Book Review: The Pilgrim’s progress By John Bunyan


AUTHOR: JOHN BUNYAN 

PUBLISHER: CHRISTIAN CLASSICS ETHEREAL LIBRARY

REVIEWER: IFIOKABASI OKOP

John Bunyan is one of a host of classic Christian writers (part of a group that includes Dante Algehieri and C. S Lewis). The Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the most significant works in Christian literature and has been translated into more than two hundred language. It has been identified as an allegory which, as an extended version of a metaphor, is a narrative technique that uses fictional characters, events or places to represent real situations and in this case, the Christian journey. 

The Pilgrim’s Progress is divided into two parts which tell the story of a man’s progress in search of salvation and eternal life. It is narrated by an omniscient narrator who sees all he narrates in a dream. The first part documents Christian’s revelation and decision to leave his home town, City of Destruction, to embark on a journey to the Celestial City. His journey to the Celestial City can be likened to the Christian race. Christian’s salvation is portrayed as the falling off of a burden from his back into the tomb where a cross is locates. He faces persecution in the valley of the shadow of Death where he loses his friend, Faithful. When his journey becomes tiresome, an easy path appears. This path represents false doctrines that lead people to destruction. He eventually escapes from there and continues on the true path which leads him to the Celestial City. There, he is received by the King into eternal life.

The second part narrates the decision of Christiana, Christian’s wife to join him in the Celestial City alongside their children. They are mocked by their neighbours because of the decision Christiana makes. They embark on the journey and go through similar experiences to Christian’s from the reproach at the City of Destruction to the Cross and the tomb where they are saved. They climb the Hill of Difficulty and at House Beautiful, Matthew, Christiana’s son is healed with a purge made of the blood and body of Christ. This represents the healing power of Jesus Christ. Their guide, Great Heart defends the travelling party against danger and points out to Christiana places where Christian had significant encounters. The journey is portrayed as a lifelong one as the children grow up and get married while on the journey. They all make it to the Celestial City and are received by the King.

This book portrays the difficulties and struggles christians face in their lives and the joy and happiness they will experience in Christ. Almost every moral struggle we encounter in our lives is somehow allegorized, whether in Christian’s own journey or in encounters that others tell him about. Christian is tempted by Mr. Worldly Wisdom and Despair while his friend Faithful has to get past Wanton. Every person has different strengths and weaknesses, and every Christian is encouraged by Bunyan to follow and study the Lord personally, and not compare oneself to other Christians, who have different experiences. Christian does not become perfect as he grows; sometimes he becomes proud because of his knowledge and displays an arrogant attitude towards others. He makes mistakes and learns from them. The novel has good ebb and flow as is depicted in the ups and downs of the Christian race. There are periods of rest after trials and temptations which arise after victories.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is an engaging and didactic read. There are complex, detailed sections of theological discussion which may seem boring. Warren Wiersebe’s notes help in better understanding of the book. He explains difficult words, themes and scriptural references in the book. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is definitely a good read for every Christian.

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REBELLION


Our bond was gone

Torn by playing self’s strings, a concerto to otherness

A faint flame of nascent doubt nagged into crushing inferno

Thrusting and thrashing through trust’s defenses

To throw open heart’s doors to alternative truth

A deluge wild and free, everywhere and purposeless

Your walls gave way to vast fields to explore

Space filled with beautiful flowers and murderous fanged beasts

My emotions were terror-driven ecstacy, happy masks for painful dying

As I danced about independence’s gift, understanding and doom

Life was exile

Life was being lost, for life was lost

Life was the highway’s speeding car without brakes

Life was the pungent presence of putrefaction

But I hid my shame, nostalgia de la boue finely propped up

Our love was worn

Battered by sounds from within

Counterfeits of true creation ballad

I swam the me-tune, the egocentric universe

I found it without stars, cold, dark, merciless

Memories of you welled up on the inside, a piercing plea

To call me back to your walled protecrorate

The infinite love-space in which I now roam

You were my way home, falling to become the link bridge

You are my home, the One in whom I’m complete.

Book Review: THE EARLY CHRISTIANS IN THEIR OWN WORDS By Eberhard Arnold


 

Author: Eberhard Arnold

Publisher: The Brunderhof Foundation

Reviewer: Ikenna Alexander Nwachukwu

Without knowledge of Church History, it would be difficult to understand how much the Church- and indeed the way in which the Christian life is lived out – has changed over the nearly 2,000 years in which it has existed. A detailed survey of the lives of the early followers of Christ as recorded in the New Testament books (especially in the Acts of the Apostles) could shed some light on how much perceptions of the faith from within and outside the circle of believers has evolved. But the picture of Christians as painted in those books could be better appreciated by taking a look at extra-biblical accounts which tell us how the Christians in the earliest times and shortly after regarded themselves and their devotion.

The Early Christians In Their Own Words is an attempt by one Christian scholar to sketch a comprehensible image of the Christian life as it was within the first hundred years after the end of the Apostolic age, i.e. the post New Testament era. Eberhard Arnold wanted to let his readers into the faith of those who received the Gospel message directly from the apostles and their contemporaries. His approach was to put together a host of excerpts from the letters and creedal statements of these ancient Christians, as well as references and descriptions by their pagan persecutors. Apart from the first chapter in which he draws upon the aforementioned sources to give a rather lengthy summary of the life and beliefs of these Christians, the rest of the book consists of a collection of quotes from their writings.

The book’s seven chapters cover important themes relating to the community of Christ’s followers in the earliest times. It deals with the state’s treatment of Christians, the Church’s relationship with society, the early Christians’ beliefs about Scripture and doctrines, the nature of Christian meetings, and the role of the Holy Spirit in the prophetic ministry of the ancient Church. The sources quoted range from moving accounts of martyrdoms at the hands of Roman authorities for the sake of the faith, to admonitions to the faithful to beware of false teachers.

There is a lot that we can recognize in these texts: pleas from Church leaders for unity in the face of internal strife, misrepresentations of the Christian life by non-Christians, and the heartfelt praise of God in words and action. But there are also references to things that we rarely find in our day: Christians voluntarily becoming slaves in order to help pay off debts of their brothers and sisters in Christ, or not having the notion that there was such a thing as private property. Helping the poor is something for which the Christians are known, and even mocked. For the pagans, the fact that Christianity appealed to the poorer members of society was evidence that it was a despicable religion; for the Christians, it pointed to God’s care for the lowly and simple. The devotion of the early Christians was so powerful that they were willing to die horrible deaths for the sake of their Lord, at the hands of the idolatrous Romans and fanatical Jews. Their Godly fervor and love for one another was displayed in acts that could surprise and inspire many modern people.

For all the good things that can be said about the followers of Christ in the years after the apostolic era, there are some notable shortcomings that could be deciphered. Chief among these is the slow but certain appearance of legalism, i.e. emphasis on “good works” as a condition for holiness. It is perhaps not surprising that the earlier writings contain little or no traces of legalism, whereas the latter ones are heavily laced with assertions about “righteous deeds” as being a condition for right standing with God. There are also hints of other negative influences from the pagan world (such as Gnosticism), which later evolved into prominent errors that the Church has struggled with to this day.

The Early Christians is a great resource to have if you are keen on finding out what Christian living looked like in the early days of the faith. The accounts it refers to speak to us almost two millennia later, reminding us that the faith we have transcends time and space, and is as sacred as ever.

Book Review: THE PURSUIT OF GOD By A.W. Tozer


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BOOK REVIEW: THE PURSUIT OF GOD
AUTHOR: A. W. TOZER
PUBLISHER: CHRISTIAN PUBLICATIONS, INC, HARRISBURG, PA, USA.
REVIEWER: CHIBUZO OKPARA

A. W. Tozer in this book expresses his thoughts and dissatisfaction with the state of Christianity in his time, which appears to closely mirror the state of Christianity in this age.

The author laments the indifference Christians have about the presence of God. He highlights their contentment with complacent religion, occupation with a lot of activities while neglecting God’s presence, and the fact that they take for granted the knowledge that they have been saved and that the tearing of the curtain at Jesus’ death makes it possible for them to enter into the place of communion with God, but not seeing a need to dwell in the reality of God’s presence. They have not pursued the reality of God’s presence, and the life they live is, as a result, devoid of the power that can cause the skeptic to reconsider his ways.

Tozer says that Christians are found living distressed and bitter lives, just like the worldly people- when in fact their lives should reflect a positive difference from the troubled existence that worldly lifestyles produce. They are so occupied with secular affairs that they do not have the time to build themselves up spiritually; consequently, they are unable to know God’s voice when He speaks to them. He challenges Christians who really want to have a feel of God in their lives, who want to be receptive to God’s voice in this chaotic world, to decide to nail self to the cross, to nail whatever keeps God away from the center of their hearts, to not pay heed to what the world says. He notes that the world fires up pride, self pity, self value and a desire to be accepted by the crowd- things which stand in the way of true union with God.

Tozer encourages that no man who accepts he is weak before God and places his faith in a God who is all sufficient goes unrewarded, emphasizing that God’s presence is worth more than the world; in God, we are satisfied that even when we have nothing, we have everything because God gives rest to those whose minds are stayed on Him.

Book Review: SCREWTAPE LETTERS By C.S. Lewis


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Author: C. S. Lewis
Publisher: Geoffrey Bles, 1942
Reviewer: Chinwendu Emenike

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able but will with the temptation also make a way of escape.”

Every Christian must pass through one temptation or the other. But we should rest assured that God’s grace is sufficient for us to overcome the temptation.
Screwtape Letters is a collection of letters written by an experienced tempter Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, who was assigned to a new convert to tempt him in all manner of ways that God, (whom Screwtape refers to as The Enemy), allows. This book is actually richer and deeper than the number of its pages suggests. It’s not just your normal “playtime book”.

Let’s take a look at the main characters.
SCREWTAPE: The experienced tempter, writing letters to his nephew, Wormwood. He, with experience, has gathered enough knowledge, tactics and skills to successfully deceive believers. He gives advice to his nephew, which he (Screwtape) believes should help his nephew capture the “patient” and take him back to the devil’s (who is referred to as “our Father”) camp.
WORMWOOD: the exuberant tempter seeking advice from his uncle on how to deal with the “patient” in his care.
My favorite character is Screwtape. This is because of his subtility in dealing with his patients (believers). I believe that if Wormwood had taken to his advice wholeheartedly, would have been successful in his endeavors.

When I picked up this book, I had no idea that I was embarking on a journey of discovery. With each page comes knowledge, accompanied with a lot of “ahas” and “hmms”. The book has allowed me to take a peek into the enemy’s “book of temptations”– as I would have loved to call it.

Though the book is not the Bible, I recommend that it not be rushed or just skimmed, but studied carefully; as it is said, “a delicious meal is best enjoyed slowly”.
I don’t have a particularly favorite place in the book because every page is filled with hard truths. This book is for every Christian passing through diverse trials and temptations, and even for those who think they have it all going smooth for them spiritually. It’s a must have for everyone.

Book Review: IS GOD A MORAL MONSTER? By Paul Copan


Author: Paul Copan
Publisher: Baker Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8010-7275-8
Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu

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The Old Testament of the Bible often baffles the modern reader with its descriptions of ancient places, materials, customs and traditions. The average person living in today’s world would struggle to picture the scenes and events its words seek to portray, or understand certain actions that it makes casual reference to. For many, the Old Testament is filled with weird, difficult to comprehend things; they’d rather stick to the New Testament, which seems much easier to handle (partly because it has less talk about strange rituals and customs in it).

But the Old Testament is more than just a collection of odd stories from a mind-bogglingly distant past; it records what Christians believe to be the beginnings of God’s interaction with mankind, a process which reaches its crescendo with the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which the New Testament is preoccupied with. And because the Old Testament is so important, it is vital to pay attention to what it says.

In the book Is God A Moral Monster?, Philosopher and Theologian Paul Copan takes a critical look at one contentious issue that is often discussed about the Old Testament by believers and unbelievers alike- its portrayal of God. In the eyes of some, it presents God as fear-inspiring, violent and vengeful- a sharp contrast to the love and compassion He shows in the New Testament. He destroys whole societies in His wrath, and demands slavish dedication (or so the critics claim) from the people He calls His own. He subjects a community to draconian laws and makes them struggle under the weight of impossible rules. How, the unbeliever asks, can one reconcile this image of God with that of one who lets His one and only son die so that mankind would not perish?

Copan argues that the God of the Old Testament has been misunderstood. Readers have looked at the Bible’s portrayal of God and judged it based on a modern set of rules, with little or no understanding of the social and cultural contexts and symbolisms that form the background to its stories. It is this wrong mode of interpretation that Copan attempts to put right in his book.

Copan examines general and specific claims made by skeptics about God being brutal and even malevolent in His dealings with humans in the Bible. He tackles issues arising from the harrowing account of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac after being ordered to do so by God (and its alleged connotations of child abuse) , the wiping out of the Canaanite population by Israel, the status of women in Hebrew society, and the Bible’s treatment of the practice of slavery. He carefully reconstructs the accounts, situates them in their historical context, points out the not-too-obvious but relevant symbolisms they were meant to convey, and establishes a view of morality as pushed by the Bible (and the Old Testament in particular) that is liberating and awe-inspiring.

Beyond being a response to skeptics’ misgivings about the morality of the God of the Bible, Copan’s book is also a reaffirmation of the notion that morality can only be consistent when it is founded upon belief in God. It also reminds us that although the Old Testament holds a lot of lessons for Christians, we must take cognizance of the fact that its symbols point to Jesus Christ, in whom all the requirements of God’s law are fulfilled.

Book Review: MIRACLES By C.S. Lewis


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Author: Clive Staples Lewis
Publisher: Harper Collins
Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu

Seas parting to let humans pass through. Fire falling from the sky. A dead man coming back to life. Miracles.

The Bible tells about such happenings, and we see them as interventions from God, demonstrations of His power over all of creation, and proof of His sovereignty. We are awed by them. But the skeptic will see things differently. He will scoff and laugh it all off as myth, as something belonging with the league of fairytales.

In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis challenges the disbelieving attitude to miracles put up by many of the intellectual type and much of the modern world. He tackles the widely held notion that supernatural occurrences are impossible, and establishes that the basis for such skepticism is not a deep knowledge of science and the laws of nature, but on a misconception of the basic ideas that underpin our understanding of nature and its workings.

Rather than dive straight into proposing reasons for believing in miracles, Lewis starts off by addressing the worldview held by the unbeliever. This worldview, he says, is what gives rise to the idea in the mind of the skeptic that miracles don’t happen. He identifies this as naturalism, a basic belief that the physical world is all that there is- as opposed to supernaturalism, which argues for the role of causes other than factors in the natural world (such as a God). But then he points out that naturalism, which doesn’t allow for a God to have His say in the natural world’s workings, is a faulty way of looking at existence. Naturalism tell us that physical causes lead to physical effects, but it doesn’t help us capture those events in communicable ways, or explain why we can even think about such processes rationally. In short, he says, naturalism cannot tell us why rational thought is possible, since it only proposes material things as causes- and the mind, which thinks, is not physical. Consciousness, Lewis asserts, must have an origin that is ‘out of this world’.

Lewis’ argument from reason helps prepare the ground for a detailed examination of the objections to miracles often cited by those who do not believe. He makes the interesting point that miracles aren’t necessarily “violations” of the laws of nature; they are uncommon events which are traceable to a divine agent, but are also explainable as occurrences that happen through natural processes. He says that miracles give the impression that the natural world can, and occasionally is, “tampered with” (by a divine will), so that outcomes in those instances seem to be glaringly unlike what we would expect from nature operating as usual.

Miracles has a lot in it for anyone who is searching for arguments in favour of believing in the supernatural. It can also serve as a great gift to a skeptic friend; it could set them on the path to thinking differently not just about miracles, but about their worldview, and the possibility that they could be better off having faith in God and in His goodness.