Book Reviews

Ruth Alkema has contributed these three book reviews – all three are highly recommended reading!

Confessions

By Saint Augustine

Wow! What a wonderful book was this! I am so glad that I read it!

Everything that I had heard about Augustine was proven false. I really love this man, he is so open and sensitive and honest, and very intelligent and broad minded!

For a long time I had wanted to read this book, but not really felt up to it, since I thought it would be very difficult and perhaps even depressing. Therefore I first listened to the great introductory course St. Augustine’s Confessions, which was very interesting in itself, provided lots of useful background information, and was a really good appetizer to read the actual book itself!

To my surprise it is not difficult or downcast at all. He is just so very open about his thoughts and feelings and how he came to be a Christian. I found his struggles very recognizable, even though they were written so very long ago. The word ‘confession’ makes me think of self accusation, but Augustine is different. To him it is just an honest reflection on all his inner motives, both good and bad. I find it very comforting that such an exemplary Christian can write with confidence that quite a few of his inner motives were sincere and praiseworthy.

The famous chapter of his conversion was most moving. He describes his inner turmoil so vividly, and realistically! How you can want something and not want it at the same time. All the time knowing that he did want to make a profound choice for God, but feeling himself bound by old habits and unable to break free by himself. Then after that famous scene comes book IX where he describes his newfound joy in the church and in reading scripture with new eyes. His relief at finally feeling free and having experienced God’s grace is so palpable, it shines from the pages.

The autobiographical part is in the first 9 books. Then book 10-13 are of a more philosophical nature. These are most stunning too. I think they really show how much better we can see and understand ourselves and the world and the whole of creation, if we see it in God’s light. He has some wonderful descriptions of our mind, and memory, of time and matter (very modern ideas, really, comes close to general relativity). Also the way he explains the creation story in Genesis is very wonderful to read. I am amazed at how confidently he states that God explained some of these things to him. I think it is a wonderful testimony about how God answers to those who really honestly seek him.

 

The Power and the Glory

By Graham Greene

In a poor, steamy and barren Mexican state, the Red Shirts have gained control, outlawed God, and murdered priests. But one still lives, the whisky priest, who has an illegitimate daughter and believes he has lost his soul.

Now he is on the move, trying to escape his executioners. As he tramps anonymously through the glowing white streets of baking villages and tortuous mountain trails – which lead not to heaven – it is a long time before he is able to stop running and find God.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Andrew Sachs. I really enjoyed listening to this story, Andrew Sachs narrated in such a way that I could easily imagine the scenes. Really good how he had different voices for each person, especially the voice of the main character, the priest, and another character: the half-caste.
The tone of the voices fitted the characters very well. It made me feel as if I were traveling in Mexico, getting to know that world a little better.

The story made me think. It shows really well how good intentions can be lead to bad results and vice versa. For example: precisely because the priest believes he is in state of mortal sin, he can feel love and compassion for everyone he meets (except for himself, it seems, that is really sad). So it seems that it was a good thing that he failed. Some other characters in the book that try to do good, end up oppressing people. All this really makes me wonder. When you try to do good, it might very well be that you are proud. Is it then better not to try? Be more relaxed, so you can feel more love and connection with other people? What do I believe about sins, forgiveness, charity? Can you ever feel sure of God’s forgiveness without becoming complacent? Or is it somehow a good thing to be as anxious as this priest?

I think I will be pondering the themes of this book for quite a while.

But the most impressive theme is the hope that shines from the book. Even though there is so much poverty and failure, we see that precisely there, hope breaks through.

 

Simply good news

By N.T. Wright

I read this book with a bible study group in the Jeruzalemkerk. Even though most of  us found the writing style really tedious, lots of repetitions, we still had a very lively discussion afterwards. He writes by giving loads of examples, all explaining another aspect of his point, but it is difficult to detect what the point is. What helped was that we had made summaries for each chapter, so that we could more easily see the structure.

There is also an interesting lecture by N.T. Wright on this theme on YouTube: https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=-phmahd_N48

But the main message is very interesting. The theme of this book is, that Christians have a tendency to take one aspect of the gospel, and focus exclusively on that as being the entire good news. And through that, they actually lose the news itself and turn it into advice or a religious system.

I really agree with him, and for me this book comes at a time when I am beginning to see how limited my own views have been, and I found it very liberating and encouraging to be reminded that real healing and transfor- mation is possible already now, however sporadically, knowing that we are still waiting for God’s future when God will be all in all.

The last chapter was totally different in style and a great exception to what I said above. This was a very structured explanation about how most people seem to grow spirit- ually. He used the Lord’s prayer to illustrate how we often come to God in the reverse order. I thought it was really funny and recognizable and encouraging. It changed the way I pray the Lord’s prayer now. This really put it all together.