Category Archives: Book reviews

Book review – Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate was another terrific piece of historical fiction by Paul L. Maier.  As noted in my comments on another one of his books, The Flames of Rome, Maier is very disciplined with his rules for historical fiction: No proper names are invented, nothing knowingly contradicts historical facts and great care is exercised to fill in gaps.  Any created or assumed portions are documented in the end notes. 

It was fascinating to get the Roman perspective on the life of Jesus and to think more about Pilate’s background.  Also, for once, I finally have all the Herod’s straight in my mind, along with the relationship of Herodias (who encouraged her daughter Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist) to the Herods.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Not that I am pro-Roman now, but this helped me to see how the Jews would not have been the easiest group of people to govern.  The book did help me gain an appreciation for what Rome did well and where it did some bizarre things. 

The author has Pilate interacting with Cornelius, the Roman Centurion from Acts 10 as well as Paul.  While the accounts are fictionalized, it is quite likely that Cornelius and Pilate would have met on occassion (they both lived in Caeserea). 

Here’s an interesting factoid from the footnotes regarding the darkness at the crucifixion. 

This phenomenon, evidently, was visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities.  According to Tertullian, Apologeticus, xxi, 20, it was a “cosmic” or “world event.”  Phlegon, a Greek author from Caria writing a chronology soon after 137 A.D., reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olmpiad (i.e., 33 A.D.) there was “the greatest eclipse of the sun,” and that “it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens.  There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.”

Hmmm . . . sounds a little like Matthew 27:45 – “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.”  I love reading about historical and archeological accounts that confirm Biblical truths.

Book review: Hey! That’s not what the Bible says!

When the girls were young we enjoyed reading a book titled Hey! That’s not what the Bible says! by Bill Ross.  From Amazon:

. . . unique and very creative look into some of the Bible’s most popular stories including the Garden of Eden, Moses and the burning bush, and Jesus’ birth. 10 stories in all are told in cartoonish fashion with a familiar group of kids always popping up to remind us…That’s Not What the Bible Says! The complete stories from the Bible are included along with each story as references for families to spend family time reading together.

It was a clever way to point out the central message of the stories: Tell them the wrong way, after which the kids would yell, “Hey!  That’s not what the Bible says,” then tell them the right way and the kids would say, “Now that’s what the Bible says!” 

For example, the first story has God telling Adam and Eve the rule about the tree, and they obey and everyone lives happily ever after.  Then the story is told the right way. 

I adapted a couple stories and made up a couple of my own when leading some family devotionals on a Sunday School class trip and for an Indian Princess campout (a YMCA program where dads and daughters (K – 3rd grade) would camp together.   The name wasn’t politically correct enough so it is now called Adventure Guides). 

A couple hundred dads and daughters would come to the very brief Sunday morning “service.”  We had the opportunity to lead the service several times, so I always worked hard to find something Biblical to reach the kids and their dads (many of the attendees did not attend regular church services). 

The “Hey! That’s not what the Bible says” theme was perfect.  I could quickly lay out the whole Gospel using five short stories.  The kids in our “tribe” would hold up signs to cue all the dads and girls to yell out.  I was able to address original sin, redemption & forgiveness, the divinity of Jesus and how we get into Heaven – all without talking over their heads. 

Book recommendation: The Flames of Rome

If you like historical fiction, check out The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier.  He is a professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University.  I have heard him on various radio shows and read a few of his books and have always been impressed with his passion and accuracy. 

The story of Emperors Claudius and Nero and some of the early Christians was fascinating by itself, and the exhaustively researched and documented facts provide a simultaneous history lesson.  I had heard bits about this period of history but nothing this comprehensive.  It doesn’t hold back on the excesses of Nero and others.  

The author is very disciplined with his rules for historical fiction: No proper names are invented, nothing knowingly contradicts historical facts and great care is exercised to fill in gaps.  Any created or assumed portions are documented in the end notes. 

Where multiple theories exist, such as the source of the great fires of Rome, the most likely scenario is used in the narrative while others are analyzed in the end notes. 

This gives you a glimpse of how the early church started and the challenges they faced.

Book recommendation – The Question of God

The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Armand M. Nicholi Jr. was a terrific book about two men with some ironic similarities in their upbringing but who arrived at radically different worldviews.  Based on what I have read elsewhere about both men, I thought Nicholi did a balanced and fair job in presenting their lives and views.  PBS did a decent special about the book, except for the people they brought in to comment on it. 

From Amazon:

For the past 25 years, Armand M. Nicholi has taught a similar course at Harvard, where he compares Freud’s atheist-based reasoning against the atheist-turned-believer C.S. Lewis. Both men were considered brilliant, highly educated thinkers who profoundly influenced 20th-century thought. And both men presented compelling arguments for and against the existence of God.  

Book review: The Death of Right and Wrong

Hold onto your hats, people.  Tammy Bruce is an openly gay, pro-choice, non-Christian, but I’m a fan of hers.  Seriously.  Of course, I disagree with her on those topics, but I appreciate her style and we have a lot of common ground elsewhere.  And she is willing to draw some lines where others will not.

I read “The Death of Right and Wrong” and highly recommend it. She is truly a breath of fresh air. She is candid, honest, brave, funny and hard to label.

For example, though she is gay she described some of the horrific things some pro-gay groups have done in schools and said: “It’s time we demand that radical gays leave children alone, no matter how politically incorrect the argument becomes”  (and this was written in 2003 . . . things have gotten worse).

No liberal groups are spared, including Planned Parenthood, Jesse Jackson & Co., NOW, academia, the media and the justice system. 

She read C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity and took it very seriously, seeing the wisdom in his moral reasoning.   

She doesn’t demonize or hate Christians (I pray that she becomes a Christian one day).  In fact, she developed a lot of respect for them when they donated to her NOW organization during the OJ trial.  They disagreed on her group’s pro-choice views but they cared about the battered women Tammy was trying to help. Tammy took the unpopular position of being against OJ because of that pesky matter of abusing and murdering his ex-wife, while most NOW leaders took OJ’s side as if the issue at hand were race. 

She has a new book out that I’ll be reading soon – The New American Revolution.

Book review – Good Dog, Carl

 When the girls we young we read them countless books.  We really enjoyed the “Carl” series, including Good Dog, Carl

Carl is a rottweiler who is left in charge of the baby in different places.  Everything in the book is normal except for the part where the mom says, “Look after the baby, Carl. I’ll be back shortly,” and then Carl and the baby have wild adventures that end with Carl cleaning up and sort-of putting things back to normal. 

Two thumbs up!

Book review: Share Jesus Without Fear

I have read many books on evangelism and haven’t found a one-size-fits-all version yet.  But Share Jesus Without Fear by William Fay is at the top of the list because it had so many useful features. It was easy to read and very practical.  I have used this format or something similar to it many times when sharing the Gospel.

He starts with a section on overcoming your fear.  Most people, myself included, are fearful about evangelism and could use some encouragement and training to get started.  His main theme is that if you share the Gospel you have been obedient to God.  The results are up to him.   But are you going to be a Christian who talks about sharing the Gospel, or one who actually shares the Gospel?

The author had quite a colorful background before he became a Christian.  He comes across as very authentic and as someone who practices what he preaches.  He suggests a very conversational style of sharing the Gospel, using questions to see where people are at spiritually and where God is working in their lives.   Then, after asking permission, the focus is on using Bible verses to share the Gospel and letting the Holy Spirit do the work to change their hearts. 

There are many people who aren’t ready to hear it, so if you discern that is the case you can back off and save it for another time or for another person to share it when the time is right. 

One of his most interesting points is that the average Christian heard the Gospel 7.6 times before they became a believer (not sure where he got that figure!).  The idea is that maybe you are the first to tell someone about Jesus, or this is time number 4.0 or 5.0 or 6.6 or 7.6 . . . the idea is that you are often building on the work of others and that whether you plant a seed, nurture it or are the one to harvest, it is all important.   

You ask the other person to read about seven Bible verses, one at a time, starting with Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”).  Then you ask them what it means to them.  If they get it wrong, he suggests that you have them re-read it while you pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them to the true meaning.  You don’t have to preach it yourself.

I like his approach of just letting people answer the introductory questions without trying to rebut them.  Just seek to understand what they believe and why they believe it.  You can adapt his questions, of course, but I found the basic script to be easy to remember and use. 

He also includes common answers to many objections people raise about Christianity.  More importantly, he helps you determine if the objections are being raised for legitimate reasons or if they are smokescreens.

If you looking for encouragement and a good process to use for sharing the truth of Jesus, give this book a try!

Other evangelism tips and resources are here.