Book Review of “Christian Horror” by Mike Duran

DuranThis book serves as an apologetic for the “Christian-Horror” genre. On its surface, the term Christian-Horror may seem like an oxymoron, however, Duran makes compelling arguments for Christians to embrace the genre. The most logical argument for me is that Christians must first acknowledge the evil in the world to then present the Light. Duran spends a great deal of time examining the history of the horror genre and its close relation to Christianity. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Duran argues that many classic horror stories are deeply spiritual and ultimately redeeming in nature. Duran also points out that the Bible has much in common with these stories of redemption as it refuses to shy away from presenting evil in a way that ultimately glorifies God.

I appreciated that Duran was careful to differentiate this type of redemptive horror from the more senseless or grotesque examples of the genre. “Hack and slash” movies that needlessly glorify violence or entertainment that serves to romanticize evil ultimately have no redemptive qualities. Duran also points out the difference between Christian Horror and Naturalistic/Atheist Horror such as H.P. Lovecraft, “Christian horror is based on the God Who Is There while naturalistic horror is based on the God Who Isn’t” (p.82). Basically, there is enough variety within the “horror” genre that Christians need to be discerning as they engage it. Christians should be reminded that there are some examples of the genre that could be damaging to their spiritual walk.

This book is carefully written. Duran does an excellent job of evaluating the weight of Scripture on the subject. It is obvious he knows both Scripture and the horror genre. My only real complaint with his treatment of the subject is that Duran seems to rail a bit against evangelicals. Duran seems critical of evangelicals who have withdrawn from the horror genre in favor of whitewashed “Christian” media. I must admit there are some “whitewashed” stories I enjoy a great deal. Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous are among my favorite movies! Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I believe Dracula and Facing the Giants can both be enjoyed and are not mutually exclusive. However, literature and film are ultimately about entertainment. If a Christian chooses one over the other, it is exactly that, a choice. I see no reason to be critical of the Christian who avoids horror stories as a rule. I also see no reason to be critical of a Christian who enjoys a redemptive horror story provided they are engaging their discernment and are actually watching or reading a ‘redemptive’ story. A Christian who spends their Friday nights enjoying Faces of Death probably needs to be criticized!

Overall, I enjoyed this thought-provoking work. Duran has also written several books that I assume fall into the Christian/Redemptive Horror genre and I plan on trying one of them out soon. I recommend this read to any Christian who enjoys a good scary story and is looking for ways to be discerning as they choose their books or movies.

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Book Review of Never Binge Again by Glenn Livingston, Ph.D.

neverbingeI typically don’t bother writing reviews for books I didn’t like. Heck, if I’m being honest, I typically don’t finish a book I don’t like. This is one of those instances. I picked up this book of because of the promise embedded in its title, “Never Binge Again.” As someone who has always struggled with maintaining a healthy diet, this book appealed to me. In this book, Livingston spends a great many pages explaining that we need to change the way we look at our inner binge eater. Rather than love the inner glutton that lives inside us, we need to develop an animosity toward it. He recommends that we call this inner self ‘the pig.’ In a sense, he is recommending that we personify our inner binge eater in a way that allows us to see it for what it really is – an enemy. The author offers this solution as an alternative to a self-love approach to healing.

Livingston’s approach may work for some people but, if I’m being honest, I thought it was all a little goofy. Livingston continued to lose me when he began attributing our inner binge eater to evolution and our “lizard brain” which is only concerned with self-satisfaction.

I’m glad this book was free for my kindle because I didn’t feel too bad when I quit reading it.

Mini Book Review of ‘The Spy With No Name’ by Jeff Maysh

spyThis short Kindle Single book can be read about an hour. It tells the true story of a Cold War era spy deeply embedded in Great Britain. The plot thickens however when the long lost mother of his assumed identity tracks him down in an attempt to orchestrate a ‘reunion’. There is something devastatingly sad about the lives that got tangled up in this single spy’s espionage. If this book lacks anything, it is that some of the details are lost in its brevity. I feel like it just scratched the surface of the story that could have been told.

Review of Jack Barsky’s “Deep Under Cover: My Secret Life & Tangled Allegiances As A KGB Spy in America”

BarskyI was fascinated by this book from the first moment I saw it. It was on a Christian shelf at Barnes & Noble, however, at first glance I couldn’t figure out why. It is the story of Jack Barsky; a deep, undercover KGB spy who was deployed to the United States during the Cold War as part of the Russians’s “illegals” program. I love Cold War stuff and thought I had lucked into a book that had been placed on the wrong shelf at the book store. I snatched it up.

Barsky grew up in post World War II East Germany under the thumb of the Soviet Union. He lived in an atheist, communist state and his personal ideoligies reflected his surroundings. It is no exaggeration to say that Barsky was a genius. He was recognized as an academic and became a brilliant professor of Chemistry and Math before he was recruited by the KGB. Once in the United States, Barsky actually graduated as a valedictorian with a degree in information technology.

In this book, Barsky details his life as a spy and the way his lifestyle ran roughshod over his personal life. But along the way he undergoes a remarkable transformation. From KGB spy to American. From communist to capitalist. From atheist to Christian. To borrow the book’s afterward, Barsky went from a devotee of the gospel of Marx and Lenin to a devotee to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is an incredible story and proves the notion that truth truly is more fascinating than fiction. I highly recommend this book.

Mini Review of “The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal” by David E. Hoffman

billionspyI’ve attempted reading fictional spy stories over the past couple of months and given up on each of them. This book, however, has taught me a powerful lesson. While I enjoy Cold War era history, it is a subject matter that proves the truth is far more fascinating than fiction. The Billion Dollar Spy is is a detailed account of the CIA’s handling of Adolf Tolkachev. Tolkachev spied for the United States deep under cover in Soviet Moscow and provided the United States with technology secrets that gave them a definitive advantage in aerial combat.

People who are looking for a “James Bond” like thriller will find the pace of this book slow. However, the appeal of this book isn’t in the action; rather, it is in the decisions the CIA made in handling their most valuable spy. Do they meet his demands or risk making him unhappy? Should they attempt to sneak him and his family of the Soviet Union? What techiniques should they use to keep his presence secret from the Russians? I found this all very interesting!

If you are interested in the Cold War, you need to learn about Adolf Tolkachev. His story is incredible and the United States owes him a debt of gratitude for the risks he took.Mini

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

Reflections on John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34, NASB.

Bible2This verse from the Gospel of John is one that has been resonating in my brain over the last few days. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but it seems most of us are unwilling to put it into practice. Jesus issues this command to His disciples, “Love one another like I loved you!” It’s a practice that is supposed to go hand in hand with following Christ, in fact, it’s so necessary that Jesus goes on to say others will know we belong to Him because we do it (verse 35).

Yet so often we don’t do it. Rather, we pretend to do it. We love our fellow believers as long they don’t ruffle our feathers, hurt our feelings, disagree with us, or let us down in some way … but the first time we see their flaws, we cut bait and run. Most conflict between believers is caused because they fail to love one another as Christ first loved them, or worse, they stubbornly refused to.

When I think of how Christ loved me there’s no escaping the image of the cross. Christ loved me so much that He when to the cross in my place. Scripture teaches that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”. He didn’t demand that we clean ourselves up before He went to the cross. He died for us in spite of all our flaws and imperfections. And He commands us to love one another in the same way!

Ever wonder how to respond when a fellow believer hurts your feelings or lets you down in some way? Christ tells us to respond in love … and He role-modeled that love for us on the cross. When you love your Christian brothers and sisters and remain devoted to them through thick and thin, the rest of the world will know Who it is you belong to.

John 13:34 isn’t a suggestion … it’s a command.