Can you believe we are a month into 2021? It has been a month that is the epitome of the old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I feel like my readings certainly have fit the times, whether a commentary on wisdom, learning to think and write with the clarity of Shakespeare, or learning to seek God in prayer and grow in knowledge of the holy God and holiness of character and thought. Then sometimes, there have been those delightful diversions, whether a Ngaio Marsh mystery, a story about a rescue of stranded flyers of a Greenland glacier, the biography of a theologian from a hundred years ago whose work is just coming into English translation, or C.S. Lewis’s early narrative poem Dymer. Here are the books I was reading this month to navigate interesting times.
The Message of Wisdom, (Bible Speaks Today). Daniel J. Estes. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2020. A study of the theme of wisdom, primarily in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament but also incorporating other passages in scripture including those in the New Testament focusing on the culmination of wisdom in Christ. Review
Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation, Jennifer Harvey. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. Argues that a reparations rather than reconciliation paradigm is what is necessary to heal the racial divides in the United States. Review
The Columbus Anthology, edited and with an Introduction by Amanda Page. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press) co-published with Rust Belt Publishing, 2020. An anthology of non-fiction prose and poetry by Columbus authors, mostly relating to Columbus. Review
Frozen in Time, Mitchell Zuckoff. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. An account of rescue efforts in 1942-43 and a retrieval effort in 2012 to recover several lost heroes, all occurring on the Greenland icecap. Review
Charitable Writing, Richard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III, Foreword by Anne Ruggles Gere, Afterword by Alan Jacobs. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Two writing professors explore how Christian faith ought shape both how one writes and how one teaches students to write, shaped by the virtues of humility, love, and hope. Review
Prayer Revolution, John Smed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020. A call to kingdom prayer movements based in houses of prayer through which Christ comes, the Holy Spirit advances, and renewal spreads in cities, nations, and globally. Review
Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy, A. N. Wilson. New York: Harper Collins, 2019. A full length biography, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, stressing his contributions to cultural and political life in Victorian England, published on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. Review
How to Think Like Shakespeare, Scott Newstok. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. A concise and engaging guide to the habits and practices of mind that enable clarity of thought, expression, and learning. Review
Bavinck: A Critical Biography, James Eglinton. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. A biography tracing the origins, significant life events and theological scholarship of Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck. Review
Death of a Peer (Surfeit of Lampreys), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Harper Collins: New York, 2009. A New Zealander’s visit to a happy-go-lucky English family is interrupted by the gruesome murder of Lord Charles’ brother in the elevator serving their flat, making the family prime suspects for Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn. Review
Perspectives on Paul: Five Views, Edited by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. Presents five perspectives on the ministry and message of Paul: the Catholic, traditional Protestant, the “New Perspective” pioneered by E.P. Sanders, the Paul within Judaism perspective, and the Gift perspective. Review
Splendour in the Dark, Jerry Root, annotations of Dymer by David C. Downing. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An annotated edition of C. S. Lewis’s Dymer and three presentations with responses given as part of the Hansen Lectureship series at Wheaton’s Marion E. Wade Center. Review
Finding the Dragon Lady, Monique Brinson Demery. New York: Public Affair, 2013. A biography of Madame Nhu, part of the ruling family in Vietnam (1954-1963) based on the author’s personal interactions with Madame Nhu before her death, allowing her to obtain memoirs and a diary of her life. Review
Reading Scripture as the Church (New Explorations in Theology), Derek W. Taylor. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Brings Dietrich Bonhoeffer into conversation with three theologians concerning how the church reads and interprets scripture. Review
Holiness, John Webster. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003. A theology of holiness, beginning with holiness in the theological enterprise and then thinking about the holiness of God, the church, and the individual. Review
Best book of the Month: I have to give the nod to James Eglinton’s illuminating biography, Bavinck. Herman Bavinck was a Dutch theologian of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century relatively little known outside of Reformed circles. With the translation of his theological works into English and his association with Abraham Kuyper, theologian and politician, interest is growing in Bavinck. Eglinton’s biography illuminates both the times and Bavinck’s efforts to navigate the tensions of doing theology that is both orthodox and engages modernity.
Best quote of the Month: Daniel J. Estes study on The Message of Wisdom is a gem. He offers this trenchant observation on truthtelling:
“Why is it so hard for us to be truthful? Truthfulness can fail for many reasons, but oftentimes it surrenders to fear. We fail to be truthful because we fear criticism, but then we end up looking like cowards when the truth eventually comes out. We fail to be truthful because we fear responsibility, but we end up trapped in a web of our deceptions. We fail to be truthful because we fear the personal cost of getting hurt, but we end up enslaved to the guilty conscience pricked by our dishonesty. We fail to be truthful because we fear upsetting others, but we end up missing the chance to provide constructive reproof that would actually help them” (pp. 121-122).
What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished Christ and the Kingdoms of Men on political theology. I found much that I believe is helpful, and one significant area to which I object. Watch for my review! I’ve almost finished Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Gamache series. These just keep getting better! I finally broke down and am reading The Handmaid’s Tale. This is not a happy story, but raises profound questions about how women might fare under a religiously authoritarian regime, and what happens when we unjustly constrain human freedom. Reading While Black by Esau McCauley has received a good deal of notice. McCauley argues for the unique contribution that blacks offer the rest of the Christian community as they read scripture. Ben Witherington III was one of my seminary professors, so I try to read whatever he writes (unfortunately he writes so much I can’t keep up!). His Voices and Views on Paul is a great overview and critique of recent Pauline scholarship. Finally, Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All is a fascinating memoir by the eponymous creator of Rubik’s cube.
Reading can help us both make sense of our times and how we might live in them, and take a break from thinking about them when we need to. I hope you find some time for some of each!
Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.