Goodreads Review: The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says “Follow Me”? by John F. MacArthur Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This rather old book by John MacArthur was a read that rocked me to my core. I had previously heard of MacArthur’s controversial doctrine of “lordship salvation” from persons (or persons who knew such persons) who clearly had a bone to pick with him.

But I am convinced that MacArthur’s theology is grossly misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, MacArthur does not espouse a works-based-salvation theology. Rather, he advocates for a doctrine as old the New Testament itself: “You shall know a tree by the fruit it bears.”

In a nutshell, MacArthur’s main beef is with ministers who refuse to question the idea that mere assent to basic theological facts (i.e., the so-called Four Spiritual Laws) is equal to saving faith.

Instead, says he, we will know if a person is saved if their actions reveal a changed heart. They are not saved if they insist that they are saved but to do nothing to demonstrate such a reality.

What MacArthur’s ideological opponents have wrong is that they believe that he is espousing a “faith-plus-works” theory of salvation. Such a view is obviously heretical, but this man is no heretic. MacArthur would be a heretic if he stated that we will be saved if we do enough good things meriting salvation, our faith be darned.

But MacArthur plainly does not say this. Instead, he says that faith is good, but it will be known to be genuine, saving faith if a changed life is the result. Such a change can only be effected by the Holy Spirit, a doctrine which no one doubts.

I therefore highly recommend this book as a good kick-in-the-pants for the spiritually lazy. It sure did for me.

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Why Read Old Books?

Note: This post is adapted from a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov once said, “If you want new ideas, read old books. If you want old ideas, read new books.”

Following this observation, I have made a point to read old books.

Pavlov’s maxim applies to both fiction and non-fiction, from the epic poems of Homer to the stories of Washington Irving to Greek philosophy to the Bible.

Picking up a dusty copy of The Iliad will transport to you the world of raging Achilles and bold Hector in the carnage of the Trojan War.

Or you could make a trip to rural New York, circa 1790, and become acquainted with the fearful Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Either of these books would excellently reveal to the reader that the heroes and villains of the past weren’t so different from us.

Whether it’s the wearied prince Hector’s longing for peace, or the hapless Ichabod’s unrequited affections for Katrina, we can all see something of ourselves, both admirable and repellant, in these imaginary characters and the eras they inhabit.

Reading old books is beneficial because it allows the reader to glimpse into other worlds, in order to better understand the past and to apply it to the present.

When I say you should read “old books,” I generally mean you should read the classics. That said, what is a classic?

Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game (an excellent read, by the way), once defined a classic as stories that are so good you want to share them with your children.

When I was seven or eight years old, my mother gave me a new set of books to read: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

I loved those books dearly, reading them and re-reading them, and being overjoyed to hear the audio drama versions of them, before being crushed when the films failed to meet my expectations.

I later read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, eventually finding my way to Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. By the time I was 18, I had read the entirety of the Bible ten times.

All of these aforementioned books, written across multiple continents in the span of dozens of hundreds of years, have been passed down through the centuries to us. We can read all of them at any time on our cell phones.

But why read them at all?

The first reason to read old books is that it provides a window to the past.

At some point in time, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, sat down and thought up his story.

Irving was an American, influenced by stories of European folklore that he had picked up during his travels through the continent in the nineteenth century.

Reading his story allows us to get acquainted with his thought process and walk around in his mind a little.

Imagine what could have inspired passages such as this one, describing the town of Sleepy Hollow:

“However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions.”

You see that this is a time when the majority of people took the reality of the supernatural for granted— whether that idea lay in base superstition or religious faith.

To look back on such a concept with disdain would defeat the purpose of reading old books. Our ancestors were no more ignorant than we are, and in many ways were our intellectual betters.

Instead, our goal in reading old books is to look into the past, seeing a world that is very much like ours.

Take The Illiad for example. This epic poem is one of the foundational works of the western canon.

In Homer’s poem, the warriors on both sides of the war, the Achaeans and the Trojans, frequently blame the gods for their troubles, and the gods are shown meddling in human affairs quite frequently.

This human tendency to want to assign direct blame for misfortune and injustice to an ethereal, all-encompassing source is not new.

If there’s one thing that I took away from listening to The Iliad on audiobook, it’s that people have been saying, “It’s not fair!” since 800 B.C.

So whether you’d like to peruse the works of Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, or C. S. Lewis, or perhaps more ancient writers like Homer and the multitude of authors responsible for the Bible, I cannot recommend reading old books more than enough.

For there is no better way to enrich your mind, discipline your imagination, and open your eyes to another way of life than to turn the pages of a classic tome.

If any of you have children, grandchildren, or young nieces or nephews, your duty to pass on these great books is crucial.

The older generation must teach the younger generation of this important pastime. Otherwise, we face a new age of darkness, chained in the bonds of ignorance.

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Goodreads Review: Twelve Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw the movie adaptation of this gripping slave narrative on DVD three years after it came out in theaters.

The movie brutally related a terrible, horrifying, heartrending tale of pure injustice. My history teacher said that the movie reminded him of the film “Schindler’s List”, in that he thought it was a good movie, but would never want to watch it again.

Putting aside the movie, the book “Twelve Years a Slave” adds layers of personality to our narrator, Solomon Northup, renamed “Platt” after being kidnapped from his life of freedom in the north and being sold into slavery in 1850s Louisiana.

Northup relates his tale of woe in grinding detail. He relates the general customs and traditions of enslaved blacks, the way of life of a local Indian tribe, and the range of personalities exhibited by his several masters, from the kind-hearted Baptist minister William Ford, to the lecherous and sadistic Edwin Epps.

Frequently given are the full names of persons involved in the events Northup recounts. He wanted to demonstrate that it is a wholly true story. A modern writer would have gotten lost in these details, but Northup’s aptitude for succinct descriptions and biting sarcasm result in a slim read which could be finished in a weekend.

Padding out my edition, which I acquired at a bargain price from Barnes & Noble, are a series of essays. The include an essay by Steve McQueen, director of the 2012 film, along with essays on the subject of slave narratives by a handful of academics.

Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the final, concluding essay in my edition, as I unfortunately misplaced it soon after I had reached that portion. A pity, but I am glad to have read the book at all.

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Thursday Round-Up

Now that I’ve gotten back to blogging, I have a lot of books that I’ve read that need to tell you all about!

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer gave great insight into how a Christian out to approach the arts. Written in the heady days of the 1970s, this very literate musing on the place of art in faithful endeavors was no doubt a catalyst in the Christian art movement, such as Christian rock music, church drama ministries, and unfortunately, Christian movies.

In sum, Schaeffer has many wise things to say, but the author of its introduction apparently thinks that the book’s chief lesson is that it’s okay for Christians to make rock music. While true, that is not the main point.

Related to this book were The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson and The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani, which both address through different avenues the problems associated with the church-growth movement and “seeker-sensitive” churches.

The Prodigal Church more specifically discusses the issue from Wilson’s perspective as a product of the seeker-sensitive church. His boots-on-the-ground approach is endearing, but he borrows many of his ideas from Jethani’s book.

The Divine Commodity is a much more intellectual approach to the matter, with Jethani eloquently considering the strategy of many modern churches, which often judge success by how full their pews are instead of by the spiritual health of their congregants. Both authors could learn much from Warren Cole Smith’s book, A Lover’s Quarrel With the Evangelical Church.

In terms of comics, I’ve read a beautiful hardback collection (Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1), a graphic novel (The Complete Maus), and a 1999 book containing interviews with some of the top comic book writers of the day (Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Vol. 1).

Invincible and Maus were absolute masterpieces, and I am glad to have acquired them for my personal library. Writers on Comics Scriptwriting was an enjoyable read, in spite of the interviewer’s fawning over his subjects. It was good to get into the heads of scribes such as Chuck Dixon and Jeph Loeb. I’ve already begun reading volume 2.

Finally, I recently read two business books, one horrible and the other fantastic, plus an eBook on statistics.

Network Like a Fox by Nancy Fox is a poor man’s McBook, which is saying something. It would be much easier to digest what advice it offers if the author had bothered to hire a decent proofreader. Its sloppy editing severely drains its credibility.

Ogilvy on Advertising, on the other hand, was out of this world. It was unlike any book related to business that I’d ever read. David Ogilvy was the man on advertising, or so my Uncle Bill, who worked in advertising, told me. An Englishman, his book is more literate and authoritative than any business book I’ve ever read.

His advice is practical and backed up by experience. The principles he espouses remain sound to this day. His is not the 1983 equivalent of a punch of stitched-together blog posts, but an actual book its own right.

Thinking Statistically by Uri Bram was a short, quick book which gives a hilarious and interesting look at statistical theory. It’s very accessible, and for the first time in my life, it made me think of math as fun.

It was also useful for helping me to understand exactly how statistics work, and how errors in methodology can fowl up survey results.

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Monday Round-Up

Before I finish my series on Talk Radio, I thought I’d give a quick update about what I’ve been reading lately, some movies I’ve watched, and an idea I had for a startup.

Books

I recently finished reading two books related to Christianity and the church.

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is a short, slim read that concisely and brilliantly makes the case for involvement by Christians in creating works of art, whether they be the fine arts or more popular mediums like cinema or the novel.

The only flaw was the truly asinine introduction by Michael Card. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson details how the modern American Evangelical church has embraced secularism in a misguided effort to attract large congregations.

Wilson is sympathetic to the motives behind this shift, but seems indecisive of whether the “church-growth” or “attractional church” models of churching are totally flawed or mildly good. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

Movies

I watched The Sound of Music all the way through for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a truly charming film, containing many elements which are completely foreign to the modern era, such as positive depictions of the church and large families. I’d even go so far as to say that Maria von Trapp ought to be hailed as a Feminist icon.

My full review on Letterboxd here.

I also finished watching the German film Downfall last night. It was a very difficult film to watch, similar to Twelve Years a Slave. Depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler during the Battle of Berlin, we see that one of history’s greatest monsters was in fact quite gentle and kind in his private life, even if he believed and acted on truly reprehensible ideas and ambitions.

I intend to review the film in more detail on Letterboxd shortly.

Ideas

I’ve recently been going through some of the books listed in The Personal MBA reading list.

As a Bible and theology enthusiast, I began to realize that something like that really needs to be provided for pastors, preachers, and ministers.

I began doing research on whether you really need to have a Seminary education to be a pastor. I found this article by Albert Mohler who stated that in the end, the answer is “no.”

Mohler opines that while having a formal education in the Bible’s original languages, church history, systematic theology, exegesis and homiletics would be a splendid thing for all preachers to have, the fact is that the cost of such an education is incredibly high.

The result is that seminary graduates tend to leave with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no way of affording the meager salary a small church can offer them.

This gave me an idea: What if there was a resource website, similar to that of The Personal MBA, which provided a list of the 99 best books on Pastoring and related topics?

What if someone created a website or wrote a book detailing such knowledge, intended for use by lay ministers or preachers who can’t afford a formal seminary education?

I could call it, “DIY Seminary.”

Must investigate further.

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Rated P for Passable – An Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation Review

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Ancient Secrets Of Lead Generation: Your Primitive Business Guide To Better Leads With Less Effort on my Goodreads.com account.

Today’s business blogosphere is teeming with thought-leaders and wannabee-thought-leaders, including myself.

The ones who manage to grow a big enough following are invariably offered book-deals.

The typical result of such book-deals is a compilation of the newly minted thought-leader’s most popular blog posts.

Combine that with a sliver of original content and a punchy-sounding title, and you’ve got something that will fly off of conference room tables and help fuel the thought-leader’s personal brand.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation by Daryl Urbanski is one such book. Although it contains legitimately good business advice, it is without a doubt the most sloppily-written eBook I have ever read.

I put this book on my to-read list after I saw it on Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA reading list. After having read it, I concluded that Ancient Secrets does have some good points.

Unfortunately, they are rendered nearly moot by its chronically haphazard editing. This is another hallmark of the books put out by mini-thought-leaders such ask Urbanski.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation is a slim volume with advice which is almost as gaunt.

The basic principles of hanging out where your target audience is and using targeted ads for different demographics are rather elementary, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

What’s unique about Urbanski’s book was that he made me rethink my ideas regarding these tactics.

I guess you could say that Urbanski gave me perspective on this strategy by giving an example of it in practice, via his anecdotes of running a small martial arts business.

But that’s where my admiration ends.

The eBook’s core flaw is that it’s littered with typos, misspellings, and bad grammar.

This takes the reader out of the experience of reading to an intense degree, making it difficult to absorb the author’s platitudes. It also undermines Urbanski’s credibility as a marketing guru.

If he cannot produce a high-quality product, then his marketing scheme will only serve to fuel the dubious reputation that reviews like mine will give him.

Again, a lot of eBooks written by mini-thought-leaders such as Urbanski tend to be a bit spotty in terms of editing, but this book left me utterly flabbergasted.

To wit, Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation presents old ideas in a new perspective, making them easy to grasp for relative amateurs such as myself.

Sadly, the book’s execution is critically lacking. It would have been improved a hundred times over if Urbanski had hired a decent proofreader.

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Goodreads Review: Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book on screenwriting I’ve ever read. Despite its subtitle, it made me want to read more books on screenwriting.

“Save the Cat!” is probably the most well-known book on screenwriting there is. For this reason, I see now that its advice has been disseminated among and copied by a multitude of other writers of books on writing, such as “You Can Write a Novel” by James V. Smith.

What all of the books I’ve read on the subject have in common is they all copy at least some of the advice in “Save the Cat!” in one way or another. Most of them also copy Blake Snyder’s smarmy style of writing.

But Snyder has a leg up on all of these posers. Unlike the majority of writers of books on writing, Snyder has actually written and sold screenplays to studios, and therefore has credibility.

At this point, the peanut gallery will probably say, “Well, just because he sold some screenplays doesn’t mean those screenplays were good.”

Meanwhile, this same peanut gallery (including other writers of screenwriting books) haven’t sold any screenplays. Presumably, if they knew how to write a good screenplay, they would have sold some by now.

The aforementioned James V. Smith, however, also uses this tactic, though he has to his name a handful of obscure military fiction novels, not quite the same as screenplays one sells to Hollywood big-wigs.

Smith therefore has all of Snyder’s ego but none of his achievements. If Smith had gotten a well-known book published by some big publisher that I’d heard of, that would be a different matter.

The advice Snyder himself gives is nothing short of eye-opening. He cuts right to the chase, spending little time hyping himself or trying to prove to his readers that they should believe him. Such an approach is all to common in modern guru books.

Snyder’s advice on genre, story structure, various tricks of the trade, and most importantly, “The Board,” are so fun to read about.

It’s more than just writing advice. Snyder is explicitly nonacademic in his approach, making it feel like you’re having a conversation with some guy you met at a Starbucks.

Indeed, Snyder is indeed a product of a unique era. He hailed from the spec-script hey-day of the 1990s, a prosperous time in Hollywood, yet just before the internet had fully blossomed into the informational juggernaut we know it as today. I wonder what he would have thought about the superhero craze that’s going on presently.

Snyder passed away in 2009. If he still lived, I imagine he would still be going strong in the era of Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0. Rest in Peace, Mr. Snyder, and good job on having “How to Train Your Dragon” dedicated to you. You would have appreciated it, I’m sure.

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A Groundswell Review: Old But On-Point

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies on my Goodreads.com account.

I checked this book out from the library when I saw it on a list of books about “social media marketing.”

In my quest to learn everything about the subject, I had consulted books by Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuck. This was something very different.

Written in 2008, my second edition of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff was released in the slightly-less ancient age of 2011.

Although Groundswell is admittedly a little dated, it does provide much insightful advice regarding social media marketing.

This book was plainly written as a guidebook for executives in established corporations who are trying to navigate the brave new world of social media.

It provides several case studies regarding the issue. Li and Bernoff are a decidedly more technical in their approach to understanding social media.

Thankfully, they avoid the common mistake of focusing on the particulars of the internet and technology.

It is foolish to spend close to two years writing a book about a field which changes every two minutes. Messrs. Li and Bernoff are not foolish.

It was nonetheless rather jarring to hear the book refer to things such as MySpace as significant factors in the realm of social media.

It was even more incredible to find that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were hardly mentioned at all. Regardless, I’ll hardly fault the book for failing to predict the future.

Groundswell has two main strengths.

First, they manage to present their findings, research, data, case studies, and advice in a manner that is easy to understand and accessible to everyone, from the average person to a C-Suite executive.

It’s largely free of corporate-speak and industry jargon that might have hindered a lesser book.

The book’s other big strength is that although the future of social media was made of Playdough when this book was written (and still largely is now), Li and Bernoff do manage to give mountains of good advice regarding what is still a very new subject.

It’s good to know that there’s someone from the old school of doing business who “gets it.”

For example, they perceptively note near the end of the book that it would be foolish to force everyone in a company to be part of social media. It would not only be ineffective, but might backfire.

It’s smarter instead to empower people who are already engaged in social media and let them do their thing.

This and other good pointers, combined with interesting case studies, make Groundswell a book that should be read by all corporate executives at big companies that are still trying to tell Retweets from Likes.

Any that are still having trouble with that are going to be desperately in need of help. Luckily for them, Li and Bernoff have written a book in their language.

Image courtesy of netchange.co

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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

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