New Read: The Story of Reality

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. In January, we met to discuss the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Next up was non-fiction The Story of Reality by speaker and bestselling author Gregory Koukl, which the group met to discuss last week.

In this book, Koukl makes the big claim that he will tell us how the world began, how the world will end and everything important that happens in between! Starting with creation and moving through to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and finally, judgement day; Koukl takes the reader step by step – in concise, bite-size chapters – through how Biblical Christianity is more than just another private religious view. More than just a personal relationship with God. More than just a source of moral teaching. But how instead Christianity is a picture of reality.

Initially, I found Koukl’s style a little patronising and dismissive, however I was soon pulled into his interesting discourse on different world views, including: Matter-ism, Mind-ism (officially known as Monism) and Nihilism, as well as Creationism, of course. While I am not one for taking the stories of God making the world in seven days, and Adam and Eve being the first humans completely literally (although I got the feeling Koukl might), I do find myself most definitely falling into the Creationism camp and I feel Koukl made some very interesting points and comparisons of the different views.

Then Koukl went on to chapters discussing the role of man, who Jesus was, and what happened at the cross – All of which were interesting and I continued to make many notes, but it wasn’t till I got to part about the resurrection that I really found myself grabbed again. I thought Koukl made some very persuasive arguments for the resurrection, based on the great sacrifice and suffering endured by those who attested to Jesus rising from the dead. Plus the miraculous U-turns of the sceptic James and the infamous enemy of Christ’s followers, Saul. However sadly Koukl did lose me again when discussing the burning fires of Hell a little too literally for me again.

So I went into my book club meeting, last week, with mixed feelings and many, many pages of notes. I certainly wasn’t the only one who had some misgivings about the literal view on the creation story and Hell, and it fuelled a great discussion on how you can believe in the Big Bang, evolution and God! A discussion which proves the Atheist view of Christians  being ignorant and backwards, presented in this book, wrong straight away. Except for this issue though, everyone else really enjoyed and felt it had been a worthwhile read, and I did thoroughly enjoy sharing mine and hearing others’ favourite parts, quotes and ideas.

All in all, I found The Story of Reality to be an interesting, thought-provoking and challenging read, that I had to take my time with – Generally only reading one or two chapters at a time to give myself chance to reflect. It did however generate a great discussion in our meeting and I definitely think it is good to be challenged once in a while, especially about one’s belief. Our next read is The Death of Western Christianity by Patrick Sookhdeo. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other books on religious and world views?

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Re-Read: Emma

Back in November, last year, I took part in The Classics Club’s 19th Spin event, which chose Emma by Jane Austen for me. Having loved all of Austen’s finished novels, I took the opportunity, when creating my new list for the club, to include them all for a re-read.

I was thrilled with my result, as Emma, the final novel published during Austen’s lifetime, was the second Austen novel I read, many years ago. Often said to be Austen’s most perfect read about a very imperfect – albeit lovable – heroine… The beautiful, rich and intelligent, Emma Woodhouse, who, having been cosseted by her affectionate father and faithful governess, Miss Taylor, believes it is her duty to help others arrange things just as she thinks they should be. Oh I understand Emma annoys some readers, however I can’t help but love her! While she is spoilt, she is naïve and so, makes some disastrous decisions, through it all her heart is in the right place.

The real trouble starts when – ignoring the advice of good family friend Mr Knightley – Emma sets out to play cupid for her new, favourite companion: the lovely, shy Harriet Smith. In addition, Emma makes a hasty, close intimacy with newcomer Frank Churchill, the estranged son of their convivial neighbour Mr Weston, whose arrival into small, quiet Highbury causes quite the stir. And these two decisions are to lead Emma into schemes and actions that are to fail miserably, and inadvertently hurt people she cares about. If only she could hear us saying stop! Or if only she would listen to the stalwart Mr Knightley!

However through all the trouble and strife, Emma is resilient, makes amends for the hurt she has caused and learns from it all too. In particular, she learns a lot about others and more importantly about herself. Actually if it hadn’t been for her foolish mistakes some important secrets may not have come to light and she may never have discovered a very important thing about herself: where her heart truly lay and always had! Naww, it all ends happily! However some readers do wonder if Emma has really learnt her lesson, I can’t answer that for definite, but I think she has and she now has someone beside her to help her stick to the path.

All in all, I think Emma is an utterly charming, witty and slightly farcical classic, about the coming-of-age pains of a young woman in Regency England. It just makes me smile and it made for a wonderfully comforting re-read – getting re-acquainted with its colourful collection of characters was like meeting up with old friends. I can’t wait to re-read more! Great read.

Have you read this? Or any of Austen’s other novels?

This is book 6/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

The Classics Club: List Adjustments 2019

At the beginning of the month, I reflected back on the first year reading from my second list for The Classics Club. From the start I have left my list open to alteration, so I could add or remove books to reflect my mood and reading experiences. After reflecting on my first, slightly disappointing, year of reading, here are the alterations I have made to my list:

ABC – Additions
ABC – Removals
ABC – Read

  1. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
  2. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  3. Emma by Jane Austen [re-read] ***
  4. Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen
  5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen [re-read]
  6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [re-read]
  7. Persuasion by Jane Austen [re-read]
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen [re-read]
  9. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen [re-read]
  10. The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L Baum
  11. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  12. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë ***
  13. The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
  14. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  15. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan **
  16. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  18. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  20. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  21. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  22. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  23. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens [re-read]
  24. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  26. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  27. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  28. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  29. Romola by George Eliot
  30. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  31. This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald *
  32. A Passage to India by E M Forster
  33. A Room with a View by E M Forster
  34. Howards End by E M Forster
  35. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  36. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  37. King Solomon’s Mine by H. Ryder Haggard
  38. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy [re-read]
  39. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  40. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  41. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  42. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  43. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  44. The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
  45. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  46. The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit *
  47. Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia by Emilio Salgari **
  48. The Black Corsair by Emilio Salgari
  49. The Queen of the Caribbean by Emilio Salgari
  50. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  51. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott [Re-Read]
  52. Heidi by Johann Spyri
  53. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
  54. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  55. The Time Machine by H G Wells
  56. War of the Worlds by H G Wells
  57. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  58. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

That leaves me with a list of 52 books. All the additions are from Lost Worlds: The Ultimate Anthology: 24 Classic Tales edited by Nico Lorenzutti, which I am excited to dive into after getting my hands on a copy of it at the end of last year. While most of my removals are books I don’t own copies of and so would rather prioritise the books I do already own. Except Les Misérables that has been removed after I watched the recent BBC adaptation, because I now know the story is too long and too miserable for me to manage!

What do you think of my changes? Have you read any of the books on my list? Are there any you think I should prioritise?

New Read: The Pilgrim’s Progress

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Back in October we read and met to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Next up was the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I put onto my new Classics Club list as soon as I found out we would be tackling it.

Part 1, published in 1678, follows Christian, an everyman, who leaves behind his home, wife and children in the City of Destruction to make the perilous journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he faces many trials, tribulations, monsters and spiritual terrors, as he travels through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle and the Delectable Mountains. His pilgrimage is hindered by characters such as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative and Ignorance, but he is also supported by Evangelist and his travelling companions, Hopeful then Faithful.

All of which is surreally presented as a dream sequence narrated by Bunyan as an omniscient narrator: giving him the power to observe all, but powerless to help. There is no arguing with the content, characters and wisdom in this enormously influential classic – which has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print – but I did struggle with the style and flow. I found it a bit jerky and I often found I had to go back and re-read sections to fully understand what was being said.

However I found Part 2, published in 1684, a much easier and quicker read. In this second part, Bunyan follows the subsequent pilgrimage of Christian’s wife, Christiana, their sons and their maidenly neighbour, Mercy. They journey to all the stopping points Christian visited, but they take a longer time as the sons marry, have children and their party grows. They are also guided by the brave hero, Greatheart, who along the way slays four giants and a monster named Legion, that have been terrorising pilgrims.

This second part grabbed me instantly and flowed much better, especially as it has a more natural time frame for the journey – akin to a Christian’s life span. I was fascinated to see Bunyan express some very ‘modern’ thoughts and ideas through out this second pilgrimage too. First in his choice of a female pilgrim, but also in his portrayal and discussion of the important role women have in bringing people to and nurturing faith. I enjoyed it so much, that I actually finished this part in less than half the time the first part had taken me.

So, overall, I was left feeling a little confused about how I felt about this book, with the big difference I experienced between Part 1 and 2. It was not till after my church’s book club eventually met, last week, to discuss this, that I saw in hindsight how much more I enjoyed this than I initially thought. We discussed our struggles with Part 1; our preferment for Part 2 and our universal love of Bunyan’s emblematic characters – many of which are characters you can find in life today. And the general consensus was that the content was great, even if the style and language was problematic.

All in all then, I found The Pilgrim’s Progress to be a clever allegorical look at the journey Christians must take through life. I can’t say it was an easy read – in fact it was in parts hard work – however it was a rewarding read, and this is a book I feel with benefit from re-reading. Good read.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any other classic Christian books?

This is book 5/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

The Classics Club: Spin #19 Result

Last week, The Classics Club announced their 19th Spin event. The idea for which is to list 20 books remaining on our Classics Club lists, numbered 1-20, and the number announced today (Tuesday) is the book we have to read by the 31st January 2019. So the results are in and our spin number is…

1

Which means I will be re-reading the wonderful Emma by Jane Austen. Not the longest book on my list, so I think I have got a sweet result!

Have you read this? If you also took part, what was your result?

Re-Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. After a summer break, we read and met to discuss But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing. Having got muddled with the order of the books, I actually read our October book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen first. So it seemed like a good idea to re-read to refresh my memory before we met.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

When my church’s book club group met, just last week, to discuss this we were split on the use of Rembrandt’s painting to discuss this parable: some absolutely loved the visual aide, others found it distracting and at worst some thought it was irrelevant. However we all agreed we enjoyed Nouwen’s in-depth exploration of the parable, looking at the roles of both the younger and the older brother, as well as the father. We all also thought it was a beautiful piece of prose, with some real little gems of wisdom. Many of us had noted down favourite quotes.

All in all, I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, which made for an interesting, if a little contentious, discussion point. Now I am reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for our November meeting. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

New Read: But is it Real?

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Back in June, we read and discussed Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. After a break over the summer, we kicked things off again in September with this, But is it Real? by Christian apologist, Amy Orr-Ewing.

Is God real? God is just a psychological crutch. Why does God allow bad things to happen? I used to believe, but I’ve given it all up now. What about the spiritual experiences of other faiths? Are just five of the ten common questions, accusations and objections to the Christian faith, all directly taken from real-life situations, which Orr-Ewing seeks to answer in this book. Hoping the thoughts offered will help people to see what the Christian faith has to say amid all the pain, confusion and complexity of this life.

And Orr-Ewing is really coming from a strong place of knowledge to answer these big and often hard-hitting questions and issues, being the Curriculum Director for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. As well as speaking and lecturing on Christian apologetics all over the world. If, like me, you’ve heard of this apologetics malarkey, but aren’t sure exactly what it is: well it is a branch of Christian theology which focuses specifically on defending Christianity against objections. Throughout this book, Orr-Ewing’s knowledge and experience was evident as she spoke in a clear and confident style.

Each of the ten common questions, accusations and objections, are given its own chapter, each of which are broken down into several parts themselves. With this lay out, very similar to The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen, I found I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect. While perhaps not the most in-depth book, I did think Orr-Ewing clearly described and discussed each objection and gave plenty of examples and other materials to support her arguments against it.

When my church’s book club group met to discuss this we agreed it didn’t really inspire or move us like previous reads have, however it is a very informative read which will be great to refer back to when faced with difficult questions of our own faith in the future. We also ended up going off on a tangent – due in-part to one member’s comment on Orr-Ewing’s reliance on scripture – to discussions on the validity of scripture and creationism vs evolution! Slightly random but very interesting all the same.

Overall, I thought But is it Real? was a short, concise and informative handbook on how to discuss and defend my Christian faith. It also made for an interesting starting point for our last book club meeting. Next we will be meeting up to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen and I have already started reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for November. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about Christian apologetics?

This was also book 8/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.