Saturday, November 03, 2007

Books from Church Members

Occasionally, church members will give me books to read and critique for them. This is something I encourage them to do, especially since it gives me peace of mind that they are indeed reading. Reading is a practice that is definitely lost on some church people and if they are reading then often it is something froofy (technical term). Lately, I have been given two books and I would like to share my overall critiques.

The first is 23 Minutes in Hell, by Bill Wiese. It records the author's twenty-three minute descent into hell with the intent to scare you straight. I do not discount Wiese's experience. He quite legitimately may have been given a tour of hell and allowed to experience some of the torments so that he might return to warn people of their impending doom if they fail to accept Jesus.

Some of the imagery was like it was out of a childhood nightmare and Wiese may have done a much better job if a more experienced writer co-authored the book with him. The scenes he depicts seem more to be grounded in horror movie epics rather than biblical truth. For instance, in grisly detail he describes his demonic accusers and the shrieks of terror of others imprisoned in hell. Though he does describe the isolation and separation he felt while in "hell" it seems biblically incongruous that he could experience the terror of others, as well as be tormented by a demon.

The latter half of the book is Wiese's attempt at developing a biblical doctrine of hell, which a writing theologian alongside of him would have helped, but as a lay writer, Wiese did an admirable job. Obviously Wiese wanted the biblical record to match his experience and that portion of the book, as I described to the church member, is a hermenuetical embarrassment. I do not discount Wiese's experience and that part of the book can stand alone on its own merit. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not Wiese is sincere. His theology leaves much to be desired and a word of caution, if you are looking for a biblical doctrine of hell, you won't find it here.

The second book comes highly recommended. When this lady handed me this book, pleading that I read it because "I would never be the same," I shuddered because of the Oprah's Book Club sticker adhered to the cover. Reluctantly I took the book and agreed to return it the following Sunday.

She was right. After reading Night by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (and I didn't notice the similarities in the author's names until I posted) the horror of the Nazi concentration camps became a little too real. Devastatingly simple in its detail yet graphic enough to churn your stomach, I finished this book after the second sitting.

It chronicled Wiesel's family's abduction by the Nazis in World War II and their transport to the extermination center of Auschwitz. Separated from his mother and sisters forever, he and his father made it through "selection" and immediately began hard labor. The narrative then becomes Elie's feeble yet desperate efforts not to be separated from his father.

The book is appropriately titled for darkness settles in on the prisoners as they arrive in the camp. A blackness that should be unfathomable in human experience envelops those unfortunate enough to be alive.
What are You, my God? I thought angrily. How do You compare this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean, Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do You go on troubling these poor people's wounded minds, their ailing bodies? [p. 66]
Elie loses all hope in humanity and eventually in God as he watches horrid death after horrid death. The story climaxes with a death march to Buchenwald, where he and his father are transferred as the Russians and Americans are marching through Germany. Their lives were reduced to the avoidance of violence and the constant search for food. Never should another human being be treated in such a way. Never should man forget man's capacity for inhumanity.
In the afternoon, they made us line up. Three prisoners brought a table and some medical instruments. We were told to roll up our left sleeves and file past the table. The three "veteran" prisoners, needles in hand, tattooed numbers on our left arms. I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name. [p. 42]
Liberation for Elie was welcome yet horrifying. Having not seen his own face in years,
One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed never left me. [p. 115]
The book concludes with Wiesel's acceptance speech for the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize where he takes a bold stand against worldwide injustice and oppression, calling all with the ability to fight against it. May we never forget man's ability to do evil and to harm another human being, including our own.


Elder's Wife said...

Why is it that so many "Christian" books are so poorly written? Even when they attempt to convey truth, they are an embarrassment. And why do we keep buying the stuff? Dan, over at has written a good post on bad Christian literature, architecture and art.
God has made us in His image, and that is a creative image. He looked at all He had created and said it was good. That can't be said about much of Christian creativity today.

Tony said...


I read Dan's post! It was a good one. I agree with him, the church does a poor job of assisting artists, etc., beyond musicians.

My estimation why Christian books are so poorly written is that most do not recognize poor writing when they read it.

The lady who wanted me to read 23 Minutes in Hell said that she felt like something was wrong with the book but didn't know what. I praised her for realizing that but was a little concerned that she didn't have an inkling what was wrong with it. She may have been a bit embarrassed that her critique might not be right and maybe felt the same way I did, but just was fearful of saying it.

Plus since Wiese's book was couched in his experience, it is hard to make any criticism because it was his experience after all.

I would also hazard to say that the contemporary Christian genre is so flooded because of the high demand of froofy books. People don't want depth anymore and the real heady theological stuff just doesn't sell. Overall, I am persuaded people just don't want to think anymore. They want it served to them without any exertion or toil. We are in general a lazy people.

geobob said...


I think that a part of the issue lies in the fact that the levels of involvement that it takes to produce a book are fewer than in the past. There were editors and publishers and levels between that helped beef up the product. Today the number of levels is fewer and possibly less committed to excellence.

Aside from that, I think current culture is accustomed to processing their intellectual inputs much more from mass media and have less ability to comprehend the written word. Perhaps that means that those of us who would seek to feed His lambs need to use those mediums more. Those who went on missionary assignments a generation or so ago used the indigenous language to convey the message. Our culture's indigenous language is processed in sound bites.

Tony said...


Thanks for commenting on my blog. I greatly appreciate it an I hope you'll come back again.

I think the lack of commitment to turn out an excellent product does not affect only the Christian publishing industry but many others as well. Holy shoddy is still shoddy, in my opinion.

And sound bytes are the chosen method of communication. Original thoughts--does anyone have those anymore? Now we communicate using acronyms; KWIM?

geobob said...

Hi Tony

I've been having some difficulty getting the reply to work: so this is a test. I actually would like to continue a converstaion.

Tony said...

Greetings Bob!

I am not certain what may be keeping you from getting through. I don't moderate comments, so that should post automatically after you click "publish." I did receive your last comment. Fire away!

geobob said...

Good, I see that the google thing is now working.

I agree that a lack of commitment to excellence runs deep in our culture. But I’m wondering if that has always been true. The majority of people in most centuries lived and died in anonymity just hobbling thru life as best they could with whatever limited resources that were available to them. If the vast majority in our century are content with the lifestyle, but just play it out with a few more resources available to them, what are we who aim higher for ourselves and them to do with that insight? Got to run to work.

Tony said...

I don't think it has always been true. Our hurried lifestyle does leave less time for reflection and study and it shows in a lot of the printed material Christians read.

Plus with the added stress of publishing deadlines and requirements, the ability to produce quality material is a lot less motivated. "Just get it in," seems to be the motivating factor in getting some materials out.

Thanks again for following up. Hope you have a great day at work.

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