Persuasion (Jane Austen) — Regular readers of this blog know that my wife loves all things Jane Austen (she consumes Austen books and film adaptations like Garfield devours a plate of lasagna). Years ago—perhaps as part of our wedding vows—I promised that I would read some Austen books, but it wasn’t until this past Christmas break that I finally fulfilled this vow, beginning with one of Austen’s most mature works, Persuasion. The book is a powerful study in human virtue and vice, restraint and indulgence, as we follow the relationship of one Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. After a broken engagement, the captain returns from his service in the Napoleonic wars to find that love’s flame still burns. This time will their mutual affection culminate in marital bliss? Read the book and find out. But don’t take as long as I did to do so.
Misquoting Truth (Timothy Paul Jones) — This is one of many recent books that address biblical-historical skepticism, specifically the work of Bart Ehrman. The book’s title is a play on Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, the thesis of which is that the Gospel manuscripts are error-ridden and therefore untrustworthy for telling us what Jesus really said and did. Jones explains how “the inspired truth of Scripture does not depend up word-for-word agreement between all the biblical manuscripts” (31). He puts the manuscript textual variants (of which there are some 400,000) in proper perspective. For one thing, more than 99% of these discrepancies are utterly insignificant as far as meaning is concerned (since they pertain to spelling, word order, noun-article relationships, etc.). Second, the many variants result from the fact that there are about 6,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament. (This averages out to about 70 variants per manuscript—again, nearly all of which are insignificant.) And, third, there are no variants that have implications for creedal beliefs, whether about Jesus Christ or other essential doctrines. As I read, it occurred to me that New Testament textual history is, in a sense, a victim of its own success. The number of textual variants is as high as it is only because there is such an enormous number of early manuscript copies. Sadly, critics like Ehrman emphasize the former without recognizing the positive implications of the latter (the number of manuscript copies is a crucial factor in evaluating the historicity of ancient historical documents, and the N.T. excels in this category). Jones’s book helps us to put all of this into proper perspective.
90 Minutes in Heaven (Don Piper) — This book made quite a popular splash a few years ago, which actually prompted me to ignore it. But when I was able to pick it up for just a dollar at a used bookstore recently, I bought it and breezed through it. It’s a gripping and inspiring read, for sure. Piper recounts how he had a head-on collision with a large truck that killed him instantly. After being pronounced dead by EMTs, Piper’s body lay in the car for over an hour, until a minister arrived on the scene and began to pray for him. Miraculously, Piper revived and later recounted a fascinating near-death experience marked by “unimaginable joy, excitement, warmth, and total happiness” (24). Piper notes how he was greeted by old friends and family members, who comprised a sort of “celestial welcoming committee,” all of whom appeared young an vibrant (22). He also describes being overwhelmed by the glorious beauty of the scenery and music, including colors and musical tones that he’d never experienced before. While the book does feature fascinating descriptions of his heavenly experience, it mostly concerns Piper’s slow, agonizing recovery from his physical injuries, which included significant bone loss and required an excruciating bone-growth treatment. Piper’s story is inspiring at least as much because of his perseverance through suffering as it is because of his experience of heaven.