Into the Book

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Posts by Corey Poff

  1. In Lonesome Animals, ex-lawman Russell Strawl is drawn from retirement to track down a serial killer. Joined by his son Elijah – a drifter who fancies himself a Catholic prophet – Strawl follows the trail of bodies from place to place: always trying to get one step ahead, and always seeming to be one step behind. As the hunt lengthens, Strawl’s own dark and broken history is laid bare, leading in turn to shocking revelations about the killer’s identity.

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  2. Orthodoxy gets a bad rap these days. It is, for many, a concept inextricably linked to images of strutting Pharisees and the (admittedly unpleasant) smell of burnt heretic. “Go away,” they say, though perhaps not in so many words. “Take your lifeless and restricted bigotry elsewhere.”

    Others recognize the importance of orthodoxy, but fail to grasp its beauty or use it in a loving and Scriptural manner. For these people, right theology is a donkey’s jawbone perfectly suited to slaying uncircumcised Philistines – or their neighbor, whoever “asks for it” first.

    Neither approach is biblical. It’s no good avoiding one muddy ditch if you wind up mucking around in another. The road is where you want to be. Balance is needed. So how do we achieve it?

    Josh Harris seeks to answer that question in his new book Humble Orthodoxy. His thesis? That we are called to both 1) “embrace and defend biblical truth” and 2) “be clothed in gentleness and respect”. Neglecting either one of these will inevitably lead to “arrogant orthodoxy” or “humble heterodoxy” – two sides of the same bad penny. We must, Harris argues, learn how to hold the truth high without putting people down.

    This is a short book, but a much-needed one. Harris demonstrates a remarkable economy of language, packing into sixty pages a Bible-fueled exhortation that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Those who struggle with being limp-handed about what is in and what is out (theologically speaking) will find herein a potent reminder that orthodoxy is not a four-letter word; it is, in fact, vitally important. Those who are tempted to use their precise theology as a cudgel (as I often am) will be spurred to remember that there is a fine line between contending and being contentious. Truth matters – and so does our attitude.

    We’re going to be opposed as we preach substitutionary atonement and the truth of God’s wrath toward sin. We’re going to look unloving and unkind as we teach God’s plan for marriage being one man and one woman. We’re not going to look cool. We’re going to look ridiculous and backward and intolerant and politically incorrect to the world.

    Here’s the question: As we lose the esteem of our culture, as we see false teachers gaining ground, what will we do? Will we grow bitter, angry, and vengeful? Or, like Jesus and Paul, will we continue to love our enemies even as we suffer? Will we keep praying? Will we keep hoping for God to open others’ eyes?

    We don’t have to be jerks with the truth. We can remember how Jesus showed us mercy when we were his enemies. We can demonstrate a humble orthodoxy, holding on to our identity in the gospel. We are not those who are right; we are those who have been redeemed. (p. 61)

    Postscript: Reading this book has made me even more aware and appreciative of the examples of humble orthodoxy I’ve encountered over the years. I see it in the writings of Douglas Wilson and Kevin DeYoung. I see it when I read Thomas Watson and Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle. I see it in dear friends of mine – the way they write, they way they speak, the way they live. Most vividly, I see it in my pastor. As someone who often struggles with the cage fighter mentality that Harris describes, I’m grateful for the people God has placed in my life who exemplify so well the beauty of right thinking wedded to right loving.

    – Corey P.


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  3. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:18-20)

    Passages like the one above can be difficult to swallow. So difficult, in fact, that we may be tempted to take one of two courses. We may try our darnedest to explain it all away (and that usually involves tossing out the plain meaning of the text in favor of something less hard on the ears). Or we may act is if such verses do not exist, which is like trying to ignore a giant purple elephant standing in your living room. In no time flat, we’re doing our best David Copperfield impression: “I will now make this verse… disappear!”

    And yet, for all our cheap tricks and shifty-eyed “explanations”, the truth remains: God’s words do not cease to be God’s words simply because they are hard words.

    Pastor Doug Wilson makes this very case in his book Easy Chairs, Hard Words. Through a series of fictional conversations between a young believer and a seasoned pastor, Wilson delivers a cogent and beautifully-argued introduction to the Reformed faith, with both feet planted firmly in Scripture. Beginning with the question, “Can salvation be lost?” he wrestles with a number of tough doctrinal issues, including free will, election, and original sin.

    One reviewer dubbed this book “the death of Arminianism in plain English.” An apt description, but it might give you the impression that this is a ham fisted attack on all things Wesleyan. Which it is – most emphatically – not. Wilson never stoops to acerbic language, nor does he adopt a smug tone. If you find that reading this book sets your teeth on edge, I would humbly submit that your problem is less with Wilson, and more with the Scriptural truth that Wilson teaches.

    You might want to think about that for a minute.

    – Corey P.


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  4. Every now and again, you pick up a book that takes you on a ride roughly equivalent to that of the Kingda Ka roller-coaster. It takes you way up and it takes you way down, tearing along like a bat out of hell, and leaving its passengers with mixed feelings of terror and heady elation. Maybe nausea, too, at some points.


    Ideas Have Consequences is sort of like that. It’s one of the most challenging, stimulating, and strangely exhilarating books I’ve encountered in a long time. I suspect – no, I’m certain – that one reading didn’t give me half of what can be gotten out of it. But then, as Stephen King would say, “good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” And this, most definitely, is a good book.

    Ideas Have Consequences is about “the dissolution of the West.” Richard Weaver writes in the Introduction,

    I attempt two things not commonly found in the growing literature on this subject. First, I present an account of that decline based not on analogy but on deduction. It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we are now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice. Second, I go so far as to propound, if not a whole solution, at least the beginning of one, in the belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea to moral impotence.

    Keep in mind this was penned in 1948. The social decay he’s talking about hasn’t gone anywhere; if anything, it has intensified. Weaver’s scalpel-keen examination of the breakdown of modernity is as relevant today as it was in the middle of the twentieth century. So I urge you: read this book.
    The ills of modern man, as argued here, are essentially six-fold: they can be found in the denial of universals coupled with the embrace of utilitarianism/pragmatism; the undermining of order and hierarchy; the loss of focus and the rise of fragmentation; the unabashed exercise of ego and self-indulgence in art and work; the desensitizing effects of an irresponsible media; and the emergence of “the Spoiled-Child Psychology.”
    Weaver’s solution to these issues? It begins with the preservation of the right to private property; an acknowledgement of the power of the word; and a rediscovery of piety and true justice. 

    We have to inform the multitude that restoration comes at a price. Suppose we give them an intimation of the cost through a series of questions. Are you ready, we must ask them, to grant that the law of reward is inflexible and that one cannot, by cunning or through complaints, obtain more than he puts in? Are you prepared to see that comfort may be a seduction and that the fetish of material prosperity will have to be pushed aside in favor of some sterner ideal? Do you see the necessity of accepting duties before you begin to talk about freedoms?

    Weaver’s writing is imbued with a wonderful anger. There is no bitterness here, no uncontrolled wrath, but there is a righteous indignation that tells the truth in all its stingingly painful glory. We can always use more of that.
    “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he 
    that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 29:18)


    – Corey P.


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  5. Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, a 30-year-old savant who lives at home with his mother and fills his writing tablets with sophisticated musings on history and modern culture (he intends to publish them someday, of course). Reilly’s quiet existence descends into chaos when he is nearly arrested by an overeager policeman – who mistakes him for a “prevert” – and then involved in a car accident with his inebriated mother at the wheel. One thing leads to another (and another and another), and in the end, our hero finds himself doing the unthinkable: hunting for a job.

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  6. The year is 2021, and the human race is coming to an end. Literally. And we’re going out, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

    No children have been born since 1995 due to mass infertility among males: an infertility which all the powers of science can neither understand nor reverse. The last generation to be born is now adult, and the population is growing steadily, inexorably older. England is supervised by a dictatorial Warden and the SSP (State Security Police). Brutal prison camps, forced labor, and roving thugs bear witness to the deterioration of society, as does “the Quietus” – an organized slaughter of the elderly, staged to look like mass suicide.

    Theodore Faron – Oxford historian and also cousin to the all-powerful Warden – watches in despair as the world around him crumbles in the face of a future that is no future. But in the midst of his drab day to day routine, he’s approached by Julian, a bright young woman who asks for his help in getting an audience with the Warden. Julian and her band of revolutionaries may just revive Theo’s will to live – and they may also hold the key to salvation for all mankind.

    P.D. James is best known for her detective fiction, but The Children of Men proves that her talent isn’t restricted to one genre. This is dystopian science fiction of the highest caliber – beautifully written, engaging, and profound – and I trust I don’t overstate my case when I say it’s more than strong enough to stand with the towering achievements of Huxley, Orwell, and Bradbury.

    First and foremost, The Children of Men is a biting critique of our own godless, self-absorbed culture. The irony here is perfect: the world of 2021 is dying because it got exactly what it wanted – sexual pleasure without the “risk” of children. If you’re be tempted to think society would welcome such an arrangement with open arms, think again. James proposes something different:

    Sex has become the least important of man’s sensory pleasures. One might have imagined that with the fear of pregnancy permanently removed, and the unerotic paraphernalia of pills, rubber and ovulation arithmetic no longer necessary, sex would be freed for new and imaginative delights. The opposite has happened. Even those men and women who would normally have no wish to breed apparently need the assurance that they could have a child if they wished. Sex totally divorced from procreation has become almost meaninglessly acrobatic… Sex can still be a mutual comfort; it is seldom a mutual ecstasy. The government-sponsored porn shops, the increasingly explicit literature, all the devices to stimulate desire – none has worked. Men and women still marry, although less frequently, with less ceremony and often with the same sex. People still fall in love, or say that they are in love. There is an almost desperate searching for the one person, preferably younger but at least one’s own age, with whom to face the inevitable decline and decay. We need the comfort of responsive flesh, of hand on hand, lip on lip. But we read the love poems of previous ages with a kind of wonder.

    Equally striking is the book’s pervasive use of Christian imagery. The title itself is an allusion to Psalm 90:3, and James’ narrative bears a marked resemblance to the Nativity story. And is it a mere fluke that the penal colony on the Isle of Man is depicted as a place of deep darkness and debauchery? Hardly, I think.

    Make no mistake: this is a deeply theological novel, wrestling with deeply theological questions. I would even go so far as to call it a Christian novel, though not of the preachy, Bible-thumping, God-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life variety. James’ (a devout Anglican, from what I hear) is much too good for that, and the way she weaves Christian ideas into the story is so seamless, so artful, that the lazy reader may not even catch on. It’s as if she were bearing in mind the words of Francis Schaeffer: “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God; not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

    Ralph Wood, who has written extensively about James and her work, published an essay on The Children of Men back in 1994. He made this observation:

    The key to P. D. James’s fiction, especially her later work, is her Christianity. She regards our cultural malaise as having theological no less than ethical cause… Like Dostoevsky, James is determined to ask whether, if there be no God, all goodness is vacated and all evils unleashed. As a Christian, James knows that the answer is yes. But as a novelist, she has sought to make her faith implicit rather than overt… James is an artist whose moral instruction is conveyed indirectly through aesthetic appeal, not a prophet who seeks our conversion by directly declaring the divine Word.

    I’m going to end this review with two cautions. First, this is not a book for younger readers, due to sexual themes, violence, and some strong language. James never goes into lurid or sensual detail, but she doesn’t whitewash anything either. This isn’t a tale for the squeamish or easily unsettled.

    Second, do not, I repeat, do not watch the movie.

    Alfonso Cuarón adapted The Children of Men for the silver screen in 2006, but the resulting film bears little resemblance to the source material  – I know because I’ve seen it. They share the title, the futuristic setting, the basic premise, and that’s about it. Cuarón’s approach is far more sanitized, far less Christian, and rooted in a politically-correct agenda. Characters are erased or reinvented (Jasper as a weed-smoking ex-Hippie? Please). The terrors of universal childlessness are overshadowed by a right-wing totalitarian regime obsessed with border control (take that, George W!). Euthanasia and suicide are “cleaned up” (and even subtly condoned). And the Christian characters and themes are replaced by an Ode to Man As the Savior of Himself (which is much easier for most people to stomach).

    Cuarón has learned much from the Hollywood left. But from James? Not much at all.

    – Corey P.


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  7. “No creed but the Bible.” Few slogans have a stronger foothold in today’s evangelical vocabulary. It’s catchy, sounds pious, and appears to set forth a high view of Scripture. For many, it’s just another way of affirming sola scriptura.

    But it isn’t – not really. It is, in fact, a remarkably incoherent thing to say. It’s also ironic, given the fact that the Bible itself teaches the need for creeds. Such is Carl Trueman’s position in The Creedal Imperative, and I must say, he argues it brilliantly.

    The book opens with an examination of “the cultural case against creeds and confessions,” and then moves on to explore the foundations of creedalism, the classical Protestant confessions, the centrality of creeds to Christian doxology, and the usefulness of creeds and confessions within the church.

    Tried and tested over the years, the best creeds contain solid theology clearly expressed in appropriate language. The question is not so much ‘Should we use them’ as ‘Why would we not use them?’ They do nothing but ensure that biblical content and priorities are kept uppermost in the worship of the church.

    As Trueman points out, every Christian and every church has a creed – even if their creed is to have no creed. There is no division between the haves and the have-nots. The only division is between those who have creeds and confessions that are written down and available for public scrutiny, and those who have creeds and confessions that are private, unwritten, unavailable for public scrutiny, and therefore not subject to testing by Scripture to see if they are true. And that, says Trueman, is a serious problem.

    I want to argue that creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority. Indeed, I want to go somewhat further:  I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he advised his young protege, Timothy. Linked to the latter point, I want to make the case that it is at least arguable, based on Scripture, that the need for creeds and confessions is not just a practical imperative for the church but also a biblical imperative.

    This is Trueman at his finest: passionate, eloquent, erudite, and challenging. His arguments are strongly and cogently presented, but he avoids the “distasteful, not to mention sinful, tendency among many confessional writers to look down with scorn and derision on those who are not confessional.

    I trust I have not written in that spirit; rather, I hope that this book will go some way to persuading nonconfessional Christians who love the Bible and seek to follow Christ that confessionalism, far from being something to fear, can actually help them to better protect that which is so dear to them.

    I will warn you that despite the book’s comparatively short length, it is not light reading. To offer a slightly modified version of Boromir’s famous phrase, “One does not simply read a Trueman book.” This is a book to study and re-study – so grab your highlighter, pen, and notebook and get down to business.

    – Corey P.


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  8. Lovecraft has been dominating my bookshelf of late, and in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I had to find something less dire to immerse myself in. Something to laugh at. Something that didn’t involve reanimation, wall-dwelling rats, or cosmic entities preparing blot mankind from the earth.

    Supervillain of the Day (the first book in a new series by Katie Daniels) turned out to be just what I needed. It isn’t perfect – the writing is spotty at times, and some of the character interactions could use polishing – but it is, most definitely, fun.

    Supervillains are wreaking havoc all over the world – except in London, England, that is. For most Londoners this is very good news. For the editor of a tabloid specializing in “strange and unusual” stories? Not so much. But reporter Jeffry Floyd is on the case, charged with the task of finding a supervillain… or else. “Or else” being the loss of his job.

    The book’s opening sentence sets the tone for the rest of the tale:

    No one knew that the new mayor was a supervillain until the day he lost his temper with his secretary and tried to force-choke her from across the room.

    Say hello to superhero comedy. Or should I say, supervillain comedy. (If you’ve seen Megamind, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about). The story’s greatest strength is that it embraces the ridiculous and runs with it. Between the zany characters, outlandish situations, and crackerjack dialogue, there was seldom a moment I didn’t have a grin on my face while reading. Short though it is – you can finish it in a single sitting – it’s nice to know that “this is not the end.” More books are on the way, and Supervillain of the Day is a promising start to the series.

    As a sidenote, I can easily picture this series as a graphic novel. The concept, the action, and the characters would lend themselves well to that medium, and if such a “graphic novelization” ever came to pass, it would make a good story even better. Who doesn’t like crazy artwork to go along with their supervillains?

    Now… to Lovecraft I return. I have a feeling I won’t be laughing much. Unless laughing maniacally counts; and in that case, you should be worried.

    – Corey P.

    (I received this book free from the author in exchange for a review.
    I was not required to write a positive review.)


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  9. Has any hero, in any adventure novel, ever discovered a treasure that didn’t get them into trouble? Gold seems to attract the most unsavory of characters and situations, from pirates to politicians to rogue agents to the threat of global catastrophe.

    Or all four at once if you’re Ben Blackshaw.

    When diving in the Chesapeake Bay, this retired Navy SEAL finds something far more valuable than oysters: a wrecked boat, a corpse, millions in gold, and enough explosives to start World War III. From that point on, his life gets considerably more interesting. And not in a good way.

    Will our heroes ever learn to leave the gold and pursue a different, less hazardous career? One with a lower body count? Someday perhaps. But until then, we may as well enjoy the ride.

    Deadrise is Robert Whitehill’s first novel. It’s a good one. Not simply “good for a first time effort,” but really, truly good. Whitehill writes with the skill of an experienced storyteller, and his work here far exceeded my initial expectations.

    For one thing, the quality of Whitehill’s writing is exceptional. Not flawless, but still several cuts above average. There’s a sharp efficiency to it that compliments the frenetic pacing of the story, and I lost count of the times I vowed to read “just one more chapter” only to find myself reading four or five. Deadrise is pretty much the textbook definition of a page-turner.

    The supporting characters are adequate, if not terribly interesting, but Whitehill’s best work is the character of Ben Blackshaw: a reluctant hero whose cultural background is just as important as his military training. Not, mind you, that his military training is anything to thumb your nose at…

    Opposite Mr. Blackshaw is Maynard Chalk, corrupt NSA operative and villain extraordinaire. He’s brooding, vicious, utterly self-centered, and yet graced with an inexplicable amount of charm. He steals the scenes and chews them up. He is, in other words, a very good very bad bad guy.

    The story itself is well plotted and consistently engaging, with one foot planted in reality and the other planted in a world of fantastical adventure – sort of like Indiana Jones meets Tom Clancy, with several unique twists of its own. I look forward to reading more of Whitehill’s work. He’s made quite an entrance, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

    (It should be noted that Deadrise isn’t something to pick up for family read aloud. It’s for mature audiences only, due to strong language, brief sensuality, and a number of violent, intense, and occasionally gory action scenes.)

    – Corey P.

    (I received this book free in exchange for a review.
    I was not required to write a positive review.)


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  10. When the alluring Mindy Eider walks in with a foreclosure notice addressed to her elderly Uncle Gunnar, Phouc Goldberg – debt man and cynic extraordinaire – initially sees her as little more than a source for this month’s rent payment.

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