Brandon's Notepad

March 27, 2015

Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation

Filed under: Book Reviews,Christianity — Brandon @ 4:30 pm
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Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation
This is a short review of Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation, written by Barbara A Somervill.

This is a very good biography and primer on Martin Luther. It is written for young readers, probably those of middle school age.

The book covers Luther’s early years, his formative time as a monk, and all of the major events that defined him as a Reformer. It is a quick read and very easy to understand.
There are, however, implicit anti-Catholic undertones throughout the book. For example, in describing the holy Roman empire of Luther’s youth, the land now known as Germany, the author says this:

“in the midst of personal storms, the Catholic Church offered hope. But religion also brought with it fear and dread. People commonly believed in the devil, evil spirits, and witches. […] People also feared God, whom they believed to be stern and judgmental. They dreaded the punishment they thought they deserved for their sins. The Catholic Church taught that penance, or acts that proved people were sorry for their sins, would release them from God’s eternal punishment. As a result they performed many virtuous deeds.” Pages 19-20

This excerpt makes a number of statements without actually explicitly stating any one of them. First it notes that the Catholic Church offered hope in desperate times, but the reader gets the impression that it is a false hope. It also claims that people believed in the existence of the devil and evil spirits as if this is no longer the case (when, in fact, most Christians still do believe in such things). It makes it sound as though people would be better off without religion altogether. The most direct statement regarding the church is also full of misinformation. It states that penance would deliver people from eternal punishment. I cannot verify that people at the time did or did not believe this, but this is obviously untrue. Jesus secured for us internal salvation and while we must reconcile ourselves with God, penance only helps to alleviate temporal punishment, not eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is for the unrepentant. Here is another example:

“Among Catholics, it was customary to baptize babies as soon as possible. Six out of 10 children died as infants at the time, so parents promptly fulfilled this religious practice. They believed that this and would secure their babies places in heaven.”

This statement treats baptism as an ordinance and not the reception of the one being baptized into the household of God. This sounds a lot like something my Baptist or Bible Church friends would say, because even traditional Protestants, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, practice infant baptism and believe that it holds Sacramental value.

So, while the book may be historically accurate, it seems to be somewhat biased theologically. I cannot recommend it for Catholic children without some explanation from an informed adult.

May 27, 2014

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

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The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
This is a short review of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, written by David Remnick, narrated by Mark Deakins.

The Bridge is a thorough examination of the early life and career of President Obama. It is a story of a man raised in culturally diverse Hawaii who has a deep desire to help the oppressed, but who must first learn how to identify with those he strives to serve by redefining himself. Metaphorically referring to Obama as a bridge, the image is used in varied and sometimes-subtle ways. For example, as part of the Joshua Generation he connects the old ways of the Moses Generation (the Civil Rights Movement) to the Promised Land (a new future of real freedom in America). As such, he acts like a bridge over the waters of the River Jordan. Also, early in the book, the conflict at the Edmund Pettus Bridge is recounted, the crossing of which is finally upon us with the election of the first United States President who happens to also be black (you’re welcome, Gen. Powell).

While I cannot say that it is an unbiased work, I do believe that the author remained fairly objective and faithful to his sources. [Of course, as with any piece on history, the degree to which it accurately represents the absolute truth in all matters may never be known.] It certainly paints a rosy portrait of Obama, which actually fits my needs well. It built upon what I had already learned about his ancestry and my basic knowledge of his candidacy and tenure, and it will provide a good mental backdrop for when I read the more critical assessments written by his opponents. Also, many details that previously drew my attention only as news bites were adequately connected and explained by the narrative.

As usual, I listened to the audiobook version. The narration by Mark Deakins is excellent. He varies his voice when reading quotes and has a distinct sound when quoting Obama himself, making it very easy to visualize the text and prevent the user from getting lost in a sea of words.

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