Friday, January 31, 2014

Review of Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience

Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience From the Best Contemporary Plays
edited by Roger Ellis
Applause Acting Series
ISBN 9781-4803-3156-3
US $19.99
Excerpting is a difficult vocation. Not only must the excerpter know the many writings of his subject(s) but he must be vigilant against any kind of personal bias which might make him pick and choose in a dishonest, non-representative or inappropriate way. Excerpting such topics as religion or politics can make the job even more difficult.

In Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience From the Best Contemporary Plays, a book that is edited by Roger Ellis and which is part of the Applause Acting Series, the difficulty of excerpting shows up quite clearly. Even if one does not challenge the phrase “Best Contemporary Plays” one is still left with the sad fact that the editor has repeatedly chosen works by the same author. It is not as if an excerpter is not allowed to direct the gaze of the reader or influence the reader, but the repeated use of the same playwrights gives the appearance of being in the hands of one who is almost doctrinal — this, although the playwrights have differing faiths.  Unless a dearth of spiritual scenes in the best contemporary plays exists, the collection seems iffy..almost as if the editor is touting the works of his friends, colleagues, and teachers. A reader finds herself wondering how representative of the best the collection really is. When Ellis writes, “Bear in Mind that I’m attempting …to highlight and promote the work of a handful of uniquely talented and highly motivated artists,” the reader can only role her eyes at what appears to be a clear “disclaimer.” While a few stalwarts such as Arthur Miller are included, the contemporary excerpts all seem to be works by writers who are spiritually wet-behind the ears

All that said, the collection is an excellent one, consisting of works which show playwrights from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism. The writers bias is shown early in the introduction when he describes the contemporary age as a “secular age.” Although the collection deftly shows traditional religion, culture intermixed with religion, and modern challenges, the phrase itself shows how mired the excerpter is. For those who are not in the western white male middle-class culture, this might not be a secular age. The introduction is written for and by one who believes that those in traditional religion are at war  — literal and symbolic— over doctrinal and religious issues. In many areas Ellis writes seemingly from ignorance. For instance, at one point he writes: “It may surprise some readers to consider that so many contemporary plays deal with aspects of faith.” Or he pats himself on the back by saying “It is noteworthy that before now, no anthology has gathered this kind of dramatic material into a single collection.”

The inane and profoundly smug idea that those in this age are more enlightened or less bounded in their spiritual perspectives than those in previous ages is evident throughout and shows that Roger Ellis may be knowledgeable about plays but he is not so knowledgeable about the history of religion.

The book contains an introduction  (which reads like a manifesto of current spirituality, an apology for choosing his friends — and their contact info in case the reader wishes to hire them—, and a snide pot-shot at believers in traditional spirituality) and then is divided into Scenes for a man and a woman, scenes for two women, scenes for two men, monologues for women, and monologues for men. The scenes display a range of emotions for all actors involved and the monologues have movement and depth to them.
The plays achieve their purpose, and —while they might achieve their purpose standing alone — by the end of the book, the reader who affirms traditional religion will feel slightly bombarded with propaganda and the reader who honors a more “contemporary,” secular (so-called) spirituality will feel closer to something numinous and divine. This book is recommended for all readers: the non-traditionalists who will delight to have a book which show what they will consider their innovative spirituality, and the traditionalists who (contrary to what Mr Ellis might think) have wisdom, spirituality, and a deep core of spiritual knowledge to contain all that Mr Ellis seems to consider so terribly new and hip.  .

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: Do What Jesus Did by Robby Dawkins

While some historical Christian churches --especially the Baptist Church-- declare that the ages of miracles have passed and that wonders have ceased, there is another parallel stream of Christianity that declares that the Ho0ly Spirit of God still works wonders, especially through the church, which is His body on earth.

In Robby Dawkins' new book, Do What Jesus Did, he challenges all Christians to step out in what he calls the risk of faith to do as Jesus did, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to save the lost, and to change and restore lives. Dawkins, who is a pastor of a Vineyard Church in Aurora Illinois, has written a book that is a manual, and a collection of testimonies. He alternates between dramatic encounter stories (about witches, drug addicts, atheists, believers of other faiths, and nominal unbelievers) with solid Scriptural teachings concerning the Christian's glorious obligations to reconcile the lost in the world to a loving God.

This Charismatic stream of Christianity shows up in many denominations. However, although many Charismatic believers, Pentecostals, and mainstream Bible believers believe that God is loving. few have seen the miracles they desire to see. Dawkins gives many reasons for this lack of miracles without sonding like a know-it-all.

 One of his favorite quotes is: "God's gift to us is ability, our gift to God is availability." He believes the Christian should get out of her comfort zone, take chances, and believe that God will "show up" and reward such risk-taking faith. Of course there are methods, and the Christian needs to hone the ability to understand and hear God's direction. While he acknowledges that some Christians have particular gifts in areas of healing and prophecy, he maintains and reminds his readers that Jesus equipped the Seventy-two to go out and heal. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: The Modern Life Study Bible

The Modern Life Study Bible
Thomas Nelson

The two greatest commandments in Christianity are well-known to most Bible-readers. The first is to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength and the second is like it, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Many Christian movements, sects, theological books, doctrine, and denominations have struggled with upholding and balancing these two commandments. Oftentimes, a book, movement, or preacher will rise up to reaffirm some lost aspect of Christianity only to emphasize a teaching so much that another book or movement will soon rise up to balance. There seems to be a constant battle of over-correction and over-compensating; this struggle is reflected in the focus of Study Bibles throughout the ages.

The Modern Life Study Bible is a new study Bible published by Thomas Nelson which shows that the problems of modern life were common in Biblical times and are, in fact, eternal societal, familial, and ethical. This is the first study Bible which is focused on connecting the ethical, moral, social, political, psychological, and communal issues in the ancient world to the modern world. In short, this is a study Bible which aims to be relevant to those Christians who think the Bible doesn’t speak to modern people. It aims to show public and private faith and how these work in the policies, laws, values, beliefs, and traditions found in business, government, services, family, church community.

The book contains a brief introduction, Old and New testaments, a section on key New Testament passages which connect to modern concerns, a section on weights and measures, a glossary of the Life Studies found throughout the book, Bible Person Profiles, Themes to Study, Jobs found in the Bible and the corresponding occupations found in the modern world, and Acknowledgments. Each Book of the Bible includes, focuses, insights, character descriptions, land descriptions, charts, and life studies.

The Focuses and Insights are usually very insightful and focused on making a character or event relevant to modern readers, discussing sibling rivalry, warfare caused by desire for water, discussing refugees or employer-employee relationships. But there are moments when the reader groans or facepalms. The Life Studies or 66 inspirational biographies are either exciting or questionable depending on the reader’s prejudices or denomination. While some readers will accept John Milton, Mother Theresa, Queen Rananvalona, Watchman Nee, for instance, others might not be so keen on Charles Colson, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, C S Lewis, Martin Luther King, Francis of Assisi, Johnny Cash, or Constantine.  Whatever one may think, these biographies definitely inspire and show the variety of the Christian Community.

This is not a relatavistic book. God and man remain at the center of all the discourses. It does not only focus showing the spiritual take on earthly issues. It also focuses on God’s power and on eternity. It balances its focus on the two commandments well….or well enough. But there are a few issues. Each believer in Christ has a special mission or focus to accomplish in this life. And what is important to one believer may not be important to another. There are Bibles that focus on the Prosperity Gospel or on women or on countless other western political movements or theological trends. The editor of those Bibles considered those aspects of the gospel important enough to create a Study Bible for them. However, there are a few aspects of Christianity that should be honored by ALL Christians.

The Bible declares the great mystery of Immanuel, God in us, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in His people, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This is no mere human power of humans striving trying to do better to make the world better, but the idea of Him Who is able to do MORE THAN WE ASK OR THINK according to the power of the Spirit which He has placed in every one of us. Eph 3:20

The Modern Life Study Bible is a good Study Bible but there is this nagging feeling of “Isn’t there anything else?” It’s as if the Holy Spirit working in humans is mentioned but He is mentioned in passing, and not as Someone who is powerfully active in those who have truly had the Second Birth.  Consider, the insights, focuses, etc in the book of Galatians speak only of Paul versus legalism. Much is written about Christ being needed for salvation but one has to search to see the main point of Galatian that one continues growing in one’s salvation through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. This is shown in a small Focus paragraph on the Ten Freedoms. Shouldn’t this important point be placed in the introduction? Or consider that although the book of 1 Corinthians says so much about the gift of the Holy Spirit, the editors do not so much as mention the importance and power of these gifts throughout this section. Instead, the writers focus (and give insights) on issues such as cultural clashes and corporate disagreements. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with the editors choosing not to discuss the most important aspect of a book but what is left is a conspicuous absence. Perhaps if a charismatic christian edited this book, a little more emphasis on the Holy Spirit would have been made. Or consider the focus and insights found near the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11:1) where the editors discuss the faith hall of fame yet they don’t really discuss what faith is. Of course, if a Faith Preacher had been part of this editorial crew, there might be a greater focus on describing faith.  

So, what is the upshot?

The Modern Life Study Bible is wonderful, awesome, and --like many study Bibles-- it needs to be set beside other study Bibles. It is definitely unique and pastors and teachers will definitely benefit by having it. I will add though that this is the kind of Study Bible which will be both challenged and loved. It will help many priests, pastors, and ministers speak about the issues that challenge their congregation. But ministers who are prejudiced against immigrants, certain social progressive issues, or Black people might have a problem with it. In the same way, those who dislike some conservative stances will also find certain passages (about abortion and homosexuality for instance) annoying. That is the power of a book with integrity which declares the whole counsel of God, is it not?  

This Review copy was sent to me by Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair review.

Friday, January 10, 2014

CFBA: Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Follow the Heart

B&H Books (May 1, 2013)


Kaye Dacus


Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters! Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for Bethel University.

Kaye Dacus (KAY DAY-cuss) is an author and educator who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. A former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kaye enjoys being an active ACFW member and the fellowship and community of hundreds of other writers from across the country and around the world that she finds there. She currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, which she co-founded in 2003 with three other writers. Each month, she teaches a two-hour workshop on an aspect of the craft of writing at the MTCW monthly meeting. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is an academic advisor and English Composition instructor for Bethel University.


Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Follow the Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age.

Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money.

At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America.

Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess.

While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?

Mandates . . . money . . . matrimony. Who will follow the heart?

If you would like to read the first chapter of >Follow the Heart, go HERE

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Review: Seeing the Voice of God-What God is Telling You through Dreams & Visions

Seeing the Voice of God -- What God is Telling You through Dreams & Visions
by Laura Harris Smith
Chosen Books
ISBN: 978-0-8007-9568-9

Seeing the Voice of God -- What God is Telling You through Dreams; Visions is one of the best books on Christian Dream interpretation out there.

Most Christian books on dreaming often stick to a few aspects of dreams and dreaming but this 254-page volume contains chapters that discuss how dreams relate to prophecy, how God uses the physiology of dreams, sleep debt, discernment of spirits, whether God speaks or not, and even a dream dictionary. Laura Harris Smith has written a well-rounded bookon dreaming, most definitely.

The chapters are entitled:
Is God Ever Silent?
When Your Dreams Are for Now: Five Types of Prophetic Dreams for the Present,
When Your Dreams Are for Later: Five Types of Prophetic Dreams for the Future
Sleep: The Mattress of Dreams
Dream Recall
Interpretations and Dream Dictionary
20/20 Hearing
Deaf and Dumb, but Not Blind
Discernment of Spirits

The title of the book is Seeing the Voice of God, an unusual title which highlights the author's premise. Quite simply, many Christians feel that God does not speak today. Others feel that God speaks but not to them. Or they believe that God is speaking to them but somehow they can't hear Him. Using Bible verses, personal history, and medical and dietary research, the author shows that God does indeed speak to people about
important personal events -- even to non-Christians, because the night is often when God speaks.

The author is well aware that she is writing a book for both Christians and secularists, for believers in the importance of dreams, and those who poo-poo dreams or the Charismatic community. Such a task is daunting and an author who is too within the Christian churchy box would not handle the task well.  Smith neither panics nor panders. She is honest in honoring dreams without seeming to be pleading her case.

Neither does she shy away from her Christian message or from saying anything what needs to be said.
Seeing the Voice of God -- What God is Telling You through Dreams & Vision is a manual that will help Christians and non-Christians deepen their relationship with God through dreams. Those who read it will understand that God is caring, ever-present, and desirous of communicating with them.

Highly recommended for all those who wish to grow in the knowledge of dreams, visions, and prophesy.
I received a review copy from Chosen Books

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