Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Real Life

Firstly, I'm so sorry for the lack of posts last week. Last week was crazy, and I have been having some trouble motivating myself to read and post reviews up here. I hope to get back into the swing of things this week. :)

Book: Real Life by James Choung

Description: What does it mean to follow Jesus? And how should we help others become more like him?

Once upon a time, being a Christian seemed clear. Say these words, pray these prayers, do these things. But out in the real world, following Jesus feels more nebulous. What's the point?

That's Stephen's struggle in these pages as he wonders if he has missed his calling. In this compelling narrative, James Choung explores what it means to follow Jesus in the real world. Is Christianity something you just believe in, or can it be something you actually live out? Engineer Stephen wants to encourage his younger colleague Jared in his spiritual journey, but both feel at a loss. Stephen's friend Bridget offers insights on how Boomers, Xers, Millennials and younger generations approach spiritual questions, with implications for discipleship, community and service. Together they walk through deepening stages of faith as they discern how God is calling them to live.

Join Stephen, Bridget and Jared on their journey of following Jesus, as they discover what it means to move from skeptic to world-changer. And find new pathways for Christian discipleship and disciplemaking in a world yearning for hope. (from amazon.com)

This book was split into two parts, a novel and then a more information-based section at the end that summarized all the information given in the novel section. I really enjoyed the novel part--it was fun and informative, and written in a style that kept me interested and felt real. The characters were all very real; they struggled with Christianity, sinned, and yet were exactly the kind of people I would like to be someday (especially by the end). All right, a few people felt a bit too perfect, but I only noticed in retrospect; while reading, I definitely did not notice. The information part at the end was less interesting. It felt rather long, and just repeated what was already said in the novel part. It is, however, worth noting that I read this novel in three or five days and everything that had happened earlier was still fresh. The information section would probably be much more useful if I were coming back to the book after a long period of time and I just wanted to look up a few methods or facts or whatever without having to read through all the characterization.

Both parts of the book are about how to actually live for Jesus, especially in everyday life: how to witness effectively and in a way that is authentic, how to live for Jesus. It was focused on college-aged people overall, but the book is published by InterVarsity Press, and InterVarsity is a primarily campus-based ministry.

Real Life had a very powerful message about how to empower Jesus followers and align our lives to God, as well as practical tips as to how to live that out. I very much enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it, especially to anyone struggling with how to share his or her faith in a real, effective way.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

More Than A Theory

Book: More Than A Theory by Hugh Ross

Description: Christians are increasingly challenged with evolution theories as the only models for the origins and histories of the universe and life. But is there any valid scientifically testable alternative?

In More Than a Theory, Hugh Ross offers a comprehensive, testable creation model. This fascinating book responds to the recent, well-publicized challenged from aggressive atheists to the idea of a creator. It also reminds the scientific community of what constitutes good science. Furthermore, it supplies Christians with the scientific information they need to defend their conviction that the Creator is the God of the Bible. (from Reasons to Believe Shop)

This was a powerful, convincing outline of a creation theory based on both current science and the Bible. I found Ross's explanations extremely convincing.

Strengths of this book included an overwhelming amount of evidence that there are many, many factors (over 800) that had to be fine-tuned to make human life on earth possible--things like the brightness of the sun and how that is balanced by the atmosphere, and the amount of tectonic plate activity. The chances for that happening randomly are astronomical--1 in 101,050--and it just deepened my conviction that God is an awesome God!

I also really like how everything was framed as a model, open to scientific testing. Finally, Ross made a really interesting point/claim: that the western emphasis on Darwinian/naturalistic evolution, and our refusal to let that be challenged (at least in science) makes science boring, and that's why there's so few new scientists in many western countries. Ross really did a good job explaining the science.

Criticisms: 1) Closed-mindedness about certain things, such as that humans must have fossil fuels and technology to develop advanced civilization and that life had to be the way it turned out. Seriously? 2) Insistence that all of earth is here only for humanity's benefit and pleasure. I know that this is to some degree stated in Scripture, and part of my irritation comes from the fact that I'm still struggling to figure out what I think it means. 3) Insistence that humans have to have been "specially" created, i.e. not related to hominids. The Biblical basis for this was never explained, and I'm not sure there is one. Wasn't every single species specially created? I think God taking the time to cause evolution to go a certain way to create a species is pretty special and counts as special creation, even if that is how all species are created.

Overall, a strong book, well-written and well-researched, about God's role as Creator and how that fits into current scientific knowledge. Highly recommended!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Somewhere in Germany

Book: Somewhere in Germany by Stefanie Zweig

Country: Germany

Description: Somewhere in Germany is the sequel to the acclaimed Nowhere in Africa, which was turned into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. This novel traces the return of the Redlich family to Germany after their nine-year exile in Kenya during World War II. In Africa, Walter had longed for his homeland and dreamed of rebuilding his life as a lawyer, yet ultimately he and his family—wife Jettel, daughter Regina, and baby Max—realize that Germany seems as exotic and unwelcoming to them in 1947 as Kenya had seemed in 1938. Hunger and desperation are omnipresent in bombed-out Frankfurt, and this Jewish family—especially Regina, who misses Africa the most—has a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances. Yet slowly the family adapts to their new home amidst the ruins. 

In Frankfurt, Regina matures into a woman and, though her parents want her to marry an upstanding Jewish man, her love life progresses in its own idiosyncratic fashion. She develops a passion for art and journalism and begins her professional career at a Frankfurt newspaper. Walter at last finds professional success as a lawyer, but never quite adjusts to life in Frankfurt, recalling with nostalgia his childhood in Upper Silesia and his years in Africa. Only his son Max truly finds what Walter had hoped for: a new homeland in Germany. 

Although the Redlichs receive kindness from strangers, they also learn anti-Semitism still prevails in post-Nazi Germany. They partake in the West German “economic miracle” with their own home, a second-hand car, and the discovery of television, but young Max’s discovery of the Holocaust revives long-buried memories. Rich in memorable moments and characters, this novel portrays the reality of postwar German society in vivid and candid detail. (from Amazon.com)

I really enjoyed both the beginning and the end of this book. Both were engaging, interesting, and full of detail. The middle was a bit slow and hard to get through. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of life in Germany just after World War II--the deprivations, everyone trying to pretend that they weren't a Nazi, the Jews just trying to cope. I loved seeing Regina become an adult and understand her mother better. The ending was very good, if a bit sad--it resolved big issues without resolving everything.

This book is very much about life. There isn't an overarching plot so much as many small scenes from the family's life, although some issues (like getting an apartment, getting a job) do get resolved. Over a really long period of time, twelve years.

(Caution: There was one sex scene.)

Although I enjoyed this book at times, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.