Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review of "Love Does" by Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson Press)

Let’s start with that full disclosure thing: Bob Goff is a friend, now a Facebook friend but back in college a face to face friend. We worked in Young Life together, both went to San Diego State (he was a couple of years ahead of me) and went to church together. So one of the reasons I enjoyed this book was as an opportunity to hang out (in a literary way) with an old friend. ************** But for you it might be a chance to make a new friend. Bob has a fun, joyful and infectious personality which comes through in this book. Bob is big in the book on the concept of whimsy, finding delight in life in unexpected places. I remember one time we were taking a group of kids to Young Life camp. He and his friend Doug decided we needed to stand out from other clubs at camp, so they went to an army surplus store and bought dozens of bomb flash glasses, which they renamed as “John Lennon Memorial Spectacles”. So the kids from Mira Mesa were instant celebrities at Forest Home Camp. *************** That story doesn’t appear in the book, because Bob’s life is full amazing stories, often involving silliness with a purpose. He tells about getting into law school by camping outside the office of the Dean and telling him everyday, “It’s in your power to let me in, just tell me to buy the books!” He tells about the time his kids suggested writing world leaders to invite them for an overnight; and letters were answered. He writes about sailing with friends from San Diego to Hawaii without any truly experienced sailors. *************** Bob’s greatest adventure in life is following Jesus in the adventure of love. As you might guess, the title of the book is related to the words of James 1:22, “Be doers of the world, not many hearers.” In recent years, Bob has used his legal training to work for justice in the third world, freeing children from brothels in India, freeing children from prisons in Uganda. The stories of these adventures are truly inspiring. *************** But I did find myself arguing with Bob a few times, just as we disagreed at times back in college. In one section of the book (chapter 29), he compares studying the Bible to stalking. He writes “most of the things we studied at the Bible study were true and all, but honestly, it just made me feel like a stalker. Like a creepy guy memorizing facts and information about somebody I barely knew.” He writes about starting a group to do “Bible doing” rather than “Bible study”. *************** I wonder if Bob, who now teaches law school, ever said to a class, “Don’t bother studying the law, just go out and do the law.” Should Bible colleges and seminaries be closed, because “Bible study” isn’t a worthwhile pursuit? Studying and practicing the Word are two vital sides of the same coin, and sadly, Bob denigrates one to exult the other in this passage. *************** In the same chapter, Bob writes about a couple of hot button issues: “One of the ways I make things matter to me is to move from merely learning about something to finding a way to engage it on my own terms. For example, if someone asks what I think about capital punishment, instead of reciting the party line and parroting someone else’s thought, I think of a teenager named Kevin in a prison in Uganda who had been accused of a capital crime. It the topic is same-sex attraction, I think of a dear friend of mine who is gay… It’s not about being politically correct; it’s about being actually correct.” *************** Sorry, Bob, that doesn’t really strike me as thinking things through. I remember early in his law school days Bob telling me about something he loved about the court system was seeking truth by two different sides and duking it out (I can see Bob slamming his knuckles together to illustrate the point.) ************** So taking the two topics he mentioned here, what if someone wrote, “When I think of capital punishment, I think of a teenager named Rudy whose father was a prison guard who was killed by a prisoner with a life sentence. When I think of same-sex attraction, I think of a friend of mine whose husband who abandoned her and her two children to live with his homosexual lover.” ************** There are reasons why these difficult issues are matters of study and argument, and people of intelligence and good will come to different conclusions. There are also reasons to turn to the collective wisdom of the past in both Scripture and the law. It is important to consider our feelings and personal experience, but if they become our primary basis of making judgments, we’re likely to be carried by every passing current and fad. ************** But don’t let these complaints dissuade the purchase of this book. In fact, you should buy it even if you don’t plan to read it because Bob is giving any of his profits to Restore International’s Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda. God continues to do great work through my friend, Bob Goff, and he wrote this book to remind you that God wants to do amazing things and show His love through you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Review of Jonah Goldberg's "The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas"

Yes, this is a book about politics; but one of the things I found most interesting was what the book had to say about religion. Goldberg describes himself as a secular Jew but he does a much better job of defending the church and Christianity (past and present) than many Christians (even many in the clergy.) The basic idea of the book is that many people substitute clichés they’ve heard for any real thinking on a variety of important issues: bumper sticker thinking. Goldberg elaborates in this paragraph from the chapter ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’: “YOUR KARMA RAN OVER MY DOGMA. You’ve no doubt seen the bumper sticker. The pun is easy to get, but the underlying point is more elusive. Most of the time, like so many bumper stickers, it’s more a smug declaration of superiority whose appeal derives more from the appearance of cleverness rather than the reality of insight.” In this chapter, he points out that many in our culture have accepted a cliché that Eastern thought is more spiritual and less dogmatic. Goldberg responds that Buddhism is every bit as doctrinaire as Christianity or Judaism and in his book that’s not a bad thing. We all follow doctrines, creeds and systems of belief and that’s a good thing. There is wealth in collected wisdom in religious and political orthodoxies. We are more likely to get into trouble when we think we are pioneers finding our own pragmatic and individual truth, because we blindly fall into sloppy thought and practices. I greatly appreciated his take on other religious clichés beyond, ‘I’m not religious; I’m a spiritual,’ such as ‘Science vs. Religion’. This is the idea that religion had opposed and feared scientific thought through the centuries. The key example that is always brought up is the story of Galileo. Galileo didn’t oppose religion, he wrote books of theology. He may have spent 3 days in jail, but who clamored for the Church to silence and punish the man were not clergy by “jealous, lesser, scientific colleagues.” Goldberg deals with other supposed crimes of the church. He points out that the Crusades were not the first stirrings of imperialism but rather a defense response to the military conquests of Islam. He responds to Daniel Browns claim in “The Da Vinci Code” that millions were killed by the church in witch hunts with facts that show that thousands were killed (still a horrible thing) and usually by secular authorities, not the church. Yes, there were injustices committed by the various Inquisitions formed by the church through the years, but they were much more thoughtful then the secular courts of the time. Yes, the Spanish Inquisition did use torture, but in two percent of the cases. The Church has through the centuries acted contrary to the teachings of Christ, but it has confessed as such. But the leaders of the French Revolution acted true to their secular beliefs and killed more people during the few years of The Terror than were killed in 300 years of the Inquisition. Some in the church did act in barbaric ways in a barbaric age, but Goldberg argues that the church was not an anchor holding back the progress of Western Civilization but rather a sail. Of course, the bulk of the book is devoted to politics, but even then theological ideas are important. The clichés that “Nothing was every solved by violence” and “Peace, Love and Understanding” have been presented as Christian ideas, but if they are presented apart from the Christian idea of human sinfulness, Goldberg clearly shows they lead to folly. Goldberg presents serious issues, but illustrations from “Animal House”, “30 Rock” and “Monty Python” keep a lighter tone and easy page turning. This book probably won’t be used as a college text as Goldberg’s previous work, “Liberal Fascism”, has been. But it’s still insightful and a little more fun.