Monday, November 30, 2009

The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle- An Honest Review

*Note: I have not read any other books or documents on the life of Alfred the Great, so this review is simply about the book and my experience reading it, I am not judging whether the material is completely accurate or not.*
  • Summary: 'The White Horse King' by Benjamin Merkle is a book about the life of the legendary Alfred the Great: first King of England. In a general view it documents his life including tragedies as well as triumphs, recounting how this great king saved Britain.
  • Writing Style and Information:The work itself is not a specific view of Alfred's life or achievements (though it does highlight a few), but instead is a mid-sized book describing his life in general, from birth to death. An excellent first book for someone being introduced to English history and biographies for the first time. I'm quite sure that this would go over well with high school curriculum as it's not too long and boring for students, yet still provides a decent amount of information. Unlike many other historical biographies, I found 'The White Horse King' to a quite an enjoyable, relaxing read. Usually when I go in for non-fiction, I'm studying, yet when I read this work it did not feel like studying at all because the delightful down to earth perspective, which I deeply appreciated. The book was not dull (as many biographies are), and the author does not try to impress us by showing off his vocabulary, but puts his knowledge into friendly conversational language, which makes this learning experience far more versatile.
  • Overall Message and Lessons: The author mentions many times of the faith of Alfred, but never specifies what extent of christianity Alfred was at. Though it is true he was devoted, it is quite clear that Alfred was a Catholic, or at least heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. What I saw was that Alfred sincerely believed that being baptized into the faith was salvation, and parents might want to take that into consideration with their own religious beliefs. However, throughout the book are is the encouragement to stand up for those who can't defend themselves, seek wisdom, seek justice, show mercy, and practice forgiveness. It was an encouragement to read about the life of such a leader who was so dedicated to these principles.
All in all, a wonderful work about a legendary leader who very few know much about. This book sparked my interest about Alfred the Great, and I believe I will take further interest in his life and read more detailed books on his accomplishments.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Until the Whole World Hears' by Casting Crowns: Album Review

Ok, first off, I'm letting you all know that this is an honest, unbiased review. I always try to review the product, and not give a 5 star just because I totally love the author, band, artist, etc.
I loved Casting Crowns previous cds: 'Casting Crowns', 'Lifesong', 'The Altar and the Door', and 'Peace on Earth' so I was eagerly anticipating their newest release, especially since the coming a new member. However, I was sadly disappointed.
Casting Crowns is well known for their honest, raw, pull-no-punches songs that shoot straight at the heart of the church, seeing past all masks and hypocrisies. This is their huge advantage, as it's unique, yet this album lacks this but for 2 songs: 'Until the Whole World Hears', and 'If We've Ever Needed You'. I think it's a mostly mutual feeling that their praise and worship style is not their strong point, yet on this album that's all they give, minus the above previously mentioned songs. Once you get past them, the rest of the album falls flat, and is a very weak attempt at the praise and worship style.
One thing that made Casting Crowns such a hit was their honest, down-to-earth, unique quality. That has now been exchanged on this album for a praise and worship, ordinary style that just isn't worth the price.
Don't get me wrong, I love praise and worship. But I can get that when I pick up some Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith, Matt Redman, etc. and they do a much better job. That was never the reason I supported Casting Crowns; the reason I loved their works were because they spoke to me and convicted me.
Other times their songs spoke of encouragement during hard times, never giving up, etc. Yet all this is gone, replaced by flat, emotionless songs which leave me with disappointment rather than a message, and boredom rather than conviction. The album could have been saved if the songs were memorable, such as Chris Tomlin's 'Holy is the Lord', or Matt Redman's 'Heart of Worship', but they aren't. The lyrics are same old, and the music itself has a harsher ring to it than before.
Another thing that greatly bothered me was the presence of a U2 song which is the hidden track at the end. On an album which they state as being a message to spread the gospel until the whole world hears, this definitely does not belong, being a secular song.
The quality and character of the music has greatly diminished, absolutely nothing compared to the former glories such as 'If We Are the Body', 'Voice of Truth', 'Who Am I', 'Praise You in this Storm', 'Somewhere in the Middle', 'What If His People Prayed', and 'Stained Glass Masquerade'.
I expected more. There is still a message for them to preach, it was exchanged for a watered down, complacent style that is no more unique.