Books


Wicked Novel

Wicked was my last fun read of the summer. I wanted something I would be able to sit down and enjoy without thinking too much before I went back to the halls of academia to read and think critically for the next 4 months. Sadly, I chose the wrong “for fun” book. I guess I should have caught on to the fact that Wicked was going to be a philosophical novel when the back of the book told me that it would challenge all my preconceived notions on the nature of Good and Evil. This is quite the tall order when it comes to me, my notions of Good and Evil are pretty deep seated, and the question of whether or not one is born wicked is one that I have spent a lot of time and lost a lot of sleep thinking about. Did Wicked challenge all my preconceived notions? Not quite, but it was a fun read.

For those of you who don’t know much about the worlds of fiction and broadway, Wicked is a novel turned musical about the Wicked Witch of the West before that pesky Dorothy showed up in Oz and melted her. The book is incredibly political and philosophical, and it changes quite a bit of the Oz mythology and canon. Most of the time this really bugs me, I hate it when people mess with established canon (see the new film version of G.I. Joe and most comic book movies) but the novel was so enjoyable that I didn’t mind it as much. I did have to keep telling myself, “This isn’t really Baum’s Oz, it’s another Oz, an alternate universe Oz.” And once I did that I fell in love with the book.

The main character is the Wicked Witch of the West, here called Elphaba. Elphaba is a very passionate young woman in college, a political activist after college, and a hermit “witch” in the later years of her life. Honestly, Elphaba has become one of my favorite characters in literature. She has more depth than a lot of characters I’ve met in books, and she’s more likeable than most “good guys” I’ve read about. Maybe she’s not so evil, right? Along with Elphaba is Galinda, “With a guh”, later turned Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and a host of other characters including a Winkie prince named Fiyero and a likeable college guy named Boq. There’s not really a character that I didn’t like, all of them were unique and likeable in their own ways.

The story was well written, and the plot was wonderful. The writing style wasn’t incredibly heady so most anyone can pick up the novel and enjoy it, but it also wasn’t overly simplistic and bad a la Dan Brown. Not everyone will read this and pick up on the philosophical musings like I did, there will definitely be some people who pick it up and just read it and enjoy it as nothing more than a fun story, Maguire is a skilled writer in that he can write to please both the philosophical and the leisurely readers.

I did have a few problems. One was the constantly nagging voice telling me this was an abomination to the pre-established Oz canon. Another was what Maguire did with the Wizard’s character. I have problems with Maguire feeling that he needed to “redeem the Wicked Witch for our times.” It’s like he’s uncomfortable with moral absolutes, he’s uncomfortable with the fact that evil really does exist. It seems as if he subscribes to the “Everyone is a good person deep down” philosophy. My convictions happen to lie elsewhere. We are, by nature, children of wrath who are full of sin and it’s only by Christ that we can be redeemed and made any semblence of “good.” But this isn’t the blog for theological and philosophical ranting so I’ll leave it at that.

I loved Wicked. I picked it up because I love the musical and I’m glad to say I also love the book. I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a fun read with plenty of philosophical undertones.

Overall rating: 8/10

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Brian_McLaren_Generous_Orthodoxy

I have to admit my bias. I am not emergent. I do not think the emergent way of thinking is the right way of thinking. I do not think that emergent theology is orthodox. Now we’ve got that out of the way. I read A Generous Orthodoxy because I find the emergent “conversation” to be incredibly interesting. At one point in my life I identified myself with the emergent movement because I became so turned off by the Church. This has been called McLaren’s most theological work and is essentially his systematic theology (albeit he would hate it being called that and it’s far too small to ever be a real systematic). My aim for this post is to be grace filled and constructive and not just tear him down, even though it’d be much easier to do the latter.

We’ll start off with the writing style. I know I’m not the best writer, but I also don’t have 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad work in English like McLaren does yet I know not to use parentheses in every sentence I write. I didn’t enjoy reading this book. The sentences were overly complicated and McLaren made a lot of rookie mistakes.

The title is a bit misleading. McLaren’s idea of a generous orthodoxy is one that includes everyone yet remains orthodox, at least by his terms of orthodoxy. The book is neither generous nor orthodox. In the name of being generous he ridicules, belittles, pokes fun at, and excludes those who hold to the traditional conservative Christian faith. He is generous to those who agree with him, not so generous to those like me who disagree with him.

McLaren is dodgy quite a bit throughout the book, but he is known for this. He never comes out and says he’s a Universalist, but he does hint at it throughout the entire book. He says that he doesn’t want to make Christians, he wants to make disciples of Jesus, he wants people who are Hindus to love Jesus yet stay Hindu, just sort of incorporate Jesus into their religion. This idea is called pluralism and is simply not Biblical.

McLaren wants us to be a little bit of everything. He wants us to be Calvinists yet redefine the 5 points of Calvinism and believe in free will, which means he doesn’t want us to be Calvinists. He wants us to be fundamentilists but not take things so seriously and hold to fundamentals, so he doesn’t want us to be fundamentalists. He loves to throw around words with “post” in front of them: postliberal, postconservative, postmodern, postChristian, postsecular, etc. He wants us to be absolutists and relativists, terms I’m not sure he fully understands. He wants us to take a little bit of every denomination, a little bit of Islam, a little bit of Buddhism, and a little bit of Hinduism, mix it all up, and call it our Christian faith.

Probably the most frustrating thing to me was McLaren’s complete misrepresentations of the Anglican and Anabaptist traditions. I used to be a part of the Anglican Communion and I highly respect the Anabaptist tradition so I know quite a bit about both. McLaren makes up their histories and theology so that he can use them to justify his beliefs. The final few chapters of the books also made me incredibly mad starting with “Why I Am Green.” McLaren says that when Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves he did not just mean humans, that neighbors also include nature, animals, insects, etc. This is pantheism at best, worship of creation rather than Creator.

McLaren also tells he is not a relativist, just a post-modern thinker. He can call it what he wants, but he is a relativist. He says “…while we are not for pluralistic relativism, we do see it as a kind of needed chemotherapy.” So he isn’t a relativist, but he sees relativism as a cure? Am I the only one confused by this?

Was there anything redeeming about this book? Not really. While his celebration of the different traditions of Christianity is admirable, it’s usually a straw man of those traditions and they always come with underhanded jabs.

This book is dangerous. People are reading it, finding it more than acceptable and thinking that we should all live by it. Phyllis Tickle even calls McLaren the next Martin Luther in the foreword to the book.

This is just an overview of the things in this book I found disturbing, it would take literally a book in order for me to point out and adequately refute all of the things I found wrong in A Generous Orthodoxy.

Overall Rating: 2/10

bluelikejazz

I went into Blue Like Jazz with a negative mindset. I read the book originally when I was a senior in high school and loved it, I thought it changed my life. Once I started delving into theology I realized that a lot of people I really respect do not like this book at all. A pastor at my old church even went so far as to call it an “irresponsible book.” I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, and I couldn’t remember enough about Blue Like Jazz to agree or disagree with him. I decided to re-read it in order to remember what all the fuss was about.

After re-reading the book now with a more theologically informed mind, I’m not really sure why so many people hate it so much. Yes, I did find myself rolling my eyes at times at the over-emotional aspects of Donald Miller’s writing, but for the most part I agreed with a lot of what he said. I didn’t think he wandered into any really dangerous territory. Maybe I’m at a disadvantage here compared to Miller’s harsher critics because I can be somewhat critical of the Church and of the Christian sub-culture.

There were a few things I had problems with. One is the aforementioned emotionalism. I’m not someone who thinks we should get rid of emotions as some Christians do, I think that is an overreaction to emotionalism, but I do think that when we let our emotions drive us we’re in trouble. I had to roll my eyes and laugh when, in one part of the book, a Christian organization set up a “confession booth” in order to confess their sins to non-believers which included apologizing for the Crusades. While I don’t think Miller advocates solely going on emotions in our worship of God, sometimes it definitely seems like he pushes that.

Another problem I had was Miller talking about attending a Unitarian Universalist church. This was the only “irresponsible” thing I could find in the book. I fear that some people will read this and decide that they should also attend that type of church which will lead them astray.

Finally, I have a problem with Miller not wanting to call himself a Christian. This is a huge pet-peeve of mine. Miller talks about how he doesn’t like Christianity, he likes Christian Spirituality. Semantics at best. To me, there really is no difference. If you are a Christian, you will have Christian Spirituality. It’s part of Christianity. You don’t stop calling yourself a man or a human because you don’t like things done in the name of manhood or humankind, people would say you were absurd for doing that. Why is it any different with calling yourself a Christian?

I know this seems really critical, but the things I liked numbered more than the things I didn’t. I love Miller’s writing style. It’s very engaging, very conversational. It seems like he’s sitting in the room with you and talking to you rather than writing a book. There were times where I was so engaged in his writing that I couldn’t put the book down. A lot of his critiques about the church were spot-on. A lot of his theology was great. I don’t think Miller claims to be an expert on how to do church, nor do I think he claims to be a theologian. I think he happens to be a lay person who is writing on what he sees is wrong with the way we do things as Christians. And a lot of times he’s right. Maybe some Christians don’t like his critique because it hits a little bit too close to home for them. Maybe they see themselves in his indictment and feel a little bit uncomfortable. And I think that’s a great thing. We need more voices who are telling us that we need to turn around. The most important thing about Miller is that he doesn’t just tell us that we’re wrong and tell us how we should fix it, he lives it out. He backs his words with actions, and I think that speaks volumes.

There’s a movie in the works for Blue Like Jazz. I hear that it will contain some language that will make some Christians squirm, much as the recent Derek Webb album did. Once that movie hits theaters, expect a review from me.

Overall rating: 7.5/10