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D Glover (northern bc, canada)

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The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
by David Berlinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Scientism of the New Atheists, June 3 2013
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This was really good. David Berlinski is a self-described secular Jew, but not a very good one in my estimation - he sounded more convinced of the reality of the God of Scripture than most modern day pastors (which is pretty sad). Not only does Berlinski dismantle the so-called scientific arguements of the "new atheists" but he shows that what is masquerading as science is really a religious philosophy. While that is no surprise, this book puts forth its argument with thorough understanding and truly fine word craft. The tone is something like what I imagine Christopher Hitchens would sound like if he had switched sides or what Ann Coulter and G.K. Chesterton would sound like had they collaborated (admittedly, two posibilities which history makes impossible). You can tell the argument of this book has struck a nerve by the way the atheists addressed in it have responded. In typical fashion, they are calling names, mocking the author's associations and questioning the author's qualifications to speak on the subject. It goes without saying that this is not the reaction of open minded scientists but of stuffy cardinals and bishops who smell heresy. Highly recommended.

Father Hunger
Father Hunger
by Douglas Wilson
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars In desperate need of fathers..., May 2 2013
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In this very timely book, author, pastor and professor, Douglas Wilson, identifies fatherlessness as a critical issue, perhaps the critical issue, of present-day Western society. Fatherlessness pervades not only the culture of the West but also the sub-cultures of the churches of the West. And fatherlessness can run rampant even in traditional, two-parent homes, when dads are disengaged or when they are more focussed on career, money and material possessions, "the guys", themselves and their pass times (surfing the web, TV, video-games, etc.), than they are in proactively providing for, protecting, and lovingly raising their children.

Wilson shows how many of the systemic and perennial problems our society battles actually stem from weak, disengaged, abdicating, abusive or non-existent fathers. He shows how the effects of father-hunger are broad and deep, and are measurable in many ways including ultimately contributing to higher crime rates, lower education standards and achievement, lower average earning ability of kids who grow up and move into the work force, lower overall societal morality, lower levels of personal responsibility, etc. Wilson discusses how government programs are not and never will be the answer to this problem. State programs are simply an impersonal attempt by the state to step in and father children in the absence of their true fathers. Many families then become reliant on the state, even many families with a father who is physically present at home but who is emotionally and provisionally tuned-out to his role of caring for his family. But the state cannot be a real father to children because, while it might send a cheque every month for groceries and day-care, such "provision" is effectively the same as an alimony payment; it is a reminder of the father-hunger, not a solution to it. The child needs more than a cheque in the mail. Children need the love and care and security of a responsible man who loves them and loves their mother in front of them.

The author traces the problems of societal and individual father-hunger to the root cause of abandoning our belief in a Father-God. When people no longer recognize that there is a God-the-Father and that his nature and works are spelled out for us in the pages of the Bible, and when people no longer recognize that this is the example after which all human fatherhood is supposed to be patterned, we are set adrift with no true model to base human fatherhood on. Wilson calls fathers back to Biblical faith and imitation of God the Father, in practice and not just in word. Only when the fathers in our society repent of the abdication of their proper roles and of the abandonment of their wives and children (even abandonment where the father still physically dwells with his family), and only when fathers turn to the one true pattern of Fatherhood, God the Father, in confession and faith, through the saving work of God the Son...only then will father-hunger begin to be repaired.

One issue with this book: I think that readers who are familiar with Wilson's other written works, whether his books or his blog, could get more out of this than those who have never read anything by him before. Wilson has a unique way of stating things and he can bounce quite quickly back and forth between serious and sarcastic. He can also sometimes assume too much of the first time reader of his works, for example that they know more of where he is coming from or share his presuppositions. Many do, I'm sure, but many more may not and for them, this book will not be as convincing or helpful as it could have been if it had been written from the perspective of speaking to a particular audience for the first time. Personally I don't find this a drawback or distraction as I am quite familiar with his works and communication style, but over the years I have received feedback from folks who have never read anything by Wilson before, and this has been a fairly consistant critique. However, it is not a major issue and in no way would I want to disuade anyone from reading this timely, helpful, and to be frank, crucial book for fathers as they fulfill their critical role in the home, the church and the world.

I highly recommend this book to all current and future fathers!

Holy Subversion (Foreword by Ed Stetzer): Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
Holy Subversion (Foreword by Ed Stetzer): Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
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5.0 out of 5 stars Subverting allegiance to everything but Jesus, April 26 2013
"Lord" is the title that the New Testament writers repeatedly assign to Jesus Christ. Lord ("Kurios" in Greek) was also the title that Caesar took for himself. This is no coincidence. The original preachers of the gospel understood that at the heart of the message they were called by God to proclaim was the fact that God the Father had given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. Caesar was not the ultimate authority but King Jesus was. Caesar was not to be worshipped, although he demanded it, only God was. Whenever Caesar's commands conflicted with those of Jesus, the disciples and apostles of Jesus obeyed God rather than the civil authority. Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord of all.

Trevin Wax has reminded us of this truth, a truth which must have come as a startling and disconcerting fact to the original hearers of the gospel message. The gospel of Jesus subverted the authority claims of Caesar over all of life. There could only be one ultimate authority figure in the life of a Christian and it had to be Jesus. He demanded to be Lord of all. Jesus does not share the throne of the universe with any other power and he will not share the throne of your life with any other power. Jesus demands total allegiance of his disciples. He is not satisfied with lordship over your religious sentiments and your Sunday mornings. To be a true Christian (Christ-one) means to have Jesus and only Jesus as master of your whole life in all its aspects.

Rome fell long ago, but we still have many "Caesars" calling for and demanding our allegiance. Just like the emperors of the Rome of long ago, there are many things which demand our time, energy and affection. When we give our allegiance to those things, when they become a central focus to us, we are ultimately and effectively rendering them our worship rather than rendering it to the Triune God alone. The author identifies some of the main competitors for our allegiance today as being self, success, money, leisure, sex, and power. Trevin points out that these things are not bad in and of themselves any more than legitimate civil authority is, but it is when we elevate these things to the place of control over us and allegiance to in our lives that we have effectively given them the lordship of our lives that only Jesus ought to, and rightfully does, have. This book is a call to a whole-hearted return to Jesus alone as Lord of all for the church. This return will affect every aspect of our lives - family, marriage, leisure, work - ultimately everything. This is a call to recognize that Christ is the foundation and center of all things for his people and that this fact ought to affect how we think and act in all areas of our lives.

Trevin concludes this book with a challenge to make this very public call to allegiance to Jesus as Lord central to our evangelism as it was to the evangelism of the early church. After all, this is the pattern we see in the apostolic proclamation of the gospel. We proclaim Jesus as Lord over against all else which demands people's allegiance and worship in our culture today.

This is a relatively short and very accessible book. It is not only for pastors and students but could be profitably read by any Christian. I highly recommend it. For further and more in depth study, see also
Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not documentary, but fine dramatic sketch, Jan. 15 2013
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I have to admit that when I first started into this biography of Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart, I wasn't all that impressed by the format. Rather than a traditional biography, where biographer looks into the subject's life from the position of a time-removed, omniscient, supposedly objective third party, this was done as a long running conversation between the great writer and a friend. In it, Leithart has Dostoevsky recounting his life, his work, his relationships, his opinions on literature, religion, politics, culture, Europe and Russia, all within a conversational context. There are flashbacks in which we go to the events as they unfolded, but those flashbacks happen as Dostoevsky reminisces with a good cigar in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other. So, if you crack this book expecting a documentary, you may be disappointed to find a dramatic monologue interspersed with dramatic reenactments. However, Leithart (who has taught on Dostoevsky for several years at the college level) has done a lot of research to ensure that, even though the conversation that carries the flow of Dostoevsky's recounting of his life was fictional, the details of that life are accurate, drawn from various biographies, contemporary journals, diaries of family and friends, Dostoevsky's own writings, etc.

I had a change of heart about a third of the way through this book. Initially not a fan of the format, I realized part way in that, though the format of this book didn't present quite as clear a chronology or give as much outside commentary on the psychology of the subject as most, I was getting a far better feel of Dostoevsky's own perception of himself and his times as well as other's opinions of him. I have read biographies of several people and I can honestly say that with this one, even though it is among the briefest biographies I've ever read, I believe I have a better "feel" of the subject than I have ever had before. There may not be the bulk of sheer facts that one normally encounters in biography, but I feel like I have gotten inside Dostoevsky's own head, viewing his life and times through his own eyes.

This biography is part of a series by Thomas Nelson called "Christian Encounters". I couldn't think of a more appropriate term for the reading experience afforded by this book. I feel as though I have truly "encountered" Fyodor Dostoevsky. Thank you, Peter Leithart, for a beautifully written encounter. I believe it has served manifold purposes, for this reader anyway, as it has given me the urge to read more of Dostoevsky's own works, a rich context within which to read them, and a desire to pick up a lengthier treatment of his life.

Canada and Other Matters of Opinion
Canada and Other Matters of Opinion
by Rex Murphy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars No one says it like Rex, Jan. 7 2013
This is a compendium of Rex's opinion pieces from radio, newspaper and TV. When Rex is good, he is eloquently good, like when he is critiquing the vacuousness of our celebrity culture or the oxymoronic human rights commissions in Canada or taking on one of the reigning orthodoxies of our age, like global warming. But when he is bad, like when he is gushing about the public speaking skills of Barack Obama or when he is hanging all the Liberal's hopes on Michael Ignatiff (boy, did he miss call that one), at least he is still eloquent. Rex is an old school liberal, which is to say he is more conservative than most Democrats or even many Republicans (for a state-side comparison). He is great on his critique of the so called "arts" community and the work they frequently produce, but then mysteriously inconsistent when he criticizes the Conservative government for wanting to cut or eliminate tax-payer funding to "the arts" in Canada when they so often produce the unmitigated crap (in many cases, near pornographic) they do. But, by and large, Rex is a far better guide through the moral and political morass of modern politics and culture in Canada (and occasionally abroad) than the majority of pundits out there and he is far more down to earth and "everyman" and balanced than most editorial or opinion piece writers. Rex clearly loves his country and his province. Overall there is more good sense here than one usually finds in someone who has to write a regular column. I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could. Several of the pieces deserve a 5, some a 2. But there are more chapters worthy of a 4 than there are worthy of a 1 or 2.

Keeping Holiday
Keeping Holiday
by Starr Meade
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the right track, but barely leaves the station, Jan. 3 2013
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This is an allegorical story about coming to faith in Jesus (the Founder) and then living the Christian life (keeping Holiday). It is a tale about two children, Dylan and his cousin Clare, and their adventure to find the true city of Holiday, where the joy and celebration of "the holidays" is kept perpetually, and to be authorized by the Founder to come and go there whenever they wish. I bought it because Starr Meade's devotional teaching material for kids is beneficial and this story came highly praised by a couple of theologians I respect and have benefitted from. I read it to my three oldest children (8, 6 & 4) as the book says it is for elementary age and older. I would give this book 2.5 stars (between didn't like it and it was ok), and at the same time I would give the author 4 stars for her good intentions.

[NOTE: I hope no one takes this review as an attack on the author of this book. I know her previous books have been used to teach many young children (and their parents) the truths of the Christian faith and for that I am truly thankful. I have no doubt that God will also use this book in some people's lives toward that same end. But I want to use this review to also speak about a broader issue affecting much Christian fiction, particularly that produced for children. I use this occasion because this book is an example of the issue I have in mind.]

First, the positive. This is a great concept. I wish there were a perpetual stream of fine works of imaginative fiction in which children (and adults) could steep in the truth, goodness and beauty of the Christian faith, its various facets reflected and captured in fine literature. Story is usually a far more powerful teacher than other forms of written or verbal communication, especially for children. Unfortunately, while I think this book is on the right track, I don't think it gets very far from the station.

Also, it must be said that the book makes a carefully conscious effort to be theologically precise, something that is far too frequently lacking in Christian books of all kinds outside of a small number of publishers. (That the criteria of theological correctness ought to be the most basic litmus test of publishability for Christian publishing houses should go without saying but unfortunately it needs to be said over and over as it appears too many of them aren't listening.) The author takes great pains to ensure that the symbolism of the story is, almost point-by-point, accurate with a faithful understanding of salvation by grace through faith, and not by our works. Actually, the point-by-point attempt at accuracy may be a major factor in the flatness of the story telling, but more on that below. The oft repeated lines, "you don't find the Founder, he finds you. He's not just the Founder, he's the finder too" serves to regularly remind the cousins (and the reader) that as they seek the Founder (Jesus), son of the Emperor (God the Father), it is really he who is seeking them. The difficult and challenging circumstances that the protagonists go through, including being tempted by a kindly looking and sounding old man to give up the search for the true Holiday, are understood at the end to have been superintended by the Founder, and while they seemed nearly impossible to endure at the time, in hindsight the children can see the caring hand of the Founder watching over and providing for them in every circumstance.

Now the negative. This author is definitely stronger as a non-fiction writer and educator. Overall, the prose is clunky and laborious, in places too overt or "teachy" and in others, just awkward. This is the case to such a degree that at times as I read it aloud to my children, they asked me to re-read the sentence because they didn't understand what the author was saying (I can't recall them ever having asked me to do that before, even with something on the reading level of The Hobbit). I sometimes even found myself backing up and sorting out the flow of a sentence in my mind prior to reading it (supporting or dependent clauses should be rare in the sentences of a children's story, especially geared toward elementary aged children). At any rate, the prose certainly doesn't roll off the tongue. While I am in full support of the concept of story to tell and teach the truth, it really only works well when the story itself can stand on its own merits as a work of artistry and good literature, while not sacrificing "correctness" of the truth it contains. This story feels everywhere like theological correctness was the governing rule in its creation at the expense of attention to artistry. Even the descriptions of things like the sights, smells and sounds of Holiday, which were clearly meant to attract the reader and cause them to associate fond Christmas memories with the winsome beauty of the authentic Christian life, are described in very clunky language. About halfway through the book, I found myself simplifying sentences as I read them, substituting a simpler phrase for a backhanded one or a simpler word for an awkward or ill-chosen one. It is almost always true, especially in children's stories, that the simpler way of saying something is the better way.

The thought that kept springing to mind was, "I wish that the author would quit writing for the theologians that the publisher will ask to blurb the book and just write for the children who will read it." Perhaps that is an unfair statement on my part since I don't know the author personally and I am pretty sure, being a mother and grandmother, she had some little people in mind when she was writing it. I am pretty sure she made an effort to tell a truly good story. Also, I do applaud her proper effort to be correct in her symbolic representation of various doctrines and truths. However, I couldn't suppress the thought that this story was concerned more with theological accuracy than with the narrative that contained and carried it. Truth and goodness are of ultimate importance, but they ought to be inseparably married to beauty. It may very well be the scope of the story, the breadth of things it is seeking to represent (how a person comes to faith and starts to live the Christian life), that makes it so difficult to capture in one story, like Bunyan did. Thinking of the Narnia stories, Lewis writes from a perspective of truth, but the individual "truths" of the faith overtly represented in each story are limited in scope (the substitutionary atonement and resurrection as victory over sin, death and the devil in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the process of regeneration, repentance and sanctification in the life of Eustace Scrub in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, most obviously come to mind, though there are certainly additional particular truths present in those stories as well). So, while I think the attempt falls short, the author could be commended for attempting such a broad and worthy goal.

A Christian story book should be like a faithful Christian. Living a faithful Christian life is not only about thinking rightly and doing rightly but about our right thinking and action being accompanied by deep joy, abiding peace, hearty laughter and sacrificial love, by a winsome spirit. It is these traits that make the true Christian life and doctrines beautiful and winsome. No one is attracted by a dour theologian even if he is precise and accurate and no one is won by a nit-picking moralist, even if their morals are biblical ones. Likewise, no one is ultimately helped by an attractive liar or by beautiful lies. But truth and beauty are not mutually exclusive. Personally, I think a truthful story that lacks beauty is nearly as dangerous as a beautiful story that lacks truth. A beautiful lie will frequently suck people in because it is attractive. Truth presented in a drab or flat way will often deter people as they associate that truth with ugliness, or at least with something unbeautiful. But the Christian faith, which this book is symbolizing, is true, good and beautiful. I wish this story had the same mixture. In fairness, I think the author likely did make this attempt, but I wish the editorial staff had worked with her more carefully to achieve it before the book went to print.

The comparisons some have made to Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are accurate only in so far as this work of fiction is also consciously symbolic of aspects of the Christian life. In the works of Lewis and Bunyan, beauty joins truth and goodness in full partnership. This is not the case with Keeping Holiday. I am currently beginning to read The Chronicles of Narnia to my children for the third time in their short lives (I have read them probably 5 or 6 times myself, both as child and adult). Lewis's stories suck the reader in from the opening pages. They are truly magical. That never happened with Keeping Holiday, even though I really wanted it to and my kids expected it after seeing the cover art. Sadly, I can't see our family ever re-reading this story. We are the type of story consumers who, not infrequently, sacrifice bedtime for "just one more chapter, pleeeeease", so it says something that my children didn't mind going to bed on time on the evenings when we were reading this story.

With Narnia, people fall in love with the characters, the plot, the mood and the settings. Often, it is only after the fact that a first time reader looks back upon, say, the death and resurrection of Aslan, and sees in it a retelling of the atonement of Christ on the cross in the place of sinners and of the triumph over death of the empty tomb. That such things are often seen in hindsight is not a bad thing but rather a testament to the quality of the story telling. What makes a truly good story is, well, a really good story. A reader gets "lost" or "caught up" in a really good story. The sweep of the plot, the personalities of the characters and the details of description all work together to suck a reader out of their world and into another. Unfortunately, Keeping Holiday felt flat, clunky, wooden and forced and never managed to sweep this reader, or my elementary aged listeners, into itself.

The draw with Bunyan's Pilgrim is somewhat different than Narnia, but there is beauty there of another kind. It does not contain the hominess or the same type of magic as Narnia but it does capture the dramatic and martial spirit of the faithful Christian life in a cursed and fallen world. The symbolism is loftier, perhaps more operatic, than Narnia, and yet readily identified with by everyday Christians in their everyday struggles, failings and triumphs. Pilgrim is every Christian, and we enter his struggles because Bunyan has so successfully represented ours.

Holiday isn't a bad story, but it isn't a good story either, if you catch my drift. Content is fine, but the word-craft needs work. If this story had been a painting, I would applaud the painter's intention to capture such a worthy subject on canvas, I would applaud the accuracy of her colour choices and vantage point she chose to paint the scene from. I would, however, encourage her next time to use varying widths and stiffness of brushes, to add shadow and depth and texture to her painting, to mix her hues more creatively and above all to study the masters more closely prior to tackling her next subject. I would implore her to do all these things not to discourage her from ever painting again, but rather to encourage her to try harder next time. And as a rebuke to myself and other lovers of good stories, her way of doing it is better than my way of not doing it.

Why Do We Pray?
Why Do We Pray?
by Stanley D. Gale
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars If God knows everything, why pray?, Dec 12 2012
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This little booklet is an excellent introduction to the Bible's teaching and the Christian practice of prayer. Along with discussing the Bible's direct teaching on prayer as well as the examples of prayer we see in Scripture, the author lays out an overall understanding of what prayer is in its various facets. He also effectively and faithfully answers many common questions believers have about prayer such as the one in the title of this review: "If God knows everything and knows what I need and what I am going to ask, why pray." This and more questions are answered in this easy to read and very well articulated booklet. This is by no means a thorough treatment of the subject due to the series constraints but it is much meatier than most intros and can be read in an hour. I highly recommend it.

What Is the Trinity?
What Is the Trinity?
by David F. Wells
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars The unique nature of Christianity's relational God, Dec 11 2012
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I am always on the lookout for short, introductory books on different key doctrines of the Christian faith to recommend to and share with others. There are some good ones out there on a lot of topics but the Trinity is one aspect of Christian doctrine that is at once at the very heart and centre of our faith and all too frequently neglected. There is much more written about what God does and has done for his people, far less about who God is in his Triune nature and how he relates within himself and works his purposes out among the three persons of the Trinity. I am happy to say that this is a worthy introduction to the study of the Trinity. This much maligned and misunderstood doctrine has much benefit for the church, much to inform the functioning of the family and church body, and much to recommend itself in apologetics and philosophy. While this little booklet gives a great intro and a solid (albeit brief) explanation of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity (both Scripture and church history), my hope is that it will lead those who read it to pursue trinitarian studies further. A booklet this small can only scratch the surface of any aspect it discusses, afterall.

For further study, I would recommend The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

Sun Rise: Suncor, The Oil Sands And The Future Of Energy
Sun Rise: Suncor, The Oil Sands And The Future Of Energy
by Rick George
Edition: Hardcover
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oil Sands: History, Controversy & Future, Dec 10 2012
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This book is part business success story, part defense of a much maligned industry, and part call for a rational conversation on the future of global energy. How does a person tell their success story without bragging and boasting? By acknowledging those who helped them. How does an industry defend itself against noisy opponents? By rationally discussing the facts, stating the good and admitting the bad, and by not sinking to the level of those who will say anything, true or false, to turn public opinion in their favour. And how does one point the way forward in the face of growing global energy demands? By finding the responsible middle ground between the shrill opponents of all things petroleum and those big oil reps who would close their minds and R&D departments to the responsible integration of energy alternatives. Rick George does all three successfully in this book. That's it in a nutshell. I'd give it 4.5 stars. If you want more detail, read on.

Rick George, born and raised in Brush, Colorado, liked the shiny new pick-ups of the local guys who worked in the oil patch, so he got a summer job as a labourer. He liked the work and took an engineering degree to pursue it further. The rest, as they say, is history. From there George went on to work for Texaco in various locations, to complete a law degree, a business degree and to take on bigger and bigger challenges until one day, while living and working in London, he was offered a seemingly career ending move: to run the struggling and money losing Canadian oil sands operation for the American company, Sun Oil. Many of his friends and colleagues advised against the move, suggesting a move to the oil sands would be "quick sand" for his career, but George combined his small town personal skills (he says his dad knew everyone and always listened to people), his middle-class work ethic, his eternal optimism, his desire for a good challenge and his entrepreneurial spirit, and transformed the seemingly hopeless enterprise into Canada's largest energy company and second biggest company overall, far and away outstripping its once parent company.

The first part of this book is a great success story, both of Rick George himself and the company he ran, Suncor Energy, for just over 20 years. There is much of interest from a purely business perspective as well as from a historical perspective. Particularly interesting are the parts of the story dealing with Suncor's split from the American parent to become a fully Canadian company and the tale of Suncor's take-over of Petro-Canada, a formerly government owned and operated company. Few people recall that the take-over had been attempted once before, 10 years earlier but undermined at the last minute. This story provides some previously unknown details on how that deal fell apart. It is also interesting to hear of how George transformed the company by observing with his own eyes and talking with the ground level employees about what was and wasn't working...listening. This is something George has also done more successfully than any other oil executive regarding the environmental and stakeholder issues of the oil sands - he has listened to his critics rather than writing them off or railing against them in a defensive huddle. And he has applied steady and incremental change to gradually but effectively improve the environmental performance of Suncor and the oil sands overall, something which continues today.

Perhaps now that he is no longer at the helm, George feels more freedom to challenge some of the oil sands loudest critics and to question some of their most shrill criticisms. However, when he does so, he relies on facts and clear reasoning and never resorts to diatribe or name calling, as do so many of the oil sand's detractors. There is much here which will need to be honestly and thoughtfully considered and answered by the opponents of the oil sands if they are to be taken seriously by the general public. For example, George effectively and convincingly deconstructs two of the biggest criticisms of the industry, namely 1) that the oil sands are the dirtiest form of energy in the world and 2) that the world should quit oil cold turkey and switch over to alternative, "clean" energy sources. George points out that there isn't even a fraction of the capacity of alternative energy sources required to replace petroleum-based energy sources and that it is hypocritical for North Americans to preach to the rest of the world, just as their own living standards are nearing ours, that they ought to do with less. George also shows that the (largely American) criticism of the oil sands as a dirty source of energy is highly hypocritical and untrue when the US relies on coal for 70% of its electricity generation and coal dwarfs the oil sands, per energy unit produced and in overall volume, in its "carbon footprint" and GHG emissions. He also compares the various sources of US imported oil and shows how Canadian oil sands oil is not only more ethical (coming from a stable democracy with similar values to the US) source of energy but also puts more Americans to work than any other source of foreign oil the US buys.

Some of the most famous environmental crimes reported about the oil sands are deconstructed in this middle section of the book. George debunks the infamous two-jawed fish, something that the news media got hold of and spread like a bad rash, but then, when a laboratory examination proved it to be normal fish in an advanced stage of decomposition, most media didn't bother to run follow-up stories. Another big news story was the supposedly high rate of cancer diagnosed by one physician among members of a First Nation community down stream from the oil sands. This doctor stated the cause to be linked to the effects of the oil sands development. This accusation was followed up on. The Alberta Cancer Board found the physicians' conclusions were wrong and four of the six cases of bile duct cancer were misdiagnosed, with one case not even being cancer at all. Also, separate bodies found that none of the emissions from the oil sands exceeded allowable limits and they concluded that the emissions would not pose a higher than normal risk to human health.

Personally, my favourite part of the book is where Mr. George challenges celebrity activists to live what they preach and to stop being such hypocrites. In particular, George takes on Darryl Hannah's anti oil sands mantra point by point and exposes her utter ignorance on the subject as well as director James Cameron's completely and massively hypocritical lecture to the world that, "we will have to live with less" (this coming from a man with 3 homes totaling 24,000 sq ft., and a ranch, none of which use solar or wind energy - he also has a fleet of cars, submarines, motor cycles, a Humvee fire truck, a helicopter, a yacht and a private jet which he flew up in on his trip to Canada to view and critique the oil sands). George calls such celebrity-critics out and challenges them to first learn the facts before decrying something they don't understand and then to practice what they preach. In my opinion, taking environment and energy policy advice from a multi-millionaire with mansions, penthouses, a collection of exotic cars, yachts, private jets, and a carbon footprint the size of a mid-sized African nation would be like taking marriage and parenting advice from, well, the same people. A good rule of thumb might be: Never take advice from someone who stands in front of a camera and pretends to be something they are not for a living, unless they are giving you advice on how to stand in front of a camera and pretend you are something you are not. Another good rule of thumb might be: Never trust someone who tells you to live with less and then climbs back onto their private jet to fly off to one of their several mansions to pack the trunk of their Rolls Royce to drive to the marina to embark on a cruise in their private yacht - there's a good chance they are just trying to assuage their conscience by joining a cause.

George points out that hypocrisy doesn't only come from celebrities. He notes how many jurisdictions in the US have attempted to ban the import and use of oil sands derived fuel. He uses California as an example (what's with the land of surf and sun?). California put a ban on oil sands oil because of its wells-to-wheels emissions (the emissions, mainly GHGs, from exploration to refining to transport to market and end use). However, California exempted their own state's heavy oil production from the same rules, even though they have a higher environmental impact and don't have the as stiff regulatory compliance, the same policy of constant environmental improvement and the proven track record Canadian oil sands does. Other US jurisdictions have attempted to ban oil sands oil but won't consider cutting back their own use of coal, a far higher source of GHG and other emissions. George asks how much of these policies are really about the environment and how much is just about being voted in again next election.

As the subtitle promises, Rick George goes on to discuss a future strategy for all things energy. He reissues his call for a Canadian National Energy Strategy (nothing akin to the much hated National Energy Program of the Trudeau era), which would systematically plan and implement a strategy to meet Canada's energy needs into the future, coupled with a strategic approach to exporting energy globally. George gets behind efforts to export oil sands oil to other global markets rather than the current state of affairs where Canada effectively has only one market for this oil: the US. In a single-buyer market like this, the exporter effectively becomes a price-taker, and the whole export market could come crashing down if the importer ever were to make a policy change and severely cut or end such imports. This would leave Canada in a tough position. George calls for the nation to support the infrastructure that would allow for global exports of oil sands oil. This would not only increase the security of income from the sale of oil sands oil (with access to numerous foreign markets), it would increase the value of that resource even in sales to the US. Also, access to additional markets would provide capital to expand oil sands production which in turn would mean thousands of new jobs for Canadians and expanding job and business opportunities for the local First Nation companies in the vicinity of the oil sands (the oil sands have already provided more job and business income to FN communities than any other industry in Canada). George admits that there is significant opposition in Canada, especially British Columbia, to tanker facilities on the Pacific Coast, and while he admits that concern is warranted and safety and environment are critical considerations, he points out that there are many such tanker ports all over the world (in the North Sea, Scotland, England, Norway, etc. and even on the Pacific in Alaska and the lower 48) which overall have operated very safely and as such, this single factor should not be grounds to disallow such tanker facilities.

For those who call for a speedy end to all petroleum based energy generation and the so-called global "addiction to oil", George calmly asks to have a reasonable conversation. Under his leadership, Suncor explored and invested heavily in alternative energy production (wind and bio-fuel). He sees the expansion of alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, etc., as very important, and cutting our consumption by increasing efficiency of all our energy consuming devices (especially vehicles) as critical, but he reminds that all the alternative energy sources combined would not meet a fraction of the world's current energy demands, much less the increased projections of nations such as China, India and Brazil in the near future. George proposes a systematic approach to growing the efficiency of petroleum energy sources (oil and natural gas), phasing out some of the dirtiest sources of energy (like coal) while simultaneously improving our capacity and reliability for the alternative sources. He also advocates not discounting nuclear, as some jurisdictions have, but rather being more careful about where such facilities are located (not near shore lines or fault lines). In the absence of a "magic bullet" to get the world off petroleum based energy production, and supposing fairy dust isn't discovered in the short term, Rick George states the most balanced and even handed approach I've seen to date.

Shack, The
Shack, The
by William P. Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.49
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Shack: remaking God in our preferred image, Dec 7 2012
This review is from: Shack, The (Paperback)
Well, I'm coming to this particular show in its run through the cheap theatre. I was going to avoid it altogether but for some reason I still have people asking me if I've read it and others telling me that I should. My wife read The Shack during the peak of the hype and she summarized it in two words: irreverent & erroneous. I can't really improve on that but I can expand, even if it pains me to do so.

Going in to it, I determined to try to find some positive things to say about The Shack so that in my conversations with folks it wouldn't seem like I was just rattling off a litany of negativity. There are a couple of "positive" things I can say but unfortunately they will mostly be qualified away once I get on to discussing the negatives. One positive is that the author has correctly noted that many people today have no right concept of fatherhood from their own experience and so they struggle with formulating a positive image of God as Father. Another positive: the author has correctly noted that much of the church has placed God in a box and limits him in their minds to the domesticated and truncated deity that they they can control, at least in their minds. [The last positive I can think of are the titles of the Spanish and German translations, La Cabaña & Die Hütte - ein Wochenende mit Gott, respectively.] Sorry to say, that pretty much sums up the positives.

About the negatives, they begin with what I just said about the positives. While the author has certainly identified some areas of sickness in the ways the church and culture of today relate to God, his prescription is not going to help matters. He has pointed out that we have a gaping lack of positive fatherhood alongside a domesticated, controlled and too frequently shrunken concept of God. But the medicine he prescribes to fix our poor image of God the Father is to turn him into God the Mother. If we were struggling with God the Father before, it won't help to rebrand him as God the Mother, since it is as Father that God has revealed himself and wants us to relate to him. The Shack is only perpetuating a subversion of God-as-Father. Likewise, the solution to our domesticated and small view of God is to domesticate him further, which is what Young most certainly does by turning God into a pie-baking, dish-washing, laundry-doing, big momma fixin' greens and swaying to Bruce Cockburn in the kitchen. The church today focuses almost entirely on God's immanence to the near exclusion of his transcendence. What does Young propose as a corrective in this book? Make God even more immanent and try to do away with the thin and tattered shreds of any conception of his transcendence. If the author has rightly identified the fact that many people have a wrong view of God, his proposed corrective is no corrective at all. Rather, he not only perpetuates that wrong view but furthers and advances it in The Shack. If the modern culture and church's view of God is sick with cancer, Mr. Young has heard some coughing and weezing and diagnosed it as a cold. When the church ought to be pointed toward the radical treatment of the Bible, read, preached and taught in fullness and completeness, Mr. Young prescribes instead some new medicine that will end up having the affect of feeding and advancing the exact strain of cancer that we already have.

This book gets many things muddled and it is sad to see how so many people are effectively replacing their Bibles with this view of who God is. I believe The Shack is as popular as it is, not because it is radically changing people's view of God to a more biblically correct concept, but because it is confirming them in so many of the things they wish to believe about God already, preferring as we all naturally do a god made in our own image and according to our own preferences to the true God as revealed in the Scriptures.

Continuing on, The Shack's God doesn't "do judgment" and damnation, even though Jesus spends much more time teaching about hell in the New Testament than he does about heaven. The Shack's God says institutions, hierarchies and authority are all sinful human constructs, even though God's Word (OT & NT) tells us that it is God who raises up rulers and puts them down, he ordains governments and leaders and tells Christians to submit to them in any area that they are not commanding disobedience to God. God's own words in Scripture tell us that he himself has all authority and on that basis, commands people to do and live in certain ways. God bequeaths parts of that authority variously to many different supposedly "human institutions" such as family, church and civil authorities. Just because we don't see widespread obedience to God in the application of these institutions in our day doesn't mean that the institutions themselves are sinful. There may be a lot of counterfeit twenties out there but that doesn't mean that the Royal Canadian Mint isn't still making the real thing somewhere. The Shack's God says that salvation is a participation between God and humans, with God doing his part on the cross and making salvation available and now it is up to us to do our part and reach up and take it. Salvation is there for the taking and everyone's forgiveness has been purchased theoretically. Now God is wringing his/her hands and just hoping we have the gumption to reach out and grab it. The problem is that the Bible describes sinners as dead in their trespasses and sins, not that they are able to collaborate with God in the journey toward salvation. The Shack's God says there are no rules and laws in Scripture which God expects people to follow. Yet the Scriptures themselves state that God's expectation is that his people would live in holy obedience to his law. It is precisely our inability to do this that required Jesus to obey them on our behalf and to die to take the just penalty which we deserve for our rebellion against that law. The redeemed heart loves the law of God and sees in it freedom, not bondage. As David says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the laws, statutes, principles and rules (yes, he even uses the word "rules") of God are his delight. Certainly one can't treat the Bible as a book of dos and don'ts but in our covenant relationship with God, the laws of God still have good and redemptive purposes. And certainly they serve to point out humanity's inability to meet God's holy standards without his grace to us in Christ (something The Shack starts to discuss - law as mirror - but then spectacularly bungles).

Of course, The Shack profoundly messes up the Trinity and how God reveals himself. If you turn your binoculars around and look through the big end, The Shack is essentially saying that, for Mack (and for anyone claiming to have really discovered new intimacy and awareness of God through this book), the incarnation of the Son of God, as recorded in Scripture and made know by the Spirit in us, was insufficient to make God known. Instead, The Shack gives us a triple incarnation where Father, Son and Spirit all take on flesh. And rather than God making his dwelling among men in the person of Jesus, God brings Mack out of the world to make his (Mack's) temporary dwelling among the three persons of God for his own, private personal weekend revelatory retreat. Apparently, even though the Bible makes things very clear about Immanuel, God with us, the Son as exact image and representation of the Father, coming to reveal the redeeming purpose and love of God, isn't enough. The Bible tells us that people in Jesus day beheld the fullness of deity in bodily form - "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father", "I and the Father are one" - and in our day, "blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believed". Peter tells us that we have been given all we need for life and godliness. Unfortunately, in The Shack, as in so many other Christian publishing trends (The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose Driven Life also come to mind), readers are told that this is not the case and that, if we really want to go deep with God, this special book will awake authentic faith and deeper understanding within us. While it's not said in so many words, what such claims say by default is that the Scriptures, the indwelling Holy Spirit, Christ's death and resurrection and present reign, a covenant relationship with the Triune God, and our life with the people of God, the Church, are not enough.

There are other issues. Along with rejecting a biblical view of authority, we have broad-based egalitarianism espoused here. We have a semi-universalism replacing "no man comes to the Father except through me". The worship services and leadership of the church are disparaged as human inventions, and worse yet, boring, and the church is instead envisioned as wherever God's people come together "in relationship". There is a partial truth here, but it is mixed with so much falsehood that it knocks the truth off balance. Nothing is mentioned about worshipping the Triune God as the primary purpose for the gathered Lord's Day service of the Church. That Mack finds Sunday services boring and endless and that Papa confirms this perspective tells us a lot about the author. It is God himself who gave some to be preachers, teachers, elders, etc., and who created the form of church government and its qualifications we find in Scripture. Sure, it has been abused and manipulated, but that doesn't make the structured governance of the church wrong any more than the abuse and manipulation Mack suffered at the hands of his father makes fatherhood a bad concept in general. If we needed any proof of the Bible's warning that "not many should presume to be teachers", the warped theology of The Shack demonstrates that pretty effectively. I am always struck by people who claim they love Jesus but can't stand the church. The Bible tells us that the Church is Jesus' bride whom he loves. No, she's not without her faults, yet, but she will be perfect one day, and until then, God never gives up on her, unlike many who just drop out. I wouldn't consider anyone a true friend who told me that they like hanging around with me but can't stand my wife or kids. Yet that is exactly what Young has Mack saying and Papa confirming.

There are literary issues as well with the book, although they are secondary. The emotional hook of the first part of the story, where Mack's daughter is taken and murdered by a sicko, something which Mack understandably continues to struggle with and which any parent reading it can't help but sympathize with, serves to draw people in so that they identify with Mack and are (likely unknowingly) willing to suspend judgment to a large degree for the second portion of the book. I suspect if it were not for the set up of the "great sadness" of the first part of the book, the conversations in the second part would not have drawn in quite so many people. Speaking of the second half, the dialogue is heavy with clichés and labours along clunkily. I wish I had a dime for every time "God" says to Mack, "If you only knew..." or "it's all about relationship". Also, in places Mack acts quite inconsistently with himself, something I found very unbelievable. For example, for a guy who was doubting the goodness and probably even the existence of God, I found it pretty odd how quickly he entertained the possibility that it really could have been God who put the note in his mailbox (a note he should never have ripped up, by the way, but rather should have glued it into the back cover of his Bible and made photo copies of it so everyone else to do the same).

I can see why this book is so popular within the emergent church movement. The picture of God in this book is faithful to the emergent reimagining (with the possible exception that, at least in the Shack, God is still able to know the future, even if he/she doesn't ordain it and isn't working all things out but simply reacting to humans, the primary actors in the cosmos). Satan is absent. Hell is never defined and one is left wondering about it. The Bible is conspicuously absent except to say that Mack chuckles when he sees that Papa has placed a Gideon's Bible in his bedroom in the shack. I can't recall if the resurrection of Jesus is mentioned but it is certainly not emphasized. Much of the biblical story is treated a potentially mytho-poetry (no firm stance). People come to God through and within many and various religions without every leaving them for the Christian Church. Original sin seems to only be a wrong perspective on things and can be overcome by education, say, during a weekend retreat in the wilderness with God. What Jesus did on the cross was only a demonstration of God's love for humanity. While that is certainly true in one sense, that is not all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. It was the Father's will to crush his Son, Isaiah tells us, and God's wrath and just judgment on sin have to be satisfied. But the emergent movement would rather just explain substitutionary atonement away with a slight of hand and some snappy one liners and chalk it all up to God's statement of "I love you this much". God certainly does show us his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. But he also poured out the cup of his wrath on Jesus rather than on us. Jesus certainly knew that which is why he asked that if possible, the Father would take that cup away from him. However, ultimately the Son submitted to God's will (did you get that - the Son submitted to the Father, something Young goes to great lengths to say the three persons of the godhead never do) and drank the cup of God's wrath to the dregs on behalf of those he came to save.

The version of The Shack I read had a long afterward in which the author discussed the collaborative process by which he and primarily two other men, brought this book to print, since all the publishers approached (26 or so, Christian and secular) turned it down for one reason or another. Young discusses how they dropped about 40% of the dialogue and worked through the draft to eliminate misunderstandings and avoid theological errors (they probably should have spend a lot more time on that part). He talks of how all three of them worked in such harmony and unity, each deferring to the others, no one angling for "power or fame" (his words). He talked of how these two brothers he worked with "entered his heart" and how they trusted each other to "have each other's backs". He goes on to say how none of them were naïve and how each one had been betrayed before by those claiming to be brothers. However, they chose not to sign any contracts, any memorandums of understanding, etc. They ultimately would trust to love for each other and to the Lord to "have their backs" together. Now, I wouldn't have brought that up, except that Young belabours the point as if to show that the theology taught in The Shack has been embraced by those working together on its publishing and, "see, it really works."

Interestingly enough, the book has become something of a publishing phenomenon, which is to say, it has brought in boat loads of cash. It turns out that the primary author, William P. Young, has taken the others to state court for what he believes to be several millions in royalties owed to him. The other two men haven't deferred to Mr. Young but stood their ground in a lengthy court battle by counter suing in federal court. Apparently, when there is huge money to be made, human institutions like the courts are helpful when those you are in love relationships with aren't handing over the big bucks you feel they owe you.

If only Mr. Young was a participating member of a local church where he could benefit from their collective wisdom, prayers, and hopefully submit to their leadership's direction to help work through these issues. Perhaps a body of believers together and their biblically qualified leadership could have helped these men reach reconciliation (one of Young's collaborators whom he has taken to court, Wayne Jacobsen, is president of BridgeBuilders, a conflict mediation consulting firm). But alas, Mr. Young is not a member of any church. [This fact alone disqualifies him from teaching others as he himself is not under biblical authority or teaching, but that is beside the point I am making here.] If only Mr. Young and his collaborators had spent more time studying the Scriptures they might have learned that God doesn't want Christian brothers to drag each other into the civil courts over money matters as it besmirches the name of God. They are instead to deal with their disputes within the "institutional" church when disputes cannot be resolved on their own or just covered by love. Watching this court battle over who should get more of the money from the sales of The Shack I can't help but see a certain amount of hypocrisy here. It is reminiscent of James Cameron, the famous movie producer, lecturing Canadians on shutting down the oil sands and telling the public to "learn to live with less". He owns 3 homes totaling 24,000 sq ft and none of them are powered by alternative energy sources. He owns a yacht, a private jet, a helicopter, a car collection, a submarine or two, and a Humvee fire truck. It's pretty hard to take a lecture on living with less from a guy who won't practice what he preaches. To me, it's the same thing here. Young says one thing about love in his book, but lives his life in quite another way, at least when it comes to issues about money. I hate to be cynical, but I think this dispute comes directly out of the theology of The Shack, not in spite of it.

I can't recommend this book to anyone and would instead like to recommend Knowing God, by J.I. Packer, The Holiness of God & Chosen By God, by R.C. Sproul, and Desiring God, by John Piper, and of course, the Bible itself, read and reread.

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