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Trinity & Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith
Trinity & Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith
by Ralph Allan Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.71
37 used & new from $5.81

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Introduction to a Christian Worldview, October 10, 2005
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In his book Trinity & Reality, Ralph Smith ably accomplishes the purpose he set for himself from the beginning: "In this book we will explore the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity for the Christian worldview, aiming at an exposition of the Christian understanding of the world that is both biblical and God-centered, and also ... clear and practical, with strong implications for the Christian life" (xiii). Besides one's understanding of the world, Smith uses the word "worldview" to signify a "way of life," "the story of the world" and of God's people, "aesthetics," "religious sensibility," and "attitude on life" (xiii). Thus, for Smith, the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a doctrine; it is a truth that encompasses all aspects of reality.

Smith begins by outlining the basics of the biblical teaching of the Trinity. Perhaps more than any other doctrine, the Trinity is universally affirmed by all branches of Christ's church. Thus, this book may be profitably read by Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Christians. Smith states that the Trinity may be established from Scripture by proving the following five propositions: "there is one God; the Father is God; the Son is God; the Spirit is God; and the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinguishable persons in relationship with one another" (3). The doctrine of the Trinity must be discovered in Scripture and believed by faith rather than arrived at by reason. Scripture, therefore, is the key. "God's revelation in His Word is our ultimate standard for judging all that we know and learn, while it presupposes that God is revealing Himself in every thing that He created and in the process of history as well" (14).

Based upon his brief introduction to the biblical basis of the Trinity, Smith spends the rest of book exploring its implications in every realm of truth. Though the doctrine of the Trinity may seem difficult or even contradictory, "truth is an entirely rational and perfect system, for God cannot contradict Himself" (17). God as Trinity is a personal God, interacting in fellowship within Himself. Christianity is the only religion whose God is not only absolute but also personal. Thus, God Himself is the ground of all personal virtues like righteousness, faithfulness, and goodness. For instance, "righteousness for the triune God means that each of the persons respects and preserves the boundaries of the others" (19).

Probably the best portion of Smith's book is in Chapters 3, in which he explores the truth that "what God does in history reveals who He is in eternity" (31). The nature of God is the foundation of all earthly relationships. In God, the essence or bond of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is love. "God's covenant love for His people reflects something deeper and more wonderful: the eternal self-denying love that each of the Persons of the Trinity has for the others" (38). Men who live in a covenant relationship with God indwell within God and God within them. "God in His saving grace brings His people into that same covenantal love that is shared by the Persons of the Trinity" (45). Also, highly significant in this regard is Smith's work on the essence of a worldview, which I would categorize into metaphysics (transcendence), priority (hierarchy), ethics (commandments), epistemology (sanctions), and teleology (succession).

Throughout the rest of the book Smith discusses many issues that may be traced directly to one's worldview. He demonstrates the superiority of the Christian view of the origin of the world over the Big Bang theory. His view of Christian cosmogony is essentially covenantal. "The covenantal meaning of the world, then, is that the world is the love gift of the Father through the Spirit to the Son. It is an expression of the covenantal fellowship of love in the Trinity, an aspect of their mutual enjoyment of one another" (58). This understanding also establishes a symbolic view of reality. Furthermore, Smith discusses God's purpose for creation, His revelation of Himself to creation, and God's work in history-including the "problem" of evil, miracles, the incarnation, the gospel, the kingdom of God, and the great commission. Each of these issues is properly understood only within a Christian, Trinitarian world.

Smith continues by describing the significance of the Trinity to an individual's role in society. He answers questions that concern the relationship between an individual and the society in which he lives. He states, "our self-who we are-is determined by our relationships, just as the three Persons of the Trinity are who they are in their mutual relationships" (163). He speaks of the covenantal institutions that God has established in the family, the church, and the state. To end, Smith deals with the issues concerning eternity: hell, heaven, and eschatology. Only as the Christian understands these topics in relation to the Trinity can he adequately live consistently with the biblical teaching. Our understanding of who God is and our relationship with God as Father, Son, and Spirit guide us in our expectation of heaven and the end of time. "The enjoyment of God includes the enjoyment of all the things He created and of every gift He gives. ... Every biblical expression that points to the fullness of our salvation leads us to contemplate the greatness and wonder of God Himself. In order for us to enjoy and glorify Him as we should, Paul tells us that we will be made like Him" (201).

Without a doubt this book is foundational to a completely and distinctively biblical worldview. Especially for those who are not yet familiar with thinking in presuppositional or worldview terms, Trinity & Reality demonstrates that everything a Christian knows and does finds its source in our God. Highly recommended for Christians from all traditions!


Piano Concerto 2
Piano Concerto 2
Price: $11.48
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Rachmaninoff, September 24, 2005
This review is from: Piano Concerto 2 (Audio CD)
Because Rachmaninoff's music mirrors the Russian culture, I have often noted that no one plays Rachmaninoff like a Russian. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Etudes-Tableaux, played by the Russian Evgeny Kissin, is unparalleled in mastery, beauty, and power. The album begins with one of the most sensitive interpretations of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto that I have heard (on par with Vladimir Ashkenazy's, a fellow Russian). Kissin understands the flow of the piece from beginning to end. As a result, he builds the tension by accentuating the rich chord progressions that fill the piece. He then resolves that tension with the precision of a story-teller and the sensitivity of a master artist. Though the music stretches the ability of even the greatest pianists, Kissin plays through the difficulty in order to paint a landscape of musical progression. He hears and invites his audience to hear the intricate sub-plots that recur all throughout the work. Perhaps Rachmaninoff's most famous composition is married with a true master artist.

The album ends with six powerful Etudes-Tableaux. Once again, Kissin hears and emphasizes both the predominant theme as well as the innumerable sub-themes, often overlooked by lesser musicians. My favorite is Etude-Tableau No. 5 in E-flat minor. This extremely difficult piece builds tension through increased dissonance until a lofty climax. That dissonance almost becomes unpleasant to the ears, creating an atmosphere of extreme melancholy. I imagine that tension mirroring the inner turmoil that an individual experiences through a difficult time of life. But when that tension and internal cacophony can get no greater and the person is at the point of breaking, grace comes! The beauty of the resolution is far more beautiful against such a dark backdrop. And any person who has been through difficulties can fully enter into the emotion of the music. And anybody who is currently experiencing pain and suffering can take hope, even from this music, that resolution will come.


Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith
Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith
by Greg L. Bahnsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.12
28 used & new from $9.99

93 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Introduction to the Basics of Apologetics, March 7, 2005
Greg Bahnsen's book, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, a collection of classroom materials and articles, makes many of the difficult concepts of Biblical apologetics accessible to believers who never went to seminary. One of the greatest minds in evangelical scholarship in the twentieth century, Bahnsen interpreted, popularized, and made practical the groundbreaking work of Cornelius Van Til in what is known as presuppositional apologetics. The book under discussion lays the Biblical foundation of apologetics and gives direction for engaging in discussion with unbelievers. The popular view of apologetics suggests that believers find common, neutral ground with unbelievers in order to convince them of the plausibility of Christianity. In contrast, Bahnsen's basic contention is that believers must maintain the same Scriptural foundation in their encounters with unbelievers as they do in all theological discussion.

Bahnsen begins by dispelling the idea that neutral ground exists between believers and unbelievers. When a believer seeks "neutrality," he surrenders "his distinctive religious beliefs" with the result that he becomes "impotent in [his] witness, aimless in [his] walk, and disarmed in [his] battle with the principalities and powers of this world" (4). In contrast, all knowledge and wisdom are found only in Christ (Colossians 2:3), who is the believer's Lord even in the intellectual realm. Believers must have a correct understanding of the thinking of the unbeliever, who "have a vain mind and a darkened understanding" (Ephesians 4:17-18) (12). Bahnsen asserts, therefore, "from the fact that God is the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, from the fact that the world and history are only such as His plan decrees, from the fact that man is the creaturely image of God, we must conclude that all knowledge which man possesses is received from God, who is the originator of all truth and the original Truth" (24). Thus, neutrality is nothing but a myth.

Bahnsen then addresses common arguments against presuppositionalism. Rather than arrogance, believers must maintain a "humble boldness" when dealing with unbelief (36). Also, while an unbeliever would indeed be totally incapable of knowledge of anything if he were consistent with his worldview, he is actually able to attain knowledge. Unbelievers do have a knowledge of God (which they suppress) and thus are able to understand the world (38). And believers are able to engage in meaningful conversation with unbelievers by virtue of several facts. Because God has created all things, "there is no area in the world, in thought, in word, or in deed which is irrelevant, indifferent, or neutral toward God and His demands" (42). And because all men are created in God's image, believers have a "point of contact" with all men (47).

Bahnsen next gives practical information about how exactly to defend the faith. He outlines two broad directions on how to proceed based on Proverbs 26:4-5. First, believers must not answer the unbeliever according to his foolishness, "in terms of his own misguided presuppositions." Rather "the apologist should defend his faith by working within his own presuppositions" (61). Second, the believer should answer the unbeliever according to his folly. "Pursued to their consistent end presuppositions of unbelief render man's reasoning vacuous and his experience unintelligible; in short, they lead to the destruction of knowledge, the dead-end of epistemological futility, to utter foolishness" (62). In addition, believers must realize that engagement with unbelievers is not conflict between beliefs of just particular aspects of truth but rather between complete worldviews (68). The believer also must constantly keep in mind that success is not dependent on his abilities, but rather that God is the One who gives understanding (85). Belief in God is the foundation of all understanding (88).

The remainder of the book puts these principles into practice. Believers must use reason as a tool, as an expression of God's image in them (113). In pointing out the fallacies in the unbeliever's worldview, he must point out prejudicial conjectures (136), unargued philosophical bias (138), presuppositions which do not comport with each other (141), logical fallacies (144-48), and behavior which betrays his professed belief (148). Bahnsen ends this section of the book by exposing the fallacies of the philosophical objections that Bertrand Russell hurled against Christianity. He also deals with issues like the problem of evil (163-74), anti-supernaturalism (177-91), faith versus reason (193-203), religious language (205-20), and miracles (221-32).

The final chapter of the book is worth the price of the whole book. In it Bahnsen gives a masterful exposition of Acts 17, which is the account of Paul's apologetic for Christianity on Mar's Hill in Athens. He demonstrates that Paul's methodology comports precisely with all the claims of presuppositional apologists. Although Paul appeared before an entirely pagan audience, he still assumes the veracity of Scripture without apology. In all, Always Ready is an indispensable tool for believers as they seek to give a faithful defense for the hope that is in them.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2014 1:29 PM PST


The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity
The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity
by Philip Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
144 used & new from $0.01

13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, though lacking, assessment of Christianity's future, April 9, 2004
The main thesis that Philip Jenkins ably attempts to prove in his book, The Next Christendom, is that Christianity is shifting from a northern hemisphere-dominated religion to a southern-centered world religion. At the same time that the numerical force of Christianity has been essentially dying in Europe (and to a lesser extent the United States), "over the past century... the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa, Asia, and Latin America" (2). Also, while the church has become largely secularized in the north, the southern church is mainly conservative and traditional in its beliefs. Unfortunately, Jenkins takes a while to define his terms. He spends several pages explaining his understanding of the idea of Christendom very nearly like the medieval idea of "a true overarching unity and a focus of loyalty transcending mere kingdoms or empires" (10). But it is not until page 88 that he formulates a definition of a Christian as "someone who describes himself or herself as Christian, who believes that Jesus is not merely a prophet or an exalted moral teacher, but in some unique sense the Son of God, and the messiah" (88).
The early chapters are spent establishing his thesis through several lines of evidence. In chapter 2, Jenkins makes a broad historical survey of Christianity in order to demonstrate that it is not inherently Western. He shows that Christianity has been from the earliest of times a very strong force in both Africa and Asia. In addition, chapter 3 questions much of the missionary enterprise in its spreading of Christianity. Despite its faults, Jenkins concedes that the reason that cultures accepted the new faith was that they "found this the best means of explaining the world around them" (44). Finally, in chapter 4, in order to bolster his thesis Jenkins surveys the demographics of much of the world. He describes the dynamics of the interaction between the Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches in Latin America. He also depicts the strength of the church in such countries as Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, China, and South Korea. Jenkins finally attempts to explain the cause of Christianity's current success as residing in its meeting social needs (75), its sense of community (76), and even its miracles (77).
In chapter 5, Jenkins shifts his focus from yesterday's and today's situation to the trends that are forming tomorrow's. He concedes the dangers of predicting what the world will look like in 50 years. However, no one can deny such trends as the decline of the populations of Europe and Japan (81-82) and the equally startling boom in the populations of the southern countries of Africa and Latin America (83-85). Population growth is relatively easy to observe, and assuming that the religious distribution remains roughly the same, Christianity will continue to grow in the coming years. "However, recent history suggests that [sub-Saharan] churches will expand by evangelization," making the Christian population grow at even a greater pace (90). The evidence Jenkins uses to support his claims comes not just from Africa but also from the Philippines, Europe and the United States.
Jenkins' most disappointing work is found in chapter 6. He attempts to combat what he calls the assumption "that what is traditionally done in Europe or North America is correct and authentic" (109). While this assumption is false if accepted blindly and wholesale, Jenkins' claim is that the European culture formed Christianity into what it is in the West. He seems to leave no place for Christianity actually forming a culture. Rather, he says, "Presumably if the course of Christian history had run differently, then other societies would have succeeded in spreading their distinctive cultural vision across the world" (110). Supposedly, practice determines beliefs, rather than vice versa (115). Jenkins does not seem to leave open the possibility of an objective, unchanging standard to which all cultures must conform. The shape of Christianity, purportedly, is relative to the culture in which it is found. On the other hand, chapter 7 explores how the beliefs of Christianity are being applied in today's world around the globe. Even here, however, he fails to recognize that the way a people lives or a government governs is an expression of what they believe. He makes no connection between the prosperity of the West with the fundamentally Christian principles upon which that prosperity is based.
Chapter 8 describes the current and coming interaction between Christianity and Islam. His prognosis includes violence between the religions. But "in the world as a whole, there is no question that the threat of intolerance and persecution chiefly comes from the Islamic side of the equation" (170). Battles will be fought in countries like Sudan (171), Egypt (172), Nigeria (173-75), Pakistan (175), and Indonesia (176). He also briefly mentions Christianity's future relations with Hinduism and Buddhism. The remainder of the book (chapters 9-10) is left to shorter statements about the future of Christianity. He discusses the Roman Catholic church and such conservative statements within that body as Dominus Jesus (197). He addresses issues of gender roles, the south's evangelization of the north, the Bible, and poverty. All in all, Jenkins demonstrates a greater ability in observing demographic trends than he does in making general assertions about the dynamics of Christianity. His general thesis is undeniable based on his evidence. However, he lacks an eschatological vision based on the teaching of the Bible to lend any real authority to his claims. Indeed, Christians may assert with confident assurance that Christianity will grow until it covers the earth (Isaiah 11:9), even as Christ now reigns on His throne until He puts all His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:5).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 17, 2011 10:06 AM PDT


Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
283 used & new from $0.01

38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Connections, connections, connections, March 2, 2004
Trying to encapsulate Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum into one idea is as difficult as trying to explain the history of the world in one sentence. The story is about three editors of a publishing house who attempt to formulate (or, perhaps, discover) a grand, cosmic, and secret Plan by connecting known pieces of history together. And if my understanding of the book is correct, then I would contend that the underlying theme is precisely what those editors are doing: connecting. Early on, Causaubon, who tells the story, tells us, "It was also the day I began to let myself be lulled by feelings of resemblance: the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else" (139). At another point, Belbo, another one of the editors says, "I have letters that offer revelations on the connections between Joan of Arc and the Sibylline Books, between Lilith the Talmudic demon and the hermaphroditic Great Mother, between the genetic code and the Martian alphabet, between the secret intelligence of plants, cosmology, psychoanalysis, and Marx and Nietzsche in the perspective of an new angelology, between the Golden Number and the Grand Canyon, Kant and occultism, the Eleusian mysteries and jazz, Cagliostro and atomic energy, homosexuality and gnosis, the golem and the class struggle" (230). And finally, Causaubon explains, "But whatever the rhythm was, luck rewarded us, because, wanting connections, we found connections-always, everywhere, and between everything. The world exploded into a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else..."(384).
As the three editors compile their information (originally only for a book on the history of metals), they research as wide a range of subject matter as can be imagined. They spend hours (or for Eco, pages) explaining histories of the Templar Knights, Rosicrucians, Masons, Jesuits, and every other secret society and conspiracy theory imaginable. Because they are convinced that every fact is somehow connected with every other fact, they recruit help from a rather unlikely source to make connections: Belbo's computer, Abulafia. Explaining history by connecting facts begins as a game until they start taking their "discoveries" too seriously. The outcome of their efforts follows naturally from their efforts.
Although many readers have been dissatisfied by the slow pace of the book, Eco does a masterful job in making his own connections and observations from actual history. Without a doubt, such a masterpiece would be impossible without an encyclopedic grasp not only of the facts of history but also of its consequences. Several lessons may be appropriately learned from this great work as well. I will mention only one here: simply, we are reminded to be wary of every new idea that purports to explain what we see around us. Dozens of conspiracy theories and cults claim to offer the one explanation for what has happened and is happening in the history of the world. And there is no shortage of dupes who accept and follow such explanations. In Foucault's Pendulum even a computer program spitting out responses to men who are playing a game lead people astray. Theories are propounded still, which are deduced from equally silly methods.
No, Eco's book is not for everyone. It moves slowly. The plot itself does not include much action. But in the end, those who persevere will be greatly rewarded.


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman
Edition: Paperback
249 used & new from $0.01

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling expose of the future of our culture., February 17, 2004
Neil Postman's thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death is simple. In his eye-opening work, he demonstrates "how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of content can issue from such forms" (6). In other words, the way something is communicated controls what is actually being communicated. The forms of media are not merely neutral channels through which facts and ideas flow. Those forms themselves either taint or enhance the message. Based on this premise, Postman demonstrates the dumbing influences that the television has had upon modern American minds. By doing so, he contends that a culture based on words is superior to one based on pictures. The book is an apology for reading. Though it was published in 1985, it has equal, if not more, relevance to us today.
To begin, Postman argues that every medium of communication carries with it an epistemology, a theory of knowledge. For instance, "`Seeing is believing' has always a preeminent status as an epistemological axiom, but `saying is believing,' `reading is believing,' `counting is believing,' `deducing is believing,' and `feeling is believing' are other that have risen or fallen in importance as cultures have undergone media change" (24). He demonstrates that the Jewish concept of God, with their application of the second commandment, taught them a very high form of abstract thinking. The reader must persevere during the first two chapters because his reasoning, though tight, can tend to be somewhat thick.
Beginning with chapter three, Postman gives a historical survey of America's way of thinking, as dictated by its forms of communication. America began as a typographic society. Reading and writing were valued greatly for many reasons, not the least of which was that people could read the Bible. All people recognized the value of knowledge. As a result, people would gather in droves to hear lectures and debates. For instance, people in the 1860s were captivated for 4 or 5 hours at a time by the meticulously reasoned debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Frequently, they even lasted for more than one day! Postman shows that "a language-centered discourse such as was characteristic of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America tends to be both content-laden and serious, all the more so when it takes its form from print" (50). A transition began, however, with the telegraph, which "made a three-pronged attack on typography's definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence" (65). Hence, there arose "context-free information," mouth-sized bytes of information with no true relevance to one's life.
Along came television, which makes the "three-pronged attack" upon America's mind even fiercer. The vast majority of communication on the television has as its one underlying purpose entertainment. "No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure" (87). For the remainder of the book, Postman demonstrates that entertainment is necessary for the television's communication of news (even the most tragic), religion, politics, and education. In each area, information is greatly simplistic and decontextualized and requires no prior knowledge of anything. America has defeated herself like a tyrant. "Tyrants of all varieties have always known about the value of providing the masses with amusements as a means of pacifying discontent. But most of them could not have even hoped for a situation in which the masses would ignore that which does not amuse" (141). Postman's solution to the problem lies mainly within the realm of education. We must understand what the television is, "for no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are" (161).


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