Sunday 22 October 2017

Guest Post: Ben Chenoweth and the Exegetical Histories Series (Novels)

Today I welcome novelist (amongst other things!), Ben Chenoweth. I discovered his books on Amazon and I was hooked on the premise and their exegetical background. Like Ben, I have found that Christian fiction can be not only entertaining but educational and these two go hand in hand. One of the facets of learning is that we have greater understanding and retention of knowledge when it is done in an entertaining way. Ben has done this with this series of Exegetical Histories novels (exegesis: a critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible). This is not just historical fiction but the provision of the background to these characters and of the books of the Bible that the characters were inspired and guided to author under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

But first a little about Ben: 

Ben Chenoweth lived in St. Petersburg, Russia with his wife and two children for almost ten years. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia where he works at the Melbourne School of Theology as an Educational Designer/eLearning Coordinator. He enjoys reading, writing, music and playing computer games in equal measures. He has a particular interest in the intersection between theology and the arts. In addition to The Ephesus Scroll, The Corinth Letters, and The Rome Gospel, he has written a play based on the life of Saul (available for purchase here) and a musical based on the Biblical book of Esther (a free download of the 1998 performance at Lilydale Baptist Church is available here).

For those who might be interested, he lists C. S. Lewis, Peter Shaffer and Neal Stephenson as his literary inspirations.

Now sit back and let Ben explain the background to his novels and their exegetical basis. I am sure you will find it interesting and whet your appetite to learn about this background and message behind these novels and books of the bible they focus on. It can only strengthen your faith and provide a defence for the faith that Peter encourages in 1 Peter 3:15:
.....but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
The Exegetical Histories Series
by Ben Chenoweth

In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet exclaims:
I'll have grounds
More relative than this-the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.

Hamlet wants to catch out his guilty uncle by publicly re-enacting the events surrounding the murder of Hamlet's father. He (and by extension, Shakespeare) clearly knows the value of the Arts for putting things in such a way that they can deeply impact the viewer.

During my theological studies, one of my lecturers gave us students a choice for our main assessment: either we could write an essay on one of a number of topics, or we could submit something from the Arts instead, something that had come out of our theological reflection on the themes of the particular book we were studying. (We would also have to submit a short essay briefly describing that theological reflection, but the item of Art was the main part of the assessment.)

A few brave people did this. I recall that a couple of people submitted paintings, someone performed a song, and there was even a complete oratorio performed in multi-part harmony by a large group of Tongans! In each case, it was extremely moving to see theology expressed through the Arts.

What did I do? I wrote an essay.

Now, many years later, what do I remember: my essay or the theological Art? I can't even recall the topic of my essay, let alone the content! However, while I didn't take up that offer, the event really stuck with me. In fact, I took it as a personal challenge: to be on the look-out for opportunities to intersect Theology with the Arts.

So when a high school student in my Bible class couldn’t understand how someone who did not follow the teachings of the Left Behind series could be allowed to teach in a Christian school, I decided that something had to be done about it. To him, there was only one way to interpret the book of Revelation, and if you didn’t follow that interpretation then you couldn’t possibly be a Christian. That experience made me want to do what Tim La Haye had done: write a disguised commentary on the book of Revelation, but from a very different interpretational standpoint.

And so The Ephesus Scroll was born. The novel has two timelines and the action inter-cuts between the two, somewhat like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. The first timeline is set in 93 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. The action follows Loukas, a young Christian man, the son of a merchant, who travels to the island of Patmos, where he receives a scroll from Ioanneis that he is to read in the churches of seven major cities of Asia Minor. This Loukas sets out to do, but his mission quickly comes to the attention of the Roman authorities. Their attempts to stamp out an incipient rebellion, sparked by Ioanneis’ scroll, make Loukas’ journey increasingly difficult.

The second timeline is set in the recent present, mostly in St. Petersburg, Russia. The action follows Dima and Natasha, a young Russian couple, who come across a diary written by Dima’s great great grandfather, Nikolai, who was a Russian spy in Turkey in the 1880s. They read that Nikolai found a stone box containing a scroll when he experienced an earthquake whilst visiting Ephesus. They then look for and find the box itself, with the scroll inside still intact. They take the scroll to an expert in ancient manuscripts and the scroll is unrolled.

The reason for using two timelines is simple. It gave me the opportunity to answer the two central questions of Biblical interpretation: 1) what did the book mean for its initial readers and hearers, and 2) what does the book mean for us today. By the end of the novel, the reader has encountered a significant amount of historically based biblical interpretation, almost without realising it!

The second novel in the Exegetical Histories series, entitled The Corinth Letters, does a similar thing only this time with Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church. Again there are two timelines, one in the first century and one in the 21st century; although this time the novel involves romance, document forgery, archaeology, and descriptions of delicious Greek cuisine.

The newest book in the series, The Rome Gospel, came out a couple of months ago. This time, the biblical books being addressed are the gospel of Mark and selected portions of the book of Acts. The novel is set in Rome, just after the Great Fire of AD 64, when there was intense persecution of Christians, which included the martyrdoms of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. Against that backdrop, Mark is writing his gospel (but not perhaps in a way you might be expecting!) However, the process causes him to flashback to significant moments in his life, including moments of personal tragedy, success, and abject failure.

If you want to discover more about The Rome Gospel, these two videos explain very aptly. The first is a short account while the second is a longer one with more detail.

To conclude, I trust that if you choose to read one (or all!) of these novels, you will find them enjoyable as well as informative. It is my hope that you will not even be aware that you are learning anything about the historical and cultural background to the New Testament; rather, that you get caught up in the story for its own sake. And that you will be deeply impacted in ways that only the Arts can do!

To purchase copies:

Paperback: Koorong Amazon.

E-Book: Smashwords  iTunes  Amazon

(However, note that the Kindle version of The Ephesus Scroll is not free at Amazon because I refuse to enrol my books in KDP Select which then makes it impossible to set a book to free.)

You can connect with Ben:

(sign up to Ben’s website for a half-price copy of the ebook of The Corinth Letters)

Thank you, Ben, for explaining the background to your novels and their exegesis. I pray any reader will gain an entertaining but educational account of Revelation, Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the Gospel of Mark and parts of Acts. May they have a stronger defence to their faith as a result.  

Sunday 15 October 2017

Author/Novel Spotlight: David G. Johnson and Star Wolf

Today, I am spotlighting one of my favourite authors, David G. Johnson. I first read his Chadesh Chronicles commencing in 2014 and loved them. These are one of my favourite trilogies. There are two things that form the pillars of David as a novelist. Excellent world building and adherence to a biblical worldview. One has only to read the Prologue to Fool's Errand (Chadash Chronicles, Book 1) to see an example of this. This could almost be considered a short story on its own. Now I am pleased to say that David has continued this legacy in his latest novel, Star Wolf. This spotlight post delves into the background of this novel.

So sit back and let David discuss this new novel. But first a little about David himself: 

David G. Johnson is an author and teacher with a BA in Asian Studies and a MDiv in Biblical Languages who currently resides overseas with his family serving as teachers and living witnesses of their faith. David has been an avid Fantasy and Science Fiction fan for over thirty years and has turned his cross-cultural experience to the task of creating engaging stories blended smoothly with a Biblical worldview.

Now what is Star Wolf about and what does the cover look like? 

Molon Hawkins, a daring, free merc captain, earns his living navigating the dangerous borders between factions in the civil war that shattered humanity’s vast star empire. For the former scout captain and his veteran command crew aboard Star Wolf, most contracts are milk runs. Most… When a routine rescue mission goes awry, Molon finds his rescuee, Dr John Salzmann, inextricably tied into a web of intrigue that threatens to upset the balance of power in the galaxy. Can Molon and John follow the threads and discover the forces behind the plot? If so, what can a lone ship do to stop it? Star Wolf is the debut novel in the exciting new Shattered Galaxy setting by David G. Johnson, bestselling author of the award-winning Chadash Chronicles series.

From reading David's past novels, I found him to be an excellent world builder. Here are the crests of the many factions he mentioned in the book description above:

In this galaxy map below, David shows where these factions fit into Shattered Galaxy: 

I am always intrigued as to why an author writes a novel. David provides this background to why he wrote Star Wolf: 

I’ve always loved Sci-Fi but was never sure if I could write it as deeply as I write Fantasy. The main character for Star Wolf, a wolf-anthro named Molon Hawkins, came about as part of a collaboration I did with other authors in my Christian Authors Group, Iron Sharpening Iron. We each submitted a character and then wrote our own multiverse reinventions using all the characters from all of the authors. That series was call Realms of Our Own and the stories can be found on Amazon. Molon was my submission. The more I thought about the character, the more I felt driven to flesh out the “real” Molon, not as part of a multiverse, but in his own setting. I had an idea for a vast setting I planned for several different storylines, and where Molon fits right in. So I fleshed out the Shattered Galaxy setting and Star Wolf was born.

David always writes from a Biblical Worldview and his explanation below is no surprise in relation to Star Wolf:

The main ideas I wrestle with in Star Wolf are: 1) What if the Messiah tarries in His return? We have no idea when Jesus will come back, so what will faith look like several centuries in the future if we are still waiting? 2) What if we discover alien life? There are many theories, but there is nothing in Scripture that expressly says there are NOT other life forms out there. How do they fit into the fall? How do they fit into the coming judgment and redemption? I wrestle a bit with those topics in Star Wolf as well.

David is very proud of this novel and I am not surprised: 

I personally feel this book is my best yet. I am very proud of how Star Wolf turned out, and already from early reviews, it seems critics agree. I hope you enjoy reading Star Wolf as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The critics are those who have submitted a review on Amazon:  

ByGreen Fire on July 9, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoy Johnson's books and this one is no exception. What I like about Star Wolf is it's potential to be on the same level as a Star Trek and Star War and other sci-fi space opera adventures. I loved the political intrigue, the various alien races, and the adventure woven through the narrative. Interestingly enough, Johnson uses a different take on the concept of angels and demons as being another sort of race that God created as opposed to spiritual beings.

The characters each have their own life in the story, from major to minor so that you can relate to each one. There are some twists and turns in the story, especially toward the end that will blow your mind.

One thing that some readers may find a little cumbersome is keeping track of everything because there's a lot going on with factions, aliens, humans, political alliances, galactic terms, character call signs, procedures, factions, and etc so there's constant references to them so you may think it will slow you up. Never fear, there's a glossary at the end of the book which is most helpful.

A wonderful story!

on July 29, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed this so much! So many times, I'd stop and think, "how did he even think that up?!" Admittedly, I'm a Star Trek/Star Wars gal, but I rarely read books of this genre; I watch the movies. Star Wolf took me to space in my mind, and David's descriptions are so well done, that I could "see" it all. Recommended for anyone, but as a homeschool mom, I'm always looking for things my kids can also read, and I HIGHLY recommend this especially for any Jr High or High School student looking for a fun read. You won't be disappointed.

on July 3, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition

We’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and it’s worth the wait. David just released a new book, & Star Wolf provides great entertainment and some spiritual truth. As you know, I regularly pan pure entertainment as a waste of time. But DGJ has definitely kicked it up a notch.

I can’t remember that last time I gave five stars. But then, it may just be all the non-Christian books I’ve been reading lately. The joy of Star Wolf is the presence of realistic believers, with many levels of belief and understanding. There’s no preaching, just the “living” witness of his constructed characters.

I liked the fact that the aliens were all considered part of Creation with a possibility of salvation—though that is never mentioned, really. I found the angels and demons as alien races to be a bit outside scripture, but it fits with the narrative and the suspension of unbelief comes easily. This is fiction, and David was obviously very careful to avoid anti-Biblical speculation.

Star Wolf provides great entertainment and some spiritual truth
I loved the writing. It reminds me of the wry humor found in the old Clancy or Asimov books—turns of phrase that had me annoying my wife with “listen to this one…”.

The scenarios are often outrageous, but always conceivable. The levels of tension rise and fall well. I found myself really caring for the characters—even the nasty ones. It takes real skill to give us compassion for the evil guys and gals.

It’s not hard science fiction, but quite believable. It’s certainly internally consistent, and that’s the basic need. The Shattered Galaxy is a bit over the top. But David’s worlds are always nearly overly detailed. But, I love the detail, though I know many are not so enthusiastic.

It’s just religious fiction, so far. No radically transformative salvations yet. But I expect that will be fixed in future books. It’s a wonderful world to explore and I can’t wait for book 2.

I was given a review copy with no strings. I can’t help it that I loved the book.

on July 29, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition

Star Wolf by David G. Johnson is clearly one of the most entertaining Christian sci-fi novels I have read. His sophonts (aliens) rank among the most clearly written and developed aliens I have read lately in sci-fi, Christian or secular.

Captain Molon Hawkins is a very well developed character, believable and real, and the interactions between him and his crew are engaging.

The book is not hard sci-fi, but the tech is both well reasoned and intriguing. As the characters interact with their environment, it is easy to picture the weaponry, medical equipment or enhancements. I enjoyed his description of travelling through voidspace. Although some characters tend to explain rather than show what they are feeling and thinking, the characters themselves are consistent and well rounded, and I have to say that David Johnson has nailed those action scenes! Space battles can be confusing, but I found the combat sequences both exciting and clearly drawn. (Very nicely done, sir!)

Sometimes, jargon in sci-fi and fantasy can be a tad ridiculous, but this definitely is not the case here. His characters utilize the slang, jargon and colloquialisms naturally, and adding a level of realism as they needle, encourage, or berate each other.

All in all, if you read Christian sci-fi, this is a good bet. Me? I'm looking forward to what happens to Molon and Twitch and the rest of the crew of the Star Wolf next.

Things I liked about this book:
I really liked that there was very little heat and no profanity. There was violence, but nothing gory or gratuitous. The world building was terrific- you could tell that the author had spent a lot of time on it. The plot was well executed -it had twists and turns that I did not expect.

Things I didn't like:
Occasionally the author spent time on world building that didn't seem plot related, and it slowed down the pace. The character Molon, who is pictured on the cover, is not the point of view character but is the hero. I thought that was a little awkward. There was a lot of fighting, and though I'm sure fans of military sci-fi will love that, I think I would have preferred a little more exploration of the interesting local cultures.

I would recommend this for age 15 and up due to violence.
Disclaimer- the author lent me a copy from his Kindle and asked for an unbiased review.

I need to make mention of David's previous trilogy, The Chadash Chronicles. These can be bought individually or in the Omnibus Edition (pictured left and this has a special bonus, the prequel novella, Saga of the Everking, where you can get a sneak peek at one of our heroes, Goldain, set eight years before the events of the Chadash Chronicles trilogy.)

Here are some Amazon reviews of this Omnibus Edition: 

ByPeter Younghusband on December 3, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

The hook that baited me in reading this series and its prequel was the Prologue in Fool's Errand. I was very impressed with this on its own and it could be read and considered a standalone short story. This forms the basis of the world building that Johnson is well known for. Throughout the Chadash Chronicles, Johnson takes us back to these roots in the various plots twists and turns and this forms a solid anchor from which the entire series is secured. The same can be said for Saga of the Everking. This is a great standalone novella and there are traces of this story scattered throughout the Chadash Chronicles which further builds upon this world building and supports and enhances that which is outlined in the Prologue.

Even in each of the three books of The Chadash Chronicles, Johnston builds upon the previous instalment's worldbuilding so as the reader progresses in each story, they are being treated to a richness of this world that just gets deeper and more layered.

The same can be said for his plot structure and characterization. This series is one where you become extremely lost in both these structures and find it hard to return to the reality of life. Johnson's plot developments, twists and turns not only keep you reading, but are constructed to provide a very detailed storyline. This together with his characterisations forms a closely knitted fabric throughout the entire series. You become so endeared to the characters that you feel you are with them, you laugh with them and at their antics, you experience their joy, their pain, their disappointments, their despair, you are fighting alongside them, you might even feel a bruise or two! But above all, there are many characters that you learn to love, respect, admire, tolerate, hate even, so relational are the characters of Chadash. One of them even has a cult type following!

The spiritual elements are very powerful and based on those of Bible and Johnson's own personal experience before and after he became a Christian. His testimony at the end of each book of the trilogy is powerful and shows the depth of his commitment to represent the God of the Bible and the God of his life. It also shows his author's heart for a great story and his passion for creating the same. However, if there is one thing that Johnson shines in and is an expert in, is the integration of the foundational Bible tenets into his story creating without it being obvious and again forms the basis of a deep and rich spiritual world building. Many readers who are not Christian or have any religious upbringing have stated in their reviews or in correspondence to the author that they loved the spiritual themes, did not feel they were being preached to, or bible bashed.

Although Johnson ends the series well, I was left with the feeling that there should be or could be more in the future. It is comforting to know that the author is planning more. I am looking forward to this.

All in all, one memorable and cleverly constructed fantasy world. If a reader was new to fantasy, this would be more than a good introduction to this genre; this would one of the best introductions and one to keep you searching for more like this.

Highly Recommended.

on December 5, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I loved this series! I can't say enough about how fantastic it is or the crystal clarity Johnson writes with, to introduce us to a world so different from our own. Upon entering this series for the first time, I was instantly captivated by the characters, the story and the very IDEA of what he wanted to accomplish within the plot. Needless to say, he managed it and drew me into a world that I never wanted to leave. The characters of the Chadash Chronicles are so real, so clear and relatable that I feel like I've found new friends that I can revisit again and again. The world - so different to our own and with creatures I could not have thought possible - becomes logical, real and mystifying for the very fact that I can see it all so clearly in my mind, thanks to Johnson's writing. There's only one word to sum up this series - Magic!

on November 6, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
This is fantasy the way we like it. An engrossing story, well told, on a very strange [but well-developed] world, involving wonderfully complex and interesting characters—good and bad: what more could you ask for? This is a great first series from an author sure to be a force in our industry. You are very fortunate to get everything in one package. My only problem with these books was the waiting necessary for the release of the next book in the series.

These can be bought individually as well. Here are the prequel novella and the Chadash Chronicles novels and their descriptions:

Rauno Velondar, Everking of the Qarahni, was blessed. He had a richly adorned hall, the love of his people, and a beautiful queen to rule by his side. Rauno had everything…except an heir. Desperate for a legacy that could rule the Qarahni nation, the ageing Everking turns to forbidden kashaph magic to produce an heir. A deal with a sorceress, the price for the future. Rauno gets more than he bargained for, before realizing how truly high that cost would be. The future of the Qarahni now teeters between three contenders for the throne: a female best-suited but forbidden to rule, a magic-twisted shaman unable to hold the nation united, and the king's pride, a son with a far more subtle affliction. Can the prospective successors find peace and keep the disparate clans a single, mighty nation, or will civil war erupt upon the death of the Everking? Find out in this novella introducing the world of the Chadash Chronicles by best-selling author David G. Johnson.

“Welcome to Chadash; where the lives and adventures of mortals are the weapons wielded by angels in a war for the souls of men.” What was to be a simple job for the unlikely team of a teenage thief, a holy warrior, a barbarian prince, a priest and an outcast necromancer soon transforms into a much greater adventure. These mismatched heroes find themselves caught up in a struggle threatening three decades of peace. The fate of nations is inseparably intertwined with the fate of this motley band of adventurers. Yet even greater forces are afoot as unbeknownst to the heroes they are pawns in a celestial struggle between two factions of angels on a new world the One Lord has created at the end of the universe. Come along to the world of Chadash where angels struggle for the souls of men in The Chadash Chronicles Book One: Fool’s Errand.

“The Blue Mystic is on the loose and the heroes are on the lam.” As angelic powers continue their celestial struggle for control of Chadash, the unlikely heroes have broken the blockade of Dragon Pass only to find themselves fugitives and falsely accused of assault against the Cyrian royal family. Their investigations have discovered that a powerful magician called The Blue Mystic was the mastermind behind the blockade. Still remaining is the mystery of the Blue Mystic’s identity and reasons for jeopardizing the peace between Parynland and Cyria. As the elusive Mystic remains determined to cause conflict in the region, the heroes must unmask the villain and see the enigmatic mage brought to justice while clearing their own names. Come along as the heroes seek to untangle the web of intrigue in The Chadash Chronicles Book Two: Mystic’s Mayhem.

“The Blue Mystic’s reign of terror is over. Peace and order have been restored to the northwestern nations and all is as it should be…or is it?” After decades of estrangement, the sibling-monarchs, Paryn and Cyrus, have begun deepening the bond of brotherly love and peace between their kingdoms. Unfortunately, someone hijacked the gold Paryn promised to send for relief to Cyrus’s impoverished kingdom. The skills and experience of the Heroes of Dragon Pass are once again needed to help find the missing gold. Can they succeed? Our intrepid adventurers encounter traitors, pirates, bounty hunters, and foes from their past bent on revenge. Can the heroes fight off the myriad of evil forces opposing them? Can they restore the stolen gold to the desperately needy kingdom of Cyria? Will the breach of the promised aid return Cyria and Parynland to war? Discover the answers as you ride along with our heroes in the thrilling conclusion to the Chadash Chronicles in Book Three: Paryn’s Gold.

The Chadash Chronicles won the Reality Calling 2015 Redemptive Fiction Award 

If this post has whetted your appetite for more about David and his novels, please click on the links below for his social media outlets: 

Star Wolf can be purchased and/or previewed by clicking on the BUY/PREVIEW icons below: 

and The Chadash Chronicles can be purchased at Amazon by clicking on the links below: 

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader who likes reading in the genres of Christian science fiction and fantasy, to consider reading The Chadash Chronicles, Saga of the Everking and Star Wolf and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).