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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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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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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The First Comic Book I Ever Read

It must have been ten years ago. My dad and I had stopped in a Half-Price Books while waiting for some work to be done on our car.

My ten or eleven-year-old self meandered among the shelves, bored out of my mind, when I came upon the comics section.

Peering over the boxes, I curiously thumbed through them. I finally selected two promising issues: Detective Comics #610 and Robin #2.

Of the two, I easily liked the latter the best.

Thus, I treasure Robin #2 by Chuck Dixon as the first comic book I ever read. Before, I’d only read those old Bionicle comics that LEGO put out.

I already had a superficial familiarity with superhero comics, thanks to chatter from friends and bit and pieces I’d seen here and there.

But this was my first introduction to Batman comics proper. It was my first taste of the comic book stories of yesteryear, and I found it absolutely thrilling.

Just imagine the world I had stepped into: Robin, a.k.a.  Tim Drake, staring down the business end of an overzealous cop’s shotgun.

The story goes on as Robin/Tim deftly escapes Shotgun Smith and makes a go at nailing some wacky gang called the “Speedboyz.”

But Tim also takes time to call his girlfriend to apologize for cancelling their date (while still dressed in his Robin costume).

He also talks on the phone with some guy named “Alfred” about another guy named “Jean-Paul” going crazy, and apparently this other dude named “Bruce” is involved somehow.

This stuff barely registered with me at the time, but I got the gist of it: Tim Drake is just a regular kid with regular problems living in a weird-butt world.

I loved it then and I love it today.

This day and age is the golden age of reprints. I didn’t buy comics when I was a kid, besides the two I just mentioned.

But now I can read any comic I want, including thousands of back issues made in the ’90s and early 2000s.

I just finished reading two fabulous trade paperbacks collecting Kelley Puckett’s run on Batgirl, when Cassandra Cain held that moniker. Best comics I’ve read in a while.

Now they’re releasing all sorts of old stuff in book collections.

Batgirl. RobinAzrael. The mega-series of Knightfall and No Man’s Land. All waiting for me to read.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

Image courtesy of dc.wikia.com

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My 11 Process-Oriented New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

In keeping with Derek Magill’s advice, I have decided to go about my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 with a different approach.

Mr. Magill states that the best way to accomplish a goal is to focus on the process, not the end result. It’s more efficient to focus on working a little bit of the way toward your goal every day than to be constantly trying to charge ahead all at once.

With that in mind, here are my eleven process-oriented New Year’s resolutions for 2017:

1.) Exercise 30 minutes a day every day.

I’ve managed to get in at least a little bit of exercise every day since the last day of last year. I haven’t engaged in serious cardiovascular exercise due to the icy weather preventing running.

However, I have done a set amount of weight-lifting and push-ups every day, plus a up to 2 miles of walking on a good day. Not quite 30 minutes, but I’m working towards it.

2.) Write 1 post on the Comics Experience boards every day.

This is a relatively easy goal to accomplish, considering that it’s pretty hard not to look forward to.

The purpose of this resolution is to improve my standing on the Comics Experience message boards and establish myself as a well-to-do member of this little online community. So far, so good.

3.) Write an 8-page comic and get it drawn, inked lettered, and posted on the internet.

This resolution is interconnected with another one I have that’s further down the list.

The comic I have in mind is a prelude to The Overlord, meant to build anticipation and demonstrate my skills as a comics writer.

Having nearly completed the script already, all I have to do is find a set of collaborators who can help with this.

(To achieve this, I intend to attend Emerald City Comicon this year to do some networking. There’s also a collaboration forum on Comics Experience, both of which sound promising.)

4.) Drive 30 minutes a day every day for 30 days.

This one… has gotten off to a decidedly rocky start. I drove home from church on Sunday without much of a hitch, but I haven’t driven since.

For those of you who know me, I have been struggling to obtain a driver’s license for some time now. I’ll just say I’ve had a devil of a time learning to drive.

Luckily, new developments on my side of the internet could prove beneficial in getting that the skills I need to be drive safely. I just have to remember: it’s all about the process.

5.) Write a new blog post every day for 30 days.

This resolution is taken directly Derek Magill’s linked post.

In his original post, he suggested that if you want to become a well-known blogger (goal), then you ought to write a new post every day for 30 days (process).

Therefore, I’ve been plugging away for the past three days, and I believe I’m on a role.

Here’s hoping I haven’t spoken too soon.

6.) Finish the Constitution 101 course by watching 1 lecture per week until completed.

One of my pastimes is watching these free online courses offered by Hillsdale College.

I swept through the course on American history, but I’ve been stumbling in my efforts to complete the course on “The Meaning and History of the Constitution.”

I think this is mainly because it’s mostly theory, as opposed to the rich, detailed story of a survey of American history.

But I am confident that with a clear objective and method at my disposal, I can get back into my groove and finish this informative course.

7.) Read the 100 shortest books on my Goodreads to-read list in a year.

Having read 50 books last year, I narrowly met my Goodreads objectives. But now I am ready for a more ambitious goal.

I have over 500 books in my to-read list on Goodreads, and of those that have listed pages numbers, I intend to read a good deal of those ranked the shortest.

The idea is to prioritize quantity. I’ll have read a lot of very short books, but I won’t have learned nothing.

There are plenty of books that are a joy to read because of their concise genius. I look forward to reading them, particular several penned by C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.

With luck, maybe I can bang out this batch within a hundred days.

8.) Finish reading the complete works of Bastiat. Read 2 pages a day for the whole year.

For those of you who’ve been keeping an eye on the Goodreads tab on this blog’s sidebar, you’ll notice that The Bastiat Collection has been there from the beginning.

This 1,000 page eBook is a real monster of a text, the densest thing I’ve taken on since I read The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. That beast clocked in at more than 600 pages.

But now I’m about halfway through Bastiat, so I calculate that if I read 2 pages a day every day for the rest of the year, I can wrap it up by September.

9.) Watch a classic movie every week and write a review about it for 50 weeks.

Not really that hard of a goal to meet, all things considered.

All I have to do is make sure I have a couple hours to myself every weekend and then spend five minutes writing a quick review on my Letterboxd account.

This will also provide lots of fodder for my posts related to old movies. I’ll be glad to see what bits of wisdom I can glean from my efforts to watch every old movie available.

10.) Write 2 pages of comics script every day for a year.

Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of my New Year’s resolutions.

Thanks to this simple, process-oriented goal, I have nearly completed the script for that 8-page comic I mentioned earlier.

With luck, I’ll be able to continue in this manner as I work on both this and other projects. Once again, so far so good!

11.) Read and study a chapter of the Bible every day for a year.

For ten years, I read a daily entry of a One Year Bible every day. The result was that I read through the entire Bible some 10 times.

I switched to a more in-depth study, meticulously making my way through various sections with a commentary on hand.

However, the lack of process-oriented focus which accompanied the use of my One Year Bible left me struggling to stay on task with my studies of the Scriptures.

Therefore, I have now resolved to tackle it in a more concentrated manner, as stated above. That is the bare minimum. I may or may not study more than that on a given day.

These are my resolutions for 2017. I now hope that I can stick to them!

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