The Month in Reviews: June 2017

the last lion

I read fewer titles, though probably as many or more pages as most months, completing two long biographies, one of Calvin Coolidge and the other Manchester and Reid’s magnificent final volume on Winston Churchill. In the category, more or less of biography, I also reviewed a republication of a classic work on the life and theology of Reinhold Niebuhr.  I also read several books on the elemental realities of human life: food, sexuality, and loss. Online technology was a theme as well. On the fiction side, I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and on the non-fiction side, The Tech-Wise Family.  I was curious to see if the ideas of the latter could prevent the dystopia of the former. The jury is out. I read two books that drew on the text of Jeremiah 29:4-7, at least in part, to frame how the Christian community should relate to the world, and to give another major prophet equal time, a book on the idea of “kingdom” as the major theme of Isaiah.

Publication info and summary of the books are below as well as links to the full review. Enjoy!

The Circle

The CircleDave Eggers. New York: Vintage, 2014. Dystopian fiction exploring the potential in a digital, online age to create a world where nothing is secret, and whether that is a utopia or a nightmare. (Review)

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961. Lewis’s reflections after he lost his wife, Joy, that explores the different seasons of grief and his honest wrestling with what it means to believe in God when facing profound loss. (Review)

Two views

Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the ChurchPreston Sprinkle (ed.), William Loader, Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes (contributors). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Four biblical scholars and theologians, two holding a traditional understanding of human sexuality, and two holding an affirming stance, but all taking the biblical testimony about human sexuality seriously, articulate the basis on which they hold their positions, and respond to the statements of the other three in gracious dialogue. (Review)


EmbraceLeroy Barber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. An extended reflection on Jeremiah 29:4-7 and God’s invitation to embrace the difficult places, people, differences, and callings involved in bringing his peace and justice into a divided world. (Review)

To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World, Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores a different metaphor for the church’s role in God’s mission, that of midwife to what God is birthing, and how this might change the ways we engage with our world. (Review)

the living temple

The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976). A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories. (Review)


Coolidge, Amity Shlaes. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. An account of Coolidge as a man of quiet conviction who presided over a great American transformation. (Review)

tech wise family

The Tech-Wise FamilyAndy Crouch. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A book for taking steps to put technology in its proper place, allowing persons to grow in wisdom and courage instead of giving in to an “easy everywhere” life. (Review)

book of isaiah and God's kingdom

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew T. Abernethy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A thematic approach to understanding Isaiah organized around the idea of ‘kingdom’ exploring the nature of the king, the agents of the king, and the realm and people of the king as elaborated throughout the book. (Review)


Reinhold Niebuhr (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind)Bob E. Patterson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017 (originally published in 1977). An introduction to the life and theological contribution of this mid-twentieth century theologian, known for re-introducing a conversation about sin into liberal theological circles. (Review)

the last lion

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965William Manchester and Paul Reid. New York: Bantam Publishing, 2013 (first published 2012). The third volume of Manchester’s biography of Churchill, covering his leadership of England during World War II, and his political and personal life until his death in 1965. (Review)

Best book of the month: I have to give this to the book that it took me nearly a month to read, William Manchester and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. I’d long awaited the completion of Manchester’s biography of Churchill, having read the first two volumes when they were published in the 1980’s. This provided an account of Churchill’s courageous leadership throughout World War II. Churchill insisted that Great Britain’s people were in fact the lion and he was simply its roar. But the account suggested to me that his speeches and leadership called out the “lion” in his people, when lesser leaders might only have instilled confusion, fear, or even capitulation. A great read, and worth a month!

Best quote of the month:  I liked this summary of the contribution of Reinhold Niebuhr’s life (in Reinhold Niebuhr (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind)), that if anything, seems far more relevant today than when it was written in the 1970’s:

“We still need his genius to see that human behavior is complex, that demonic possibilities are built into church and social structures, that human pride and spiritual arrogance rise to new heights precisely at the point where they are closest to the Kingdom of God, and that advance brings vulnerability to new temptations. Since overweening self-regard is ubiquitous, religious and political groups need Niebuhr’s caution about special arrogance, about the self-righteous smoke screen laid down by the powerful, and about cheap grace” (pp. 130-131).

What I’m reading right now: I’ve just completed Os Guinness’s latest book, Impossible People, and Casey Tygrett’s Becoming Curious, a wonderful book which commends the spiritual practice of asking questions. Look for reviews of these this week. I’m also reading a couple books exploring the character of the rising generation. One is Senator Ben Sasse’s book on The Vanishing American Adult which is concerned with rebuilding what he sees as a needed culture of self-reliance. The other, Abandoned Faith, concerns why so many of this generation are walking away from the church, and the role parents and other church leaders may play in helping some come back.  I’m also about 300 pages into an 800 plus page collection of papers on various aspects of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright’s magnum opus on Paul (which is over twice that long and which I probably should spend a summer reading some year soon).  Finally, I am reading a collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books. I just finished one on the role of imagination in enabling us to enter deeply into community–quite thought-provoking. I can understand why she has been called Barack Obama’s favorite Christian intellectual and was interviewed by him for the New York Review of Books (Part One and Part Two).

Hope you find something good here for your summer reading. And I’d love to hear what you have been reading and found interesting as well. Building on Marilynne Robinson’s title, when I was a child I read books, and I haven’t stopped yet!

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