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Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: Riven, by Jerry Jenkins

Jerry Jenkins, author of more than 180 books, says Riven is one of his favorites. On that recommendation, I bought this book. To say it’s not at all what I expected is one of the understatements of the century.

Jerry starts off by telling two stories. One is about a pastor named Thomas, married to Grace (double meaning, there), who takes a new pastorate. It falls through before he even gets started. It’s another personal failure on top of a whole list of failures. Thomas begins to doubt his effectiveness—even though he’s been faithful to his divine calling. An opportunity opens up for him to be a chaplain at a maximum-security prison. He accepts, desiring more than anything to make a difference. The only problem is, the prisoners have to petition to see him—and not many of them are interested. Make that almost none. After witnessing his first execution, Thomas hits a low point. Adding to that, Grace has leukemia.

The parallel story is about a young high schooler named Brady. He’s a mess. Brady’s from a broken home. His mother is a drunk and rarely home. His little brother Petey is his best friend. Even though Brady is a terrible example, he wants to protect his brother. Brady’s attitude basically is, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Brady finds he has a talent for acting. (It probably comes from a lying habit, but he is good. If only his grades would let him act and make it big.) Brady’s life is colorful but not happy, and his habits and desires lead him down a path he would never recommend to his little brother.

In order not to spoil, I can’t reveal more of the plot.

There are multiple layers of meaning in this book. Many pastors and their wives can identify with Thomas. Many church people need to identify with him—and pray for their pastors. Many can also fall in love with Brady. I know I did, and I wanted to believe in him, just like his aunt and uncle and two others. I wanted him to succeed. Perhaps, he did.

There are several clear presentations of the gospel in this book. I loved the different contexts and the emphasis on Jesus and His willingness to forgive anyone. It's powerful.

The last quarter of Riven is about something Brady requests—and is granted. I understand why the author did this. (It’s a shocker.) And, I am glad that I read this book. But, I am not in agreement, and I don’t think a lot of other readers will be, either. It’s about a method of capital punishment. In the book, there’s a reason behind it. But, I believe it sensationalizes someone's death—the killing of this person is televised—and I just can’t approve. The author describes it in graphic detail. I flipped through those pages. Again, I understand Jenkins’ point, and you will, too, if you read the book. This part wasn’t for me, though, and it’s not for the squeamish.

I was also disappointed in the title. It’s one of those one-word titles in vogue today. The problem is that Riven is not represented in the story. It's outside the story.

Riven grabbed me from the beginning. It is well written, though not literary. I loved the characters—all of the main characters. This book made me think and analyze and mull it over in my mind. It is strong, and its impact is amazing. What a concept!

This book is for adults only. I believe some of the thematic elements would be disturbing to young people and to young Christians. There are no curse words (though cursing is mentioned), only passing references to sexual conduct, and it is clean. There are: lying, cheating, stealing, mocking religion and Jesus, the graphic description of a horrible death, and another disturbing death scene.

If you’ve read Riven, I’d love to know what you thought about this book.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Are We Extending Too Much Grace?

I enjoy being on the receiving end of grace.* If someone is nice to me, if they’re willing to overlook one of my many bumblings, if they pray for me, and if they genuinely care … without any personal interest in doing so, then they’ve shown me grace.

I also like to give grace—being kind when the other person really doesn’t deserve it. Acting like a Christian. (I wrote a whole post about the biblical meaning of grace. You can access it here.)

Grace is a lovely thing. It’s a reflection of what Jesus did on the cross for us. He didn’t have to pay for our sin. He loved us, and because of that, He offered Himself. Grace is reflecting Christ. Grace is one of the most Christian things we can do.

But, I wonder if we sometimes extend too much grace. Let me explain what I mean with a few examples.**

Joey grew up in a Christian home and in church. He always had an attitude, and his parents despaired. Why was Joey so against everything they’d brought him up to believe? He was churlish and nasty. Before his eighteenth birthday, he moved out of the house and lived with some other guys. By twenty-one, he was out of work, doing drugs, and living in sin. All this time, his parents kept in contact and showed him love and care. They paid his part of the rent, kept his credit cards paid off, and gave him cash to live on. His parents gave Joey too much grace.

Francesca was in a bad marriage. She knew it before she eloped, but she couldn’t help herself. He was so handsome, and she was overwhelmed with love … or besotted with the idea of having him; she wasn’t sure which. Francesca let him talk her into a hasty, justice of the peace marriage—not the wedding she dreamed of—and he promised her a beautiful life. She knew he was lying, but she loved him. The abuse started on their “honeymoon.” She had no idea anyone could be capable of such cruelty. The words he said, the beatings …. Francesca didn’t tell a soul. She wanted to cover up for him, she wanted to hide her own bad choices. One day, he went too far, and Francesca ended up on the floor, bleeding to death. She gave her husband too much grace.

Mr. Johnson, the bookstore proprietor, often cheated Susie. She was certain of it. Every time she made a purchase, she’d get home, count the change, and come up short. It wasn’t a lot of money—a dollar here, fifty cents there. She figured Mr. Johnson knew how much he could cheat on each order so that it wouldn’t be missed. But, about the fourth time, Susie got wise. Being a Christian, she thought it would be best not to make waves. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to forgive and bear the hurt? She never confronted or reported Mr. Johnson, and Susie was sure he kept on stealing. She gave him too much grace.

Grace can enable, when it should strengthen by withholding.

Grace can suffer abuse, when the abuser should be reported.

Grace can cover theft and other sins, when those sins are crimes.

But, you might be thinking, doesn’t the Bible say:
  • If thy brother trespass against thee, forgive him? Yes. Look at the rest of the passage: Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him (Luke 17:3-4). Notice both rebuke and repentance.
  • Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ? Yes. And, three verses later, it says, For every man shall bear his own burden (Galatians 6:2, 5).

Read these verses that apply to the situations we mentioned earlier:
  • Joey is living for his own pleasures and desires. He has rejected his parents’ teachings, God’s directions and standard of morality. Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:29-30, 32). His parents clearly should not be paying his bills. This enables him to continue in his sinful lifestyle. He doesn’t even have to take responsibility for his personal finances. His parents should, though, remain in contact with him and assure him of their love.
  • Francesca’s husband beat her. He ignored the biblical teaching, Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil (1 Peter 3:7, 11-12). It is against the law for someone to physically and mentally abuse another. Francesca should have gone to the authorities the first time it happened. If it happened again, she should have left the home and reported him the second time. It might have saved her life.
  • Mr. Johnson is a thief. He ignores one of the Ten Commandments, which is repeated several times in the Bible. Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another (Leviticus 19:11). He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor (Proverbs 28:8). Susie should report him to the authorities. He should not be free to cheat people.

Should we extend grace and be kind? Yes, of course.

Should we be wise and discerning? Yes, that too.

Be ye kind and remember that this verse is also in the Bible: When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge (Ephesians 4:32, Proverbs 21:11).

Let’s be discerning and kind. Let’s extend both grace and justice. 

* For the biblical meaning of grace, I wrote a post you can access here.
** These are completely fictitious stories.