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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 

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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Death is Not the End, Daddy by Nate Allen

Death is Not the End, Daddy 

John Doe is a killer. Fourteen children in the last twenty-six years. Teddy tells him to and he listens. He has to listen. He is parked across the street from the elementary school in Payne, North Dakota, waiting for Teddy to tell him the name of the next child. He hasn’t yet, but he will…

For Matthew Mills, God is good. It's the only truth Matthew needs. But, pain is still pain. It has only been a week since his wife had her second miscarriage in the last three years. She has become a shell of who she was. Only his daughter Marcy is a light in his life.

What would happen if she was taken away?

The Guru's Review: 

I should start out by saying if the description makes you uneasy, please ignore this uneasiness and persist with this novel. 

I was uneasy when I read this description as I don't like serial killer plots, especially when it involves children. However, the author asked me to review this and having read some of his other novels, I know his mindset. I therefore I know it will be based on the Bible, it will not glorify serial killers, it will not be gory and his motive for writing it is not to show horror for horror sake. I know it will show victory over our fallen nature through faith in God, through his Spirit or not in any strength of our own.  And the author definitely shows this in this novel. 

He has described this novel as his best. It is not his latest, but I agree with him, it is his best.  Very different to The Faceless Future trilogy that he has released now (episodic instalments of a novel) in writing style, genre, pace and narrative. All this does is show how versatile this author is. 

When I started reading this novel and John Doe starts describing how he kills under the instruction of a "talking" stuffed toy (a teddy bear, hence the name Teddy), I found this very creepy. I hate novels or movies where inanimate objects have control over humans. It speaks of one thing and one thing only. Demonic possession and/or possession. I did not like this half of the novel. And I nearly gave up due to my dislike of serial killer novels involving children. The other aspect to this dislike is that I hate the mindset of the perpetrators. The TV show Criminal Minds contributed greatly to this, I did not finish Season 1 of that TV show! 

Towards the end of the first half of this novel, I wondered when Allen would show the why and the how of this demonic oppression and if John becomes free of this? Allen does not keep you in suspense for too long. The second half is where it all falls into place and as it did, I then wondered when the author was going to deal with it from a Biblical perspective, as I knew he would. 

I was not to be disappointed! This second half adds a much detailed spiritual layer to the plot and the mindset of John Doe and Teddy compared to the first half. It is here that Allen shines with the biblical point of view in dealing demonic oppression. The first half describes the consequences of the demonic oppression that John is in bondage to while the second describes the how and the why and provides one very satisfying resolution to this from the Biblical point of view.

What helped my uneasiness in reading this novel was the alternating character arcs of Matthew and Janet Mills, their pain and grieving of losing two children due to miscarriage, and then the subsequent kidnapping and murder of their 8-year-old daughter Marcy by John Doe. Just when I was getting further creeped out by John and his actions and control by Teddy, I was given a reprieve by the further development of the plot arcs concerning Matthew and Janet. However, this was a bit uneasy for me too as I could relate to this couple losing children through miscarriage as my wife and I lost two prior to our existing two daughters. One of these was through miscarriage and the other through premature birth. I was affected by Matthew's reaction and Janet's reminded me so much of what my wife went through. It is every parent's nightmare to have their child abducted or go missing without a trace and I shared the Mills' grief, despair, loss, anger, frustration at this loss. These circumstances definitely endeared me to Janet and Matthew. I wanted to so much offer my empathy and counsel to them!

It is a very clever plot construction when an author intertwines plot arcs together and you know that they will eventually intersect and bring the ending of this novel to a climatic ending or one mighty cliffhanger where you wait in bated breath for the next instalment. The former is true in this novel. The alternating plot arcs of the Mills' grief over their miscarriages, their waxing and waning faith and feelings towards God in relation to this, and John's desire and quest to be free of Teddy's bondage give you plenty of indication and suspense that these two paths will eventually intersect. I must confess, I was convinced I knew when this would occur, but then Allen changed course and this intersection occurred at a point that I was not expecting! This led to a great ending! I was exhilarated, spiritually uplifted and even felt a measure of closure in my own grief (left over from our loss of children over 25 yrs ago) that had troubled me since. I thank the author for portraying grief and God's response so realistically and sensitively. This reinforces my belief that God can and does use fiction to minister to the reader where they are at. All it takes is an author who is willing to be a willing instrument for the Spirit to use and one who wants to write for God and let Him be the real author. This novel shows Allen as one of those authors. 

One highlight of this novel was how Allen developed the spiritual aspects. I appreciate the inclusion of God in a novel where He interacts with the characters. In this novel, we have Him minister to both Janet and Matthew Mills and John directly either in a supernatural appearance or for the most part, as a voice to their mind or spirit. For John, it was the latter. I found this depiction of the Spirit refreshing and how Allen had Him guide, encourage, and instruct these three characters was as what I would expect Him to say if He was doing the same to me. It is relational, specific and appropriate. Throughout the Bible, we can see that what God says in His interaction with His human creation shows the nature of His personality and His many attributes and I felt the same here with Allen's depiction. But it also shows Allen's commitment to writing for God and being used by the Spirit to write a novel that shows the Omnipotency of His character and Jesus's victory over sin and death, including over bondage from demonic possession.

Allen's depiction of the Spirit guiding John to deliverance from the bondage of the demon inhabiting Teddy, the stuffed toy, is a joy to read. Allen has depicted a side of spiritual warfare using the Biblical principle of calling on the name of Jesus to be saved in order to be delivered from demonic oppression. This is very effective in breaking the bondage John is under and he revels in his new found freedom. The end result is that He becomes the new creation that only happens when God frees us from sin and death. There is more that Allen includes that follows on from this in him getting to know God once he accepts God's forgiveness. I pray that Allen's depiction of this deliverance will be a great encouragement to anyone who is under any degree of demonic oppression and be the same for the Christian who does not know anything about this topic. It was a wise depiction showing this.  

I also found the same with how Allen has depicted the Spirit ministering to Janet and Matthew Mills. Both had different reactions to their loss and relations ship with God. God meet their needs according to what would heal them and restore them to Him. I loved the open channel that Matthew had with God and even when his faith wavered and he rebelled he still came back, repented and restored himself to God. I loved the spiritual lesson that Matthew learnt from their last miscarriage. I can see how this would be easy to fall into without realising it until it is brought to your attention. Matthew was humble enough to see his mistake, the reasons for it, its consequences and repent of it. In the process he was letting go of his pain, dealing with his grief and being a support to his wife in her grief. And likewise, Janet had her own issue with rebelling against God in her grief and only God's intervention restored her faith and she then became a support to Matthew as he struggled with his grief as described above. 

Allen's depiction of the demonic oppression of John was dark and devasting. This demonic spirit shows up as a result of John's father's actions through his sin and is a generational one as described by his father. Not only did this spirit exert its power over John but it affected negatively many others including Matthew and led to the death of an adult. However, it is no match for the invocation of Jesus' name when John in being oppressed by this spirit. Very biblical as evidenced by the following verses: 
Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.’
Romans 10:13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Allen is quite the master at showing the complexity of this demonic oppression and how it manifested in John and the connection to his father (it borders on being dark and tense). From reading the events surrounding this oppression and the explanation as to the how and the why of it, this spirit's manifestation in John was far more extensive than his father. Reading how the events played out, one can only feel compassion for John from the emotional devastation this oppression and the murders had on him. It is all the more joyous when you see him decide to be free from this spiritual bondage and respond to the promptings and revelations from the Spirit of God including the use of visions that God provided of his mother to show more of the truth of this spiritual bondage and what John must consider in being free.

I must make mention that it was a clever plot construct having a spiritual connection from Marcy that sparked the desire for John to be free and subsequently joining both the major arcs of the Mills and John together that led to one very successful and satisfying ending. There is a hint of something through an event in the novel concerning Matthew that comes to light at the very end of the novel. This just made my enjoyment and appreciation of the novel all the more.

Despite my dislike of serial killer plots, abduction and murder of children and this making this novel difficult to read at first, there is much to be enjoyed, edified and faith strengthened in this novel. This novel is Allen's best and it showcases his creativity, talent and willingness to write for God and allow Him to compose the story He wants to be written. The author has stated that he was guided by God through every word. To me, this shows.

I would love to see Allen compose more novels like this one. They would minister to the reader who is going through similar or can relate to these issues. And it strengthens the faith and knowledge of God in the believer and may even spark the beginning of faith in the unbeliever and lead them back to God. 

Highly recommended.

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 4/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 5/5

Overall Rating 4.8/5 Stars

Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,

A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that Death is Not the End, Daddy contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, together with David Bergsland we award Nate Allen with

The Reality Calling Redemptive Fiction Award

Congratulations, Nate!

If you would like to buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon on the image below:

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence by Steve Luhring

Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence 

Created as an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this novel is set in the modern day time period. It chronicles the overnight adventures of the world-famous atheist, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is on a crusade to rid the world of religion and things could hardly be going better. But his fortunes soon change and he has a “Dickens of an evening” filled with ghostly encounters during which he’s given a chance to reconsider the meaning of life and his answer to the question of God’s existence. But Scrooge is a brilliant, hard-core sceptic, so the thought of the ghosts convincing him of anything or bringing about a change of heart is, as Scrooge would put it, a “bah-humbug!”

The Guru's Review: 

This novel grabbed me as soon as I discovered the genre, apologetics. The other was the description. This was the deciding factors to accept the author's request to review it. I even showcased the author in an Author/Novel Spotlight post to explore this novel, its apologetics and the author's history behind it. It can be found here. I was impressed with the reason that Luhring crafted this novel: 
I’ve been fascinated by A Christmas Carol since I first saw a movie version on TV when I was an adolescent. From the moment Marley’s ghostly face appeared in the knocker of Scrooge’s door, I was hooked. Now as an adult, I realize the reason this story has such universal appeal and has become a classic is because of Dickens’ genius in portraying so convincingly the complete transformation of a human being from so believably rotten to so believably good in the context of an imaginative, sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, and always entertaining story. In a similar way, I’ve humbly endeavored to adapt Dickens’ story to portray the complete transformation of one so believably sceptical to one so believably embracing a reasonable faith. I think the only way to portray that type of transformation in a convincing manner is by introducing reason and evidence into the equation. The project in ways resembled putting together a puzzle -- fitting compelling Christian apologetic arguments into one of the greatest stories ever written. The result is a modern-day adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” which chronicles the overnight transformation of the world-famous atheist, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is on a crusade to rid the world of religion (bah-humbug!), and things could hardly be going better with the passage of a new hate-speech law designed in part to target the religious. But his fortunes soon change and he has a “Dickens of an evening” filled with ghostly encounters during which he’s given a chance to reconsider the meaning of life and his answer to the question of God’s existence. But is there really anything the ghosts can say or do to bring about a change of heart from this brilliant, hard-core sceptic?
I was also impressed with what two other apologists had said about it as well: 
“While Charles Dickens' immortal story is a compelling tale of transformation, imagine what it would look like had Dickens been ambitious enough to have had Scrooge go on to tackle some of the greatest questions in life, such as Does God exist? If so, why is there such evil and suffering in this world? Is there meaning and purpose in life? Is there an after-life? Is freedom worth fighting for, and what's at stake if we lose it? These pages are bold enough to do exactly that, and do it brilliantly.”—Dr. Paul Maier, author with over 5 million books in print including A Skeleton in God’s Closet. 
"The choice of a modern retelling of the Scrooge story is very clever, perhaps even brilliant.” Dr. Heck, C.S. Lewis scholar and author of the book, From Atheism to Christianity: The Story of C. S. Lewis.
I read Maier's A Skeleton in God's Closet and its sequel many years ago, so I am not surprised at Maier's endorsement in the Foreword and it was this connection that also clinched it for me to read this novel. He was the first apologist author I read and I still have fond memories of these two novels and the impact they had on me. I can definitely understand Luhring's respect and admiration of this author and his endorsement for this novel. 

But it was not only these factors that encouraged me to read it. It was the fact that Luhring has travelled down the path that the Bible exhorts us to do as Christ's disciples in 1 Peter 3:15
.....but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
I was encouraged with how he did this: 
I started pursuing in earnest my passion for Christian apologetics (otherwise known as “defending the faith” or “dealing with doubt”) after stumbling upon a Dr. William Lane Craig podcast in 2007. I vividly remember listening to the first podcast while shoveling snow in my driveway. It was quickly clear to me that Dr. Craig’s effectiveness rested not only in his command of the facts and logical argumentation, but also in his ability to communicate concisely and persuasively - and with wit no less. From that point I was hooked. Within about a year, having gained reasonable and convincing answers from a Christian point of view to some of life’s biggest and toughest questions and with enthusiasm only building to learn more, I felt that I needed some productive outlet for sharing. I began teaching bible studies at my church that focused on dealing with doubt and answering the big questions in life, like “Does God Exist?” Over the years, I’ve been a student of the writings of other great, persuasive Christian apologetics including Dr. Paul Maier, C.S. Lewis, Professor John Lennox, G.K. Chesterton, Greg Koukl, Frank Turek, and Ravi Zacharias (whom my son and I had the privilege to hear speak in person at a nearby university earlier this year). During that time I also had the idea for the Scrooge book which I see as an ambitious attempt to reach both the heart and the mind through a gripping story.
This was a breath of fresh air to me when I read this. Apologetics is such an important discipline that is either not taught or very little taught in most churches today. It should be and needs to be, if and only due to the verse mentioned above, but more importantly for why it was written, to show the hope of Christ and what He has achieved by His death on the Cross: salvation and redemption of mankind. For us in today's world of increasing secularism, humanism and rejection of all and everything relating to God, the Bible and Jesus, we are seeing laws created and enforced that are forcing the human race to think and behave in such a way that is tolerant of everything as long as it is not connected to Christianity and everything Christianity stands for. 

How many of us know enough our faith, why we believe it, and then be able to defend it? I admit that I need more of this knowledge and discipline too. It is a sad indictment that we are not encouraged to so or that we do not do so on our own accord. We need to be competent in this discipline and obedient to the instruction of this bible verse that also undergirds and support the Great Commision. Hence my interest, challenge and conviction that this genre of Christian presents to me as well as to all those who have a righteous relationship with God.

I applaud authors such as Luhring for writing novels in this genre for this very reason. And sadly again, it is not a popular genre of Christian fiction and it should be and needs to be. Hence my interest and promotion of this genre and specifically this novel.

Luhring has created a very unique concept with this novel. Not only has he given A Christmas Carol a twist and set it in a modern setting, it is also a story within a story. When you start this novel, you are not introduced to Scrooge. The character that creates this story within a story, Professor Edward Spassnicht, emerges in the Introduction and the reader meets him again in the Epilogue, with him achieving what he set out to achieve, through adapting A Christmas Carol to tell of his opportunity to reconsider the meaning of life and (through Scrooge) his answer to the question of God’s existence. Luhring has adapted this classic very skillfully. How can I say that when I have not read Dicken's classic tale? Simply from reading what others have said who have read both novels and the various annotations that reference the many inclusions of the original parts of the original in this novel. I do regret not taking the opportunity to read this Dickens classic before reading Luhring's novel as it would have enhanced my appreciation of both. I did not have time with my review schedule and life in general. However, I have seen enough snippets of the various movie adaptations and it being referenced and described in various other reading material I have read, so I did get more than a gist of the story.

And for someone like me who has not read Dickens first, I can say that this reworking of the former could stand on its own. Luhring's creation here reads like it is an original story. There has not been one reviewer who has said the opposite. It is a great novel. Luhring writes very well. The flow and pace of the novel are not disjointed or has peaks or troughs. This is an impressive debut novel.

Readers appreciate reading a novel where it shows that the author has done their research and has seamlessly included this into the plot where it does not stick out or appear misplaced. Luhring succeeds here. He has a solid grasp of the rise of atheism and scepticism that is evolving into the suppression of free speech by laws and ideologies to adhere to. Luhring uses the example of Bob Cratchit speaking out against a fictional community with liberal lifestyle choices to show how these laws come into effect and affect those who are in opposition to them. He effectively portrays how this will clash with the tenets and doctrines of the Bible and how Christians will be the direct target of these laws and their severe penalties. This is a real depiction of spiritual warfare played out in the human arena with its aim to abolish religion and increase the liberality of mankind. 

Using the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Luhring takes the reader on a journey showing Scrooge having all of his worldview and belief system challenged by some of the greatest Christian apologists of our time, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Blaise Pascal, John Lennox, Ravi Zacharias, Dostoevsky, Martin Luther, William Lane Craig, Leibniz,  and John Newton! This supports my statement before about being well versed and knowledgeable about why we believe what we believe and being able to defend it. In this case, it is about challenging different worldviews and seeing how they stand up against Christianity. Luhring's novel definitely shows that when we do this, the Spirit takes up our cause and works in the heart of the person being challenged. It also shows despite how strong one is in their worldview and belief system when it is "their time" as stated by Marley, the Spirit has done His work and the person is ripe for accepting God on His terms and only His terms. It was entertaining and engrossing seeing Scroope challenge the three Spirits and try to outwit them by disproving the existence of God but against such a huge weight of evidence, and God at work, he finally realised that God does exist based on this evidence and the Gospel being presented to him through this.

I highlighted so much of the text in my Kindle while reading this novel that I felt I was a kid in a lolly shop! A treasure trove of insight and evidence showing God's existence outside of the Bible! The Bible is more than enough but having other apologists add to this that supports it, is an added bonus. There are some great quotes and snippets that I could add here but it would make this review far too long and this is long enough as it is! The list of references at the back of the novel is worth reading that gives the background to the evidence he has included but in the Kindle version, you can press the reference number and the reference content is shown on the page and can be read immediately. A great feature that lends itself well to having references in a novel like this.

I also listened to a few of the radio interviews listed in his Facebook page that Luhring has participated in and this reinforces some of the existing plot structures but does give more background to the novel and his reason for writing it. Well worth checking out. 

Luhring has developed this novel so extensively that I feel an apologetic study guide could be created to allow the reader to explore these issues and evidence further, thus equipping them to be ready to give a defence to the hope that is in us as the Apostle Peter exhorts us as stated above. He is more than equipped to do this from what he outlined about his own journey in studying apologetics and now creating this novel. 

I have been challenged, uplifted, convicted and my faith increased by reading this novel. For Christians who read Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence, I pray that they would also understand the insight into the worldview that the unbeliever, particularly the sceptic and atheist has in their belief system.

I have stated many times in reviews and I have it listed in the Why Christian Fiction? tab in this blog that I like to see in Christian fiction that,
  • it has entertained me immensely, 
  • it has encouraged my walk with God, 
  • it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not, I believe, lead a non-believer astray or promote false doctrine, 
  • it honours God, 
  • it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God). 
It seems that apologetic Christian fiction will meet all or most of these criteria due to the specific nature of what it is. This will make for some great Christian reading and experience and if Luhring continues in the path he has set and the standard in Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence he will be one author to follow and I won't far behind him. 

Highly recommended.

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 4/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5

Overall Rating 4.4/5 Stars
Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,

A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, together with David Bergsland we award Steve Luhring with

The Reality Calling Redemptive Fiction Award

Congratulations, Steve!

If you would like to buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon on the image below: