Sunday, March 20, 2011

Devilish Forgiveness @christianaudio @caReviewers

I recently listened to the audiobook version of The Devil in Pew Number Seven. This is an autobiographical tale of Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, whose family was terrorized for several years by a neighbor who also attended the church her father pastored.

While not spoken by Alonzo herself, the narrator, Pam Ward, did a very nice job making the story come alive and feel real. I have listened to many crime audiobooks, and the audio kept up with those decently. The structure, organization, tone of the tome was great; I wanted to keep listening and find out what happened next. I could easily see this book transformed into a gripping film.

What I kept having trouble fathoming was that this was not fiction. It was very much real. Alonzo's various media interviews provide some photographs of the people involved, which add a level of authenticity to the  story. Her CBN interview, in particular, did this nicely. If you don't want to know the major plots points, though, don't watch it; it's a rather detailed synopsis of the whole book. On that note, before you read further, here's a...


The tale did a fabulous job exploring the dilemma of standing up against evil rather than running. Alonzo's parents chose to stand and fight through faith (they never engaged in physical violence or character assassination), believing God put them in this church for a reason. Yet the amount of harm they encountered poses an interesting question of whether God would put children, in particular, in harm's way. As a psychologist, if they came to me, I would be required to make a CPS report. The terrorists would be the perpetrators, but could the Nichols be sanctioned for failing to protect their children?

Over time, the protection of the home definitely increased, including a guard. But I was amazed how long that took. I would imagine in many small communities that at least the church members might take turns standing guard.

I don't mean to be judgmental here. This community faced something extraordinarily difficult. My comments are more to explore moral and ethical questions and how we, as humanity, can improve in the future. I think this community did very well under the circumstances.

I absolutely loved the narrative of the book. It was a wonderful look into real-life struggles of faith and how to face adversity. It even dealt with mental health issues pretty well.

The last section, though, changed directions. It moved from telling the story of Alonzo's life to essentially becoming a sermon on forgiveness. It was well-written; it just felt out-of-place. It also felt preachy at times. Ultimately, my reaction was that this took away from the emotional power that the rest of the story and Alonzo's experience with forgiveness. This section should have been shortened into a simple epilogue.

Overall, though, I give it a high recommendation. It combines the best elements of nonfiction and the structure of nonfiction into a tome that really encourages the reader (or listener) to consider and struggle with the ideas of persecution, faith, and forgiveness.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for a review (with no obligation for a positive review).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is Automatic Tithing Biblical?

Tithing can be a very controversial topic, for better or for worse. In any case, for most church organizations, it's necessary to keep the lights on. That's why I think it was a brilliant business decision to start offering the ability to automatically tithe through automatic withdrawal from a bank account or by credit card. I'm sure it helps ensure more regular income.

I love paying bills this way. It helps me make sure I'm never late and lets me think less about bills and more about life. And I use automatic tithing myself so I don't forget.

Does applying this to tithing, though, miss the point of tithing? Leon Bloder wrote, "My tithe is the first check I write." There's a spiritual discipline element to help us focus on God and remember that all of what we have is God's. It's a way of dedicating our income and our lives to God.

With automatic tithing, we can easily lose that. It all happens unconsciously and relegates tithing to the dreaded monthly bills category. Is that what God really wants from us?


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).