Saturday, October 10, 2009

eli gold? was he in the Bible?

My latest review is Eli Gold's autobiography...memoir...I'm not sure what to call it. Anyways, From Peanuts to the Pressbox: Insider Sports Stories from a Life Behind the Mic (Thomas Nelson, 2009 is about what you could expect from a C-list sports announcer.

I wasn't very familiar with the guy before this book, since I rarely watch NASCAR and college football isn't really relevant to a Baylor grad born during the Reagan administration.

His book is okay. The stories are interesting, mostly light and good-humored. He does give a few heavier accounts of the NASCAR tragedies that have hit home for him.

This book would be interesting to any Alabama fans, at least those from the past 20 years or so he has been involved with Crimson Tide football. Anyone with a special interest in the voices of sports would likely be interested and find it an enjoyable read.

It's not a great piece of writing, however. It's pretty shallow without a whole lot of salient elements that the average non-sports junkie. And you have to be one of the bigger junkies to really, really appreciate the figure behind this account, one that is into NCAA football, NASCAR or NHL.

If you're interested in anecdotal sports accounts that are also good pieces of writing, check out the books of Howard Cosell, Bob Costas, and Jack Buck.

the gospel according to beer

Recently heard in a sermon: You might be surprised if you knew some of the sinful things I had in my past. I was mean. I closed many a bar down.

I have not recently heard this in a sermon: Beer is good.

There, I said it. I can hear my Southern Baptist heritage crying out with pain at that statement. But, long before prohibition, long before "thou shalt abstain from strong drink" became the eleventh commandment, long before secular became known as the opposite of sacred, Christians liked drinking beer. Billy Sunday and Adrian Rogers probably believed with all their hearts they were preaching the right thing, but they're up against some pretty big names in this department.

Don't take it from me. Take it from a guy named Martin Luther, who once said, "We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old." Of course, that is politely rendered from the original German quote, which may actually be closer to, "I like beer/it makes me a jolly, good fellow/I like beer/it helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow."

Baptists don't like beer. I'll take that back. Actually, Baptists in the south don't admit to liking beer. Even though I have long begun to distance myself from the Baptisty position on a lot of things, I was still surprised when I received my copy of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield from Thomas Nelson Publishing. It's just not everyday us Texans see Guinness and God in the same sentence, unless it's regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. They were big Guinness drinkers, you know.

This is the same guy that wrote The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. Because of his reputation for writing fair, engaging analysis of cultural snapshots, I was anxious to read his book.

But beer?

I have to say that, excepting Baptists in the south, of course, Guinness is well-known as the preferred beer of theologians, at least the English-speaking theologians. My guess is that if Luther were here, he might have something to say about Heineken, but that's hard to tell. Therefore, I learned to drink it on occasion during deep theological discussion with others. There's nothing quite like having Bible study and beer.

Trust me, folks, they fit together perfectly.

Mansfield realizes this. He also realizes that because of a good beer's ability to bring people together, along with the unique business model of Arthur Guinness's company, make the Guinness story an especially interesting one.

In a day when the bottom line is all that matters and when institutions and corporations have robbed, cheated and lied people out of their livelihood and future, the story of the old Irish brewers is a breath of fresh air. It also begs the question, "Can we see anything like this here in our culture?

I was especially struck with Mansfield's account of a corporation that functioned like community. In a culture when churches continue to run themselves according to a business model, especially an American business model, we have some things to learn. What people are hungering for is Christian community, not good preaching, not entertaining music, not ministries specific to demographics, but genuine community.

Maybe our churches should run more like an - GASP - Irish brewery.

Please don't throw stones. Not yet, at least.

Mansfield's retelling of this story is an inspired and fresh account, a sober analysis, and a motivating conclusion. It is worth the read.

It's also better with Guinness.

riddled with bullet points

I like owning books. People know this about me. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells like rich mahogany.

I like reading them almost as much as I like owning them.

There's this new really cool thing. Thomas Nelson Publishing will give free copies of select books to bloggers who agree to post an honest review (positive, negative, mixed - anything) on their blogs and copy it onto a retail site. Sounds like a good deal. You pick the book, they mail it, you blog about it and then you pick another book.

The list currently doesn't have any books that I find really attractive, so I chose a new one written by this guy named David Jeremiah, called Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World: What on Earth Should We Do Now? (Thomas Nelson, Nashville 2009). Being a closet consumer of religious media, I have heard Jeremiah on his national broadcast, Turning Point, so I was a bit familiar with him to start off.

This book is a follow-up to his last work, What in the World Is Going On, in which he interprets many current and recent events in an eschatological light. His latest book attempts to offer practical and Biblical principles for living in a turbulent and unsettling time.

I can find one major positive thing about Jeremiah's argument. First, he points throughout to the future hope that Christians have in Christ, knowing that He will prevail at the end. Even though life is tough, we are encouraged to live in this reality.

Jeremiah says up front that this work is less about Christ's return and more about how we should live at this time. I don't think he really follows through with this purpose. The theme of the second coming appears over and over and over. It actually gets a little old, to be honest.

Unfortunately this pessimistic, dispensationalist view is not by any means a Biblical certainty, nor does it have the support of the Christian tradition prior to this century. I find it particularly disconcerting that he points toward natural occurrences as being undeniable signs of the imminent return of Christ. Of course, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and the like are symptoms of a fallen Creation, but it seems contrived to view them as hard evidence we are on the precipice of Armageddon.

Jeremiah, as with a number of Baptist preachers and authors, can come off at times as being cocky or condescending, particularly concerning his interpretation of Scripture. He nearly seems preoccupied with defending his viewpoints and less concerned with discussing Biblical principles as part of God's salvation story, which is problematic, especially as eschatology is concerned.

His writing style is somewhat preachy, simple and base; it's full of alliteration, bullet points and illustration, which make Scripture seem a bit too neat, tidy and manageable. "I discovered ten practical strategies to help us live with confidence in a chaotic world," he claims (xix). Really? Not eight or thirteen? It's dangerous to try and make the Bible more practical. That's where we really get confused.

In conclusion, this work is not entirely bad, but it is somewhat short-sighted and irrelevant if one considers the larger tradition of historical Christianity.

If you are looking for books to help you make sense of what's going on around you, I can always recommend Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. C.S. Lewis is always helpful. I would even suggest you go back to the works of the Church fathers, like Augustine and Irenaeus.

All of these would offer a more cohesive and salient examination of the subject. And by avoiding 20th-century Baptists, you will also avoid the appeal of alliteration. Those around you will appreciate it.