Friday, May 6, 2011

Reads for Fun...and Profit

With a less stringent posting schedule while I work on Building Blocks material, I've been collecting observations on my "Reads for Fun" and reads for the BB project for collective release...and now's a good time for that. Let's start with the fun reads.

William MacFeely, Grant: A Biography. Balancing out my prior read about Stonewall Jackson, I now turned to a Union hero for whom I had a certain interest, Ulysses S. Grant. I had seen indications that Grant was, like me, an INTJ, and there’s some sense here that he was – as a person who wanted other people to make sense, but found too often that they didn’t. There was also another fascinating commonality between us I didn’t expect: He was married to a strong woman, Julia, with whom he had quite the rich relationship.

Grant lived a full and interesting life first as a failure in business, but later as a roaring success as a general. His presidency was marked by a lack of foreign war, but also by scandal (which didn’t really touch on him, but on the people he hired). Post-presidency, he took on the role of world ambassador and nearly pulled off being re-elected. Unfortunately his liking for cigars was his undoing: He was killed too early by a cancer of the throat.

My one distaste for the book is that McFeely had an occasional habit of psychoanalyzing people (in some cases, probably incorrectly). But most of this is an interesting and sane biography which I found thoroughly enjoyable.

Kenneth Henshall, A History of Japan. I find Japan to be a fascinating subject as a nation that seems to be the best people can do without a Christian basis for living. But it’s also useful for drawing parallels to Biblical culture, as their social setting is heavily honor-shame as was the Biblical world’s.

Henshall’s book is a readable introduction to Japan’s history, albeit somewhat heavier towards the modern era than I would have liked. Of interest for apologetics are these observations about Japan as a “closed county” in its earlier history:

A more “extreme” version of collective punishment than is found even in the Bible in passages like Joshua 7 (Achan): This was so severe in Japan that people there avoided getting involved with strangers, lest they do something the entire village ended up getting punished for.

An emphasis on making things appear as though they were peaceful no matter what was actually going on.

And, closer to the modern era: The general view that it was better to die than surrender, such that it was believed that the entire Japanese nation might commit collective suicide before surrendering to the Allies. (Skeptics who can’t grasp why eg, the Canaanites might prefer death in battle need to pay attention.)

A fascinating book about a culture of great interest to me – and not just because of Iron Chef!

Desmond Seward, The Hundred Years War. Until now I never really looked deeply into this war, but Seward brings It to life for what it is – an on and off war of about 120 years in which England and France struggled for dominance of the latter’s land, and the latter mostly took it on the chin and got its resources drained. This one’s not written so much as a narrative as a journal, but Seward is a good enough writer that it isn’t dull (though it also isn’t memorable, either).

That’ll be the last of my non-fic fun reading for a while. When I get back to it, I’ll have more Reads for Fun entries to discuss. Now here's the serious stuff lately...

John Gerstner, Repent or Perish. Yikes. This was to be the last book from the RTS seminary I would read on hell, but it turned out the last one was. This is no serious exegetical study but half a bellowing fire-and-brimstone threat parade, and half a critique on annihilationist Edward Fudge (which I ignored, since I consider Fudge already refuted with what I have). It had nothing on the nature of hell, but I get the idea Gerstner would breathe acid on me if he heard me apply honor and shame principles to the issue. Of particular distaste is Gerstner’s quick-draw conclusion that infants go to hell if they die; aside from the standard view of original sin, though, he has little argument to offer apart from such things as Jonathan Edwards calling infants “little vipers” and Augustine saying he was planning sin while he was a suckling. Yep, nothing like anecdotal comments like that to make a case. I put this one down after only 10 minutes of scanning – that’s all I needed.

Marianne Thompson, The Promise of the Father. Although I did not find anything new pertinent to a Building Blocks project here, this is a very good survey of the uses and meaning of the concept of God as “Father” in the New Testament. Thompson pays particular attention to the social roles of the father figure in the NT world, which is too often obscured by pedantic questions over such trivialities as whether a “male” God has sexual organs. There’s also a chapter on the “abba” designation and one on the concept of God as Father in Biblical and Temple Judaism.

Anthony Bartlett, Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of the Christian Atonement. This one I figured might have some stuff I could use on atonement doctrine, but it had very little, and offers the thesis that the violence inherent in the atonement doctrine as we have it is in some way responsible for violence in the West. That’s kind of questionable given that there’s plenty of violence in pre-Christian societies like medieval Japan; and anyway, the crucifixion remains a violent event no matter how you slice it. Not that it matters, since it was honor that was the critical issue, not pain and violence. It’s still good for food for thought, but I don’t think it’s useful for the book (especially since it makes no reference to patronage as a factor at all).

1 comment:

  1. "[Japan] seems to be the best people can do without a Christian basis for living."

    As a Christian living in Japan, I have to say that Japanese often demonstrate far more Christian behavior than many of my fellow Americans do!

    As a side note, a lot of the cultural barriers that have slowed Christianity's growth in the country are going down as increasingly cynical and hopeless young people just don't really seem to care about customs and traditions as much as their parents. In my experience, they're the most receptive group in the country and I expect to see the church here grow a lot in the near future.