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Book Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

In the past, I would post only book reviews pertinent to worship, music in the local church, or general Christian leadership and discipleship. Recently, I've been studying many more general topics as well, such as history, economics and scientific thought, some of which end up as reviews here as well.

Entries in germany (3)

The Road To Serfdom - F. A. Hayek (1944)

Of the thousands of pages of text among the dozens of now iconic books written on economics, there is no more succinct and penetrating exploration of the ties of economic capitalism with political liberalism than the relatively short work of "The Road To Serfdom" by Friedrich A. von Hayek. Having read several of these voluminous texts myself, I can say unequivocally that "The Road To Serfdom" is the singular text that simultaneously explains the simplicity and benefits of the free market system while profoundly destroying the notion that personal liberty could be found within the socialist economic framework. Hayek, as he admits of himself, is an academic and technical economist who felt compelled to write a defense of the basics of liberalism (in the 19th century classical definition) as the unique and necessary combination of economic freedom and personal liberty only after it was clear that many of his influential political contemporaries in WWII Europe had vastly misunderstood the workings of socialism, and that it's ultimate outcome would always be totalitarianism- either in the form of Communism, as in Russia, or in the form of Fascism, as in Nazi Germany.

In fact, this book outlines the progression of what exactly happened in Germany to produce the society and opportunity for Hitler's regime to become the tyrannical monster of the modern world. Hayek clearly and convincingly explores how the fears of individuals based in economic instability of a free market system can lead people to eventually surrender their individual liberties in hopes of economic and nationalistic security. This surrendering becomes a downward spiral of personal liberties as the willing (at least initially) cost of an ever-expanding socialist economic state. A state in which the individual hopes of security and sustenance become permission for an eventual autocracy that maintains all decisions for all peoples at all times.

The observations of Hayek are not meant merely as a history lesson, but were a clear warning to England and America of the dangers of socialist economic thinking (and socialism in general), because Hayek believed that the rise of socialism in those countries would eventually set the stage for a totalitarian regime to be possible. In fact, Hayek's thesis and warnings are so cutting, and so well defended that he almost single-handedly inspired a renaissance of 20th century liberalism (though it more often went by the label of conservatism by its adherents such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan).

"The Road To Serfdom" is not just about the political and economic threads that led to Nazi Germany, it is about the true balance of power between personal liberties and state control. If you have never read an economics book in your life, you MUST read this one. It is by far the most powerfully written, yet simply understood, philosophical explanation of liberalism and the free market system- and why the combination of free market economy is the central component to ensure the other freedoms that accompany modern liberty (emancipation, universal suffrage, free speech and more). The ability to make self-determined decisions about work and economic exchange imbues in itself the power to allow both individuals and entities to pursue success. The natural balance of the free market is not only clearly articulated, Hayek contrasts it with the inherent weaknesses of the planned economic socialist state.

This is a political book, but whatever your politics are- you cannot afford to ignore this book. Whatever your political understanding or persuasion, this book is an absolute "must read" text. While books like Mises' "Human Action" and Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" provide more technical details and examples on how the free market system works, neither of those books provide so clear and convincing a treatise on the benefits and perpetual health of a economic liberalism, as "The Road to Serfdom".

Once beginning to read this book 4 days ago, I could not put it down. I am now on my third time through and continue to find it as enthralling and engaging each time through. A truly brilliant articulation of economics, freedom, free market, and the dark path of socialism that eventually leads to totalitarianism. If you believe you understand economics and have never read this book, you have missed one of the greatest texts in this field, in history.

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Review by Kim Gentes

Life Together - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1939)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is a modern classic manual to understanding and practicing Christian community.  The book, though short, provides thoughtful and crisp perspectives on what people foundationally believe about community, some of the misguided premise which people start with and what a core of Christian community should be based on.  From there, he guides people through a myriad of important issues dealing with community.  Each sub-topic is addressed in terms of its value to the individual and its value to the community.  Always, we see Bonhoeffer subverting the desires of the individual by exposing them to the underlying truth of the selfishness of their practices. 

Bonhoeffer begins his treatise by exploring the need and nature of fellowship.

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.[1]

This definition is quickly assigned a real world understanding in the representative place that a believer has as the reflective image (Imago Dei) of God:

The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian living in the diaspora recognizes in the nearness of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.[2]

This kind of understanding of community as a mutual mirroring of God’s presence to all around us throughout the fellowship is not simply an inward blessing club, rather, it is a entrance into the reality of Bonhoeffer’s understanding of what Jesus has given us in the kingdom of God.

Bonhoeffer assigns his weightiest words on the deconstruction of the mythic utopia that some think Christian community to be, when he says:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure. When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.[3]

Once this misunderstanding of Christian community is thoroughly shattered under his lithe polemic of artificial Christian community, the remainder of Life Together builds a construct that expresses, for Bonhoeffer, the reality of true fellowship.   Such architectural work is clearly informed by the very real situation and community in which Bonhoeffer found himself during World War II, within the confines of Nazi Germany.  In such a stark environment, this great Christian leader is trying to practically give people tools for caring, in faith, for Jesus (as represented in each other) and for experiencing the co-unity of God with his community.  This kind of effort manifests itself very practically in Life Together.

The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from everyday Christian life in community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; for in the poor sister or brother, Christ is knocking at the door. We must, therefore, be very careful on this point.[4]

But Bonhoeffer is careful not to assign every care for the community on the conscience of the individual. In fact, he finds wayward desires in the system itself (often controlled by leader with poor agendas) and sets them to rights by verbalizing the offense in the book. For example, here he charges those in leadership of communities to seriously evaluate the fruit of the local communities they pastor.

Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure? This is one of the toughest and most serious questions that can be put to any form of everyday Christian life in community.[5]

There are literally dozens of quotable sentences and phrases in Life Together, not because it is snippets of wisdom compiled, but because of the authors compact writing style that brings the up quickly and answers the dilemma within the same sentence often. One particular point rises powerfully to the surface in Bonhoeffer’s acknowledgement and treatment for loneliness among Christians. He clearly believes that loneliness is a powerful foothold for the work of the enemy.

The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them.[6]

For Bonhoeffer, the antidote is clearly confession, a unifying force requiring the presence of one another. Unlike modern western culture whose individualism has told them to confess to God in private, Bonhoeffer sees that as a misplaced and powerless position. Instead, he says:

A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to community with the entire congregation. In the one other Christian to whom I confess my sins and by whom my sins are declared forgiven, I meet the whole congregation. Community with the whole congregation is given to me in the community which I experience with this one other believer. For here it is not a matter of acting according to one’s own orders and authority, but according to the command of Jesus Christ, which is intended for the whole congregation, on whose behalf the individual is called merely to carry it out. So long as Christians are in such a community of confession of sins to one another, they are no longer alone anywhere.[7]

And profoundly,

Confession is conversion.[8]

You cannot spend time in the book Life Together without being changed by its powerful message, which has obviously been informed by the realities of living under the persecution of the thoroughly anti-Christian Third Reich.


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Review by Kim Gentes


[1]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Albrecht Schonherr; Geffrey B. Kelly; Daniel W. Bloesch. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works v.5: Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible”. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996),Kindle Edition, Location 561

[2]Ibid., Location 570

[3]Ibid., Location 671

[4]Ibid., Location 805

[5]Ibid., Location 1453

[6]Ibid., Location 1745

[7]Ibid., Location 1758

[8]Ibid., Location 1779

Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor Frankl (1959)

Victor Frankl is the author of one of the most concise personal narratives of the holocaust of the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl, who survived no less than four camps personally, uses his profound analytic mind to explore the behavior and nature of human beings. Rejecting the Freudian premise of existentialism, Frankl develops a new way of viewing humanity in the psychoanalytic discipline. As both a psychologist and neurologist, Frankl's physiological and psychological findings are synthesized into his new psychoanalytic technique called "logotherapy".

In contrast to the existentialist foundations of Freud, Frankl establishes the belief that there is meaning in the universe, especially for mankind. Man’s Search for Meaning articulates that it is this search for meaning that becomes the primary question for all:

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. [1]

While staying away from religious archetypes to present his theory, the core of logotherapeutic beliefs are constructed with such care that they can sit squarely on top of the foundation of either Jewish or Christian orthodoxy (or perhaps any religious context in which God is viewed as good).

Man's Search For Meaning is one of the most profound modern works I have read. Perhaps Frankl's most significant concept presented therein is his thorough and profound treatment of human suffering. Frankl does not dismiss suffering as meaningless (unlike existentialism), but places it within a triad of human experience that he says brings meaning: doing significant work, caring for others, and enduring suffering.  He contends that without human thought and activity based one one or more of those three, a person will lose meaning in life and destruction (either external or internal) is sure to follow.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. [2]


In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice [3]

The key for Frankl's thesis is the rooting of human expectation in the future, not the present. Meaning comes, he contends, by placing hopes in spiritual or earthly goals. Failing to do so will cause discouragement and loss meaning, spiralling people into trying to scratch out meaning in temporal pleasure of the day, which will eventually lead to abandonment of hope and self-destruction.

Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. (Logotherapy, indeed, is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.)[4]

This book starts off being our hosted view into the unfathomable world of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and the psycho-analytical understandings that Frankl comes to.  But the more you read, the more you are drawn into Frankl's so thoroughly rendered understanding of suffering that the book becomes a way for us to enter into the story by Frankl's genius. Very few books come close to the profundity of human experience and, therefor, understanding that is present in this book.  I can't imagine that it isn't one of the greatest writings in the last century.

Life changing!

Book Link on Amazon: Man's Search for Meaning


Review by

Kim Gentes


[1]“Man’s Search For Meaning”, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press 1959), Pg. X

[2]Ibid, Pg 111

[3]Ibid, Pg 113

[4]Ibid, Pg 98