Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Prince’s Poison Cup – R. C. Sproul

©2008 Reformation Trust Publishing, Lake Mary, FL

R. C. Sproul, Bible teacher, prolific author, and founder of Ligonier Ministries, has turned his hand to children’s books on several occasions. And I must say that I was pleased with his 2006 story The Lightlings which allegorized the Christmas story. So when I had an opportunity to examine this new children’s story by Sproul I was expecting great things.

As with the previous children’s book I read from Sproul, he teamed up with artist Justin Gerard to create an ornamental, keepsake book for parents to read with their children and then pass on as veritable heirlooms for their grandchildren, and their grandchildren beyond. The artwork in The Prince’s Poison Cup, while relatively nice, is not consistently spectacular as readers encountered in The Lightlings.

Sproul also takes the approach of a story within a story to retell the message of salvation. Ella Ruth’s grandfather comes to visit while she is ill. She wants to know why medicine has to taste so bad if it is good for you. The story that Grandpa relates tells of a great King who provides a cure for the ailment of the people of his kingdom by sending his son, the Prince, to drink deadly poison.

The allegory bears a striking resemblance to the story of the fall of mankind found in the book of Genesis. In the story, instead of a forbidden tree, the reader finds a forbidden fountain. A place from which the King’s subjects are forbidden to drink or something terrible will happen. The King, known as the King of Life because he had the ability to create things, loved his people (who he created) very much, but he knew that they would one day disobey him and drink from the fountain. They are tempted into doing just that by the King’s archenemy—a dark figure whose appearance into the story brings with it a sense of foreboding.

The Prince’s Poison Cup is a good way to broach the subject of sin and God’s plan to forgive sin. The author includes a parent’s guide in the back of the book for just this purpose. The allegory is pleasing and starts out well, but breaks down during the reading. There are “friends” who travel with the Prince until he becomes disheartened and then they drift away. The friends are not explained and if their purpose is to show the utter aloneness with which the Prince faces his task, they lack luster to do so. The same message could have been painted without the introduction of these friends. The question that the Bible student in me wants to ask is, “Are they angels or the disciples?”

The surrounding story is rather inadequate in this case as well. The conclusion that medicine tastes bad because some things are bitter, and then multiplying the bitterness to remind us of the price that was paid for the people, is a stretch. Grandpa doesn’t seem to address Ella’s question in this book. To keep the audience from missing the main point of the book (which has little really to do with how bad medicine tastes) we hear Ella say, “I know of another Prince who died for his people.”

My advice to the general public is that you will have a hard time enjoying this book. For members of the church community, this book will be a good reinforcement of what you are teaching your children at home. I give The Prince’s Poison Cup three reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, September 30, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

God Bless John Wayne – Kinky Friedman

©1995, Simon & Schuster, New York

Now, I’ve read Kinky’s work. As a matter of fact, this is the eighth of his novels starring fictional versions of himself and his friends solving mysterious cases. I intend to read more (have several on the TBR shelf). I think that when I reach the last of his novels, I’ll be semi-sad that he chose to retire from writing PI novels recently. Yes, this is the same guy who spent several years traveling with the “Texas Jewboys” on the country-western scene. It’s also the one who stirred up Texas politics in the last gubernatorial election by throwing his black cowboy hat into the ring.

What I like about Friedman’s writing is that he doesn’t take himself—or anything much—too seriously. He weaves a readable tale that is fun and easy to read.

In God Bless John Wayne, the Kinkster finds himself in New York (where the lion’s share of his stories are set), and gets sucked into helping his friend Ratso (the New York Ratso, not the Washington one) find his birth mother. What he finds is a string of dead people—some long dead (like the lawyer who brokered the adoption in the first place), some known to be dead (like Ratso’s adoptive father), some accidentally dead (like the friend in Ratso’s apartment), and some intentionally dead (like the son of the lawyer—another lawyer with the peculiar name of Hamburger).

Kinky enlists the help of several of the Village irregulars who have been helpful in solving previous cases, as well as a couple of new faces, to track down the long lost mother. One problem that he faces is that his very own ‘Watson’ is now his client as well as missing one day and turning up in a bad place the next.

Kinky uses page after page of pun and innuendo to keep his readers involved in the story line. That will turn many potential readers away, but will appeal to a vast number of mystery fans and lovers of a dry wit. God Bless John Wayne is a fun walk on the cold streets of New York in the winter (with a quick jaunt to Florida for relief). I give it four out of five reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, September 17, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mystery Readers, Say a Fond, "Farewell"

For years I've been accessing Kate Derie's mystery informational website ClueLass.com. Here's her farewell from the site:
I'm sorry to announce that Cluelass.com is closing down. After 13 years, it's time for me to pursue other interests. Thank you to everyone who has sent messages over the years. For those of you looking for information similar to what our Deadly Directory and Mysterious Home Page has provided, you might try Mystery Readers Journal, for links to bookstores, magazines, and associations. It's also a wonderful magazine with articles by many of your favorite authors, new and old.

From mystery fans all over the place, I say, "Thanks for your help, ClueLass, and may you have great success in your future endeavors."

For those who have clicked my link in the margin to the Bloodstained Bookshelf page of Kate's website, perhaps I'll be able to link another listing of the up-and-coming mysteries from the publishing world as soon as I find a new, reliable source. Until then, enjoy the final edition of the Bloodstained Bookshelf (click on the link).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code – Ed Stetzer & David Putnam

© 2006 B&H, Nashville

I had been letting this book gather dust on my shelf for a bit over a year. I purchased it because of my lack of expertise in the missional conversation. Knowing that Ed Stetzer is the guru in charge of research over at LifeWay, I expected lots of statistics, and that in itself made me pick up book after book ahead of this one. Anyway, I finally took this one down, and am glad that I finally got around to it. Not only is it much more than just a repetition of statistical fodder, but it is an inspirational piece in its own right. Adding the voice of David Putnam to that of Stetzer brings a conversational feel to this encouragement for churches to move into the realm of being a missionary to the community where they are planted.

To be fair, Stetzer and Putnam are actually writing from their respective perspectives as experienced church planters. The advice they render is tried and true, and it is scriptural too. The first part of the book is concerned with the philosophy behind what it takes to break the code. The authors describe code-breaking churches, and the leaders who compel them to break the code.

Simply put, the idea of breaking the code is that believers, churches and church leaders must examine their community to discover what it takes to reach the unreached with the gospel. Within the book readers are encouraged to put aside their personal preferences, their comforts, and their ideas to reach their community for Christ. Within the pages of the book you will find the seeds of Putnam’s call to “live like Jesus lived; love like Jesus loved; and leave what Jesus left behind.” He expands this theme in the follow-up book Breaking the Discipleship Code.

The closing chapters of the book are the more invaluable part, though. It is in the last few chapters that the authors give some practical help in how to go about breaking the code. While they do not give a step by step process that everyone must go through to build a missionary church, they do advise us of some of the important components necessary to breaking out of the rut that the church seems to find herself in. There is not a formula that will work one place or another, but a principle of doing what scripture admonishes in order to build the kingdom as we are called to do.

Part of the advice given includes examples from successful efforts to break the code. Accompanying these examples (Saddleback Church led by Rick Warren, for instance) are reminders that your community is not the community that this model worked in. Warning—don’t treat Midwestern blue-collar workers like “Saddleback Sam.”

If you have been contemplating reading this book, go ahead. Don’t put it off for a couple of years, but be ready to be challenged by it’s content. And take along the four out of five reading glasses that I gave it with you. This is an invaluable resource when you are trying to be the kingdom builder that God has called you to be.

Benjamin Potter, September 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kingdom Promises devotionals – Ken Hemphill

©2005-2006, B&H (Broadman & Holman Publishers), Nashville

This is a collection of four small books filled with two-page devotionals based on what Hemphill calls “Kingdom Promises.” They are included in the EKG resources. There are several things that make this collection appealing:

  1. Size—each volume is small enough to carry around in your pocket.
  2. Time—each selection will take no more than a few minutes to read, absorb, and often challenge the reader to Kingdom Living.
  3. Basis—the devotional thoughts included in each of the books springboards from a biblical statement of faith.
  4. Evangelism—each volume includes a short plan of salvation that can speak to the heart of unbelieving friends.
  5. Price—each book is priced at under four dollars, which makes them great tools both for Christians wanting to enhance their own walk or to use as witnessing tools—if you give it away you’re not out a fortune and someone may find the Way within the pages.

The books themselves are divided into different promise statements and gathered to illuminate different aspects of Christian living. The best order to read them may be the following: “We Are;” “We Can;” “But God;” “He Is.” The progression is most natural that way. At the same time, each one speaks to different places in the journey of the faithful and can be purchased separately to meet the needs of the individual devotion reader.

If you don’t miss any days and take one promise per day, you should be able to tackle all four books in about six to eight m

onths. If you just wanted to be inspired, you can read all four in the time it normally takes you to read an engaging novel. My advice, decide what part of the journey you are on—whether finding out about God’s promises about Himself or His people, and take a moment each day chewing over that day’s thought. Some of the thoughts are deeper, others more inviting.

Personally, I was really impressed with the concept and the design of the readings. I was also most inspired by the “He Is” volume (admittedly, I read it first). The other texts seemed less promises than statements, and flowed less freely from the passages highlighted. While the author and publishers want to be able to apply evangelism to the books (doing so by including an “A, B, C approach to the gospel message) the books are best suited for people who already have an on-going relationship with Christ, and therefore a bent toward wanting to find out more about what God has to say about Himself and His people.

Rating the books separately, I’m afraid I would be less than kind, but the fourth volume is more than worth the price of buying the entire set. So I will give Hemphill three and one-half reading glasses to average the lot out.

Benjamin Potter, September 2, 2008

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