The Month in Reviews: February 2016

Destiny and PowerLooking over the reviews for the month, I realized that I began and ended the month reviewing presidential biographies of one term presidents. Both, I thought carried important lessons for this presidential election. I read an account of a real life book thief obsessed with owning rare books, and a classic Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers. Then there was the usual mix on Christian subjects, from studies on Johannine and Pauline literature, to a commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles, to several books on different aspects of spiritual development over one’s life.

One thing I am changing beginning with this month is to provide the review link at the end of the review summary with the title link connecting in most case to the publisher’s webpage for the book.

Falling UpwardFalling Upward, Richard Rohr. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.Richard Rohr focuses on what he sees are the key developmental tasks for each “half” of life, using the image of the container for the first half, and contents for the second. Review.

Destiny and PowerDestiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham. New York: Random House, 2015. Meacham traces the life of our 41st president from his family’s roots and values that shaped a man both deeply committed to service and country, and also highly competitive and ambitious. The biography traces both his skillful leadership in handling the transition from the Cold War era, and the inability of this deeply private man to communicate his deep care for and desire to serve his country that cost him a second term. Review.

Paul and His Recent InterpretersPaul and His Recent Interpreters, N. T. Wright. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. N.T. Wright surveys the scholarship in Pauline studies over the past fifty years engaging scholars developing the “new perspective”, “apocalyptic”, and “social history” approaches to Paul. Review.

Positively PowerlessPositively Powerless, L.L. Martin. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2015. Traces the “positive thinking” movement to its unorthodox beginnings, considers the impact of this movement in Christian circles, and the biblical alternative that frees us from the pretense of pretending to be better than we are and locates our hope not in “great thoughts” of self but the greatness of God. Review.

man who loved books too muchThe Man Who Loved Books Too MuchAllison Hoover Bartlett. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009. The story of book-thief John Gilkey, “biblio-dick” Ken Sanders whose work resulted in Gilkey’s arrest, and the world of book lovers and rare books. Review.

A Commentary on 1 and 2 ChroniclesA Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene H. Merrill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015. A commentary on these post-exilic books that emphasizes the hope of a restored kingship for Israel, the renewal of God’s covenant, and the rebuilding of the temple as the center of Israel’s religious life. Review.

Grand Central QuestionGrand Central Question, Abdu H. Murray. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.  Every worldview addresses the fundamental “why” questions of human existence and the author contends that the worldviews of secular humanism, pantheism, and Islam each have a “grand central question” and that the grand central questions posed by these worldviews find their deepest and most satisfying answers in the Christian gospel. Review.

Lay It DownLay It Down, Bill Tell. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2015. Through a personal crisis, the author discovers the freedom of the gospel in terms of three miracles. Review.

Johannine TheologyJohannine Theology, Paul A. Rainbow. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A comprehensive treatment of the Johannine corpus that assumes a common source and explores the theology of these books in light of the major relationships between persons divine and human, and of those persons with regard to the church and the world. Review.

The Nine TailorsThe Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1966. Lord Peter Wimsey, stranded in Fenchurch St. Paul due to a driving mishap, later is enlisted to solve the mystery of the death of an unidentified man, whose body is found buried atop the grave of a recently deceased woman. The “nine tailors” refers to the nine tolls of a bell when an adult man has died, after which the years of his life are tolled. Review.

herbert hooverHerbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency, Charles Rappleye. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016 (expected publication date May 10, 2016). This new biography of the Depression-era President presents a more nuanced picture than the aloof, somewhat helpless figure he has often been characterized to be. It shows a competent, caring, and principled administrator lacking the political skills requisite for presidential leadership in a time of crisis. Review.

Best Book of the Month: Given the theme of presidential biography, I have to give the nod to Destiny and Power. Meacham draws a portrait of George H. W. Bush as a skillful diplomat, before and during his presidency, and as a decent person and genuine war hero, who wrestled with the demands of character, duty, and politics, not always successfully, at the highest levels. Mostly, the book suggested to me that we may eventually recognize that we have underestimated this Bush presidency.

Best Quote of the Month: This comes from Bill Tell’s Lay it Down and I liked this for the succinct way it summarizes the Christian’s freedom as the beloved of Christ:

“When we have a new heart, freedom does not make us want to run wild and sin more. It makes us want to walk with Jesus” (p. 107).

Reviewing soon:  Among the books I will be reviewing soon are The Unkingdom of God, on a Christian form of anarchism, Growing God’s Church, a book exploring how people come to faith, J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, and Incarnate, on what it means to live as incarnational people in a virtual, “excarnate” world. I am also working my way through Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants (an abridged version) and just received a copy of The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, about the migration of six million blacks from the south to the north, comparing it to other historic migrations. And I’m also hoping to get to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, a Booker Prize winner.

So many good things to read!

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