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D Glover (northern bc, canada)
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Talking About Detective Fiction
Talking About Detective Fiction
by P.D. James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.96
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Master discusses the craft, March 23 2010
This is an ode to, as well as a look beneath the surface of, a specific genre (or subgenre) of popular literature: detective fiction. One of the things that makes this book special is that it is written not by a literary critic or a book reviewer but by arguably one of the ablest present day practitioners of the craft, P.D. James, author of the Adam Dalgliesh detective novels.

This relatively brief book (about 196 pages of text - the book dimensions are small and the pages have large margins all round) touches on a broad range of considerations, including the origins of detective fiction and how it was prefigured in Dickens, Austen, Bronte and others as well as the history of the genre through the Victorian and Edwardian ages as well as the "golden age" between the wars and immediately following WWII, up to the present day. James also discusses briefly the major differences between detective fiction on either side of the Atlantic, comparing the "hard boiled" heroes (or anti-heroes) of the American authors with the tidy and familiar heroes, and their "Watsons", of the English "golden age" authors, with stories often set in an idyllic and largely imaginary iconic English country side. Also touched upon is the changing psychology between the "golden age" and the present one, as well as the huge shifts in cultural climate in which detective fiction nevertheless still finds a prominent place. James deals with many more aspects of the genre that I won't get into here. However, for the reader who is looking for an in depth, scholarly and comprehensive work on detective fiction, this is not it. While there is obviously much thought, reflection and broad reading behind it, by James's own admission, this is not a penetrating critical or exhaustive work. This is a brief introduction to some of the beneath-the-surface considerations of a sub-genre as well as an insider's and practitioner's appreciation of all that she loves of the genre...and for me, someone who enjoys good detective fiction, particularly from the "golden age" and James's own work, that is exactly what I was hoping for.

This book's best moments are when James discusses the great detective authors and the worlds they lived in. James reminds us of how much richer our lives are for having faithful and familiar armchair friends like Holmes and Watson, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I especially appreciated James's discussion of G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers (two of my favourites) and their heroes, Father Brown and Lord Peter Wimsey respectively. It's a shame more modern readers aren't aware of these two authors who, in my opinion, are among the very best in the genre. If James's book accomplishes nothing else, I hope it causes a spike in the sales of these two authors.

I also appreciated the discussion of the importance of character, setting, plot and mystery and how those elements have been weighted differently for different authors and across different eras in the history of the genre. Very interesting was James's reflection on the principle of fairness among writers where one should never hide from your readers facts and clues essential to solving the murder themselves although cloaking them in mystery is, of course, just good form. Also fun was her brief look at the "love it" or "hate it" stance most readers take toward this genre - there are very few people who read it and remain indifferent.

Truly, my only complaint is the cover price of the book, in Canada $29.95. It is an attractive hardcover, but it is fairly small and I read it essentially in two not very lengthy sittings. I'm glad my local bookstore had a $20 promotional sticker on the cover or I wouldn't have purchased it, therefore making my future forays into detective fiction the poorer for it. However, if you like P.D. James or the genre in general, I think anyone's reading of detective fiction will be enriched by this discussion and the Amazon price is more than fair.

Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture
Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 33.68
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Toward understanding ALL God has to say, March 17 2010
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Peter Leithart has done ministers, Christian scholars and the Church in general a huge favour with this book. He declares that the Scriptures themselves ought to be the authority for how one interprets them. In evangelical, reformed and conservative Christian circles of scholarship, sola scriptura (the reformation principle that "Scripture alone" is the Church's authority for all of life and doctrine) has been the basis for the rejection of all sorts of heretical doctrines and errant practices and for holding fast to "the faith, once for all delivered to the saints", and rightly so. However, without even batting an eye, many of those same well-meaning folks have adopted a model of interpreting those Scriptures which is itself imported from outside of God's Word and then imposed upon it.

Dr. Leithart traces this outside and extra-biblical system of viewing and interpreting Scripture to Spinoza and his contemporaries and up through modernism, with its mindset of scientific and systematic compartmentalization. Such thinking tended to "spiritualize" Scripture since it had to do with religion, relegating its relevance and application to the private, inward life of the soul and separating it from the political and material realms, for example. However, the Hebrew mind (the culture into which the Scriptures were given by God and from of which they spread) did not divide man into body, soul, spirit and mind but understood humans in terms of organic wholeness. Therefore, to the Hebrew mind, the Scriptures have a much broader relevance. In fact, there was not a single area of life or thought that Scripture did not speak to - and the whole Scripture spoke to the whole man.

Leithart shows examples of current exegetical theory which limit interpretations of a given passage to one and only one proper meaning. This is not the way we are taught how to interpret the Bible by the examples we see within its own pages. Leithart gives examples of "poor" apostolic exegesis by the standards of current exegetical practice (Paul's famous "do not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain" to argue for monetary support for faithful ministers of the gospel and his allegorizing of the Sarah/Hagar story - "these are two covenants...") and argues that, far from being unique and scattered exceptions to the rule of interpretation, these passages display the interpretive rule; they show us how we are to understand and interpret Scripture rightly. One can see many hermeneutics professors rolling over in their graves or toppling over at their lecterns at this point.

Instead of an "only one correct interpretation for any given text" approach to hermeneutics, Leithart makes the case for reviving some form or approximation of the medieval quadriga. With this exegetical method of reading and interpreting the text, there is a literal sense (the plain meaning, with an element of both the historical understanding the original recipients would have understood and the continuing implications for a present day audience), a moral sense (what does this passage call the reader to do or imitate), an allegorical or typological sense (what does this passage say about Christ and/or what is the theological learnings based in this passage) and an anagogical sense (what future hope is this text calling the reader to). Here, many reading this review might either write me as reviewer or Leithart as author completely off based on wild and fanciful interpretations they have heard promulgated by medieval exegetes but hang on...that would be a mistake. One may not be 100% convinced of such a method of interpreting the Scriptures and still receive a good deal of benefit from reading this book. For one, it will make you think about the scriptural basis for your own model of interpreting Scripture.

One theme Leithart returns to over and over is that in our interpretation, we ought to desire to hear ALL God has to say to us through his Word and Leithart argues that God is not saying only one thing in any given passage. It is clear from the way some passages of Scripture treat others that at least the passages they specifically deal with have more than one true sense. If this is the case, one needs to make the decision about whether the Bible itself is our authority on how to interpret it or if modernist literary interpretive method is the authority for understanding Scripture. If we go with modernist methodology, we have departed (in our hermeneutic) from the authority of Scripture and placed it underneath our model, the very thing a faithful Christian knows must not be done.

Leithart gives examples from everyday experience in which we already inherently recognize that there is purposefully more than one true sense in which to understand something. A joke, for example, may be humorous on multiple levels, or a scene in a play, book or movie may have layers of correct, varied and multiple meanings. John 9 is explored in some depth to show how the story of Jesus' healing of the man born blind is so much more than merely a miracle story. And while not everyone will be convinced by all aspects of his John 9 example, one cannot come away merely content to see this narrative the way one has always seen it. Leithart convincingly shows that by Scripture's own rule, a wooden literalistic (rather than a proper literary) interpretive model is not an option for the exegete whose own interpretive work is itself subjected to the authority of the Book he/she is attempting to understand. At the same time, Leithart stresses that the model he advocates must itself be subject to all of Scripture when gleaning the manifold meanings of any given passage. This book is not a license for fanciful "reinventions" of the text but a rigorous reexamination of what biblically informed and faithful interpretation should look like. Knowing Leithart's passion for a full-orbed trinitarian theology of all things, I believe it is safe to say that his interpretive model could be summarized as seeing the different meanings or senses of a text as a one-in-three (or more) and a three (or more)-in-one. This guards against an "anything goes" or a "new is true" free-for-all because it disallows any interpretation that would counter or contradict one of the other senses of the text (say, the literal-historic, for example).

In my opinion, the greatest strength of this book is that it calls interpreters back to basing their interpretive methods and principles themselves on Scripture. In the end, Dr. Leithart admits that this subject needs further exploration and that the parameters of the present volume didn't allow for it. I for one look forward to the conversation this book is bound to spur among exegetes and I hope for further material on this subject from Peter Leithart in the future. In the meantime, readers interested in creative but biblical exegesis and hermeneutics would benefit from the works of Kevin Vanhoozer, John Frame and Vern Poythress.

Idols for Destruction
Idols for Destruction
by Herbert Schlossberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 29.44
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What do you worship?, Feb. 11 2010
This review is from: Idols for Destruction (Paperback)
I am only about a quarter of the way through this excellent book but it has thus far proven to be a clear and erudite critique of the various ideas that set themselves up in opposition to the God of the Christian faith. Schlossberg shows how the many ideologies of our present culture and time are not so much held by people as people are held by their ideologies. Far from being in control of the ideas they believe, people are actually controlled by those ideas because people are by nature, first and foremost, worshippers. This is even more fundamental to the human condition than the ability for rational thought. As worshippers, people are inherently religious and so any worldview one holds takes on the nature of religious faith, even for self-professed secularists and atheists. But...more on this later. So far, this is great.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
by John Piper
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yea though I walk through the valley..., Feb. 10 2010
This volume addresses a very important subject and in light of the recent (and ongoing) disaster in Haiti along with many more in recent memory, this is a timely offering. For any readers already familiar with the works of John Piper, it will come as no surprise that this book is an exploration of the comprehensive and absolute sovereignty of God, in this case as it relates to the subject of suffering. The chapters are as different as the experiences and writing styles of the authors who pen them. Some chapters are dedicated to a biblical exegetical defense of the sovereignty of God over suffering, answering the many modern teachings which would deny that God has any responsibility for much less direct ordination of the suffering in the world (John Piper, Mark Talbot). Some chapters are more biographical, discussing the experiences of the authors and what they have learned from and about God through it all (Steve Saint, Joni Erickson Tada). Others are more pastoral, taking a counseling approach to the discussion (David Powlison, John Piper). Some are meant as an exploration of the causes and nature of systemic forms of individual and societal suffering (Carl Ellis Jr.). Wrapping up the book are sections by two of the authors (Piper and Powlison) about their own bouts with cancer.

The book is very obviously a compilation of separate essays, with the main continuity coming from the chapters contributed by Piper. Some chapters are stronger than others in both content and writing style (some are clearly transpositions of verbal presentations). As a result and because of the varying focus from chapter to chapter, if you are reading cover to cover, it will seem to shift gears rather abruptly. However, this is not necessarily a weakness. It tends to keep discussions of different aspects of suffering and God's sovereignty over it within tidy units which can easily be referred back to in future, some likely more frequently and usefully than others. At the same time, there is an overall spirit that all the authors share across their various approaches to the topic - all authors are committed to the absolute sovereignty of God even in the hardest things a person will ever face. As such, they also all believe that, for Christians, this is a great comfort, knowing that God is at the helm even in the darkest times and that he is working even the worst things out for the good of his children and his glory. Simultaneously, God uses such suffering to call unbelievers to himself.

Particularly good is the discussion of how Jesus himself, as God incarnate, suffered in his earthly ministry so that he could be a sympathetic high priest. This entering into the curse and suffering on the part of the redeemer is something too often missing in a self-centered, entertainment oriented and suffering averse modern church culture.

This is a topic that is all too often avoided, mishandled or simply falsely taught about in the church today. Much of the church (like the surrounding society) chooses some form of escape in order to avoid facing discussions on the relation between God's sovereign rule and suffering. Suffering itself cannot be avoided however, so this frank, honest and biblically faithful discussion will serve the church well if it has the maturity to head these authors. God is Lord of all, including suffering. Like a good novel, we should not expect every chapter of our lives to end happily. However, as believers, we have the promise of God that the story ultimately ends joyfully, with all tears dried and all wounds healed. This book recalls a spiritually flabby and immature church to viewing suffering in this life as a part of the overall victory that belongs to all who are followers of Christ.

Mark Of The Christian, The
Mark Of The Christian, The
by Francis A. Schaeffer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.56
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5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Unity as a Defense of Christianity, Jan. 15 2010
In this little booklet (actually a chapter from one of Schaeffer's books), Francis Schaeffer briefly examines Jesus' prayer in the Gospel of John for unity and love in the Church. Schaeffer shows how, when the church is unified and Christians love each other, this proves to a watching world that God the Father sent Jesus his Son and that for the redemption of the world. At this end of the day, after all the best arguements for the faith have been made by the most brilliant of apologists, it is Christian's love for each other, which necessarily spills over into the world, that speaks loudest and most effectively in the defence and growth of the Christian faith. Indeed, without unity and brotherly love, the Church has no reason to believe that anyone should heed anything we say. Francis Schaeffer called biblical, loving Christian unity, "the final apologetic".

Great Leaders of the Christian Church
Great Leaders of the Christian Church
by John D. Woodbridge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.49
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Summary of Key Figures from Church History, Jan. 15 2010
A very good albeit brief summary of most of the key figures in church history from the apostles to C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and Billy Graham. It mostly follows the Protestant stream post-reformation. Each article is brief (4-6 pages) but biographically and theologically accurate, having been written by a long list of well recognized Christian scholars. Functions as a great intro to church history and key figures for those who don't have the time to sit down with a biography on each one.

Against Christianity
Against Christianity
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.35
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5.0 out of 5 stars Calling the Church to reject "Christianism", Jan. 14 2010
This review is from: Against Christianity (Paperback)
Peter Leithart has written a book calling the church to manifest the life of the kingdom of God, the kingship of Jesus Christ, in all the world through all we are and do. Part of this task is identifying some of the many ways the church today has adopted the values and traits and assumptions of the surrounding culture. This is essentially a call to the church to abandon "Christianism" (what Leithart is calling "Christianity") and become the kingdom of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ manifest in all things in the world. This means subjecting all thought and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and seeing every area of existence as under the comprehensive and authoritative reign of Christ rather than the pervasive current dichotomy between sacred and secular so rampant in the church.

This book has sparked some controversy, or perhaps it is more accurate to say it has fanned the flames of a controversy that has long been crackling away. As readers of these reviews can see, there are some who have accused Peter Leithart of being a heretic because of this book. Of course if it is heresy to believe that faith is more than mere mental assent to a set of systematically organized doctrines; if it is heretical to believe that the other side of the coin of faith is faithfulness and an obedient life in areas we currently don't want God to mess around in; if it is heresy to believe that one's Christian faith truly lives (or at least is consciously growing) in obedient submission to the Lord Jesus in all things in order to be considered biblical faith, then Leithart is guilty as charged (and so were the reformers, who Leithart's accusers consider to be their forefathers in the faith). In fact, if this is the definition of heresy, than heretics abound even among the apostles and prophets.

In "Against Christianity", Leithart argues that Christianity has essentially become just another willing party under the cultural umbrella of the reigning and near universal assumed dichotomies of our day. The church is not its own unique and biblical culture but is just a subculture; a subset of the overarching culture of the day. In this short little unconventionally formatted book, Leithart shines a bright and unwavering spotlight on the follies of a church that has adopted the presuppositions of many generations of unbiblical thinking and practice, becoming unable to judge that much of what it rejects or denies are the very things it is called to be and do and much of what it accepts is diametrically opposed to the gospel.

I suspect that at least some of the objections raised to this book are, whether consciously or subconsciously, objections to its format. Leithart calls it "theological hiku". I think his presentation is effective in that he is using an unconventional, unscientific and unsystematic medium to communicate a message to call the church out of its captivity to modernist, compartmentalized thinking. The medium is an important aspect of the message (which Leithart argues at length, along with other things, in another recent book Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture). When God sent prophets to speak to a generation lost in cultural accommodation and idolatry, he frequently had them communicate their message in unconventional ways - ways that added to the affront of the message and made the recipients uncomfortable. And that is what the church needs to become, uncomfortable, before it will wake up out of its stupor.

Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It
Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It
by Os Guinness
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars A call to end flabby thinking, Jan. 8 2010
I read this some years ago and its relevance has not dwindled in the mean time. Some might argue that our culture has a problem with our bodies being unfit as well and they have a legitimate point but overall, we are far more consumed with the image of fit bodies than we are about the state of our mental health. In this short book, Guinness calls the evangelical church, which continues largely to follow the lead of culture in the area of mental atrophy as in most things, to shape up our minds by knowing God's Word and cultivating critical thinking. This is not an exhaustive study and Guinness doesn't provide much for thoroughgoing solutions here but he does a good job of identifying, summarizing and tracing the development of the problem, albeit briefly. I recommend this book to those who genuinely want to cultivate a godly Christian mind but who don't yet recognize the issues we struggle with in our culture and the church of our day as well as to those who don't yet even realize there is a problem. Other good books on this topic are The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Amusing Ourselves To Death and Discipleship Of The Mind.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dictatorship of Entertainment, Jan. 5 2010
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Neil Postman's scathing critique of the effects of television on American culture is hardly less applicable today than in the mid 80's when it was first published. In fact, with the advent of other potentially mentally debilitating electronic media like the internet, the message of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is arguably more important then ever.

Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.

This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned. And Postman has the insight to realize that TV is at its most dangerous when it is trying to be the most responsible, serious and educational, since this medium effectively equalizes all things to the level of entertainment. If one is still going to watch TV after reading this book, Postman effectively argues that the junk and pulp is the best and least dangerous thing to watch. As TV has raised dish soap and soft drinks to the universal, daily public consciousness, it has lowered political discourse, history, world events, economics, religion, philosophy, science, education, art, etc., to the level of TV commercials and mindless soap operas. TV has turned political and religious leaders into celebrities which has had the effect of trivializing their messages and placing them on equal footing with other celebrities (like talk show hosts, actors, and fictional characters, who are now more often looked to as authoritative figures - think Oprah, Dr. Phil, Larry King, etc.). In fact, most often, politicians and religious leaders, etc., are on a lower level than other celebrities since they are often working with a lower production budget. TV has deposed content and rational argument from the place of primacy in public discourse, a place once dominated by the written word, and replaced them with speed-of-light image and manipulative emotional appeal.

In my opinion, Postman puts too much faith in education to help save us from the plague of TV and electronic media. However, that we need saving from this and other mind-withering media is quite clearly argued. Postman does not advocate ridding the world of TV (as if that were even possible now), but he argues that people must be equipped and educated to see what TV and electronic media does to individuals and societies who don't understand the all pervasive power of such media.

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" should be read and taken seriously by everyone, but no one more than parents who want to teach their children to think critically and independently. Since it was originally written, this message is even more crucial since electronic media has broadened to include new and even more potentially subversive technologies. And we are being duped to thinking that something like the internet is increasing and improving public discourse. If I could, I would give this book 7 stars.

The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Author Who was Brilliant...the publisher who was less so, Dec 18 2009
As others have thoroughly reviewed the details of this story, I will reserve my comments for the overall impression I received from reading this short book. In typical Chestertonian fashion, which is to say non-typical, the reader is guessing until the end and the world in this book is not what it seems. Good men seek to infiltrate, undermine and hold at bay the forces of anarchy and lawlessness in the universe. Or perhaps they are unwittingly aiding them.

"Thursday" reads something like a more intelligent John Buchan novel, say "The Thirty Nine Steps", but with prose taken several levels higher and with a conflict that is cosmic in scope rather than temporal. Here men fight the dark forces in the universe rather than the dark forces of pre-WW 1 Germany. Here men fight a struggle in their own hearts and minds to a degree that makes their outward struggle pale in comparison. Here the fabric of the universe is exposed as unbreakable and fragile at the same time. For those looking to see a sharp, point by point parallel with spiritual reality, don't dig deeper than G.K. intended. In a fragment from an article published the day before he died, he warns against this by recalling the subtitle: "A Nightmare". This is not meant to be a consistent symbolic parallel with the world as we know it. The story is loaded with commentary without being preachy and symbolism without being pedantic but this is not allegory or even consistent metaphor. While one can see shades of this same spirit in the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis, Chesterton's world is not as parallel to ours, not as similar...and yet more so. It is for very good reason that this book has received the accolades it has.

Speaking of the subtitle, Penguin has foolishly left the subtitle, "A Nightmare", off the cover of this otherwise nice edition. This was foolish because of the importance Chesterton placed on it in the fragment of an essay that Penguin did publish in the back of this volume. Apparently many were misreading or reading into this story for some fully consistent Christian symbolism and Chesterton had to recall readers and reviewers to their senses by reminding them of the subtitle. This is not intended to be reality but rather a bad dream. And in many places it reads just that way.

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