Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Life Stinks...And Then You Die (ACU Press Book Club)

Bob Hostetler.  Life Stinks…And Then You Die: Living Well in a Sick World.  Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2013.  240 pp.  $14.99.

There are two areas of study in theology that I absolutely love—the Wisdom Literature and spiritual formation.  To be honest, their studies often dovetail nicely with one another.  This is what Bob Hostetler offers in his newest volume Life Stinks…And Then You Die—a study of Ecclesiastes that instructs the reader on how to live faithfully in a “sick” world.  Thus, when I saw this volume on the review list for ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers’ Book Club, I knew that I needed to read it (even if I did not get the chance to review it for the club).

There were a couple of times, as I was reading it, that people would look at the cover and ask me something like they hoped that I did not feel that way or did I actually like the book because the title bothered them so much.  To both questions, I affirmed that I did think life stinks and that I was enjoying the book. 

Now, let me address what I mean by this: Hostetler’s argument is that life , at least in the mind of the writer of Ecclesiastes (whom Hostetler believes to be Solomon), does, in fact, stink.  We do live in a broken, messed-up, polluted, hazardous, imbalanced world.  We can point to all kinds of groups and pass the blame unilaterally to them for why our world is the way that it is.  Yet, as Hostetler demonstrates, each and every human who has ever lived is to blame for why our world “stinks.”  Our choices, often influenced by folly and greed, led to disease, disaster, destruction and death.  The result of millions of bad choices over thousands of years leads the writer of Ecclesiastes (and Hostetler as interpreter) to one unarguable conclusion—life does stink.  Living in this world is difficult and dangerous.

However, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes discovered, this does not have to dictate how each one of us lives in this “sick world.”  Yes, we will experience disaster and heartache.  Just this morning, I received a text from a student who asked me to pray for a member of his family that was experiencing a tragic loss.  Last week I visited with a former minister who has suffered great illness and loss, both personally and professionally, yet he lives with contentment in his heart because his trust is not found in this world but in God.  Life does stink; yet, with God’s grace, we can endure. 

The cover of Hostetler’s book is a great image for the message of the book.  On the cover is a profile of a young woman with a clothespin clamping her nose closed.  Life stinks; yet we do not have to be influenced by the smell.  If we remember our Creator and seek after the Creator’s ways, then we can live well in this sick world. 

Overall, I enjoyed Hostetler’s book.  I thought his study approach was thoughtful and well-developed.  I thought his prayers at the end of each chapter were poignant and the study guide at the end of the book will prove useful to classes or study groups.  This is not meant to be a scholarly study of Ecclesiastes, so I will reserve any technical comments.  In general, this is a great read for anyone wondering what Ecclesiastes has to say to us as we continue to live in this “sick world.”

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 KCU Convocation Invocation

Opening Convocation, Fall 2014
Nash Chapel; Kentucky Christian University
19 August 2014

Almighty God, creator of the universe and provider of grace and mercy, we come before you this morning to ask you to bless our upcoming school year.  We thank you for bringing us to this holy place to share in the radiance of a new academic year. 

However, before we pray for ourselves, we pause for a moment to entreat you to intervene with peace, justice and reconciliation in places like Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq, Syria, and Indonesia.  We pray for those who are suffering as a result of turmoil, for those who stand to protect the innocent, and for those who profit from violence.  May your people courageously rise up to bring restoration the broken and the despairing.  Sustain them with your grace and strengthen them for their mission.

Now, as we turn our thoughts to this new academic year, we pray that we do all things to bring you glory and expand the borders of your kingdom.  We pray that we will seek your presence in and your will for our lives.  Whether in the classroom, on the athletic field or in the professional context, may we strive to be people of courage, compassion and conviction.  Fill us with joy in our learning, joy in our service, and joy in our relationships.

In the name of Christ Jesus, our savior and redeemer, we pray.  Amen.

Rob O’Lynn, ABD

Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: Teachable Moments by Marybeth Hicks

Marybeth Hicks.  Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith.  New York: Howard Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014.  274 pp.  $24.00.

To be honest, I am conflicted in how to review Marybeth Hick’s most recent book Teachable Moments.  When I accepted the review, I recognized the name although I was not completely sure why I recognized it.  Hicks is a media columnist for various Fox News programs, generally commenting on topics such as media, parenting and culture.  To this end, Hicks, in our media-statured culture, is therefore qualified to write a book on media, parenting and culture.  As one who is a parent and spends a great deal of time engaging media and culture, I launched into the book with excitement.  Unfortunately, for me, the excitement did not last long.

I still know almost nothing else about Hicks, such as why she is considered qualified to author a book on media, parenting and culture other than being a parent of four children.  I do not run in social circles that watch Fox News.  [I feel the need to qualify the rest of my remarks.  Neither do I get my news from CNN.  I get my news from the WSJ, the NYT and HP.]  This, then, is why I find myself conflicted on how to offer this review.  On one hand, I was less than impressed with the book.  I found myself scratching my head, shaking my head and simply dropping my head at several points.  On the other hand, I can see how the ultra-politically, religiously, educationally and culturally conservative segment of society would rave about this book. 

In terms of criticism, I have three major points of concern with Hicks’ book.  First, Hicks routinely confuses conservative Christian doctrine, classical Greek philosophy and traditional American values as equal instructional material.  Bible verses are pulled from their context and massaged to fit Hicks’ goals.  This stems from Hicks seeing the Bible as simply an educational compendium that serves to teach us how to live ethically.  The ironic thing is that she does not use passages that actually deal with parenting, teaching or culture (i.e., Prov. 2-8; 1 Cor. 8; Eph. 6).  Instead, she uses passages that deal with Jesus talking about economics to discern how parents can teach their children about buying video games. 

Second, examples are too specific.  Each chapter contains ten “teachable moments” scenarios that Hicks believes are relatable to parents.  On a positive note, the scenarios are quite diverse in terms of the ages of the children involved, the scenarios that the children are involved in, and how parents can address the situations.  On a critical note, however, I found the scenarios to be too specific.  Readers may be led to think that their child may not run into certain situations, such as dealing with sexuality or handling finances, until they reach a certain age.  However, only those who live in the cultural bubble that Hicks lives in will believe this.  Our culture is constantly changing, and parents must always be ready to engage any and all situations. 

Third, her approach to dealing with media is more reactive than proactive.  I think this is what bothered me most of all.  Hicks works under the assumption that parents have no idea how to be proactive in engaging culture (or, perhaps, that parents should be as culturally-na├»ve as she appears to be).  As a result, parents who follow Hicks’ model will always be scrambling behind their kids in order to keep up with their Facebook posts and Xbox Live accounts.  Instead, a more appropriate approach to parenting, in my opinion, would be to be in constant conversation with our kids about media and culture and allow them a bit of supervised freedom as they make decisions.  It gives them a certain amount of responsibility while still keeping the parent(s) involved.

Again, I realize that there are those who will absolutely adore this book.  For those who read this review, I apologize for not enjoying it as much as you will.  For you, I would give this book a rating of 4/5.  You will find her approach helpful (especially her curriculum at the end of each of chapter), and you will feel more involved in your child’s life (although you will constantly be frustrated and often find yourself on the losing side).  For those of you who were curious about my opinion without investing in the book, I give it a 2/5 for the reasons I mentioned above. 

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Publisher and was asked to review it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”