Leadership was a theme of many of the books I read this month. Several considered factors making leaders effective, ranging from their grit, whether they are givers or takers, their originality, and their relationships. One book offered an unvarnished overview of the earliest leaders in the church. Two others considered key figures in the early history of the United States. Several, as usual, were on theological themes: the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in both Christ and us, and one (a guest review from Paul Bruggink) making the case that creation did not fall when the first couple did. One argued more generally that the theological enterprise, in its quest to be a respectable academic discipline, has lost a critical focus on theology for the church and the world. A devotional book used the analogy of pruning to explore why God wants to “cut back” the false self that we might grow “true.” There are a couple fun reads in here, some classic and contemporary crime fiction, and a unique book on travel. So here are summaries along with links to the full reviews.
Sinners and Saints, Derek Cooper. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2018. An unvarnished summary of the first five hundred years of church history, looking unflinchingly at the flaws, as well as the favorable qualities of early Christians. Review
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth. Scribner: New York, 2016. Contends that those who achieve outstanding success combine purposeful passion with perseverance–in other words, they have grit. Review
Basil (Oxford World Classics), Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 (originally published in 1852). The account of a secret marriage between an aristocrat’s son and the daughter of a shopkeeper and all the ways things went terribly wrong. Review
Reciprocal Church, Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Addressing the loss of young people from the church, makes an argument for a theology of the church as vital in our Christian life, and for mutuality and reciprocal engagement between youth and other generations in a flourishing community where all contribute. Review
Give and Take, Adam Grant. New York: Viking, 2013. Proposes that many of the most successful people are givers who have learned how to give without being doormats and without expectation of return and explores why such giving is so powerful. Review
True You, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the analogy of pruning, explores how our true selves, our true callings can emerge when we remove the clutter of business, of false selves, and idolatries that obscure the true shape of our lives. Review
For the Life of the World, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Contends that for theology to make a difference it must address what it means for human beings to flourish in the world “in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Review
Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, Adam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016. A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life. Review
God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019. A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature. Review
Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. Stephen Fried. New York: Crown, 2018. A full-length biography of this doctor-founder of the American republic covering his personal life and beliefs, advocacy, war service, and friendships with the Founders, and estrangement from Washington. Review
Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Peter Grier. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2018. A travelogue with a difference, exploring travel from a Christian perspective and how God may work in and through our lives as we travel. Review
Sculptor Spirit, Leopoldo A. Sanchez M. (Foreword by Oscar Garcia-Johnson). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Starting from a “Spirit Christology,” explores five models by which the Spirit shapes our lives in the likeness of Christ. Review
In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, James Lee Burke. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011 (my Avon edition, 1994). Investigation of multiple rapes and murders, and a murder from 1957 confront Robicheaux with dark figures from his past, and pose a threat to all he holds dear. Review
Relationomics, Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity. Review
Best of the Month. I think Volf and Croasmun’s For the Life of the World is a ringing challenge to the theological establishment to consider their calling, who their audience ought be, and what might be the focus of their work: on questions of human flourishing in relationship to Christ. I would hope it might provoke a vigorous conversation among theologians, pastors, and other thoughtful Christians who are concerned for a renewal of public theology that engages the church and the world.
Quote of the Month. Derek Cooper’s Sinners and Saints does a great job of rescuing the early leaders of the church from the musty and reverential mists of time. This quote offers a sense of his approach:
“Unlike countless other church history books that dance around the distasteful details of our Christian past, let’s humanize our history. Counterintuitively, perhaps, let’s emphasize as much grit as glory, let’s feature as much flesh as faith, and let’s showcase as many sinners as saints. It’s important for you to know at the onset, however, that we are not going to do this because we think mudslinging is a spiritual discipline, but only because we believe truth-telling is. I, personally, have no desire to sully the reputation of saints, nor do I find any pleasure in wallowing in the faults of our most faithful. When I air the dirty laundry of our most hallowed heroes and heroines, I am fully aware of all the clean clothes they have neatly pressed and attractively arrayed in their dresser drawers. Because of the nature of this book, I will not usually refer to that clean laundry; but make no mistake: I know it is there” (p. 11).
Current reads and Upcoming Reviews. I just finished a chronicle of a year or so on Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay. Subsidence, rising water levels and erosion endanger the way of life of this small community, the character of which is captured well in Tangier Requiem. I also just finished a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays that include an interview between her and former president Barack Obama. I have been reveling in the rich theological writing of Fleming Rutledge in The Crucifixion, a big book that accounts for a few less reviews than normal in the latter part of March. It is worth it! Justin Whitmel Early’s The Common Rule offers eight practices for a rule of life in our tech-oriented, device driven age. David Wallace-Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, is a bleak account of the drastic changes that could come with a warming planet. Finally, I just moved Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls onto my reading pile. The title squares with reports I’ve been hearing in recent years from those working in university counselling services so I’m interested in what this will say about causes and possible remedies for this trend.
I hope you will follow Bob on Books to catch all these reviews, and others that will appear later next month. And thanks to all of you who do follow, read, and comment!