An Open Letter to Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace

Shane,

We’ve never met, but from what you said about yourself in Executing Grace, we come from a roughly similar background. You grew up in Tennessee, I grew up on the exurbs of Atlanta. We’re within a decade of the same age, and we were raised in similar conservative church backgrounds. We’ve both made something of ourselves that those in our hometowns may never have suspected us capable of back in those days.

I’m currently working on what I call a “2018TBR” project, where I set before myself a set list of books I wanted to read in 2018 – over 100 books in all, and I allowed for books to be added due to my Advance Reader Copy work with a few authors and publishers. Your book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It Is Killing Us, was on that list and I finished reading it today after having just started it yesterday. (Such is the norm for many of the books, and why yours was the 30th book I have read this year.)

Just so we are upfront with one another, despite agreeing with the premise of Executing Grace wholeheartedly and finding the stories you presented moving, the overall execution of the book was simply lacking. I won’t rehash what I’ve already put openly on Goodreads and Amazon, my normal places for reviewing books. Instead, I want to try to appeal to you personally.

You see, you had some very key flaws in Executing Grace, and I know you are working on a new book about gun violence. You no doubt want it to be persuasive enough to draw people to your side of the issue. But based on your execution of Executing Grace, I fear your own beliefs will fatally flaw this new text as well. You yourself said numerous times in the latter sections of Executing Grace that you were moved not by the facts and logic of repealing the death penalty – a case that can be made just as effectively as the case you presented – but by the emotional appeal of hearing peoples’ stories. So I have little doubt that this is the approach that you will take in this new endeavor. And when you do so, you will find no new converts to your side. Because those who oppose you will be able to tell just as many stories of people who used guns effectively to save their lives in various ways.

But another of your flaws was that you often referred to “societal” violence, when capital punishment is explicitly *State* violence. Indeed, when you cited Ephesians 6:12, you explicitly chose to cite the KJV’s “principalities and powers” translation rather than the NIV’s “rulers and authorities” translation. When you cited the Early Church leaders, even when they were not just decrying Rome’s capital punishment but indeed Rome itself, even while acknowledging that these leaders were antagonists to the State, you specifically state that they were against “societal” violence. No, sir. Well, not completely. They abhorred *all* violence – not just “societal”, but also that of the State – which is a key feature that you either glossed over or intentionally misled your readers about.

This is in no doubt because with your new book, you are going to do one thing those in the Early Church never did, at least not to my own education on the subject. You are going to appeal to your readers to get government to enact legislation banning that which you oppose. You are going to condone State violence – and make no mistake, there *will* be State violence if gun bans are enacted in the US – in order to further your goal of somehow reducing violence via State violence. And in all likelihood since you ignored police executing people in the street in your condemnation of the State executing people, you will proceed in your book against gun violence to ignore the fact that the State’s police are the single group of gun owners most likely to use their guns for violence against another person. Indeed, even in Executing Grace, you appealed to a complete end to violence – without ever truly discussing just how violent not we as a society have been, but just how violent government has been. You even mention apartheid and the Rwandan genocide without ever even alluding to the fact that these horrendous acts were condoned and even encouraged by their governments.

So I want you to do better in your next book. Because while I will absolutely never agree that government should dictate anything, I *would* like to see you build a case as to why a Christian should never have a gun in his or her hand. I *would* like to see you build a case for Christian nonviolence and even submission to violence to the point of death in your book against gun violence. Because you have made a career of preaching about how Christians should be counter-cultural, and I believe these points can be made in just that fashion. I am not quite there in my own beliefs – I already own three guns and would like to buy at least that many more – but I do believe the case can be made, and I believe you are one that can make the case persuasively.

And I believe that if you can make such a case, if you can show Christians how to be truly counter-cultural when it comes to guns, maybe you might be able to show us how to be an example for the rest of the nation to voluntarily lay down their own guns – both the State and its citizens.

And if you can do that, you will ultimately achieve your goal of a gun-less society. And you will have done it not via the force of the State, but by the Power of God.

Your brother in Christ,

Jeff

A Gold Mine

I finally finished reading David Murrow’s “Why Men Hate Going to Church (updated)”, after having put it down for a couple of months while I read other books and worked on other things.

The best I can say about this book is that it is a gold mine, in the truest sense of the term. You see, my wife watches Gold Rush on Discovery Channel, so I wind up watching quite a bit of it with her. On that show, various crews move around literally TONS of earth, searching for a few specks of gold. That is EXACTLY what you will be doing reading this book – searching through tons of detritus (to put it gently) for the occasional HINT of something worth noting.

To say I was disappointed in this book would be a statement in contention for understatement of the year, at least. Upon seeing the title and even a couple of the other BookSneeze reviews, I actually requested BookSneeze make this available in eBook format, which is how I read all my books now. I was hoping for something as mind blowing and concrete as Shaunti Feldhan’s seminal work, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. Instead, the “research” in this book at one point literally consisted of the author standing outside an Alaska sporting goods store and asking 97 men what they thought was masculine or feminine about church.

And that is the most glaring flaw of this book – little to no actual research to base the author’s claims on. Instead, he draws on what he personally sees and how he personally feels. Which is fine, if the title would have been “Why Me and My Friends Hate Going to Church”. But in purporting to talk about a genuinely real crisis, the author falls flat on his face due to so little research on the topic. Add to this the guy’s blatant homophobia and misogyny – he dislikes any song that mentions a love of Jesus, because it sounds too gay – and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster. Indeed, one of the reasons I put the book down for a couple of months was because of the sheer number of times I was almost ready to destroy my Kindle just to get this book away from me. But I agreed to participate in the BookSneeze program (a truly great program, btw), and I didn’t want to review the book without completing it, so here I sit, having now done so.

Overall, I’d give this book 0.5 stars out of 5. It has enough good in it that if you’re DESPERATE for something to read and can get your hands on a free copy, I’d say it is better than nothing – but not by much. Had I paid for the book, I’d be demanding my money back.

And now, the disclaimer:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. (Clearly!) The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do you love God? America? the Constitution? Liberty? Any of the Above?

I just finished reading Judge Andrew Napolitano’s It is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom, and the Insta-Review is simple: If you claim to love the Constitution, If you claim to love Liberty, If you claim to love America, If you claim to love God, if even a single one of the previous fits you, READ THIS BOOK!

Even as a former Libertarian Party official and founder of my own somewhat influential libertarian leaning political blog, I was not overly aware of the Judge’s positions prior to reading this book, even though his work is frequently cited among my political allies and genuine personal friends. The reason is simple: I detest talk radio and TV pundits with a passion – I don’t watch ANY of them, not even ones I would agree with, as it seems I would with the Judge.

In this book, the Judge starts by explaining what the concept of “Natural Rights” and the “Natural Law” are. Quite simply, they are the innate rights we all share as individual humans, whether you believe – as the Judge explains – that these rights came from our Creator or simply because we are human.

From that foundation, the Judge proceeds to tackle a wide range of issues, from cause celebres of the right (immigration, abortion, gun rights, etc) to cause celebres of the left (unions, free speech, privacy, etc), and a whole lot of stuff in between. In each case, he explains what the relevant Natural Law is and how government in the United States actively infringes upon that Law. In other words, this is a book that is bound to have some chapters that will piss off dang near everyone in the country, other than those of us with a pre-existing commitment to Liberty, pure and simple. (You can typically, though not exclusively, find us in the Libertarian Party.)

And because of this, it is a book that every single American needs to read.

Quite simply, the Judge makes the case for freedom in some ways I’ve previously discussed within my own activism, but also ways I had never thought of before, such as when he presents the case for immigration as a property rights issue or when he quotes the man I personally recruited into political blogging at my former website, Tom Knighton (now of Laws-N-Saugages.com), regarding prostitution and the idea that ALL men pay for sex somehow, someway – whether it be cash or a wedding ring. (BTW: Here is the link to the actual United Liberty – a site ran by another good friend of mine, Jason Pyepost that the Judge quotes.)

I’ll add in just a couple of quotes from the book that I sent out via my Kindle, and I’ll close:

Drugs and victimless crime:

A prime example of a victimless crime is the private consumption of alcohol, or any drug for that matter. These substances surely affect one’s person, but in what way are they invading or assaulting another’s body, rights, or property? One might argue that they lead to dangerous behavior when one is in an altered state, but until a person whose judgment is impaired actually invades or assaults another’s body, rights, or property, he should not be punished, and the act of consumption itself should be free from regulation as an application of the right to do to one’s body as one chooses

Guns on school property:

The lack of media coverage on the advantages of guns on campus feeds into the ignorance of Americans with regard to firearms in government-owned schools. Just fifteen years ago, many states allowed concealed-handgun permit holders to carry guns on school property, and there were no major incidents.

Minimum Wage and Illegal Immigration:

Alternatively, if the minimum wage were eliminated, the opposite effect would occur; employers would pay people who live here legally fair market value—not the government-mandated amount—for the work they do. And as a result, immigrants would be less inclined to move here for fear of not finding work.

Prostitution, aka “Austin 3:16 writ large”:

I can rent my body to the owner of a coal mine for thirty years, who will use my work to strip the earth of natural resources, but a woman cannot rent her body to the same coal mine owner for a few hours of private time? Why? Because the government says so, that’s why.

In conclusion, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. I don’t care what your political beliefs are, this book WILL challenge them. (For example: I tend to be skeptical of many of my friends claims about the Fed and more specifically, “sound money”, but the Judge makes a compelling case for that as well.)

And I leave you with two final quotes from the Judge:

Do we have a two-party system in America today? I think not. We have one Big Government Party. It has a Republican wing that prefers war, deficits, assaults on civil liberties, and corporate welfare; and a Democratic wing that prefers war, taxes, assaults on commercial liberties, and individual welfare. Neither wing is devoted to the Constitution, and members of both wings openly mock it.

No longer shall Americans sit idly by at home and accept the status quo while injustice surrounds us. It is time to start peacefully fighting the injustice that takes place in our state legislatures as well as in Washington, D.C.

Ironic considering the nature of this book, but here’s the required legal disclaimer:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

BookSneeze Review: With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani

Skye Jethani’s With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God was my first book through the BookSneeze review program, and I’m honestly glad I found the program and this book on it. You see, this is one of the more mind blowing books I’ve ever read – which is saying something, considering I’ve read books such as Ted Dekker’s Circle Series and most books Bill Myers has put out.

If you want to quit reading this review now, I’ll leave you with this: READ THIS BOOK. You will NOT regret it.

Some details:

Mr. Jethani – an editor of a leading Christian magazine – uses the first half of the book to talk about the four basic ways most of us relate to God:

Life UNDER God is basically what I call “Talibaptists”, though Mr. Jethani never gets CLOSE to using that word. These people believe that we must live life strictly by the Bible and that if we don’t, we’re doomed.

Life OVER God essentially uses the Bible as a divine “how to” manual, nothing more, nothing less. These are the people that keep the “self help” authors in business.

Life FROM God sees God as a divine bank account that can never run out. This is the consumer culture variant of Christianity.

Life FOR God sees life as a mission. These people will go to Outer Mongolia at the drop of a hat – and still miss the point.

In each of the first four chapters, Mr. Jethani delves into each of these first four ways of relating to God, and shows both their strengths (yes, they have them), and their critical weaknesses.

In the remainder of the book, Mr. Jethani describes a life WITH God, what it looks like, and why it is the epitome of a Biblical understanding of our relationship to God. While I’ve tweeted a lot of amazing quotes from this book, you’ll just have to read it to see them for yourself, as well as the remaining treasure trove I simply couldn’t tweet out for many reasons.

In my Kindle edition, the appendices began at roughly 80% or so, and included both a discussion on some “how to pray” techniques as well as a brief discussion guide for the book. Overall, the only weakness that I saw – though it was a bit glaring – was that when I hit the appendices, I was still looking for a more succinct summation chapter than the one we got.

Overall, a VERY strong book, and I would give it a 5/5 without any hesitation at all.

Now time for some legalese:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

In Store Promos for Jeremy Robinson’s INSTINCT

One of my favorite authors, Jeremy Robinson, has a contest going right now for a signed hardcover of his new book due out next month, THRESHOLD, or even just a non-signed hardcover. I have a couple of his self-published paperbacks (ANTARKTOS RISING and DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY), which is pretty cool – those were the first two books of his I ever owned.

The contest is simple: Take a pic instore of INSTINCT’s latest incarnation as a mass market paperback to be entered into a drawing for a signed advanced reader copy of the next Chess Team book due out in March, THRESHOLD.

Note that beside my elbow is the other copy the store had, on the center aisle display after I moved it there from being hidden in general fiction.

The other way to enter the contest, and get a free copy of THRESHOLD, was to shoot a video of telling someone about INSTINCT and Jeremy Robinson.

Here’s my in store video, as shot from my Black Berry Bold2:

For those who don’t have an e-reader and therefore can’t get some of Robinson’s titles such as THE LAST HUNTER: DESCENT or THE ZOMBIE’s WAY (as Ike Onsoomyu) or his friend Jeremy Bishop’s TORMENT, the INSTINCT mass market paperback is an excellent introduction to an amazing author. Go pick it up!