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Book Notes ~ November 2016

I made it through two very different history books this past month from two very different periods of time and parts of the world.  Looking towards the end of the year, I've realized that I won't hit my goal of 50 books in 2016 but I might get to 40.  Stay tuned!

The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters

So many books have been written on the American Civil War and I have read nearly none of them, so this looked like a good place to start.  This book is a collection of various essays about the Civil War by respected Civil War historian James McPherson.  Each chapter contains one stand-alone essay so you don’t need to read them in order if you don’t want.   Each chapter was thoroughly engaging, discussing topics like Lincoln as commander-in-chief, the role of slaves in their own emancipation, the importance of naval warfare, the role and perspective of Europe on the American Civil War, and theories about just war as related to this particular war.  McPherson has a pleasant readable style, with plenty of detail and flavor, without getting bogged down in the details.   

 

 

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Latin and a Queen Esther Moment in Korean Church History (Nov. 16, 1900)

I have been studying Latin with my kids for the past several months and it has been a lot of fun.  However, some people might wonder how useful it is.  With that doubt in mind, I wanted to share an incredible story that a Korean friend recently brought to my attention.  For who knows if your study of Latin might come in handy for such a time as this...

 

"To sum it up..., several high court officials made a plot to kill ALL missionaries and Christians in Korea (their plan was to go in effect on Dec. 1st, 1900). Missionary Horace G. Underwood got a hold of their scheme before it became official and sent a telegram in LATIN (so that no Korean would understand the content) to fellow missionary Avison to alert him of the seriousness of the situation.

Avison then relayed the information to missionary Allen--who was/had been King GoJong's personal physician at the court. Allen immediately sought after the King's attendance; which resulted in King GoJong making a decree throughout the land ordering all plots against Christians to stop.

Literally, thousands of lives were saved with the help of a Latin message sent that day."

 

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A Better Way to Spot Fake News Articles

In light of numerous articles recently about how to discern fake news from real news, I have a suggestion that will take some time and commitment but in the long run will be more useful than trying to remember a list of fake news websites to watch out for.  

Read books by reputable authors who are associated with reputable universities, and are published by reputable publishing houses.  

 

For instance, if you want to know what the founders of America really intended with the electoral college, church-state separation, etc., then read a history book about the founding of the United States. How do you find a good book that isn't written by an ill-informed wacko with a severely biased agenda?

 

1) Is it written by a scholar who is recognized by his or her peers?  
How do you check that?  A quick look at the Wikipedia page for an author will tell you where they went to school, what school they currently teach at, other books that they have written, and (on many wiki pages), criticism or controversy surrounding their work.  

 

2) If you are interested in a particular book on a topic, google "[name of book] book review" to see if their are any reviews out there by people who teach / write in the same general topic area. 

 

3) Who published the book?   A publisher like Yale, Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge, etc. university presses are more likely to put out a book with high standards for accuracy.  Self-published books are not necessarily low quality, but with a reputable, established academic publisher, you have a much better likelihood of reading something substantial and well-researched.

 

4) Read the Amazon review of the books. Read the top 5 star review, a 3 star review, and a 1 star review. Also, a 4 star review will also tell you the pluses of the book, as well as reveal a few weak points.

 

Over the long run, reading well-researched, well-written books on various topics will give you a much better knowledge base from which to assess current news so you will be able to spot fakes and provide an informed opinion on the accuracy or inaccuracy of claims being made because you understand the broader context of the issue(s) in the article.

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Book Notes ~ October 2016

I rarely read fiction, but this past month I read two novels, one is famous political science fiction story and the other a fictional missionary auto-biography that critics evangelical missions.  The other book I read is both religious history and political history and is very relevant to today.  Check out my reviews, and I hope you find something that piques your interest :-)

Brave New World

I’ve known about this book since high school but never got around to reading it recently.  The premise is a dystopian future where the majority of people see the world as having reached a utopian state… except for our disgruntled protagonist and a few others.  In this future world of Aldous Huxley’s imagination, people are grown in laboratories, not born.  Children are raised without parents and conditioned to assume a certain class in society, looking down on lower classes, and feeling inferior to higher classes.  In order to maintain social stability, drugs and physical pleasure are promoted while art, science, individuality, and the search for truth and meaning are discouraged.  Written in the 1930s, this is a fascinating and disturbing novel which foreshadows modern American society’s desire for big government to create safety and security at the expense of freedom.  The world imagined by Huxley has similarities to George Orwell’s anti-communist book “1984", but whereas Orwell imagines an oppressive restrictive society from the top down, Huxley imagines an oppressive restrictive society from the bottom up, where people clamor for the security and comfort that their overlords provide.

 

 

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Book Notes ~ September 2016

I read 2 books this month, both of which were very good, but in very different ways.  One was a fascnating historical / theological read, and the other one very encouraging if you can get into Puritan turns of phrases.

The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism

Covering post-WWII to the present, “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” presents a panorama view of how evangelicalism has grown and changed from a largely Western, North Atlantic movement to a broader, more diverse global movement.  I greatly appreciated the scope of this book, providing balanced coverage of not only North American, but also British and Commonwealth evangelicalism, as well as other places in the world where English is used in Christian discourse.  This was a pleasant change from many books about evangelicalism that are American-centric. 
 
I learned in greater depth about later 20th century leaders and authors that I had only heard about in passing, and was not very familiar with.  I particularly enjoyed reading about 1) how evangelicalism developed differently in Britain compared to the United States, 2) the watershed significance of the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, and 3) the tension between evangelicals (largely from the U.S.) who sought a narrow focus on “soul-winning” and those (largely from Latin America) who sought a more holistic definition of mission as applied to other areas of life and society. 
 
An important theme which the author discusses at various points in the book, especially in relation to the hugely significant Pentecostal-charismatic movement, is the increasingly divergent streams of evangelicalism in the early 21st century that bring into question whether it is still possible (if it ever was) to identify a common core of beliefs which define evangelicals.   As regards evangelical identity, there is a big question mark as to whether or not the authority of the Bible (sola scriptura) will continue to be a hallmark of evangelicalism.  There are strong movements in many places around the world where following the leading of the Spirit as mediated through personal experience is prioritized over Scripture, and in many cases syncretized with an emphasis on this worldly health, wealth, and blessing as the core of the Christian life.  This is true particularly in areas of Asia and Africa where animism has an important role in the background and worldview of Christian adherents.  However, the author believes that reports of evangelicalism’s demise are premature and the movement as a whole has displayed an historical resilience and ability to redefine and refocus its center over the course of different eras.  It is difficult to say where evangelicalism is headed, but this book provides a good overview of where evangelicalism has been during the last 70 years. 
 
“The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” is book 5 in is a series on the "History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World"  

 

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Book Notes ~ August 2016

I read 3 books this past month, the first of which was a real page turner.  I couldn't put it down.  If you want a great biography, check out the "The Girl in the Picture".  The third book had lots of timely reminders so that I don't get too run down.  I had hoped to finish a fourth book but I was pre-occupied for most of August with writing and refining a research proposal in preparation for applying for a doctoral program.

The Girl in the Picture

"The Girl in the Picture” is about a girl and her family caught in the midst of the war in Vietnam. The girl, Kim Phuc, was the subject of the famous war-time photo of a young girl running naked out of a village that had been hit by napalm.  It is a riveting, page-turning, biography, and gives a good window into what life was like for a normal family before, during, and after the war in Vietnam (not to mention an interesting picture of life in Castro's Cuba). I learned many details about the Vietnam War that I had previously just heard in passing but not really understood (such as the significance of the Tet Offensive).  Interestingly, when Kim grows up she becomes a Christian through a church in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), although this part of her experience makes up only a minor part of the narrative.  This book is a biography as well as a cultural and political history, and author Denise Chong gives a sympathetic and well-written account of Kim Phuc’s life and the global events in which she became an unexpected participant.  You definitely learn about Cold War politics in this book, but the author seems to do a good job of telling the facts without turning the book into a political statement.  It is Kim’s story, rather than a political agenda, that drives the narrative.