Learning (Baxter #20)

Learning (Bailey Flanigan, #2)Learning by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bailey is in New York, living out her dreams of acting and dancing on the Broadway stage. She is also growing closer to actor Brandon Paul. However, she still finds her thoughts often consumed with Cody Coleman and longs for some way to make this broken relationship whole.

Cody is coaching a high school football team, and trying to knit them together off the field. He is also helping a dear friend to recover from a near-fatal car accident. As he grows closer to Chey, will he let go of his feelings for Bailey? Or those feelings cause him to reconcile with her?

This is actually a much better book than the first book in the Bailey Flanigan series. Maybe Bailey’s finally starting to grow on me. I’m enjoying the supporting characters, and I’m really enjoying Cody’s storyline. This is a book I really liked.

Here’s my take on each of the point of view characters. As always, this comes with a **SPOILER WARNING***

Cody: He is head coach of the high school football team now. His takes his struggles from his youth and is able to use them to help the young players have better lives. He’s really making a difference for the young men on his team. He is also deep into a friendship with Cheyenne, and this friendship is starting to get romantic. He still thinks of Bailey, but the love that he has with Cheyenne is different from the love he had with Bailey, and it’s an awesome difference. I look forward to each scene that he’s in, and he is probably my favorite character in this series.

Bailey: Bailey is struggling to adjust to Broadway. She isn’t quite to par with the other dancers in skill, and she doesn’t fit in well with them personally. She feels God telling her to reach out to the other dancers and love them and tell them about him, but it takes the death of a dancer she has developed a closeness with to truly push her into following God’s voice in her new job. She is also getting closer and closer to actor, Brandon Paul, and enjoying all her adventures with him. By the end of the book, she has realized that she is in love with Brandon, and they are officially an item. Her scenes with Brandon always have a surreal feel to them as he is the perfect and most romantic boyfriend that I’ve ever seen in life or in writing.

Ashley: Ashley is struggling with her husband’s new lung disease. It isn’t the fatal disease, but it’s still serious, and her husband is mourning the loss of his career as a fireman. She’s having difficulty understanding and being the supportive wife that she knows she is called to be, but she’s doing her best.

Jenny: Jenny is in the book to provide a picture of her loving her sons and loving Cody when Cody stops by for a visit. She is warm and generous and loves Cody as much as her own children. She’s the mother I aspire to be (but fail to be most of the time).

Cheyenne: Cheyenne is recovering from an awful car accident. She is relearning how to walk and is developing a deepening relationship with Cody. Her point-of-view scenes show her still missing her fiancee who had died, and her questioning if it is okay to love Cody differently from Art. I think it’s great that Cody and Cheyenne are both so emotionally wounded, and I feel like they make a great pairing.

Brandon: His point of view is included to show how he’s doing on the movie set as far as his commitment to God goes. We also get to see his joy in planning a special day for Bailey and his desire for the two of them to be serious and to grow old together.

Even though there’s two more books left, I hope there’s not a lot of Bailey/Cody drama to go because I like them in their different lives and I like the lives that they’ve made for themselves. I would hate to see them cause their current partners agony by destroying that for a relationship that never really got off the ground between them. I just have to get that out there.

However, there’s still too much emotional distance between the two of them for there to be a happy ending right now for either of them. I would love to see a reconciliation of their friendship and a forgiveness of both themselves and each other. I would love to see Cody be able to continue to be a part of the Flanigan family. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but there’s a lot of emotions for Cody and Bailey to both work through to get to that place in their relationship.

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Deconstructing Calvinism

Deconstructing CalvinismDeconstructing Calvinism by Hutson Smelley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no denying the current tidal upswing in modern evangelicalism is the rise of the Reformed movement. Since a big part of those who follow the five solas also cling to Calvinistic philosophy and doctrine as a part of their worldview and faith, it is worth the time to invest for all Christians (whether Arminian, Calvinist or otherwise) to learn how to spot doctrines that may be true or false when held in light of the scripture. Some doctrines are true and from God. Other doctrines are not.

Hutson Smelley takes a great deal of time and thought to examine Biblical underpinnings of TULIP because no matter what doctrine is right, the doctrine that we should follow should always be Biblical. All Christians can agree with that. He also aims to show whether or not the theology of TULIP is logical. Since the subtitle of this book is “A Biblical Analysis and Refutation,” I’m sure everyone can guess the direction Smelley’s going in. As an attorney, he labels this book as putting Calvinism on trial, and Smelley’s role is that of prosecuting attorney.

The end result of Smelley’s examination is mixed. There are many excellent things about this book, and a few glaring weaknesses that cause me to put this book in the “liked it, but didn’t love it pile” as a reader. Before I go on into actually talking about the book, I wanted to mention the star rating since it’s always the first thing that a reader of reviews sees. This is one of the rare books that I wish I could give half stars to because I consider it to be a 3-1/2 star book.

Smelley begins his book by appealing to logic and telling how important logic is to the pursuit of doctrine. He also sets himself up as a lawyer to be a purveyor of logic. I actually disagree with his entire first chapter, and found him to be an arrogant narrator, which made me very surprised later when I found myself actually appreciating and enjoying much of what he had written.

After discussing logic, his credentials, etc. Smelley then spins off into a chapter on God’s foreknowledge and whether or not foreknowledge can be equated with foreordination. This is possibly the weakest chapter in the book. While I understand the argument that Smelley is making, he really does not make a strong case for not equating the two.

Smelley spends the rest of the book discussing TULIP. In each chapter he takes one piece of the TULIP worldview (ex. Total depravity) and spends the chapter deconstructing it. Each of these chapters has a similar format. Smelley first describes the Calvinist doctrine, using quotes from the books of selected modern Calvinists, and describes what Calvinists believe. He then examines the Biblical prooftexts that Calvinist use on each topic and shows how Calvinists have defined terms and taken verses out of context to suit their philosophies. Finally, Smelley gives a way forward, changing the TULIP acronym to NULIF (New Life) as he goes along.

Smelley shines at Biblical exegesis. His treatment of the Biblical texts is strong and persuasive. I feel like I finally have a firm Biblical answer for why not total depravity and for why not irresistible grace that I did not have before I read this book. His ongoing discussions of John 6 and Matthew 11 have truly enriched my understanding and helped me see those scriptures in a correct light that I did not have before. I am very appreciative of that and grateful, especially for the discussion of “draw” in John 6. That’s always been a tricky bit of scripture of me, and Smelley really helped me to clarify it.

I was not as crazy about the lengthy quotes of specified Calvinists to describe various doctrines. I hate when people pull quotes out of other people’s works just to prove a point. I felt like he was doing exactly what he said that Calvinists did to the Bible. While I have read R.C. Sproul’s “What is Reformed Theology?,” I felt like I had more reading to do because I felt guilty that I was just reading these continual snippets pulled from other people’s work. I also noticed that Smelley tended to use more strong or extreme Calvinists to form his basis for each petal of TULIP, and I would have, as someone who is a strong researcher, liked to have seen some more moderate and mild Calvinists included Smelley’s discussion.

All in all, the Biblical exegesis was excellent and well thought out in this book. It goes a long way towards pointing towards the deficiencies of Calvinism and could be very helpful to someone who is preparing to discuss Calvinists proof-texts with someone who does believe in the theology of TULIP. However, I was less than impressed with his examination of and characterization of Calvinist doctrine. He did his job as a prosecuting attorney, but I would have preferred to have a bigger picture of both historicity of the theology and the actual doctrines. However, as many readers know, thousands and thousands of pages have been written in this discussion, and what I was looking for in a book was something beyond the Smelley’s purpose for his book.

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Sunday Sharing

Welcome to Sunday sharing! Here’s where I share my favorite articles, quotes and videos that I have encountered this week!

First up this week is a post I discovered while researching 2 Corinthians 3 called Leadership in the Church is Measured by Life Change. I don’t think I’ve ever thought so starkly about how the Corinthians were once pagans and had been brought to Christ by Paul, and then they looked down on the very one who brought them Jesus. Lord, please save me from that kind of thinking!

As a parent, one of the most important things for me is whether or not I’m passing on my faith to my children. So, I’ve read several articles recently relating to Bart Camp0lo’s Departure from Christianity.  I really appreciated this one because it helped me to formulate some lessons I can learn, as a parent and teacher from his deconversion.

I finally read John Piper’s How to Live Under an Unqualified President this week.  It’s great advice for how to live under any leader.

I also have been looking for a little parenting advice because I feel like I have one child that I’ve tended to unintentionally discourage instead of encouraging, so I read Tim Challies Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children! as a place to gain some helpful advice.

Sometimes I feel intense guilt that I’m not doing more with my life. I’m not writing the best-selling novel or theology book. I haven’t sold all and gave it to missions. I just live a quiet life, love my family, teach my children and my Bible study students and try to glorify God through what I do. So, the article What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life? really struck a chord with me.

This week I’ve been John Barry’s Cutting Ties With Darkness. I found this quote on self-promotation that was really important to me:

Whenever we seek to promote ourselves instead of Jesus, we lose sight of God’s intended purposes. If our work, or anything in life for that matter, becomes about us instead of God, we are drifting away from the realm of Christ. We are mere servants of God, bearing his image through the power of Jesus–nothing more, nothing less. God wishes to shine in our lives, so that the world may be transformed into beauty, so that sin and darkness may be pushed away as God takes over.

Love the perspective in the article In a Country Where Abortion is Illegal. I think we’re so close to “the abortion issue” that we fail to be horrified by the loss of life. Another great article to make you think about abortion is For the Church’s What if You Aborted a Future Janitor?

I struggle with my speech so Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity was a timely and helpful read.  I took lots of notes!

Lately, as I’ve watched movies, I feel as if all the strong male fighters and characters have been completely taken over by these beautiful women. I don’t get the trend, and I was tickled to come across the article Why We Should Jettison the “Strong Female Character.” It’s a beautiful expression of what is wrong with making women act like men when they simply aren’t men.

So, that’s about it for this week. As you can tell, I have been reading quite a lot, and I hope you find a couple of great additions to your reading list!

Leaving (Baxter #19)

Leaving (Bailey Flanigan, #1)Leaving by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After including Bailey Flanagan and Cody Coleman as point-of-view characters for around eight to ten books, Bailey and Cody are finally getting their own book series. This book opens with Bailey and Cody in different worlds. They have parted, not of Bailey’s choosing, and are in completely different places. Will they find their way back together? Will they move on? What will happen in their lives in the meantime?

Only the author knows the answers to these questions at this point in the series, and she’s withholding them at this point. The characters spend the entire book living separate lives and separated, just as they spent most of Take Four. So, if this series is supposed to be about them, it is off to an incredibly slow start.

Also, some of the things that I’ve found charming about the Baxter books are not a part of this series so far, and I felt like the book crawled. It took me a very long time to make it through, and if I weren’t so committed to the series at this point, I would have probably laid this book aside about halfway in.

The continuity errors between Take Four and Leaving were another thing that drove me crazy. As a small example, Ashley’s mom is said to have died 4 years earlier. Ashely and Landon’s son Devin is 5 years old, and Ashley’s mom died within days of Ashley and Landon’s wedding. I hate when the author starts getting the facts of their characters mixed up in their own heads, and I especially hate when that happens and it isn’t caught in editing. . . .And that’s just the beginning of the continuity errors. Many things between Bailey and Cody, and even Cody’s job are portrayed completely differently between Take Four and Leaving. I really hate those errors more than I can even explain.

Another thing I missed were the multiple perspectives. This book is split between five characters and and I missed having additional voices. For example, Brandon Paul was a lead supporting character in this book, and he has had point-of-view chapters in previous books, but he does not have a single point-of-view sentence in this book. I would have also liked point-of-view chapters from Cheyenne, Tara, Cole, Jim and any of the other main characters in this book. I did not enjoy spending such huge blocks of this book in Bailey and Cody’s head.

Having said all that, here are my takes on each of the main point-of-view characters. There will probably be spoilers in this section, so read at your own risk:

Bailey: Bailey is, as usual, a mess. She’s got shifting feeling for Cody and for Brandon, and even mentally explores Matt a little bit before finding out he’s not available. She doesn’t know what she wants! She also auditions, and ultimately wins a part on Hairspray in Broadway, fulfilling her dreams (at the ripe old age of 21), and necessitating a move to New York at the end of the book. She cleans out her room, promotes a movie with Brandon Paul, appears on The Tonight Show, and generally drifts through her life one text message and thought of Cody at a time. Her scenes with Brandon are the highlight of this book, and I enjoyed them, but would have loved to have seen some from Brandon’s point-of-view.

Cody: Still obsessed with Bailey even though he’s completely changed his life so that he never has to interact with her again. He begins the book as an assistant coach with a small high school football team, and by the end of the book he is head coach of the school. He’s found a new mentor in Tara and is making moves to begin a relationship with Cheyenne. Their friendship is deepening, but there’s still an obstacle in the way of them truly establishing a relationship, and that obstacle is his continued feelings for Bailey. He also is dealing with difficult flashbacks to his time in Iraq. Just like Bailey, he’s a mess. I have a hard time liking him because of his emotional cowardice and because of the way that he isolates himself, but I did really like his scenes with Cheyenne and his coaching scenes in this book. I hope to see more excellent scenes from him in the next book.

Ashley: Ashley’s back as a point of view character in this book. Because she’s in every book, I figure that she must be the author’s favorite Baxter. In this book, we see touching scenes of her as a mother, we see glimpses of the other Baxters and we see her concern over her husband’s decline in health. There are some trials for her to go through with her husband’s health, and they’re just being revealed in this book.

Jenny: From Jenny, we a mother’s perspective of seeing a child grow up and leave the next. The perspective is touching and beautiful, and wise for me as I’m still in the golden middle years of parenting.

Landon: He has a couple of perspective sections in the book. He has an almost-fatal asthma attack while fighting a fire. He is unconcerned with his health for his sake, but he doesn’t want to leave behind his beloved wife to suffer his loss. I hope to see an expansion of his perspective in the next book since he learns in this book that his lung situation will be fatal without a transplant. I always enjoy his perspective.

This was not as good as the average Baxter book, but I hope that it is a promising beginning for the rest of this series. (I might have given this one a 1 star rating if I weren’t emotionally invested in these characters.) Looking forward to reading the next one.

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I’m currently reading Hutson Smelley’s Deconstructing Calvinism, and I’ve already realized that I as I read through the book there are going to be pieces of the book that I want to interact with along the way. I can’t actually explain how I came to this book other than to say that I saw it in my Goodreads feed where someone else was reading it, and it stayed with me as a book that I wanted to read.

In this book, Smelley’s looking at many of the main parts of Calvinism, testing them for their actual logic and for their Biblical truth (or lack thereof) and suggesting a way forward. If I understand correctly, he is a former Calvinist, and as someone who has adhered to and ultimately rejected Calvinist principles, he is in a unique position to actually sit down and write a book on these topics.

The first thing that has really caught my eye in this book is his discussion of how the Bible “repeatedly emphasizes the ‘truth’ nature of its information above all competing claims.”

I can never think about the topic of truth without remembering the conversation between Pilate and Jesus in John 18:37-38.  These verses state:

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

“What is truth?” is  a common question of our time because, in the postmodern society that we live in, truth is often in the eye of the beholder, and there is no objective look at and push for truth. If you want to know how crazy the search for truth is in our society, all you have to do is to watch this video on how college kids discuss identity to realize how far our society has come from being able to even define the truth and to tell people the truth.

Yet, God’s word is full of truth.  Smelley references Psalm 25:5, 10 to remain us that we are supposed to walk in the truth. Then, he goes on to remind us:

Our God is called the “Lord God of truth” in Psalm 31:5. And in Psalm 33:4, we read that “all his works are done in truth.” God said in Psalm 51:6 to “desire truth in the inward parts” of man. Moreover, God’s “law is the truth” (Psalm 119:142), God’s “commandments are truth” (Psalm 119:151), and “his truth endureth to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

It is not a stretch to say that our God is a God of truth. In fact, in John 14:6:

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Truth is one of our big ideas about God. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines truth as:

Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be. The truth of history constitutes its whole value. We rely on the truth of the scriptural prophecies.

We are not speaking truth to people, and we are not doing our young people (or any people) a favor when we allow them to think that they can construct truth on their own. If their life philosophy is going to be that they can’t make an absolute statement or that there is not an absolute truth, how can they receive a Bible that is full of claims to be the absolute and only truth?

I do not think I realized until I started reading all the verses on truth that Smelley packs into his paragraph on the importance of the Bible as our ultimate truth how bankrupt our culture is on truth. I don’t think I realized that so many of our problems in our society today rest on a complete rejection of, not just God’s truth, but of the facts of science and history.  This is a very exciting snippet of the book for me, and one that I’ve been thinking on deeply as I’ve read it.

Once Upon a Frog (Whatever After #8)

Once Upon a Frog (Whatever After #8)Once Upon a Frog by Sarah Mlynowski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abby and Jonah have promised their parents that they wouldn’t play in the basement at night, but they have burning questions to ask Maryrose, their home’s magic mirror. So one night, they sneak into the basement, knock on the mirror and find themselves once again sucked into fairy tale land.

They seem to have found them selves in the story of The Frog Prince, with a talking frog for a companion and a mean princess who refuses to help change the frog back into a prince. But, appearances aren’t what they seem, and soon they find themselves questioning their first impressions of the land.

My children are very fond of these Whatever After books, and they are the kind of books that they would usually read independently. However, we started reading the Whatever After books long before any of my children were independent readers, so we still continue to read them together for fun.

Abby and Jonah’s continued deception of their parents irks me as a parent, but when they tried to come clean with their parents a few books ago, Maryrose removed their parents’ memories of their knowledge of fairy tale lands. They continue to trust Maryrose and see her as a good guy, and I suppose from the evidence of the books that she is. However, because of the prevalence of “bad guys” in the world, I do not like the idea of someone (even a magic mirror) making sure that Abby and Jonah conceal their actions from their parents.

Beyond that, these stories are silly and harmless enough. Jonah and Abby always mess up the fairy tale, and they always have to figure out how to reach a happy ending before they can come home. They usually find that the happy ending that they reach is not the traditional storybook ending, but everyone ends up happy anyway.

Even better, Abby usually finds some sort of life lesson in the fairy tale to help her in real life. In this book, the message is one of the pain that is often behind the actions of a bully. It’s not a deep lesson, but I think it is one that many children can relate to.

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Take Four (Baxter #18)

Take Four (Above the Line, #4)Take Four by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andi Ellison is nineteen and pregnant. She’s committed to giving up her baby for adoption, but the myriad of emotions that she experiences during pregnancy makes her begin to wonder if she’s doing the right thing. Will she continue with adoption or will she decide that it’s time for her to be a mother?

Everything seems to be going Bailey Flanagan’s way. She has a big audition and a promising beginning to a real relationship with Cody Coleman. Will she find all her dreams come true or will all her hopes be dashed?

This is a book that truly played on my emotions. There were so many good emotional payoffs in this book. This has been a difficult series to read because of all the things that happen that just left me feeling brokenhearted and disappointed. This book kept me in the broken hearted camp, but allowed me to get some closure and happiness from what has gone on in these stories. I truly loved many of the things that happened and how they were resolved, so this was an excellent book to me.

I will go through each point-of-view character briefly. Don’t forget that there will be spoilers ahead, so read at our own risk.

Bailey: Bailey actually starts this book off with a little disappointment. Her Broadway audition doesn’t go quite the way that she hopes, but at the same time, a door opens for her to get the lead part in a major Hollywood movie. That’s kind of a great second opportunity. She attempts to start a relationship with Cody Coleman, only to find that he distances himself from her, leading to her broken heart. She does have a life beyond Cody though and great things are happening for her in that part of her life. I can’t wait to see more of her in the next book series, so I’ve completely changed my view on this character over the past couple of books.

Keith: Keith is in a dual position. He is experiencing success as a producer and is very up from that, but his daughter’s pregnancy is devastating for him. He is especially devastated that Andi is giving the baby up for adoption because he longs to love his grandson. Yet, as always, he handles everything remarkably. He’s this series’ John Baxter. Even when he has emotional turmoil, he is centered and puts God first.

Cody: Cody Coleman is continuing to coach football with great success. He’s found his calling and it’s an excellent thing for him! He starts a relationship with Bailey Flanagan, only to find himself distancing himself from Bailey and breaking up with Bailey after his mother is put back in jail for dealing drugs. He still loves Bailey, but his life is so crazy that he feels that he can’t even ask her to be a part of it. After all, she has a lot going on and her life is really picking up. He breaks up with her because he loves her. I’m not positive that’s what he should do, but I really feel bad for him.

Andi: She’s pregnant and exhausted. She continues with school and leans on the support of her parents. She loves her unborn son, and briefly considers keeping him, but realizes that he is not meant for her to raise. It’s really upsetting for me, as a mother to read her son’s birth and all the emotions that go through her head as she prepares to say good-bye to him forever. I’m still upset as I sit and write about this book, and yet, they are some of the most beautiful scenes in the book. I’m glad to have gotten to hear her perspective.

Brandon: Brandon is the delightful surprise for me in this book. He’s determined not to be touched by Jesus and even parties and around in rebellion against the idea that he’s about to make a Christian film. He finds himself thinking about pulling out of making the movie Unlocked. However, he finds himself pulled into the movie by both his love for the book and by the allure of young Bailey Flanagan. His scenes in the book with Bailey and their developing friendship is undeniably charming. His eventual salvation is even better. I hope to see more of him in the next series of books.

Luke: Luke has very few point of view scenes in the book, but as luck would have it, Luke and Reagan are adopting Andi’s baby. We get to see, through Luke, their excitement over the new baby, their mourning when the birth mom changes her mind, their excitement when they realize that the baby really will be theirs, and their surprise to find out that the woman who picked him out was Keith Ellison’s daughter. Happy times for their family.

That’s about it for this book. Great story and a great payoff for reading through the series. I look forward to starting to tackle the Bailey Flanagan series now.

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