Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reviews - January 26

More book and movie reviews for your pleasure and interest.

Beyond Megachurch Myths - What we can learn from America's largest churches by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis
This book is a refreshing change in the conversation about megachurches - churches with over 2000 members. The authors start by discussing the "scale and scope" of megachurches in our country. The main part of the book is debunking ten common myths about megachurches. One of the things that I like so much about this book is that their conclusions are based on research - surveys of church members and staff taken over the last ten years. At the end of each chapter, the authors discuss how a church leader (pastor or elder) might be able to use the information from the chapter to positively affect their own church.

I don't attend a megachurch (and I never have). Of course, part of the reason is that I live in a rural area. But, our church has been influenced by large churches such as Willow Creek, Saddleback, and Mosaic. I'm not part of church leadership, so I don't have an opportunity to use the information in this book in a practical way, but I did learn a lot about megachurches and their culture. I also learned that there are things going on in megachurches that all of us can learn from - especially their focus on evangelism. I encourage anyone involved in church leadership to read this book - not so you can try to make your church "mega", but so you can see what some churches are doing successfully to reach their communities for Jesus.

The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath
I read this book largely because I have enjoyed reading other pieces by Alister McGrath (as well as listening to some of his lectures). This book is a Christian response to Dawkins' The God Delusion. I haven't actually been able to read anything by Dawkins because he gets me so annoyed within the first chapter! I am a little hampered in reviewing The Dawkins Delusion since I didn't ever read The God Delusion, but here goes anyway.

This is a short book - just four chapters. But, the McGraths' stated goal is to critically deal with the main ideas that Dawkins addresses in his book. It is quite successful in this endeavor. The McGraths point out that there is no attempt to try to deal with every single point in Dawkins' book. He apparently misuses evidence quite often, but that is not the point of this book. The McGraths want to deal with the major ideas - and they do this very well. The book is short, clear, easy to understand. The authors deal with ideas and evidence and do not degenerate to speaking negatively of Dawkins himself - just his ideas and use of information.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who takes Dawkins seriously or anyone who wants to be able to respond to radical atheists like Dawkins. It's easy to read but quite good.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
This is a Sonlight read-aloud (and Newbery Medal winner) that we did early because of scheduling issues. It doesn't "fit" into any of the time frames that we're studying so it worked well to do it out of order. To give you an idea of how much we enjoyed it, let me say that we spent almost two hours on this book today to finally see how it ended.

This is a mystery story that revolves around the will of an eccentric millionaire. The sixteen heirs are given clues to play a "game" - the Westing game - to find out who will inherit the money. The book is a rather slow start - mostly because we were still trying to figure out who was who and what in the world was going on. By the fourth chapter, we were hooked. After every chapter, we stopped and analyzed what we had learned and tried to figure it out. Our family got some of it right, but overall, the ending was quite a surprise. I very highly recommend this for families with children over about age 8 and for middle school up to read independently.

"It's My Homeschool and I'll Cry if I Want To!" by FunnyMoms
This is a wonderful videotape of a presentation done by a group of homeschooling moms. They have some little drama segments, but the main part (and funniest) is the music. Oldies music is adapted with new words to describe the trials and joys of home education. My favorite had to be the title piece, though. It's obviously a take on "It's My Party" and is a laughing look at the emotional ups and downs of homeschooling. Unfortunately, this tape is no longer for sale. But, if you have a friend that owns it, borrow it now and watch. You will laugh and laugh!

"Persuasion" by Masterpiece Theater on PBS
Masterpiece Theater is doing a series of movies based on Jane Austen novels. I love Jane Austen, so I had to make plans to watch these movies when I heard about this. Most of these movies are newly done (except for "Pride and Prejudice"). "Persuasion" was very nicely done. The main character, Anne, was well cast. This version (compared to the 1995 version) was also easier to follow. There was quite a bit from the novel that had to be cut and edited, but it was easier to follow this movie than the previous. That being said, the ending wasn't quite as dramatic or satisfying. Overall, though, it was quite good and I highly recommend it.

"Northanger Abbey" by Masterpiece Theater on PBS
Another of the Jane Austen novels. Again, this was much better done than the previous version that I had seen. It was quite well acted and enjoyable to watch. Overall, this was my least favorite Austen novel, but I did enjoy the movie. The main character was well acted - she did the part of a country girl on her first trip to the city quite well - not overdone.

"Mansfield Park" by Masterpiece Theater on PBS
Another Jane Austen movie. I didn't enjoy this movie nearly as much as the previous two. First of all, there really wasn't much time for character development as I would have liked - and they kept in quite a lot of characters. Second, the characters were simply not as compelling. The main character, Fanny, is pleasant, but doesn't really draw the viewer in. If you are an Austen fan, you should watch it. If not, you may not enjoy it as much as the others.

Addendum - I have taken to reading the Jane Austen "follow-up" novels. Right now, I'm reading Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoli. Check out my reading list to see the others that I'm working on.


Isaac Gouy said...

He apparently misuses evidence quite often ...

Is it possible that McGrath distorts and misstates Dawkins?

1) "Thomas Aquinas ... Dawkins misunderstands an a posteriori demonstration of the coherence of faith and observation to be an a priori proof of faith..." p. 26

Reference 14 - God Delusion pp. 77-79

Dawkins clearly writes "Thomas Aquinas' five are a posteriori arguments, relying upon inspection of the world." p. 80 - so how can McGrath honestly claim Dawkins misunderstood that very thing?

2) '... Dawkins then weakens his argument by suggesting that all religious people try to stop scientists from exploring those gaps: "one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding."' pp. 29-30

Reference 24 - God Delusion p. 126

Dawkins clearly writes "In this respect, science finds itself in alliance with sophisticated theologians like Bonhoeffer, united against the common enemies of naive, populist theology and the gap theology of intelligent design." p. 127 - so how can McGrath honestly claim Dawkins' comment is about all religious people?

3) "When Dyson commented that he was a Christian who wasn't particularly interested in the doctrine of the Trinity, Dawkins insisted that this meant that Dyson wasn't a Christian at all." pp. 44-45

Reference 19 - God Delusion p. 152

McGrath snipped off a rather important part of Dyson's comment. According to Dawkins, Dyson said: "I ... do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels." p. 152

Dawkins would not be alone in being puzzled that someone who doesn't care about the historical truth of the resurrection claimed to be a Christian. (Why has McGrath hid that from his readers?)

4) "... the TV series The Root of All Evil? ... Dawkins sought out religious extremists who advocated violence in the name of religion, or were aggressively antiscientific in their outlook. No representative figures were included or considered." p. 51

Alister McGrath himself was not only considered but filmed for that TV series!

Dawkins has previously stated that leading UK religious figures were invited to take part:

"We did invite the Archbishop of Canterbury - and the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Westminster - to be interviewed. All declined, no doubt for good reasons."
"Diary - Richard Dawkins", New Statesman, Published 30 January 2006

Catherine said...

Thanks so much for your comment. I now have a reason to get through Dawkins' book. Thanks.