The builder of my house once told me it was loosely framed, which I don't think was a good thing. My guess is that the person who designed the house and lived in it for several years changed her mind a few times as the house was under construction, leaving it with some curious angles. It's a wonderful, odd house, but it could have been a disaster, and some books-including Dave Burchett's When Bad Christians Happen to Good People (WaterBrook, 2002)-are like that.
Mr. Burchett's book has problems but also clever observations about how some churches fixate on unimportant matters. He even offers an antidote, the WJSHTOT-"Would Jesus Spend His Time on This?"-question, as he gently pokes fun at contemporary trends by offering this theme song: "Don't know much about theology, Don't know much Christology/... But I do know that God loves you,/And I'm trying hard to be good too./ What a wonderful faith this would be."
Here's another refrain: "But I think that God forgives my quirks,/ And I figure if I do good works,/ What a wonderful faith this would be." What Mr. Burchett writes about "the Sinner-Sensitive Church" is important: "Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist's office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done. The staff always makes me feel welcome and even cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: 'You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you.'"
The opposite of a loosely framed house, or book, is one that is air-tight, and that's what R.C. Sproul has produced in his crisp and clear Saved from What? (Crossway Books, 2002). Mr. Sproul succinctly and precisely explains what Christ has done for us and how atonement truly does atone. The famous Buddhist professor D.T. Suzuki, commenting on Christ's sacrifice, wrote that "this proceeding does not seem to be quite fair on the part of God," and many of the college students I know feel the same way. They don't need another dumbed-down book that can make them comfortable; they need a dentist with a drill.
Loosely framed books arrive from all kinds of publishers, including university presses. Robert T. Pennock edited for The MIT Press a book, Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Its Critics (2002) that might appear to be a fair, point-counterpoint, Darwin vs. Design debate, but the book is stacked 2-1 for the evolution side and structured to provide macro-evolutionists the last word in every section. Nevertheless, what the editor meant for ill may produce good, as those who would not otherwise be exposed to intelligent-design arguments may read them and perhaps ponder.
Spectacular news events always produce a parade of loosely framed books, as publishers rush to cash in on public interest either by green-lighting new works that otherwise would have languished, or re-publicizing ones already out. Some, like Dede Korkut's The Medical Case of Muhammad (WinePress, 2001), are interesting. I'm skeptical of attempts to deconstruct spiritual experiences by making them result from physical causes, but Dr. Korkut's case that Muhammad probably suffered from two neurological deficiencies, hydrocephalus and a particular kind of epilepsy, is worth keeping in mind.
Others among these books might interest particular niche markets. Those who like loosely framed history might read through John Murphy's Sword of Islam: Muslim Extremism from the Arab Conquest to the Attack on America (Promethus, 2002), which tells the now-familiar story of modern jihad. Readers who love numerical attempts to fathom the prophecies in Revelation and other books might be intrigued by Ellis Skolfield's The False Prophet (Fish House, 2001), an imaginative attempt to make the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem a central point in prophetic calendars, and to strike out against members of the Council on Foreign Relations and others who are purportedly conspiring against U.S. sovereignty. The latter chapters rush by in a frenzy.
Readers who want to know more about Islam should read three authors highlighted in our March 23 book chart: Bernard Lewis, Bat Ye'Or, and Ibn Warraq. Those desiring a Christian critique of Islam should look at three books reviewed in my column in that issue: Muslims and Christians at the Table (P&R Publishing, 1999), The Prophet & the Messiah (InterVarsity Press, 2002), and Light in the Shadow of Jihad (Multnomah, 2002).