Book Reviews: The Radiance Of Culture, Or Chronicles To Come

March 7, 2016



Counter Culture by David Platt                                       8

The Harder They Come by TC Boyle                               7

Chronicles Of Brothers series by Wendy Alec                1

Radiance Of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah                        6


The full title of this book is A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture. David Platt is a well-known pastor and a much-travelled speaker. His own church in Birmingham, Alabama is known for its radical commitment to a Christian life  – rather different to the American Dream. While I depart somewhat from his thinking on nature and authority of Scripture, and some of the doctrines which he propounds, his own lifestyle and pastoral work must challenge any reader to take his writing seriously and give it due consideration. Where the book really hits home is in the examination of the many social issues faced by the Church and by individual Christians. In fact, much of what he says must be taken seriously even by non-Christians. The first of these issues is that of wealth and poverty. Platt has immersed himself in areas of poverty beyond the experience of most of us. He and his family lost almost everything when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and that event was for them a challenge to rebuild on a different foundation. He urges Christians to consider how they deal with the problems of ongoing poverty across the world: are we really Christians if we do not take the injunctions of Scripture seriously? The second chapter deals with abortion. This is of course highly controversial, but Platt argues cogently for the right to life. When we consider the Greek-Roman practice of exposing new-born infants, and the Christian response then, we must also question our response today to abortion. Orphans and widows are the concern of the next chapter. There is an orphan crisis round the world: many millions have lost one or both parents; many millions of others are effectively orphaned, living on the streets or in institutions, and even though there may be a parent alive, they will rarely if ever see that parent or experience home life. The figure for widows is equally astounding: 245 million widows, of whom 115 million live in poverty and suffer social and economic deprivation. The story of Ruth is beautifully retold as one of redemption. The Church needs to take seriously its obligations, set out so clearly in both Old Testament and New Testament. David Platt and his wife have adopted two orphans, both from distant countries, and have two children of their own. Sex slavery is the fourth issue. Two stories are told, one of a child in Kathmandu and another set in Birmingham, Alabama. Platt shows clearly that we cannot deal with sex slavery as something divorced from our own culture. There is a strong link between pornography and the trade in women. Campaigns cannot be effective if directed simply at international syndicates. What is happening on the internet is doing the real damage. A highly contentious chapter follows: marriage. While Platt does not accept same-sex marriages, he excoriates the selfishness, abuse and false romanticism that result in the breakdown of heterosexual marriages. I depart from him on several issues, including the model he sets out of a husband being the God-appointed head of the household. He does emphasise that the father should not opt out of the responsibility that goes with such a model, but in a world with very different patterns of work and employment, we have seen the emergence of new models with shared responsibility. The chapter is worth reading at least to ensure one is able to clarify one’s own position on the issues raised. Sexual morality is a tough chapter, though compassionately handled. Platt acknowledges that he personally represents the class of people responsible for the majority of sexual immorality in the world today: male heterosexuals. Having examined the many aspects of such sexual immorality, he does tackle the issue of homosexuality. In reading Biblical texts, he does not make any distinction between those who “practise homosexual acts” and those who are homosexual by inclination, and given the Greek-Roman context of the New Testament, there is a great deal to be debated here. Obviously a full discussion is not within the ambit of this review. The chapter is however a powerful call to restraint, to commitment and to avoiding all forms of sexual impurity. The issue of ethnicity is equally fully discussed. Racial segregation and the harsh treatment of immigrants and would-be immigrants are highlighted. There are churches which are tackling the immediate problems and working towards better legislation. Freedom of religion is equally problematic, since the Christians are the single group more persecuted than any other worldwide. In the Western world those who seek to put into practice conservative Christian values and inculcate them in their children, are smeared as bigots. The discussion is good and down-to-earth. Platt insists that we should be able to ask questions and explore answers in an atmosphere of dignity and mutual respect. All of us as citizens should have the opportunity to arrange our lives according to what we believe as we consider how to listen to, learn from and live alongside one another not in spite of, but in the light of our differences. The concluding chapter is an appeal to proclaim the gospel in a way that people will hear and understand. It needs to be a message of hope for those without hope, widows, orphans, prostitutes, those engaged in wrongdoing and desperate for a way out. The need is to give, to pray and to go. This a broad-ranging book, easy to read, with excellent notes and references. Each chapter is followed by a practical guide to implementation. The author himself is of course the real recommendation: he is a good man doing excellent work. – RH

“Weird characters who get themselves in tight spots” is probably the best one-liner summary of The Harder They Come.  But there is more. TC Boyle takes us deep into the shadow world of the deranged mind that is both fascinating and terrifying. Reading this book is very similar to watching a movie. The actors are vividly portrayed in between dialogue and plot structures, of which there are a number, linked together as the story unfolds. This set-up makes for a kind of reader fatigue, as Boyle includes the most intimate detail of each of the folk he describes. We have a Vietnam veteran; his son who lives like a frontiersman of the Wild West; an activist girlfriend who abhors the US government legal system and fights it; and a succession of less memorable characters. Behind it all is the deep-rooted hankering for normality in American society, away from gun slinging, foreign intrusion and anti-social behaviour – a kind of American dream in revers. Written with great skill, this book is worthy of the effort required to read it through to the end. – DB

The short review of this series, comprising The Fall Of Lucifer, The First Judgement, Sons Of Perdition, and A Pale Horse is that it quickly becomes evident as to why the books were self-published. It is important, however, to go deeper into the reasons for strongly advising discerning readers not to pick up any of these four books, or for that matter, any of the other three that are allegedly in the offing to complete the advertised series of seven chronicles. Book One purports to improve upon the biblical narrative of Lucifer the Archangel’s fall from grace and consequent transition to Satan, the enemy of God. It seeks to explore the relationships between the three archangels as brothers: Lucifer, as mentioned; Michael the warrior; and Gabriel the messenger. The staying power necessary to complete the first book is substantial. One has to wade through continuity errors, banal dialogue, and truly excruciating repetition (predominantly involving endless descriptions of precious and semiprecious metals and stones and various colours). Lucifer is sympathetically portrayed  – alternately as a victim of circumstance or a being with severe schizophrenia. In both views, he is in no way accountable for his decisions and actions. It is tedious in the extreme. Book Two rambles between 4BC and AD2021 and contains puzzling descriptions of Lucifer wearing werewolf fur and feeding his favourite pet, Cerberus. The muddle of different mythologies is hard to swallow, but when the narrative, such as it is, moves on to artlessly dissect the details of the incarnation of Christ, it makes it well nigh impossible to continue with any sense of entertainment even as three human brothers, the De Veres, are introduced with the aim of mirroring the imagined ongoing drama of the three archangels. The De Vere bothers return in Book Three, set in 2021 against a backdrop of international political machinations and attempted peacemaking in Russia and the Middle East. Book Four continues the themes and features the release of the Black Plague and the rise of the Antichrist. It is of interest to note that the author, Wendy Alec, is the head of God TV and is said to have become “a charismatic Christian after seeing the face of Jesus in a mirror in the lavatory of a nightclub she was singing in.” (Paul McCann in The Independent, 2 Dec 1997). As such, one might expect that she would take the biblical injunction in Revelation 22:18 and 19 a little more seriously. If the books were launched as contenders in the fantasy genre they would be a weak and derivative new addition, but the positioning of the series as having Christian roots will leave any discerning reader searching in vain for theological truth – and probably deeply offended. – KD

Radiance Of Tomorrow is an African story, starting with people who return to their village  after a genocidal massacre and picking up the pieces of their lives. It’s an African tragedy that gets stuck in one’s psyche and becomes part of one’s historical perspective. When life in the village settles down, a mining company moves in, uprooting the sacred earth and again disturbing the traditional pattern of village life. Beah transfers the rich idiom of his mother tongue into English diction, which works well for dialogue but less so for his descriptive style of writing. Yet he manages to portray African cultural richness and the mindset of ordinary people faced with dramatic change that overturns every value that had once formed the basis of their lives. – DB