Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for this fictional story of an aging and dying pastor who wants to leave for his young son a written legacy of his life.  John Ames is a third generation pastor in the little town of Gilead, Iowa.  He has spent virtually his whole life in Gilead, and most of it faithfully pastoring a little church.  He married young and had a child, but both his wife and little girl died shortly after the child was born.  Ames spent the rest of his life single until age 67 when a young woman attended a Pentecost service at which he was preaching.  He immediately fell for her and marriage soon followed.  A little boy brought joy to their home but at age 76 Ames is dying of heart disease and he is acutely aware that his son would never remember him, at least nothing of...

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn (Lake Mary, Florida: Frontline, 2011), pp. 144, e-book, $10.00.

The Harbinger is one of the hottest selling books today.  It is a quasi-fictional story reminiscent of novels such as The Da Vinci Code or The Shack.  Each of these books involves mystery and intrigue, and has a serious message that the authors want to convey.  Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci Code, wanted to cast doubt on the Christian message and interject the teaching of ancient Gnosticism.  The Shack portrays a new-age, unconditionally accepting view of God which promotes universalism.  The Harbinger is warning America that God’s judgment is imminent unless the country repents and turns to the Lord and that very soon.  The need for repentance and true dedication to Christ in our society is not doubted by most Christians.  America, as a whole, has rejected the Lord, ignored His ways, and rebelled against His sovereign rule.  That we ultimately reap what we sow is a biblical...

Tribulation Force by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

The second book in this trilogy is Tribulation Force, which picks up the story exactly where Left Behind “left” it. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed with this second volume. I was expecting the book to progress well into the Tribulation, but instead it digressed into a Jerry Jenkins’ love story (which my secretary says sounds pretty good to her). As Left Behind closed we were about to see the first seal of Rev. 6 opened. As Tribulation Force closes, the second seal is apparently being broken. Come on guys, we have 5 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls to go, and that doesn’t count the Battle of Armageddon. Forget the girl and get to the action. At least that is my opinion. Maybe the last volume, Nicolae, will be better....

Time Changer by Rich Christiano and Greg Mitchell

Ever since I read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells as a teenager, I have been fascinated with the ideal of traveling through time. I suppose I am not alone. But until now I had never ran into any literature dealing with time travel from a Christian bias. What would it be like for a dedicated believer of the 1890s to suddenly be transported to the 21st century? How would they view our spiritual progress? What would they think of modern Christianity? This little novel develops this theme in a predictable but delightful manner. I truly enjoyed Time Changer, and more importantly, it gave me pause to consider my own walk with Christ from a different perspective....

The Shack by William P. Young

One of the most popular and controversial Christian books of recent years is the fictional work by first time author William Young. Evangelical recording artist Michael W. Smith states, “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.” Author Eugene Peterson believes “this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” On the other hand, seminary president Al Mohler says the book “includes undiluted heresy” and many concur. Given its popularity (number one on the New York Times bestseller list for paperback fiction), influence and mixed reviews, we need to take a careful look. Good Christian fiction has the ability to get across a message in an indirect, non-threatening yet powerful, way. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the most successful in the genre and has been mightily used of the Lord to teach spiritual truth. What...

The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield

Now here is what we have all been longing for – the perfect blend between golf and Eastern mysticism. In The Legend of Bagger Vance the East meets the West, and that on the 18th green. Here is how it works. The ultimate goal of Eastern mysticism is oneness with the universe. The ultimate goal of golf is the perfect, (or as Bagger calls it) the authentic swing. When the two come together you’ve got it. What “you’ve got” I am not sure but whatever it is it’s yours. Not since Jonathan Livingston Seagull has the New Age movement made such inroads into the thinking of the unsuspecting. Fortunately (?) Hollywood has made a movie of this book for the nonreader. Actually the golf drama is quite good, as is the human-interest story. But Eastern mysticism is obviously the point of the book and that is too wide a...

The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill

This early 20th Century novel by the American Churchill, tells the story of an up-and-coming minister who almost loses his faith, only to be rescued by a new understanding of the gospel and the church. Sound good? It’s not, because the new gospel embraced was that of liberalism bordering on socialism. Churchill wrote The Inside of the Cup to demonstrate the impotency and failure of the conservative church and the form of Christianity she espouses. In the novel all conservatives are painted as power-hungry, money-obsessed, hypocrites, while liberals are painted as those who live in the spirit of Jesus. The only value to Churchill’s novel is that the reader might receive a better understanding of the mind and actions of liberal “Christians.” Along the way Churchill’s key characters deny virtually every important doctrine of Scripture: Heaven, Hell, eternal life, the virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, the Gospel, creation, atonement,...

The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley

This lengthy historical novel by a Pulitzer Prize winning author is both interesting and different. The action is centered around one family living in Greenland during the fourteenth century. For those who enjoy learning about past cultures and how life was lived by its inhabitants, this will be an absorbing book. For those who don’t, skip The Greenlanders. Smiley attempts to write more than a novel, she also desires to interject a moral or two concerning religion, revenge, justice and need for law in a society. She succeeds in writing a pretty good novel that forces the reader to think a bit about the consequences of their actions. The book is long however, and a little slow. The are also lots of strange names to remember, most of which seem to begin with “Thor”....

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Considered the defining novel of the 1920s, The Great Gatsby is determined a masterpiece by the literary world. It has even been referred to as “the great American novel,” with Twain’s Huckleberry Finn being the only rival. I DON’T THINK SO!! Fitzgerald is not in the same league as Twain, and The Great Gatsby shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as Huck. It is an interesting novel of the decadence and superficiality of the era, and serves as a warning to our similar age and people. It is worth reading, but not all would agree that it deserves the status of a classic....

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Albom’s book has been on top of all the bestseller lists for months, and since it seemed to encroach into the Christian arena, I thought I would give it a read. Right up front it must be understood that The Five People You Meet in Heaven is not a Christian book—it is fiction. And viewed as a novel it is excellent. Albom is an exceptional writer and I found this novel hard to put down. It is a story that will make you think, cry and examine your own life. You could not ask much more from a piece of secular fiction. However, viewed as theology, The Five People You Meet in Heaven is certainly out of sync with Scripture. As with Albom’s other bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie, this book is moralistic and thought provoking, but it is not the wisdom of Scripture. Albom’s portrait of God, life and...

The Fall by Albert Camus

Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, about the time The Fall was published. This interesting little novel reveals the haunted conscience of the secular man who is devoid of hope. Try as he may, man is incapable of finding relief from the ambiguities and emptiness of life, nor from the sins that haunt him. Although Camus speaks of God and religion it is obvious he does not know the God who cleanses from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. The book is of value in understanding how a secular thinker views the human condition....

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Dante’s classic fourteenth century poem is really three books in one, each describing the abode of those who have departed from this world. Inferno, describing the horrors of hell, was the most interesting to me, and has probably shaped the world’s view of hell more than the Bible has. Purgatoiro depicts purgatory, that once again has influenced Roman Catholic thought on this subject as much as anything. The final poem is Paradiso and is a picture of heaven, which I found relatively uninteresting. The Divine Comedy has been reviewed thousands of times and needs no further thoughts from me. I will say that I was surprised by the blend of Medieval Christianity, pagan thought and mythology. Along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, this work has molded the way many Christians view the next life, even though the vast majority of the contents are imaginary....

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Dan Brown tells a good story and everyone loves a mystery. Put these ingredients together, mix in a bit of history, ancient and secret rituals, claim that your novel is based on truth, and, oh yes, scandalize Christ in the process, and you have the makings of a runaway best seller. The premise of Brown’s novel is that the Roman Catholic Church has lied about and covered up the true identity of Jesus. It seems, according to Brown and his Gnostic resources, that Jesus was a mere mortal. He married Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter before He was crucified. Understandably, if the “true” story of Jesus leaked out it would destroy the Christian faith, hence the great coverup. But now, the “truth” being hidden for two millennia is in danger of being exposed. While Brown’s half-truths, guesswork and blasphemy is supported by virtually no historical evidence, many will...

The Call of the Wild / The Sea-Wolf by Jack London

The Call of the Wild is far too well known to need review. If you like adventure stories with animals as lead characters few have surpassed London, his best being The Call of the Wild (with White Fang a close second). The Sea-wolf is almost as good as London’s animal stories, and of a similar genre. Just replace Buck (the dog) with Wolf Larson (the sea captain); Alaska with the sea; the dog sled with the ship; wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild dogs with wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild men; add a sissy-boy with a sophisticated woman and you have the recipe for The Sea-wolf . It is an engaging sea story more interesting than Moby Dick and in the same league as Mutiny on the Bounty....

The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett

This 800-page volume is a collection of stories, poems, nursery rhymes, myths, fairy tales and short biographies designed to encourage moral conviction in a society that no longer places much store in morals or convictions. There are ten chapters, each dealing with a separate virtue: Self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith. The Book of Virtues is worth reading, at least selectively. It is of course refreshing to think that a book about “right and wrong” can still be a best seller. On the negative side, Bennett is not a believer, to my knowledge, and therefore while his stories all have a moral bend, they don’t all have a Christian bend. Some are actually anti-Christian in philosophy. Morality and Christianity are not synonymous; as a matter of fact, morality can be the enemy of the gospel. So even in a book dedicated to virtue, discernment...

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When I was a child my father instilled a passion for reading within me by telling stories based on books he had read. The most memorable tale was that of Tarzan of the Apes . Perhaps my love of reading can be traced back to the fictional story of a young man swinging through the trees of the African jungle. Yet, I had never personally read Burroughs’ classic until now. I did not find it great literature, neither in style nor story line, but it was certainly fun. You might want to read it sometime – and tell it to your children. Who knows, it may fuel a passion (hopefully not the swinging from trees or eating with their hands kind)....

Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains

Tales of the Kingdom at any given point reminds the reader of The Wizard of Oz, Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Knights, Chronicles of Narnia or any number of Disney’s children’s classics. Tales of the Kingdom is comprised of a dozen short, interconnected, fantasy stories directed at children. Like Aesop’s Fables, each tale ends with a moral. Like C.S. Lewis’ imaginary world, children, magic, mythological creatures and a Christ figure are prominent throughout. The stories are fairly well written and beautifully illustrated. Two things will trouble some readers. First is the magic/mythical element. Scripture condemns involvement with sorcery of any type and strictly forbids the believer being involved with such. Yet much of children’s literature, including Christian-based, is full of magic, sorcery and the like. Some believers are deeply bothered by this glorification of the forbidden. The problem is being consistent. If the Mains are wrong to lace their tales with...

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The four horsemen of the poetic world are considered to be Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and John Milton. Milton’s poetry is not as dynamic as Homer’s, as hair-raising as Dante’s or as versatile as Shakespeare’s, but for my money (whatever that is worth) give me Milton. Perhaps it is the subject matter. Homer wrote of gods and warriors, Dante of hell, Shakespeare of mortal heroes and villains, Milton of God, Satan and the fall of man. Paradise Lost made Milton immortal in the world of literature. His descriptions of heaven, hell, angels and demons have done more to shape the average person’s view of these things than even the Bible itself. This of course draws a word of caution from us. Milton traffics in fantasy; Scripture in reality. What Milton wrote is great fiction; what God wrote is powerful truth. All we really know of the spirit world is gleaned...

Nicolae by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Unfortunately, having now read Nicolae, I am convinced that our boys should have stopped after Triblation Force. Their writing is steadily going down hill — and it would appear that they are planning a number of sequels. Nicolae did start out better with a great deal of action, and gratefully, the poorly written romance was kept to a minimum. But the authors simply replaced romance with technology as a filler. I believe there was more written about Range Rovers, super laptop computers and cell phones than there was about opening of the seal judgments. Add in a long and boring bus chase (yes, a bus chase), constant repetition of events detailed in the first two volumes (and sometimes earlier in this one), huge numbers of petty conversations, and you have the recipe for a yawner. Maybe a groaner would be a better term, as I actually found myself groaning...

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

No, Nausea is not a description of the feeling we get at tax season; it is Sartre’s indictment of life. To Existentialist philosopher Sartre, Nausea occurs when we come to grips with the fact that we do indeed exist, but it makes no difference (p. 122). Sartre’s summary of life is, “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance” (p. 133). It is the goal of this novel to prove this thesis, therefore Sartre, through the fictional character Antoine Roquentin, systematically examines everything from religion to education to work to love and pronounces them all as meaningless. When Roquentin looks inside himself he finds nothing. From this comes his despair; everything is absurd. He is an accident; a product of chance and therefore nothing matters. As you can tell this is not exactly an uplifting book, but it does offer insight...

Lord Foulgrin’s Letters by Randy Alcorn

That Alcorn would even attempt to copy C. S. Lewis’ classic Screwtape Letters says something about the man’s courage and confidence. Alcorn does not ascend to Lewis’ level, perhaps no one ever will, but in truth he does a good job. It is an intriguing approach to endeavor to view our lives from the vantage point of the demonic world. Usually we ask the question, “What is it that God desires?” But it may be almost as fruitful, and rather refreshing to query, “What would the Devil want?” If we could infiltrate the counsel of the demons what would be their plan for us? How would they try to twist truth? What would they do to keep us distracted from God? How would they present sin so as to make it most enticing? This is Alcorn’s and Lewis’ approach, and it has merit. As for Alcorn’s theology, based on...

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Left Behind is the first in a trilogy of novels dealing with the end times. Left Behind , written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, begins on the day that the Rapture takes place and concludes just as the Antichrist is about to assume power over the world. The story however, is wrapped around the lives of a handful of individuals who come face to face with the fact that the Rapture has occurred. Will they come to Christ, or be taken in by the false explanations for the disappearance of millions throughout the world. And if they come to the Lord, what will it cost them? Left Behind is not classic literature but it is an interesting story, easy to read, and thought provoking (especially as we watch the how the Antichrist begins to deceive everyone around him). The book takes a pretribulational approach and views the book...

Holy War by John Bunyan

I won’t waste time critiquing a classic as well known as Holy War . It is Bunyan’s second best known allegory and, in my opinion, for what it is worth, is even more interesting than Pilgrim’s Progress. For those who would want a more modern version, try Ethel Barrett’s paraphrase....

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Published in 1902 by Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness has long been considered a classic. The story itself is ordinary enough; a sailor travels into the midst of the Congo jungle to engage in the ivory trade. There is no romance, little action, but a few moments of violence. Conrad uses only words to hold his audience’s attention, but my how he uses words. Few writers, past or present, can rival this man in his use of descriptive language. Perhaps this is why virtually every college literature course seems to require the reading of this little novel, often to the dismay of the students. Conrad’s greatness lies in the fact that he is not really spinning a story about a journey into the heart of the Congo, but a journey into the blackness of the heart and soul of man. When a man, a good man,...

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

The best selling books in America at this time (November 1999) are the three fictional volumes by J.K. Rowling about the life of a boy named Harry Potter. These are books about magic, witches, wizards, dragons and all that goes with such fairy tales. They are written for children and thus are simple, both in reading style and story line. Certainly not destined to be classic works, they are nevertheless fun and interesting. The question on the minds of many Christians is whether these books are also dangerous. They deal with the “dark” side, the world of magic, in a very positive and attractive way. Would such fiction attract children to the real world of the dark arts, which is not nearly so pleasant? That is a question the discerning reader will have to settle in his or her own mind. As for the books themselves, having read only...