Mississauga, ON, Canada
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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-01-11

On the defensive

The premise of this book is that Richard, young acquaintance of Yancey's, lost his faith in the process of completing a degree at a Christian college-- prompting Yancey to embark on a two-week silent retreat in which he reads the Bible from cover to cover, attempting to find a response to Richard's questions.

What results is a fairly traditional set of theodicies (attempts to explain the apparent co-existence of God and of evil). There are many such theodices floating around. In Disappointment With God, Yancey posits three of them:

1. If God were more inclined to intervence in the world and to perform miracles, we would actually be less inclined toward faith-- we would gripe and be dissatisfied, as were the ancient Hebrews wandering in the desert with their pillar-of-fire God.

2. Things may SEEM to be going horribly for us, but God has a greater plan, just as was the case for Job. Everything will eventually work out for the best.

3. It may seem possible to explain the events of the world without God, but such a view is reductionistic, somewhat like characterizing a symphony in terms of its sound waves. (This discussion moves somewhat away from the Problem of Pain)

That these (or any) theodices are problematic has been discussed at length elsewhere, and there is no space to do so here. To Yancey's credit, he at least writes with empathy and with a reluctance to blame either the victim, or anyone else, for the existence of pain. I also sense that he is opening these questions to a community for whom they are taboo.

However, I dare say that Yancey ultimately fails to answer Richard's questions. His explanations for the Problem of Pain lead us to some rather terrible conclusions, in short, that for God, the end justifies the means and also the idea that to have faith un-bolstered by miracles is "worth" the sacrifice of human lives.

For a more interesting consideration of "God's point of view", I would recommend "God: A Biography" by Jack Miles.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-31-11

The Furious Longing of Humanity

I purchased this audiobook with the sheepishness with which one might purchase a fluffy romance novel. Surely it would merely be the source of sweet, easy, idealistic remarks about God and His Love-- why was I buying this? Would I even be able to believe what the author was saying?

How wonderfully wrong I was. With apologies to Brennan Manning-- I didn't realize who you were, or what you stood for. Readers, this is a man who has both attended the opera with millionaires, and lived in a garbage dump in Mexico. He has been voluntarily incarcerated in Switzerland, and voluntarily exiled to a cave for months on end. He has served as a respected priest, and he has woken up barefoot and hung over; homeless and soaked in his own vomit.

It may be fair to say that Manning is an Everyman of sorts-- and he manages to emerge from this human-all-too-human experience, not only with his faith intact but with his heart ablaze, luxuriating in the ecstasy of his very tangeable, direct, and real experience of God's love.

I hope it makes sense when I say that this isn't trying to be a 5-star book. It doesn't philosophize, or even really explain its ideas in detail. It doesn't address every what-if that might arise. It doesn't even really say anything that hasn't been said before.

Like many liberal Christians, Manning equates loving God with loving people. Unlike many of these same writers, he doesn't stop there. I felt that he was giving us all permission to want something more-- something much much more-- something compelling to the point of being physical-- in our act of relating to God and to God's love.

I don't doubt that Manning's willingness to serve God and humanity in extreme ways is directly related to the soaring heights of rapturous joy he experiences in prayer. My own life is much more conventional in both repsects. However, I take a certain delight in knowing that a faith like Manning's is even possible-- that it exists at all, albeit not for me.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-23-11

Neuroscience for the nursery

If you are pregnant or planning a family, I thoroughly recommend this book, which accessibly presents,the latest in research concerning the development of intelligence, happiness, and good behavior in children.

If you, like me, are already the parents of a child old enough, to run, jump, count to 10, and arbitrarily meet at least half of your parental requests with an indignant "NO!", then I also thoroughly recommend this book-- with a bit of a disclaimer: brace yourself before reading. The "rules" in question amount to a pretty tall order, and he doesn't exactly mince his words about the possible effects of not following them.

The first priority of any brain, he points out, is not to learn. It is to be safe. This has been the goal of our brains since the earliest days of human evolution, and the vestiges of ancient evolutionary pressures and needs remain with us still. Stemming from this understanding, and supported by research, Dr. Medina recommends that parents place a high priority on marital harmony, empathic discipline, stress reduction during pregnancy, and avoidance of "hyperparenting".

Second, humans are deeply social creatures-- this means that we learn best by being held, spoken to often, sung to, and read to-- it also means turning off the cell phones, computers and TV, and engaging in imaginative "guided play" on a daily basis.

This is a good book, and I am compelled to apply Dr. Medina's recommendations to my own parenting practice.

I would, however, suggest two more books, for the sake of balance. The first is "Into the Minds of Babes" by Lisa Guernsey, which offers more research specifically relating to TV, and which I believe presents a more balanced view.

The second is "The Shelter of Each Other" by Mary Pipher, which offers a more holistic, anthropological perspective on many of these issues-- which considers the experience of the parents and the culture as well, and in which the "Voice of Science" is a little less... imperious.

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43 of 44 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-13-10

Logical to a fault

I read reviews of this book on other websites, and it was getting 5-star ratings across the board. Either that, or 1-star ratings, from people on the opposite end of the academic/religious/political spectrum from Willard. Here are my reasons for giving it 3 stars:

Christian ideas, Willard argues, have been largely dismissed by our culture in that they are perceived to be "beliefs", as opposed the "knowledge", which has a stronger and more direct relationship with universal reality. He calls for Christians (and everyone else, for that matter), to gain respect for, and confidence in Christian ideas by treating these ideas the way we would treat any historical or scientific knowledge. So far, this is a relatively defensible position, although from here Willard breezes through a series of "proofs of God's existence", known to be controversial, and chooses not to address the controversy. He repeatedly decries our "postmodern age", and "the current state of academia", and seems to long for a vague and long lost Golden Age when Christian ideas were commonly respected in the academic and everyday world.

Had the book stopped here, I would have assigned it a poorer mark, and dismissed it as yet another example of crotchety Christian conservatism bound to alienate readers who are not already on board with such ideas. However, the final chapters of the book are quite illuminating. This book is worth reading, if only for Willard's discussion of the relationship between accessing knowledge, adopting beliefs, and obtaining salvation. In this capacity, he is more generous and broad-minded than I had expected he might be, offering a defense for a sort of "Christian Pluralism", without suggesting that any individual might choose from a multiplicity of "pathways to God".

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4 of 7 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-25-10

Philosophy made delightful

This survey of philosophy presents a refreshing twist to the steady plod through the history of metaphysics so often taken by comparative philosophy books. Smith uses the events of a "typical day"-- including waking up, driving to work, sneaking out of the office, and working out at the gym-- to explore current and classical philosophies alike on issues of awareness, identity, freedom, and conformity, respectively-- among many other ideas likewise tied to daily events.

Breakfast With Socrates seems to span an area between philosophy and social science, and often left me going "Hmm. I never thought of it that way".

A breeze to listen to, and delightfully informative.

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4 of 5 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-13-10

An Interesting Perspective

Eugene Peterson takes words very seriously-- and here he examines Jesus's ministry, not from the perspective of his theology, or his actions, or his historical impact, but from the words he chooses and the styles of speech he employs. The first half of this book expresses a regret that we often "reserve one type of speech for prayer and religious activity, and another type of speech for our everyday lives", which, he argues, Jesus did not do. Perhaps this is a relevant message for Christians attending highly liturgical churches, but in terms of evangelical listeners, who may at times be accused of being brazenly casual with God, I'd say that Peterson is very much preaching to the converted (no pun intended!).

He also argues that direct speech is often offensive and for that reason, fails to achieve its purpose. Hence the title, "tell it slant", which Peterson draws from an Emily Dickinson poem and identifies with Jesus's way of teaching.

More interesting is the second half of the book, which scrutinizes the parables. He shuns stereotyped, cliched interpretations in favor of a fresh perspective that nonetheless respects the literal qualities of the text. Those fascinated with Jesus's parables will find this a worthwhile purchase for that reason alone.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-12-10

Highly thought-provoking

I am surprised that some reviewers found this audiobook to be boring; I found it to be quite riveting. It consists of a course with 14 lectures, not a book with 14 chapters, so perhaps this format was less familiar to them?

Professor Kreeft compares and evaluates various religious beliefs, including arguments made for and against God's existence, beliefs about immortality, and the natural of religious experiences. He resists teaching the content of his own opinions (although it is apparent that he is a relatively liberal Christian), preferring to present arguments made by intelligent people holding various points of view, and to show different ways in which a question might be answered.

Professor Kreeft works with a very interesting concept of faith: He asks us to consider the scientific method, noting that this process calls for "doubt" in order to function properly. A scientist wishes to test a hypothesis-- Her starting point must be to say "I will not believe this hypothesis, unless I can prove that it is in fact true." Note that doubt is not the same thing as denial. doubt still calls for testing, but it is "guilty until proven innocent" testing.

Faith, notes Kreeft, is the opposite of the scientific method's "doubt". Faith is "innocent until proven guilty" testing. It is not the same thing as belief, or as certainty. He asks us to consider that the act of listening is an act of faith, and possibly the only way to practice faith. To listen to someone is to have faith in what they are saying-- not necessarily to belive their ideas in the long run, but to consider what they are saying as a genuine possiblity, working of further analysis. Whether your beliefs are theistic, atheistic, agnositic, or otherwise, you will find yourself "listened-to" by Kreeft.

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18 of 19 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-18-09

How did she anticipate my every question?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a journalist and former Christian scientist, examines ongoing scientific research into the nature and significance of spiritual, paranormal, and near death experiences reported by people of diverse faith backgrounds. Unlike many books on such topics, I don't get the feeling that she is trying to sell me a particular viewpoint by deliberately filtering the information she presents. Rather, her examination of the topic is both broad and thorough, and she is honest about her own shifting perspective on God and on the particulars of her "mainstream Christian faith", at times expressing elation at her discoveries, and at others, disappointment.

What amazed me is that I have been asking these very questions for years, and not only was it satisfying to hear them all discussed in one well-written book, but I am also newly equipped with references and other resources to further support my own personal inquiries.

My only disappointment in this book was its conclusion: She ends with a rather insipid nod to Christianity that would satisfy neither a Christian reader nor a skeptic.

The ideas in this book are also informed by the author's ambivalent relationship with Christian Science, making for an interesting perspective not often represented in either scientific or popular faith-based literature.

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3 of 4 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-15-09

Not as funny as it looks

I like the idea of a remix of Victorian literature, but this idea did not really work. After a chapter or two, I grew so accustomed to the fact that the Bennett sisters were also zombie-killing KungFu fighters, that the humor lost its edge. He should have added other incongruous elements to this classic tale: perhaps some Dada art, political correctness, group therapy, hip-hop, etc. to keep the element of surprise and silliness alive.

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1 of 10 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-20-09

Exhilerating and Practical, too!

This author is kindof crazy... subjecting herself to all sorts of treatments, diets, programs, and medical exams in order to answer the question, "what causes middle-aged memory loss, and what can we do about it?"

At 28, I'm not exactly middle aged, but I came out of the book with helpful tips to begin following right now for optimum brain health down the road. It's hardly a boring how-to book, though. Full of dialogue, anecdotes, research data and more, it's a fun read.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful