Thinking Out Loud

February 22, 2013

David Gregory Makes it a Trilogy

Filed under: apologetics, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

Night With A Perfect StrangerAlthough there has been a publisher change between the second and third books, David Gregory’s Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger now has third companion title,  Night with a Perfect Stranger  (2012 Worthy Press hardcover).

I got to know David through the first two books, and then followed him to the nearly 400-page novel The Last Christian, which I reviewed here.  The first two books were also used as the basis of two movies, but with some significant plot changes. I explained the mapping of the two books to the two films here.

So it was interesting to follow David back to the much shorter (120 or so pages) format of the earlier titles.

I actually borrowed this book because I wanted to read it. I’m not aware of Worthy (the publisher) having any kind of review programs. So having mentioned it here let me use bullet points to highlight a few things:

  • The basic premise you have to agree to is that Jesus can appear to people today in the flesh. Yes, of course you disagree that this happens, but you need to suspend that issue to enjoy the book.
  • While this continues to be “apologetics fiction,” the main theme here is the nitty gritty of living the Christian life, of keeping up the zeal we have at major turning points when spiritual disciplines or church life become routine.
  • Tied to this is the nature of God’s dealings with us and the nature of God’s presence.
  • Like the first book — but not the second — there is more appeal here to the male reader, but not at the expense of women who will enjoy this as well.
  • This one is less static; there are more locations; there is more action.
  • There is a fun reference to “that book where God is an African-American woman,”  and readers of “that book” and others like it will enjoy this.
  • The back cover of the book, above the bar code, doesn’t indicate the title as fiction which, in terms of literary genre, it clearly is. Not sure why.

At $14.95 U.S., hardcover gift books like these are not cheap, but they are certainly worth giving to the right person who is struggling with a present Christian life that doesn’t equal past Christian experiences; or is simply longing, as we all do, for something more.

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August 10, 2010

The Last Christian: David Gregory’s Brave New World

The year is 2088…

Any kind of futuristic writing — both fiction and non-fiction — requires taking a great deal of risk.  Especially if you incorporate technologies that some readers find just plain silly.   What if the audience doesn’t see your vision of that era as plausible?   A few bad reviews and your book is fodder for recycling.

Fortunately, David Gregory (Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, A Day With A Perfect Stranger) is able to navigate the future just fine, thank you.   While he hasn’t lost the heart of an evangelist that so characterized his shorter works mentioned above, any apologetic in Last Christian is weaved into a much larger, much more complex plot.

That plot concerns biomedical advances that are becoming reality towards the end of the 21st century.   But it’s the absence of religious ethics that characterizes the world in which these so-called ‘advances’ are taking place.   Into that environment steps a character who is almost literally from another time.  Someone who doesn’t fit into such a world.   Someone who discovers that the unease is mutual.

As a mostly non-fiction reader, I now fully understand the meaning of the oft-used, “that was real page-turner.”   This is a book possessing a literary intensity I have not experienced in a long, long time.  Each chapter — and the narrative moves along quite rapidly — ended with a surprise, driving me deeper into what followed.   That pace — and those plot twists — continue right up to the end.

But don’t take my word for it.   Allow me to do something I’ve never done before here, and steal some consumer reviews from a retail website:

  • As I read the back cover’s description, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” Then I read the book. Gregory’s use of existent technologies, experimental technologies and not-too-far-distant-future-type technologies renders this fictional work very believable. As for there only being one Christian left in America in 2088? Well, even that isn’t so hard to imagine if you see how rapidly we’re following Europe’s footsteps, using no discernment governmentally, socially and even the evangelical church seems to be losing it’s bearings on the gospel and God’s Word…
  • This book was full of nail biting edge of your seat suspense, with a few twist and turns you won’t expect or see coming! … I would love to see this as a movie!
  • Christianity has died out completely. The mega-churches of the 90’s are now schools and malls. While all this sci-fi stuff is entertaining to read, the heart of the book goes much deeper. Gregory makes a really important point in his book. The reason, he writes through one of his characters, that Christianity died in the US early in the 21st century is because Christians didn’t look any different than non-Christians. Their lives hadn’t been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
  • David Gregory’s America seems so far removed from our current way of life, but it’s easy to see how we could easily venture down the same road. The Christian worldview is becoming an object of disdain for many, and technology is advancing at an incredible rate. The Last Christian was a fun and entertaining read. It’s a science fiction thriller with Christian apologetics mixed in. Although it was certainly a page-turner, it also caused me to really think about some serious issues in our culture today
  • Christian fiction has taken a direction that is wonderfully exciting and The Last Christian is a fantastic example!
  • I was shocked by the many things that are slowly taking root even now in America, despite the book’s setting being in 2088. At this time, Americans have become accustomed to feeding their desires and pleasures through entertainment and enjoyment. …many live in virtual reality more than they do in the “real world”. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, all things are acceptable and morality is something each individual decides for his or himself…

I compared these reviews to a few from “the usual suspects” list of bloggers, and while I recognize that some of these reviewers’ blogs as well, I think they said it best.

My recommendation here leans a little more toward Christian readers, but some other reviews spoke of possibilities in giving or loaning the book to someone outside the faith; perhaps provided they had demonstrated some spiritual openness.   It certainly speaks in a mature manner to some of the main elements involved in following Christ, as well as addressing what Christianity isn’t.   Age-wise, because of the ‘sci-fi’ flavor, I can see this book appealing to older teens as well as adults, provided they can commit to the 400+ page count.  (We’re talking about four times the word count of the two Perfect Stranger titles.)

The two of David Gregory’s shorter books mentioned above already exist as movies.   Could Last Christian make it to the big screen?   It would be an extremely fast-paced film to be sure; but for now, we have the book which earns my highest recommendation.

July 9, 2010

Currently Reading and Listening

Currently Reading

  • The Last Christian by David Gregory.   Knowing this writer only for his two apologetic Socratic dialog books, Dinner With A Perfect Stranger and A Day With A Perfect Stranger — and their related movies — I decided to jump into this title to see what else he could do.   It’s a fairly thick book; 416 pages, as opposed to the other two which you can read in an hour.   Set approximately 75 years into the future, it deals with things such as artificial intelligence, jungle survival, and missions.   I’ve just started out and the plot moves fairly quickly among what is, at the point I’m at, a number of disjointed scenes.     You can find out more from people who reached the finish line here and here.
  • The Shack by William Paul Young.   I’m reading it again because it caused so much trouble after I read it that I decided to go through it again with a pen and mark pages that I felt were controversial.   However, I’m a few pages from the end and I have yet to underline a single line.   It’s not that the book didn’t raise a lot of debate and even anger, it’s just that the book in and of itself just isn’t as radical as the critics are making it.    I’m simply enjoying a second look at a simple story that somehow captivated readers of all stripes.   Is it a book for Christians or those seeking theological reading?  I answered that question here.

Currently Listening To

  • A Beautiful Exchange by Hillsong.   The Hillsong music formula and sound is fairly well established at this point, and you could say the album offers nothing particularly new.   It’s getting increasingly more difficult to separate the group Hillsong from its youth-ministry counterpart Hillsong United.   Many songs on this album are more like the latter than the former; to the point where I think some older Hillsong listeners may not appreciate this as much.   On the other hand, it’s nice to see such a variety of worship leaders on each of the various songs.
  • Declare Your Name by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.   This is a different kind of CD for us, but my wife got into mass choir music awhile back, so I picked this mostly for her.   With 14 songs, this is good value.   There are some of the expected solos, including some by guests Israel Houghton and Paul Baloche,  but it’s the pieces with the full choir sound that I enjoy the most.    This is worship music meets urban contemporary with results that should appeal to the audience of both genres.

November 23, 2009

Apologetics Come to Life in Drama DVD

As a huge fan of David Gregory’s book Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, I finally got around to watching the short film The Perfect Stranger which was made several years ago based on the book.  (Not to be confused with Halle Barry and Bruce Willis picture of the same name.)

No, I’m not one of those conservative Christians who is afraid to use the word movie, but with the main body clocking in at only 70 minutes, film seems the better word.   Interviews with the two main cast members and the director — curiously and awkwardly embedded in the closing credits — keep things running past the 90 minute mark.

Gregory’s book could be classified as fiction or apologetics, depending on how you read it.    It certainly incorporates a lot of teaching in the narrative; the kind of Socratic dialog that The Shack is now famous for.    If you’ve taken even the most basic course in personal evangelism, the content of this is nothing new.   However, for a friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker, this could be the ‘tract’ you’ve been looking for.

Basically, The Perfect Stranger is to any other apologetics video what the H2O Course is to the Alpha Course. It brings the issues of faith and doctrine to life in the form of Nikki Cominksy,  a young wife and mother; and her dinner companion who may or may not be Jesus Christ.   Yes, that’s Nikki — female — not Nick as in the print version.

If you missed the novel, basically the lead character is given a written invitation to have dinner at a favorite restaurant, signed by someone claiming to be Jesus Christ.   Fearing a trick by people in the office — more so in the print version — but wanting to enjoy the free meal, the offer is taken up.   Having a female lead in the movie version just adds to the vulnerability.

But then it gets complicated.   In the print sequel, A Day With A Perfect Stranger, it is the wife who meets the same stranger on an airplane.   In a film version of that second novel; the couple’s daughter, Sarah, is now older and on her way to college when she encounters Another Perfect Stranger. That one, I haven’t seen yet.

Nikki is played earnestly and sincerely by Pamela Brumley, while Jesus Christ is played by Jefferson Moore, who is also credited as the writer of the “original” screenplay, though it appears to follow the heart and soul of the book rather closely.   The quality of the DVD is not bad, although stretching out the introductory scenes, so we could get to know Nikki better might have helped, as the picture advances rapidly to the actual dinner.

As stated previously, if you’ve got friends who have questions about religion in general and/or Christianity in particular, this could be the gift or witness item you’re looking for.   Watch it yourself first, and be prepared for the follow up discussion that will almost certainly arise.

Note: In the U.S. both movies are also available in a two disc set at $29.99 US; both films retail individually for $14.99 US each.  The books are still in hardcover only (and large print hardcover) and are also available in a set or individually.

April 14, 2009

The Traveler’s Gift: A Gift to Our Economic Climate

travelers-giftAlthough written in 2002, The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews begins with a story that seems to be pulled from last week’s evening newscasts.    The man in the story is unemployed, their daughter needs surgery, they’re not covered by a medical plan.    This story seems so much more 2008-2009.    Is that prophetic?

Also, although written in 2002, the book bears a resemblance to last year’s Christian bestseller, where again, a fictional premise is used as a premise to introduce a large quantity of teaching; what could be termed Socratic dialog.  In other words, this is a self-help book written as fiction, and as such very similar to David Gregory’s Dinner With a Perfect Stranger.

And like the Gregory title, this book is a prime prospect for men — both in terms of length and content — a characteristic probably shared with the new Andy Andrews book The Noticer, releasing at the end of the month.

The book revolves around David Ponder, a husband and father who finds himself as a traveler on a time-travel adventure which includes seven stops.   Each one involves interaction with a historical character who teaches him one of seven principles.    Unfortunately for my British, Australian and Canadian readers, I have to mention that three of these are figures from American history.   Perhaps that was unavoidable, or maybe it’s just my need to reconcile with the fact that the Christian book market is the U.S. market.

The principles are good, solid, self-help principles that you can expect to find in the psychology section of any bookstore.    They are however, not solely Christian principles, to the point where it begs the question, ‘Is this a Christian book at all?’   (Those with longer memories will sense the echo of the question from the ’70s and ’80s, ‘What makes a CD or a cassette Christian?’)

The result reminds me of what one might come to expect from a book by Robert Schuller — either Jr. or Sr. — and certainly those who criticize the lack of Christology in some Christian publishing would have sufficient ammunition with this title, should it ever cross their path at all.

I read it in preparation for reviewing The Noticer, which a number of bloggers are all reviewing on the same day, April 27th.   That book just arrived yesterday.    It will be interesting to see if the Christian connection or Biblical connection in that title, published some seven years later, is more or less apparent.

If you know someone for whom the present economy has truly taken the wind out of their sails, this is a good bet.    If you’re looking for something that takes an albeit contrived fictional premise and uses it to stimulate theological thought, then consider the David Gregory title or that bestseller from the last year that everybody’s talking about.

Note: If we mention that “other book” by name, it will be picked up in the web crawl, and so strong are opinions on it that we’ll have to close comments on this post. So we just didn’t mention it.

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