"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Book Reviews

Factfulness

In Factfulness Hans Rosling has offered us an engaging, easy-to-read book on a subject that could otherwise be tedious at best and perhaps even condescending. But Factfulness comes off as neither. Rosling feels chummy and relaxed as he puts the reader at ease in digesting a lot of information that might otherwise be a snoozer. His basic point is a good and worthy one – we don’t look at the world very accurately. We have some default notions that prohibit us from reading the facts accurately. We end up thinking the world is worse than it is.

It is a good point and needed observation. He makes it well. For that I give him high marks. Of course the point is that Rosling has landed on what no one else is seeing. He alone has the correct view of the data, the facts. “So, let me inform you!”

OK, fine. Experts are supposed to be able to do that sort of thing. But what might get lost in the friendly atmosphere of his information transfer is that Rosling himself does not dig deep enough in his quest for a right reading of the facts/data/statistics.

It has long been said that there are three kinds of lies: Black lies, white lies and … statistics. It’s all in how one reads them and how one uses them. And too often we do “use” them—to make a point we’ve already decided upon prior to engaging the facts.

There is something beyond the statistics—something beyond Factfulness—that determines how we read the data and interpret the statistics. Something that Rosling does not address. That something may lead us into blind assumptions, misreadings of what the facts mean, where they lead us, and how we extrapolate meaning from them.

Rosling, for all his Factfulness, repeatedly buries unsupported statements in the mix of his chummy pedagogical methods. If one is willing to notice them along the way and stop and wonder over them, one is left questioning where are the facts for this? Where’s the supporting statistics that tell us this?

As I continued past halfway and made my way toward two-thirds of the way through the book, these unsupported, but foundational assumptions kept piling up. And more and more they came off with a snarky, holier-than-thou tone. What began ever-increasingly to shine through was the unsupported moral assumptions through which Rosling reads the data he and his team has accumulated. It became clearer and clearer that Rosling—like the rest of us whom he accused of misreading facts for our own subjective, unexamined reasons—was doing the very same thing.

Rosling rightly cries for a reworking of our worldview. Worldview, he correctly cries, is the vital matter of our day. This must be shaped, he says, by the facts; there needs to be a Factfulness about our worldview. The trouble is he never seems to realize or if he does, he fails to call out, the fact that our worldview does not merely arise from the facts … it informs how we read the facts and the facts to which we assign the most weight. Sadly, in this regard, for the book’s many otherwise fine features, it stumbles and falls in the end. Not because Rosling has done a poor job at what he most obviously tries to do, but because he doesn’t push far enough back to examine his own underlying worldview that moves him to read the fact as he does.

Occupy Until I Come

Occupy Until I Come: A.T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World

In this well written and engaging biography Dr. Dana L. Robert masterfully depicts the life of a key figure in both 19th Century American Christianity and in the movement of mission mobilization that was sweeping across the western world. Pierson’s ministry navigated the dramatic currents of cultural change that shaped America from the Civil War through the industrialization that dawned with the first decade of the twentieth century. The convictions that guided A.T. Pierson and the spiritual depth of his relationship with God carried him through tumultuous waters and are worthy of our emulation today. In Pierson we discover the too-often-odd matrix of Biblical proclamation, social concern, evangelistic drive, mission mobilization, and a vision for Christian unity. Soon after his death these passions would splinter into the separate movements of fundamentalist, evangelical, and liberal Christianity, but in Pierson they were held simply, purely and without conflict in the heart of one sincere and mightily used servant of God.

I encourage pastors to carefully read this important work, for it holds forth a model of the kind of God-honoring faithfulness needed in our day as we too navigate cultural forces and spiritual winds that are no less threatening to the advance of God’s Kingdom.

Battling Anxiety

Anxiety, at least in my life, is seldom a sudden thing. It doesn’t spring up like a mushroom from the ground—full grown overnight. Rather, anxiety in my experience is a subtle and insidious thing; something that builds slowly over time. Though the feeling of anxiety may appear suddenly, it is the product of hundreds of small things—unquestioned assumptions, unexamined thoughts, errant valuations of things. It has long been at work. Anxiety establishes its stronghold like the growth of a stalagmite or stalactite—one drip at a time over a long period of time.

That’s precisely why deliverance from anxiety seldom happens in one fell swoop. It is a matter of renewing the mind (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23), day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment. It is a matter of deconstructing the lies that are at the root of anxiety and of replacing them with the truth that brings in “peace like a river” (Isa. 48:18; 66:12).

That is precisely why Paul Tautges’ Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace is so helpful. It is not only insightful; it delivers the truth to us day after day in doses that enable us to make substantive progress in the renewal of our minds and in pursuit of God’s peace in a steady progression toward wholeness. A month’s worth of daily investment in truth really will establish a pattern that will make a difference in your battle against anxiety.

I testify to the help it has been to me and to the aid it is to those with whom I have shared it.

A Conspiracy of Breath

I wasn’t far into A Conspiracy of Breath when I realized I was in over my head. I surmised the mind behind this story-telling is brilliant. It’s not that this novel is difficult to read; it’s that it is so weighty, so substantive. I realized that not only was I in the presence of a mind far greater than my own, but that I was swimming in deep waters spiritually. Reading A Conspiracy of Breath would be work, but pleasant work; this might not always be comfortable, but it would prove to be exhilarating. As I continued to read I was swallowed up by—what can I call it?—a powerfully sensory experience. The book awakened my senses and commanded and demanded of them in ways that were powerful, and sometimes taxing.

By now you’re rightly surmising that this is no shallow, bubblegum novel that leaves you with warm fuzzies and saccharine morality. This is a deeply probing, soul-searching, heart-turned-wrong side-out kind of story, told with consummate skill.

There is behind this story a massive intellect, a soul of deep dimensions, a heart alive with a panoply of sensory vocabulary. It is an intimate novel. One feels oneself being drawn, via the story, into a depth of relationship with the author that feels profoundly personal. But—and I’m struggling here—my words simply don’t convey the depth and power of my experience with this book. I’m still reflecting, still ruminating, and still emoting over this read, even now days removed from turning the last page.

This is, then, an exceedingly well-written novel. Yet on another level this functions also as an apologia for the idea that Priscilla, co-laborer of the Apostle Paul, is the author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. In the introduction and a concluding “Author’s Note” Scott sets out her convictions about this hypothesis. She believes this is not only possible, but probable (397). She writes to convince us of this, yet says, “my book does not pretend to be anything but fiction” (398).

So I should say something regarding this matter of Priscilla as the author of Hebrews. Personally, I have never been uncomfortable with agnosticism about the authorship of Hebrews. The Scriptural and historical record has left with us in this position. The author rightly quotes Origin, “Only God knows the truth as to who actually wrote this epistle” (vii). So I’ve never felt the need to hazard a guess about who wrote the letter. It makes no ultimate difference, for if it did, God would have left us record of this fact. To speculate—and that is what this book, as a novel, does—is not something we need in order to receive and live fully in the revelation given to us by God in Hebrews.

Is it possible that Priscilla wrote Hebrews? Well, I don’t think one could say it is impossible. Is it, then, possible? Sure, I guess. But so are dozens of other possibilities. None of which help me go any deeper into Hebrews or with the God it holds forth to us.

So in that regard, I must say, I didn’t come away convinced. Others will conclude differently. At this level, A Conspiracy of Breath provides an opportunity to carefully weigh what the Bible actually says about such matters. This is a good and profitable exercise for us all.

But Oh! There is so much more that makes A Conspiracy of Breath a worthy read. I am convinced that several re-reads of this book would yield up treasures I’ve overlooked as in this first reading I found myself swimming in the intellectual depth, the sensory tsunami, and spiritual deep-end of this book.

Dispatches From the Front

Dispatches from the Front

For two decades Tim Keesee has traveled the planet, engaging the frontline forces of the King as they advance the Kingdom of light and push back the boundaries of the kingdom of darkness. Written in travelogue form, Dispatches From the Front provides windows that allow us glimpses into the hard facts and spiritual realities at play in the combustible confrontation of light and darkness. Keesee not only tells the stories well, he tells them artfully, and with spiritual grace and sensitivity. He weaves elements of church history, personal worship and Biblical insight into his factual reporting. While he does not whitewash the hardships—and the realities can be grim—the spiritual impact of reading Keesee’s reports and reflections is one of uplift of the soul, confidence in the gospel, and joy over the faithfulness of our brother’s and sister’s in Christ. Dispatches From the Front made me want to live more courageously, to move in faith, to risk, to live well for the glory of Christ. I highly recommend this refreshing, faith-stimulating, joy-inducing book.

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