Review of Rosenberg's "The Tehran Initiative"

tehraninitiative

Title: The Tehran Initiative
Author: Joel C. Rosenberg

This book starts fairly slow with the author working recaps of book one in the series throughout the narrative. As a result, Rosenberg doesn’t really hit his stride until about a hundred pages in. From that point on, however, I couldn’t put the book down. It has all the classic elements of a spy story. The protagonist, David Shirazi, is operating amid the backdrop of war between Iran, led by the twelfth Imam, and Israel. Along with the international intrigue, Rosenberg also includes the spiritual. His characters, through flawed and imperfect, live their faith in a way that is believable and practical. This book is easily as good as the first book in the series (The Twelfth Imam) and I am looking forward to the final book of the trilogy.

Review of "If It Causes Me to Sin" by Jess Hanna

hannaI picked this short story up for free off of Amazon for my Kindle. It had an interesting premise as the mentally ill protagonist allows his faulty interpretation of Scripture to lead him to some drastic measures. Unfortunately, the story was ultimately unsatisfying. The back story is insufficient and the resolution is non existent. This is partly due to the medium, however, I firmly believe even a short story should have a beginning, middle, and end … and this little story seems to fall a little short. I would love to see the author expand it somewhat.

Review of "The Twelfth Imam" by Joel Rosenberg

12thImamThis book is Rosenberg’s first in the David Shirazi series. When I determined earlier this month to add more fiction into my reading diet, this book was on my short list. I had read it once before when it was first released, but looked forward to a re-read so that I could continue through the series.

Rosenberg is a master of weaving current headlines and events within the framework of his fiction. The end result is a highly believable spy novel. Rosenberg also laces this story with Islam eschatology concerning the arrival of the Twelfth Imam, or Mahdi, along with elements of Biblical eschatology. In doing so, Rosenberg creates a Christian thriller that’s ripped from the headlines yet laced with end-times suspense.

For what it’s worth, I am by no means an expert in Islam, however, I did take an undergraduate class that included a look into the eschatology of those who believe in the coming of the Twelfth Imam and this book seems right on the money. Rosenberg certainly has a handle on his topic. I’ll reserve my judgment of Rosenberg’s Biblical theology for after I’ve read deeper into the series (which I believe is a trilogy).

This book is highly entertaining and well-written. The characters are believable, flawed, and life-like (unlike the wooden characters that seem to permeate much Christian fiction). I think it can be enjoyed by believers and unbelievers alike. Those who give it lower ratings seem to be hostile to the Gospel of Christ in general.

I am looking forward to the rest of the books in this series.

Review of "I, Saul" by Jerry B. Jenkins

I, SaulTITLE: I, Saul
AUTHOR: Jerry B. Jenkins

This book by Jerry Jenkins (of Left Behind fame) alternates between the modern adventures of theology professor Augustine Knox and the Apostle Paul during the first century. Eventually, the two stories collide as Knox gets caught up in the discovery of Paul’s memoirs and the illicit activities of those who seek to profit from the find.

I enjoyed this book, however, Jenkins seemed to have a much better handle on the first century timeline than its modern counterpart. The characters of Paul and Luke (along with Timothy and Mark in bit parts) seem very believable and I found myself drawn into their story. However, it took me awhile to warm up to the modern timeline. The characters were less real and harder to like. By the latter stages of the story, however, I found myself fully engaged.

In my opinion, the writing in this book far surpasses that found in the majority of the Left Behind books and it was a fun read.

Books Read in 2013: N0. 4 – The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

timemachine

Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Date Completed: Feb 18, 2013

Years ago I read a children’s edition of this book and loved it. The imagination of my youth was captivated by the notion of time travel. I decided it was time to revisit this classic when I found a free edition of it for the kindle and I wasn’t disappointed. I must say, the notion of time travel is still intriguing. I enjoyed the Time Traveler’s interaction with his contemporaries (the scenes that open the book) a great deal more than I did Wells’ vision of the future. Perhaps I am to far removed from the political and social statements Wells interjected into the story, but it fell just a little flat with me as the story progressed. Had Wells included just a hair more action into the story I would have definitely given it a five-star rating.

If you like to read science fiction, this is a must read.

 

 

 

Books Read in 2013: No. 3 – Beauty and the Mark of the Beast: A Dispensational Thriller

15783013Title: Beauty and the Mark of the Beast: A Dispensational Thriller
Date Completed: January 20, 2013

I am a big fan of the books Ted Kluck wrote with Kevin DeYoung (Why We Are Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church) so I eagerly picked up this book. Doing so was a tragic mistake. I found no enjoyment whatsoever in this whimsical tale. Kluck’s goal is to address dispensationalism and premillenialism with his tongue firmly in cheek, however, the book comes off as mean-spirited to me. Perhaps Kluck’s humor is just lost on me or perhaps I am just too serious by nature, but something here didn’t work for me.

For instance, one of the main characters of the book is Ted Strongbow. Strongbow is clearly a parody of Tim Tebow and is presented in a rather unflattering light. The whole time I was reading the book I was wondering how the real Tebow would feel if he read it. I just found the whole thing unbecoming of Christians.

In addition, I found the author’s writing amateurish and difficult to follow. The book describes itself as being “written by committee” with several contributing writers. This, I believe, is one of its problems. The transitions from chapter to chapter are jumpy and un-smooth and there is a sense of piling on. I can imagine the writers sitting around over some brewskies making fun of the Christians they disagree with. Their humor would have been best left in their basement.

There just isn’t much good to say about this book. If given a second chance, I would avoid it.

Tolkien and Lewis verses LeHaye and Jenkins

In his biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, author Mark Horne briefly examines Tolkien’s writing style. It seems Tolkien adamantly denied his work had any intentional Christian symbolism. Rather, Tolkien preferred his reader decipher for himself any hidden meanings being his work. This approach sets Tolkien slightly apart from his friend, and equally talented writer, C.S. Lewis. The symbolism in Lewis’ work is more obvious and represents what is surely an intentional approach on the part of the writer, however, it is still subtly and skillfully executed. The long-lived popularity of both authors attests to the fact both approaches can work.

Of course, there are authors on the opposite end of the spectrum. Take Jenkins’ and LeHaye’s approach to the enormously popular Left Behind series. There is nothing subtle about their work. Their work represents a theological assertion wrapped in fiction (namely Dispensational Premillenialism). The success of the Left Behind books prove that there is an audience for such a heavy-handed approach … however, I would argue the approaches of Tolkien and Lewis are somewhat more noble.

Why? Perhaps it is because LeHaye and Jenkins are preaching to the choir somewhat. Their books appeal to Christians who already subscribe to their theology. Don’t get me wrong, I am dispensational theologically speaking and there is something cool about entertaining notions of how such end times may play out … but I must wonder, how many non-Christians are reading the Left Behind Books. Heck, even Christians these days seems to be mocking dispensationalism.

On the other hand, Tolkien and Lewis have reached a much wider audience. Christians and non-Christians alike enjoy reading their work. Certainly, this means Tolkien and Lewis are spreading the gospel (albeit in a subtle way) to more people who are in need of it. To me, this seems like a far noble cause than advancing one’s particular theology (even if Tolkien would deny a cause to begin with). Of course, I suppose it could be argued that The Left Behind books serve to edify and encourage fellow Christians (and perhaps have scared a few people into the Kingdom who dared read them). It just seems to me that Tolkien and Lewis accomplish their objectives in a manner that is more respectful of the reader. Not to mention that Tolkien and Lewis are just better at their craft.

Tolkien and Lewis have the ability to prepare a heart to receive Christ. They cause readers to appreciate the virtues of Christ without beating them with a club. While I’ll never be able to replicate their skill or success, their respective approaches represent methods I hope to someday mimic in my own writing. I’m not there yet. My recent short story The Backwoods Witch is far too heavy handed. I think I could have written a scarier story with a more subtle Christian message if I had displayed more patience. I’m trying my best to get there … but I’ll be honest – it isn’t easy!

In all fairness, C.S. Lewis could pull out his club every so often. His Screwtape Letters delivers an obvious message yet does so with unparallelled style. I am hoping that as I write more, I’ll learn when to pull out the club and when to hold back and trust the reader to form appropriate conclusions.

I may never get there, but I’m going to give it my best shot!

 

A Short Review of the Short Story "A Vampire in the Church Choir"

Author Matt Mikalatos possesses a sharp wit and manages to communicate Tozer-like spiritual truths in the midst of almost slapstick comedy. His book My Imaginary Jesus is one of my favorites. I’ve been looking forward to reading more of his stuff and was provided the opportunity when his short story A Vampire in the Church Choir arrived on Amazon. It also didn’t hurt that it was free for the Kindle, so I snatched it up!

A Vampire is a spin off story from his book Night of the Living Dead Christian which I have yet to read … fortunately, it works well on its own. It features a vampire who decides to attend a mega-church while determined to hide the true nature of her existence from the seemingly cookie-cutter Christians.

Oddly enough, within just a few paragraphs, I forgot the antagonist was a vampire and began to identify with her as an amazingly flawed Christian. By incorporating “monsters” into the storyline, Mikalatos presents the reader with an honest commentary on the current state of the modern church.

It was a wonderful short story that has made me want to pick up a copy of its parent book. I highly recommend it!