The Month in Reviews: August 2022

Summer’s final full month offered the chance to enjoy books new and old. Among the older books were one on liberal learning in the classic sense, Anne Lamott’s classic on writing, filled with all her wit, a Ngaio Marsh mystery, a great survey of American history between the Civil War and the First World War, John Steinbeck’s delightful Travels with Charley, and what is the definitive work on pioneering mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Then there were the new books: on jazz and faith, on anxiety, on grief, Zionism, Christian nationalism, the power of our social groupings to shape identity, a new work on Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, a study on Jonathan Edward’s approach to deification, and a book on how context shapes calling. Another new book you might check out is Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works, a very clear eyed view of the environmental and technological challenges our global civilization faces. Here’s the list of my reviews:

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning  (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines), James V. Schall, S.J. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2019. (Link is to free e-book download from publisher). A pithy little guide on pursuing the liberty that comes in the pursuit of truth and how one might devote oneself to liberal learning. Review

The Anxiety Field GuideJason Cusick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. A practical guide with daily exercises to help face anxieties and reduce feelings of anxiety integrating clinical practices and biblical insights. Review

God Dwells Among Us (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021 (Originally published in 2014). A study of the theme of the temple from God’s garden temple in Eden to the New Jerusalem of Revelation, and the role of the people of God, his living temple, in extending the reach of God’s kingdom. Review

A Short History of Christian Zionism, Donald M. Lewis. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An account of the understanding of the Jewish people’s claim to their ancient homeland throughout history, and particularly since the Reformation, focusing on Great Britain and the United States. Review

A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A study of the roots and contributing streams of jazz music, proposing that the reason jazz moves from miserable lament to inextinguishable joy is the Christian hope found in the gospel. Review

How the World Really WorksVaclav Smil. New York: Viking, 2022. A scientific, data-based assessment of how our advanced technological global civilization has developed, the challenges we face, and what it realistically will take to address these challenges. Review

The Psychology of Christian NationalismPamela Cooper-White. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022. A discussion of the rise of Christian nationalism in the United States, why people are drawn to it, and how to talk across the divide when one differs from those who embrace some form of Christian nationalism. Review

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Anne Lamott’s advice to her writing students, basically, “almost every single thing I know about writing.” Review

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012 (originally published in 1962). John Steinbeck’s memoir of his 1960 roadtrip in his truck/camper Rocinante with his French poodle Charley. Review

Calvinism for a Secular AgeJessica R. Joustra and Robert J. Joustra, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A collection of contributions considering Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton and both their flaws and relevance for our contemporary context. Review

American Heritage History of the Confident YearsFrancis Russell. New York: New Word City, 2016 (originally published in 1969). A survey of American history during the period between the Civil War and World War 1, 1866-1914. Review

Reading Black BooksClaude Atcho. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022. Theological reflections on ten key pieces of Black literature. Review

Death at the Bar (Roderick Alleyn #9), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2013 (first published in 1940). A holiday at a secluded seaside inn, and a challenge at darts ends up in murder from prussic acid (cyanide). Review

The Power of UsJay J. Van Bavel, PhD, and Dominic J. Packer, PhD. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021. How the groups of which we are a part help shape our identity, how this can lead to personal change, and understanding both how these identities may divide and unite us. Review

The Qur’an and the ChristianMatthew Aaron Bennett. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2022. A scholarly discussion of the origins and place of the Qur’an in Islam with the aim of encouraging Christians to read, and understand how to read and discuss the Qur’an with their Muslim neighbors. Review

Jonathan Edwards and Deification (New Explorations in Theology), James R. Salladin. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. In response to the growing interest in the idea of theosis or deification in Eastern Orthodoxy, this work examines the idea of “special grace” and participation in divine fullness in the thought of Jonathan Edwards as a Reformed counterpart that preserves the Creator-creature distinction while recognizing the saving relational communion between God and humans. Review

Alan Turing: The EnigmaAndrew Hodges. London: Vintage Books, 1983, 2012 (publisher’s link is for an updated edition by Princeton University Press, 2015). Perhaps the definitive account of the brilliant mathematician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for his homosexuality, not long before the end of his life due to cyanide poisoning. Review

Grief: A Philosophical GuideMichael Cholbi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A philosophical discussion of the nature of grief, why we grieve, and its importance in our lives. Review

Calling in ContextSusan L. Maros. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A work on vocational discernment that recognizes that this process is shaped by our context, our social location. Review

Book of the Month: I don’t usually choose more technical works of theology, but James R. Salladin’s Jonathan Edwards and Deification is a carefully and clearly argued case for Edwards’s unique approach to “deification,” in his language, “divine fullness,” that both emphasizes relational communion while preserving the Creator/creature distinction. Reading this was a wonderful experience of thinking great thoughts about the Triune God.

Quote of the Month: William Edgar’s A Supreme Love is a wonderful exploration of the roots of jazz and how these intertwine with Christian hope. This quote captures the gist of the book:

How could the music that grew out of the realities of the enslavement of Black people, forced migration, rape, husbands and wives being separated, and children being ripped from their families not reflect this suffering and pain? If, as I will argue, jazz is the story of deep misery that leads to inextinguishable joy, then we cannot ignore the sources of sorrow that are found at the root of this music, from spirituals to blues to jazz (Edgar, p. 27).

What I’m Reading. I am reveling in Willa Cather’s luminous My Antonia! There is a description of a Christmas celebration that was wondrous reading. I’ve just finished Roger Angell’s Five Seasons, articles on the baseball seasons of 1972 to 1976, including the singularly memorable World Series of 1975 between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. I also have just completed Richard Weaver’s classic Ideas Have Consequences on what he sees as a decline in thought and culture in the West and what a return to right reason entails. I’m just getting into Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness, one of the new books addressing Christian nationalism. Unlike some other works I’ve seen, Miller’s critique of Christian nationalism is one of a classic conservative in the David French tradition (French wrote the Foreword) who worked in the George W. Bush White House, is a military veteran, intelligence analyst, and Georgetown professor. I’m looking forward to an online interview with him September 15! I’ve just begun a Georges Simenon Maigret, Maigret’s Pickpocket, which has already piqued my attention. I’m also reading Four Views of Heaven, which is just that. I think it is possible to be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly or earthly good. I’m enjoying read four scholars in conversation about what we do and don’t know about these things. Finally, I’m just starting Peter Wehner’s The Death of Politics. I’ve appreciated his thoughtful op-eds in the New York Times as well as an interview I heard with him and look forward to more extended reading of his work.

Already, the sun is setting earlier and in another month, we’ll get the first taste of the cooler weather of autumn. I’ll be trading the ice tea for coffee with pumpkin spice, hot cider, and other warmer drinks. The drinks at my side may change, but the pleasures of a good book do not. Happy reading, friends!

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