The highlight of this month was the chance to review two very different books by two brothers, both friends, published in the last month. The brothers are Cameron (“Cam”) and Garwood (“Woody”) Anderson. Cameron’s book The Faithful Artist explores the intersection of modern art and Christian faith. Garwood’s book proposes a new way of thinking about Paul’s thinking about salvation, and is fittingly called Paul’s New Perspective. Formerly, all three of us worked together in a collegiate ministry where I worked on a leadership team with Cam and a staff training teaching team with Woody. Both books break new ground in their respective fields and I hope they both get a lot of attention (and sales!).
Beyond these, this was a month of biographies. I read biographies of J.C. Ryle, a late nineteenth century Anglican preacher, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and religious freedom pioneer. Then there was a novelized account of the last three years of the life of abolitionist John Brown. Finally, I had the chance to read a fictional biography of sorts, Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel, Lila, in the Gilead series.
And then there was an eclectic mix of other things–a Swedish crime novel, a book on solar energy, a Reformed view of common grace, and a book exploring spiritual formation practices to counter the distractions and re-wiring of our brains in our modern digital world. Someone recently commented on my diverse array of reviews. For me, it all comes down to wanting to understand the world I live in and to reflect deeply on the spiritual significance of life in our times. I hope these reviews, and the books themselves, help you to do the same.
Sun and Shadow, Åke Edwardson, translated by Laurie Thompson. New York: Penguin, 2006. DCI Erik Winter, newly bereaved of his father, is confronted with a gruesome double-homicide of two sexual “swingers”, the possibility of involvement within his own ranks, and a pattern of clues that suggests that his partner, pregnant with their first child, may be at risk. (Review)
Common Grace and the Gospel, Cornelius Van Til (foreward and edited by K. Scott Oliphint). Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2015 (2nd edition). A collection of essays by presuppositional theologian Van Til with introduction and annotations by K. Scott Oliphint, articulating Van Til’s understanding of a Reformed doctrine of common grace, engaging views of others in this tradition that differ from his own. (Review)
Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood P. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Argues that both the traditional Protestant perspective and the New Perspective on Paul are each partly right, based on the idea that Paul’s ideas on salvation developed as he wrote over a period of time and addressed different circumstances. (Review)
J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone, Iain H. Murray. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016. The biography of this nineteenth century evangelical Anglican, from his early student days, his conversion, the decision to enter ministry, and his growing national reputation and his different assignments, including his last years as the first Bishop of Liverpool. (Review)
Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul, John M. Barry. New York: Viking, 2012. [Publisher link is to paperback edition] A study of the life of Roger Williams focusing on the intellectual influences upon Williams, his journey to Massachusetts, banishment and founding of Rhode Island, and his signal ideas of freedom of conscience and government by consent of the governed. (Review)
J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014 (originally published 1977).The biography of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, describing his early life, participation in The Inklings, and his habits of work, scholarship, and how his most famous works came to be written. (Review)
Harness the Sun, Philip Warburg. Boston: Beacon Press, 2015. A survey of the spread of solar power throughout the U.S. telling the stories of how different communities are utilizing this power source, and the technological, industry, and political challenges this growth faces. (Review)
The Insurrectionist, Herb Karl. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, forthcoming, February 2017. A fictionalized biography of the last three and a half years of John Brown’s life from the Pottawotamie massacre in “Bloody Kansas” to his raid of the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, ending in his execution in 1859. (Review)
The Faithful Artist, Cameron J. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Addresses the tensions between the world of modern art and evangelical faith, where opportunities for creative engagement might be found in tensions, and what values might shape the life of one sensing a call to be both faithful Christian and artist. (Review)
The Wired Soul, Tricia McCary Rhodes. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016. Explores how our communications technology is changing how our minds work in ways that militate against a centered, focused life and introduces practices of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation that help us attend to God in a distracted world. (Review)
Best of the Month: This was a month with a number of books I really liked. But in the end, I will give the nod to Lila. It is a well-crafted parable of grace in the form of a most unlikely marriage that unfolds like the most beautiful rose of spring.
Best Quote of the Month: The idea of being “born again” or “the new birth” has fallen into disrepute and is often mocked. Here is the idea expressed at its best, by J. C. Ryle in J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone:
“The change which our Lord he declares needful to salvation is evidently no slight or superficial one. It is not merely reformation, or amendment, or moral change, or outward alteration of life. It is a thorough change of heart, will, and character. It is a resurrection. It is a new creation. It is a passing from death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above. It is the calling into existence of a new creature, with a new nature, new habits of life, new tastes, new desires, new appetites, new judgments, new opinions, new hopes, and new fears. All this and nothing less than this is implied, when our Lord declares we all need a ‘new birth’…. Heaven may be reached without money, or rank, or learning. But it is clear as daylight, if words have any meaning, that no one can enter heaven without a ‘new birth.’ “
Coming Soon: I am in the last hundred pages of Anna Karenina. As I’ve written, this is a much better read when you have some life experience behind you. It was lost on me as a high school student. I thoroughly enjoyed Candace Millard’s Destiny of the Republic on the shooting of James Garfield, and so I’ve gone back to an earlier work, River of Doubt and have been riveted by her account of the harrowing journey Roosevelt and his company of explores endured down the river known by that name. I’ve finally gotten around to Jim Wallis’s America’s Original Sin, and I find the book confirming my own conviction that racism is a sin we’ve tried to heal lightly in our country. Robert Putnam’s American Grace explores the pluralistic religious environment of our country and perhaps gives one of the earliest warnings of the trends of decline in white evangelicalism, and insight into why groups thrive and decline, and the mosaic of faith that makes up America. I’ve just begun The Church in Exile, a work exploring the theme of exile in the Bible, and proposing that this may in fact be the best way for a church accustomed to privilege but losing it to conceive of itself. I also just received a memoir by Richard Mouw, Adventures in Evangelical Civility which I am looking forward to reading as well as John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. Both works speak to the needs of our time. I’m also looking forward to reading the concluding installment of a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt that has gotten high praise in reviews I’ve read.
Books are wonderful Christmas gifts for a booklover. There might be something here for your wishlist, or perhaps a good idea for that someone special.