echevarría
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the tagline says … this is a “short” Introduction to the New Testament … although if there is anything new here for ministers, that would be a surprise. The first three (3) chapters provide some groundwork to how the books of the New Testament were selected (very briefly) and how the order of the books work in relation to each other to provide a better understanding of the whole … with the introduction focused on how this is a different type of commentary (it is not really much of a commentary at all in my mind) to chapter 2 (after the lengthy intro) providing the canonical context and connection to “essential elements from the Old Testament until chapter 3 opens a brief discussion on the interpretive approach that highlights the concept of the New Testament being the Old Testament fulled. It is a completely orthodox approach that even champions a very early Gospel date based strictly on the “prediction” of the temple destruction (despite the consensus being more weighted toward after). Regardless, it is still a pretty solid approach to the New Testament that few christians would oppose as not legitimate.

The bulk of the work begins in Chapter 4 with a look at the Gospels themselves … after a brief summary of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, it dives into each with a section of its own. Each section is organized into a quick analysis of the style and purported intent of the book, followed by a brief outline and overview (with commentary that is focused on the thematic cohorts found there in … making this the largest part of the section for a given book), canonical function (how it fits and the reason for the order within the canon), then authorship, dating and audience (very rudimentary treatment here) before closing out the chapter with suggested resources. All in all, it is well organized and good, if very basic information on the New Testament; although I am incline to disagree with some of the provided exegesis/commentary (my objection is not really that material to the over all message). So … Not only do you get a solid overview of the Gospels, but you also get a pretty good summary of the what and why of Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament (including the catholic/universal and John tradition letters) that is largely responsible for how christians actually live their faith … so in that regard, it is actually a good resource to non-christians as well if they are even remotely interest in understanding the scared text of that religion.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

1. Introduction
2. The Canonical Context for the New Testament
3. The Hermeneutics of the New Testament Authors
4. The Gospels and Acts
5. The Pauline Epistles
+ The Pastoral Epistles
6. The Catholic Epistles
+ The Johannine Epistles
7. Revelation

Appendix 1: The Relationship between the Gospels
Appendix 2: The Test of the New Testament
Scripture and Ancient Writings Index
Subject Index

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

In whatever form it was inherited, Christians were sufficiently aware of its essential contents to discern writings that were in accordance with the normative teachings of the church.

According to Bruce Metzger, “These three criteria (orthodoxy, apostolicity, and consensus among the churches) for ascertaining which books should be regarded as authoritative for the Church came to be generally adopted during the course of the second century and were never modified thereafter.”

Regardless of its anonymous authorship, Hebrews has historically been situated in the Pauline corpus. In the present order, its placement as the last of the letters associated with Paul serves as a link between the Pauline epistles and the Catholic epistles, encouraging believers to persevere in following Jesus into the kingdom, which saints have long desired to inherit.

By the first century AD, there were various translations of the Hebrew Scriptures and recensions of prior Septuagint versions with which Christian communities would have been acquainted. Some were more formal (word-for-word), others more dynamic (thought-for-thought).

In sum, typology opens our eyes to how Old Testament shadows find eschatological fulfillment in the New Testament. We see these in terms of associations between Old Testament types and New Testament antitypes. Most types are realized in the person and work of Jesus.

Mark’s use of Latinisms—such as lepta (two Roman coins, Mark 12:42), praetorium (governor’s home, 15:16), legion (cohort of Roman soldiers, 5:9), and centurion (Roman soldier, 15:39)—points to a Roman audience familiar with such terminology.

Turning water into wine recalls Isaiah 25:6–7, where wine symbolizes the arrival of the messianic age, when God will restore his broken people.

As it stands, Acts provides a canonical bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles. First, Acts shows that the Spirit who empowers Jesus to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom in the Gospels also empowers the apostles to preach the kingdom in Acts.

The placement of Romans at the head of the Pauline corpus testifies to its primacy in the letter collection. In this position, it sets the literary and theological expectations for the remainder of Paul’s epistles. […] He adds, “Not only was it the longest letter, but also it exposited Paul’s theology with greatest detail, showed less historical particularity (except chapter 16), and seemed to provide the final and most profound formulation of Paul’s theology.”

A more contextualized reading of Romans sees works of the law as the boundary markers of Judaism that traditionally distinguished those inside the covenant from those on the outside, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, and dietary laws. But according to Paul, all that distinguishes God’s people is faith in Jesus Christ.

The Romans are instructed to, among other things, welcome and assist deaconess Phoebe (16:1–2) and be watchful of those who cause divisions among believers (16:17).

The designation “Catholic” suggests that the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude are intended for a universal audience, whereas Paul’s letters are intended for specific audiences. […] Whereas Paul’s epistles designate the addressees, the Catholic epistles designate the author of the respective letters.

John’s apocalypse is analogous to Jewish texts like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch, where God “reveals” eschatological events through a series of inspired visions.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#EngagingTheNewTestament #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 2, 2024

Review: Host: Systemic - Book 2

Host: Systemic - Book 2 Host: Systemic - Book 2 by Chris Lodwig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ****

A Solid Second Act to Systemic

This book is the sequel to Systemic, previously reviewed here; which, although Host can stand alone, you will get more out of it is you read Systemic first.

It picks up the story some 300 years after Systemic, when the Global AI that controlled humanity went silent … known within the story as the Great Calming. The process by which the AI had been governed in how it “guided” and protected humanity was preserved in enduring printouts documenting how decisions should be approached … and the “System” has been preserved by academics dedicated to that purpose and teaching it to the folks in the outlying villages (aka nodes). As time passes, the new wetware system has degraded, but questions (heretics) about the process as not tolerated (Bridgers). Strangely, for a world that seems to have its initial foundation in tech, it appears to be stuck in an almost Luddite stasis, unable to advance or otherwise change despite its evident on going decline. 

Into this world, we get our main PoV, a young neurodivergent and naive girl (Reyan) who questions everything. This allows a slow reveal/world-building as Reyan struggles to make sense of her world and what her place in it should be … and it helps that she is presented in such a way that it is very hard not to like her. Did I mention this was a slow start? Despite my own fascination with the apparent convergence of IT lingo/slang and structure (I am an IT profession, so that was an easy sale), it is still very slow going at first and relatively easy to put down and come back later until we get past the halfway mark. At that point the action picks up and pulls you through he rest of the story until the end (which I did NOT see coming).

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, April 28, 2024

Review: Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction

Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction by Mark A Jumper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I am not an exact match for the target audience, not being an Evangelical Christian, am I close enough (in formation to be ordained as a Catholic Deacon) to potentially find the information presented to be interesting and helpful … and for the most part I was correct. The book is divided into two parts; with part one providing a basic foundation to understand the specifics cited in part two (which talks about where chaplains are typically found along with what is typically required in that specific ministry. As might be expected with multiple authors, there was a but of repetition and a bit of a bipolar feel to part one, where I assume the intent was to demonstrate the tension between being true to the principals championed by your organization ordination and the need to minister to a plurality of faiths, some of which may not be compatible with your own confession. This includes an excellent discussion on the Constitutional Separation of Church and State and how public chaplains can still fit within that framework. In addition, a fair amount of part one involved talking about how chaplains need to live there faith … which wasn’t really much different that how christians in general should live their faith … so … they need to be Uber Christians? That actually was not as helpful as the authors might has expected (given a presumption that most of this was probably already covered in depth in their formation process). This gave part one more of a motivation feel than a practical guide with specific tips and examples on how the chaplain was different.

Part two introduction ten (10) areas of our society where chaplains are currently serving, with a rough comparison that allows the reader to get a good feel for how each ministry might be different (extremely helpful for anyone discerning a call to be a chaplain). Each Chapter is further divided into a brief history of chaplains within that functional area, a summary of the culture and ethos in which these chaplains serve, a few tips and recommendations about the work a chaplain does in this capacity, and an outline of the requirements and supporting organizations that can help someone discerning a call to be a chaplain in this segment of our community. Each chapter finishes with a section on leadership and an overall summary of the chapter material. Each chapter was also concise and well organized, leveraging much of the terms and ideas presented in part one. Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone either discerning a call to be a chaplain, or even for those who might otherwise work with or hire a chaplain for their own organization.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part One: Chaplaincy Examined
1. A Brief Introduction to Chaplaincy
2. Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Foundations of Chaplaincy
3. Chaplains in History
4. The Constitution and religious Freedom in Chaplaincy
5. Evangelical Identity
6. Endorsement and Employment
7. The Person of the Chaplain
8. Chaplaincy Case and Chaplaincy Skills
9. The Ministry of Presences
10. Chaplaincy Leadership

Part Two: Ten Functional Areas of Chaplaincy
11. Corporate Chaplaincy
12. Healthcare Chaplaincy
13. Military Chaplaincy
14. Education Chaplaincy
15. Prison Chaplaincy
16. Community Chaplaincy
17. Disaster Relief Chaplaincy
18. Public Safety Chaplaincy
19. Recreation Chaplaincy
20. Sports Chaplaincy

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

We are thus defined by our location not outside something but inside something—with unparalleled access to people’s lives. Our paradigm is to serve in the workplaces of those outside the church with all the ministry that’s possible, rather than going on mission to attract people to our church or to build new churches.

A chaplain is a minister (or priest or holder of another such office) who represents a recognized religion and who joins an institution or organization, usually secular, as one of its people in order to support and minister to its members from the inside.

Much of the chaplain’s ministry is focused on helping people with their relationships, whether in the workplace, at home, or in their play.

Essentially, GC2 is all that God calls chaplains to do. The Great Commandment directs the chaplain to enjoy an all-consuming love relationship with God and then to share that love relationship with others—a task that is accomplished by fulfilling the Great Commission.

Chaplaincy offers unparalleled access to people’s lives and access by those people, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation, to a clergyperson serving as a chaplain.

The good chaplain does not just show respect for all but takes the trouble to hear deeply and learn who others are, whatever their beliefs or religion. The good chaplain serves as a via media, a “middle way”: a person who, while standing strong in their own faith, can love those of other faiths while daily living and working with them as a colleague.

Clinical pastoral education (CPE) has expanded dramatically in practice and influence since its founding almost a century ago. Many areas of chaplaincy encourage CPE qualifications, and some—especially healthcare chaplaincies—require it.

Confessional pluralism is the maintenance and accommodation of a plurality of forms of religious expression and organization in the community. Structural pluralism encourages each community to maintain and accommodate a variety of social units that foster religion, such as families, schools, charities, churches, and synagogues.

The endorsement of chaplains by federally recognized religious groups allows the government to ensure that the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion is afforded to military members, hospital patients, and many other people, while at the same time not establishing religion. To this end the ecclesiastical endorser serves as the sole religious authority for chaplains.

Chaplains working in pluralistic settings should seek to make sure every individual’s religious needs are met without violating their own biblical convictions, their ordination vows, or the endorser’s policies. When a chaplain cannot provide direct religious care to an individual, the chaplain should seek out another chaplain or clergyperson who can help meet the need.

Some evangelical chaplains have found a warm reception among religiously diverse audiences by making the following statement prior to voicing their Christian prayer in order to show respect for all: “Thank you for the opportunity to pray. I will be praying from the perspective of my Christian faith tradition. Please join me as you desire, according to your faith tradition.”

Ninety seconds is more than sufficient for a prayer of invocation. A benediction is a prayer of supplication and blessing for the future, asking for God’s help to strengthen all involved to accomplish all that they hope to achieve. Sixty seconds is more than enough time for this prayer of benediction as people fidget to leave the ceremony.

Examples of theoxenic hospitality exist throughout Jesus’s ministry. Many people invite Jesus to their homes, providing dinner, wine, and conversation. Jesus enters their homes as a guest, partaking of the hospitality of the host. As the dinner progresses, the home—the safe space—of the person becomes a holy place and a sacred space in which Jesus transforms into the Good Host.

When chaplains enter a room, their presence elicits responses from people, including the avoidance of offensive language, the hiding of certain books and magazines under couches, the changing of TV stations, and the cessation of negative behaviors. People respond as if Christ is entering the room. Through evangelical chaplains, God’s presence calls people to a sense of accountability.

Northouse explains transformational leadership’s main focus as being “concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals. It includes assessing followers’ motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human beings.”

A relational style of leadership means leading from the bottom up in that the leader will guide others by fostering relationships, practicing a personal kind of management, and caring for others.

A servant leader is a person of character who puts people first, is a skilled communicator, is a compassionate collaborator, demonstrates foresight, is a systems thinker, and leads with moral authority. These descriptions are also known as the seven pillars of servant leadership.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Chaplaincy #NetGalley

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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Review: Forsaken Commander

Forsaken Commander Forsaken Commander by G.J. Ogden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

The [Force of] Non-belief is Strong In This One

It’s a Space Opera … so a certain level of silliness is expected … however, there is a point of diminishing returns and that point is in the rear view for this story. The classic elements (tropes) of a good story are there but are so mechanically stitched together that it never really takes on a life of its own. So we get a human stellar union (republic) that comes under threat from mysterious (Aternien) super-humans, aka post-humans (Sith anybody?). Their only hope is a couple of augmented humans (Jedi) wielding plasma swords (light sabers), their AI gopher bots (droids) and their former weapons platform (aka long sword spaceship) that was scuttled and abandoned (but apparently just needs a few patches and an OS to be good to go) after the previous war ended in an armistice (that being the perfect time to forget how to actually fight a stellar war). The one (damsel) human intelligence officer on the team is apparently there to serve as a foil to show just how much the augmented humans are over the top “Mary Sue(s)” … a fact that the reader is constantly reminded of ad nauseam … oh and the obvious shipping potential. So we have a team of three (3) good guys vs a handful of Uber bad guys in which was intended to be an Epic story, but there is not a single minion or supporting character in sight … and that is as good as it gets.

The character voices are pretty good and captured the witty banter well; however, the (overly dramatic) narrative text between that didn’t work for me. Still … it was good enough to improve my enjoyment of the story (at least a little) and enabled me to ignore some of the over explanation of the obvious as well as basic errors that would otherwise make no sense … such as a statement that ballistic rounds were unable to penetrate skin that was as solid as lead (which actually can be cut with a butter knife) … of shattered glass from a space shuttle cockpit … directing a massive warship (that maneuvers like a craft with a fraction of its mass) in a space battle with just three people … a rank of Major in a space Admiralty … nanites are basically magic plot armor … et al.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheBigFour #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading

Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading by Patrick Schreiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recounted in all three (3) of the synoptic gospels, the Transfiguration of Christ is obviously an important part of the faith from the very beginnings of the Church that is rich in symbolism that can be difficult to unpack and appreciate today without the appropriate historical context. Schreiner does an excellent job providing that context along with commentary that explores a number of potential interpretations, some of which provided new insights and some of which seemed to be a bit of a stretch, all of which provoked some deep thoughts about how this event should fit within the faith. Overall I found this to be a valuable addition to me reference library.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: A Two-Level Christology
Chapter 1. The Necessity of the Transfiguration
Chapter 2. The Glorious Setting
Chapter 3. The Glorious Signs
Chapter 4. The Glorious Saying
Chapter 5. The Transfiguration and Theology
Conclusion: Restoring the Transfiguration
Appendix: Light from Light

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

For Christians, “metamorphosis” refers both to the physical unveiling of Jesus on the mountain (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2) and to the change that progressively occurs in Christians (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18) as we behold “God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6) and eventually “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

First, the Gospels saw the episode as foreshadowing Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation. Second, Jesus’s transformation and the cloud recalls the glorification of Moses. Third, the dazzling white garments are typical of heavenly beings, including the glorified saints.

This context is fundamental for understanding the transfiguration. Jesus, in an allusion to Daniel 7:13–14, predicts that some of the disciples will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. The temporal note signifies that the transfiguration fulfills Jesus’s prediction. The transfiguration is a vision of the Son of Man’s glory, victory, and exaltation.

God created the world in six days, then on the seventh day he rested. The eighth day was known as the first day of the new creation, since it transcended the seven days of creation. The seventh and eighth day imagery therefore symbolizes the reconfiguration of the cosmos.

Second, mountains are places of theophanies, where God and humankind meet. A mountain is an axis mundi, a conduit between earth and heaven, a place of divine revelation. God met with Abraham on a mountain (Gen. 22), revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush on a mountain (Exod. 3:9–10; 19:18–20), and spoke to Elijah on a mountain (1 Kings 19). Mountains are where humans encounter God.

The church fathers all affirmed that the transfiguration, while a concrete historical event, was symbolic of our own ascent to God. The setting becomes a cipher for what it means to “seek the things above” (Col. 3:1), ascend God’s mountain (Exod. 19:3; Isa. 2:3; Ps. 24:3; Mic. 4:2), and reach for the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). To ascend God’s mountain requires casting off that which clings so closely (Heb. 12:1–2) and discarding the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12). This has been called the work of purgation––burning the sin from our bodies.

All three Evangelists recount Moses and Elijah’s advent with only minor differences. Matthew and Luke list the figures in chronological order—Moses then Elijah—while Mark names Elijah before Moses. Luke is unique in saying they appeared in “glory” (doxa) and spoke of Jesus’s “departure” (exodos). Significantly, only after Jesus is transfigured do they appear.

Many assert that Moses and Elijah appear because they are covenantal figures who represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” summarizes all of Israel’s Scriptures.

The church has spoken of the stage after purgation as one of illumination. We put off sin so that we can ascend and see. We move from the ways of a child (purgation) to that of an adolescent (illumination) (see 1 Cor. 13:11–12). Illumination is “characterized by a radical shift of the deep dynamics of our being, a profound transformation of our relationship with God.”

His error lies in his basic proposal to make tents. Peter’s misstep pertains to his attempt to prolong the glory of the scene ad finitum. Peter envisions this mount as the new Bethel, the dwelling place of God, that should last into eternity.

The Lord commands Abraham to take his only and beloved son and sacrifice him on the mountain. The links to the transfiguration are hard to miss: (1) sacrificial imagery, on (2) a mountaintop, accompanied by (3) beloved-son language, and (4) future glorification. In the Jewish tradition, Isaac is seen as a sacrificial figure. The story is called the Akedah, from the Hebrew term for the binding of Isaac.

For Hebrews, “today” is forever. Today is always present. Therefore, when the Father says, “Today, I have become your father,” it implies a past, present, and maybe even eternal meaning.

The Old Testament contains an iconic text that also calls Israel to listen: the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The title “Shema” is based on the first Hebrew word of the text, which means “listen,” “hear,” or “obey”: “Listen [shema‘], Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one [ekhad]. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Origen held to a three-stage understanding of Christ’s visibility. First, everyone can see Christ’s physical body donned in the incarnation. Second, there is a glorified but only semi-spiritualized body shown at the transfiguration and between the resurrection and ascension, and only the spiritually mature can perceive it. Third, there is the body of Jesus that has ascended into the heavens, which is fully spiritual and can only be seen by those who have assumed “spiritual” bodies.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheTransfigurationOfChrist #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.