Review: How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013.

Summary: The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head.

Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur as taken away Gamache’s right hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, transferred out his department’s best agents, filling their slots with the indifferent or corrupt. Is it simply the fact that Gamache had arrested former Chief Superintendent Arnot? Or is there, as Gamache suspects, something more going on?

Amid the increasing pressure on Gamache, he continues to do his job. And that job takes him back to Three Pines. A former client who had become a friend of Myrna Landers was supposed to come for a Christmas visit but fails to turn up. Gamache investigates and finds her dead in her home, killed by a head blow from a lamp as she was packing. One of the most startling discoveries was that she was Constance Ouellet, the last of the Ouellet quintuplets, considered a true miracle at their birth, exploited by a doctor who had not even been at the delivery, and used by the government to create a fairy-tale story. Who would have a motive to kill her? It turns out that Constance has left clues, unrecognized by those around her.

The murder allows Gamache, through a combination of misdirection and shrewd preparation, to turn Three Pines into a base of operations to ferret out what Francoeur is trying to do, along with Yvette Nichol, who has been spending years in the basement of the Surete learning to listen, and Jerome and Assistant Superintendent Therese Brunel. Jerome has been covertly infiltrating the Surete’s systems until he found a name that scared him. It’s time for the Brunels to flee, ostensibly to Vancouver, but actually to Three Pines.

One problem. When they find what they are looking for, they will be found, jeopardizing the whole village. It comes down to who will outmaneuver who? And the wild card is Beauvoir, who knows Gamache and in his drug addiction is tied to Francoeur.

One other piece. A woman in the Transportation Ministry, Audrey Villeneuve was found dead at the base of the most heavily-traveled bridge in Montreal. Her car was on the bridge and her death was ruled as a suicide. The book opens with her distraught drive onto the bridge. Let’s just say it’s not irrelevant.

The story line leaves us wondering at times if Gamache is paranoid, seeing conspiracies where there are none and becoming unhinged. Does he love and then leave as Beauvoir believes, or is there love that persists even when denied? And was inviting Nichol a good idea? Is this an one of Gamache’s redemption efforts that will put them all at risk? Penny quotes a poem, “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, with these words “There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” In this novel, we see in Gamache who believes in the foolish wisdom that to risk loving and trusting is the crack that lets the light in. The question is whether this will prevail over the earthly wisdom of power. Many lives and a hidden village hang in the balance.

Review: The Post-Capitalist Society

Post-Capitalist Society, Peter F. Drucker. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

Summary: Describes the transformation of a society based on capital to one based on knowledge whose key structure is the responsibility-based organization.

Peter Drucker, who died in 2005 was the business guru I looked to as a young leader in a non-profit organization. He wrote Post-Capitalist Society in 1993. In many ways, it captures a number of his key ideas, and in many ways seems prophetic, twenty-eight years later.

His key idea here is that we have witnessed a transformation from a capitalist society to a knowledge society, based on the successive Industrial, Productivity, and Management Revolutions. Now we are not in a situation of knowledge but knowledges–specialized knowledge for work in more highly specialized organizations. Organizations make knowledge productive for a special purpose. In a knowledge society, the workers own the capital, which is their knowledge, but need the organization to make it productive.

He has a fascinating discussion on the source of capital in pension funds through institutional investors. Here as well, employees are the ultimate “owners” even while trustees manage these funds. He points to the critical role of corporate governance in creating organizations responsible to these employee-owners. As he looks at the question of productivity, he advocates for corporate restructuring and outsourcing so that organizations concentrate on what they are most effective at doing. Effective responsible organizations are ones where everyone takes responsibility for the organization.

He then turns from the knowledge society of organizations to the wider polity of which they are a part. He envisions the transitions from nations to megastates, as we see in the European Union, NAFTA, and other regional economic polities. Even in 1994, Drucker recognized the environment as one of the needs for transnational arrangements, as well as counter-terrorism efforts and arms control. Even while he recognizes this movement to regional entities and transnational agreements, he foresaw the rise of tribalism, and the stress on diversity rather than unity. For Drucker, tribal and transnational identities go together. And maybe this is so, but not in the ethnic ways he sees but in the radical political identities on the far right and left of the political spectrum that find iterations in many countries.

He is witheringly critical of “the nanny state” in which taxation and economic policy is designed not to make the “patient” healthy but rather to feel good. He points to the success of Germany (before 1989) and Japan and the “Asian tigers” that had high taxes but high investment in education, in facilities, and infrastructure. He argues that patriotism is not enough and that what is needed is the revitalization of community (even more true today) and citizenship expressed through voluntarism.

In the final section, he focuses even more on the cultivation of knowledge. He argues that we know more than we do and need to learn to “only connect,” to see how disparate pieces connect as a whole. He considers here the needs of education, and contends here, as well, for outsourcing and charter schools (an area that has a very mixed record of effectiveness). He advocates for the “accountable” school. While Drucker had a richer vision of the results he would seek from education, his was among the voices that sustained an accountability movement that has focused more on test-taking than learning, to the discouragement of many teachers. Ultimately Drucker believed people needed to be educated for work in two cultures simultaneously–“that of the ‘intellectual,’ who focuses on words and idea, and that of the ‘manager,’ who focuses on people and work.”

Where Drucker seems the most prescient is his understanding of the knowledge economy. What I don’t think he foresaw was the monetization of knowledge in the information economy. He recognized the growth of transnationalism, but didn’t fully reckon with the reactionary character of nationalism, often acting against its own interests. He had wisdom that both corporations and governments need about long-term planning and especially for governments, the follies of budget deficits in good times as well as bad. Perhaps most compelling to me was his call beyond patriotism to work for the common good and to citizenship expressed in voluntarism. He recognized that we need people educated both in humane ideals and technical skill, refusing to come down on one side or the other. None of us sees the future with complete clarity. Drucker saw it better than many, understanding the developments and trajectory of history and the challenges facing organizations and large polities of his time.

Review: Pillars

Pillars, Rachel Pieh Jones, Foreword by Abdi Nor Iftin. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021.

Summary: An account about how the author’s attitudes both toward Islam and her Christian faith changed as she and her husband lived among Muslims in Somalia and Djibouti.

Rachel Pieh Jones grew up in a warm and thriving evangelical church in Minnesota. A lot of love–and some legalism. She didn’t know any Muslims but believed that they were “violent, backward, and just plain wrong.” Yet in Pillars, after a number of years in Somalia and Djibouti, she writes:

“I had a lot to learn about how to love my neighbors and practice my faith cross-culturally. I don’t identify with the label ‘missionary,’ with its attendant cultural, theological, and historical baggage, though I understand this is how many view me. I do love to talk about spirituality–and what fascinates me is that the more I discuss faith with Muslims, the more we both return to our roots and dig deeper. As we explore our own faith, in relationship with someone who thinks differently, each of us comes to experience God in richer, more intimate ways. In this manner, Muslims have helped me become a better Christian, though things didn’t start out that way” (p. 49).

How did she change? It began with some relationships with Somali refugees in their apartment complex in Minnesota while her husband completed doctoral studies. An opportunity opened up to teach in Somalia at Amoud University. This led to an immersion in Somali life, aided by their housekeeper and the guard assigned to them as foreign nationals–for ten months, when all their plans were interrupted when several foreign nationals were killed and they had to grab their evacuation bags and flee on a moment’s notice. The found refuge in neighboring Djibouti. Over the next years, Rachel and Tom grew close to a number of Muslims, entering into shared life, and observing their devotion to Islam

They didn’t become Muslims. They learned a lot about Islam. When urged to pray the shahada, she was able to say, “No, I love Jesus.” She answered a lot of questions about Jesus. She learned how to live among the people. She celebrated weddings and births and the breaking of fasts.

Jones organizes her account around the five pillars of Islam: creed, prayer, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. Learning how her Muslim neighbors encountered God made her reflect more deeply on her own faith, and fall more deeply in love with Jesus. The shahada, a call to convert, to submit to God who is one is really a call to revert. It reminded her of Jesus and Nicodemus, the call to be born again. The prayers, which she sometimes was able to join some women in, led her to a renewal in her own prayer life–amid a pregnancy, ever present dangers, and the everyday challenges of life. The practices of almsgiving forced her to face how she also was conscious of reward in giving and recounts her experiences of helping a poor refugee establish an outdoor restaurant. She had rarely fasted but fasted along with others during Ramadan and joined in the joyous celebrations of Eid. Learning about the pilgrimage to Mecca brought her to a realization of her own lifelong pilgrimage.

I so appreciated this narrative. It was earthy and incarnational. Jones adopts an open and learning posture, both with her Muslim friends and toward what the Lord Jesus would teach her. She can recognize difference without “othering.” She’s as open about Jesus as she is to learning from her friends, like Amaal, her spirited maid. And over time she is able to distinguish what is American Christianity and what is the core of the gospel of Jesus.

This is not a book for those interested in polemics against Islam. Jones takes us into the lived experience of Muslims in the Horn of Africa and what a real engagement with them can be like with risk, affection, difference, and real learning. We also should remember her learning journey began with the Somali refugees in Minnesota. Many of us are near Muslim communities. We may have Muslim neighbors or work colleagues or health care providers. This is a valuable book both for its exploration of Islam, but also for its model of humble, open dialogue, willing to make mistakes and take risks, to welcome and be welcomed. And it points to what can happen as we engage those of another faith. We not only learn about their faith. We rediscover our own.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: When Men Behave Badly

When Men Behave Badly, David M. Buss. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021.

Summary: A discussion of sexual violence, deception, harassment and abuse, largely on the part of men, grounded in evolutionary sexual conflict theory that helps explain why so many relationships between men and women go bad.

Harassment. Intimate partner violence. Controlling behavior. Stalking. Sexual coercion and rape. We hear reports in our daily news of these sexual offenses, and indeed, some version of these offenses occur in every culture. And in most cases, the perpetrators are men. As a male, this is troubling. Are we all rapists, as Marilyn French has asserted? Certainly many women are wary of all men. Beyond this lies the question of how we explain the universality of sexual oppression and violence.

In When Men Behave Badly, psychologist David M. Buss proposes that sexual conflict theory provides an explanation for these behaviors. In brief, sexual conflict theory roots these behaviors in our evolutionary struggles to reproduce, in which males and females have conflicting strategies for passing along our germ lines. Optimal strategies for men involve multiple matings. For women, the optimal strategy is a long term relationship with a mate. Each gender has developed strategies to counter the other and hence conflict that can turn oppressive, manipulative and violent. These traits are deeply engrained in us. Yet these do not determine or warrant men behaving badly. And not all men do.

It is a battle of the sexes, and largely, a battle over the bodies of women. Buss begins by showing how this works out in the mating market. Buss explores how man assess sexual exploitability, how each gender practices deception and how men and women think differently about what is desirable. It is here that Buss introduces the Dark Triad of traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Men with this triad are much more prone to abuse. Weirdly, perhaps, they are attractive to many women, and there may be evolutionary reasons for this, although they make for terrible long-term relationships. He looks at conflict within mateships–backup mates, and affairs and mate retention through sexual withdrawal and bestowal.

Buss then gets into relationship conflict and the role of jealousy that may be the source of mate guarding, intimate partner violence, stalking and partner rape. All of these may be seen as a form of protectiveness of their investment and guarding partners from other male poachers. Buss goes into the ways perpetrators hijack their victim’s psychology, making it less likely that they will leave. When partners do break up, it may lead to stalking and revenge, including revenge porn.

Buss examines the claim that all men are rapists. Sadly, many men do fantasize about forced sex. Many fewer will act on it. Buss looks at why men who rape do so. Narcissism and lack of empathy, hostility toward women, and disposition to short-term relationships all contribute to a proneness to rape. He also discusses how women defend against sexual coercion, how they avoid assault or escape from it. There is a blind spot. Women most fear stranger rape when in fact most rapes are from men with whom they are acquainted.

The final chapter discusses “minding the sex gap.” He observes some of the misperceptions of desirability and what is attractive (and disgusting) that men do well to understand, the importance of closing legal gaps in terms of harassment and sex crimes, and changing the norms around patriarchy. Learning to recognize the Dark Triad traits mentioned earlier and to protect oneself from them is important.

I found this a bleak book. It is a grim “butchers’ bill” of all the ways men transgress against women, supposedly for some evolutionary reproductive advantage. The back and forth of strategies and counter-strategies felt to me a reduction of relationships between men and women to power games cloaked as sexual transactions. While I think the author would deny it, especially in terms of legal culpability, there is a strong element of evolutionary determinism that underlies the explanations of behavior. It seems the remedy is less self-control as it is evolutionary counter-measures and social and legal controls. I will grant that sexual conflict theory does offer a compelling explanation for the bad behavior of men across cultures. But it reduces human sexuality and all the mating behavior around it to reproductive instincts.

While reproduction is a big part of sexuality for humans as well as animals, this seems an inadequate account of the many beautiful, though always flawed, relationships between men and women that endure long past reproduction, and for the school of character that is marriage, forging mutually sacrificial love, shared and complimentary interests, and generative bonds that not only create families but enrich communities. Buss explains the ways men and women go wrong, and perhaps this is what he most sees. I hope perhaps someday he will have occasion to write about “when men behave well.” I suspect it is to this he aspires, and there are many others I know who have been models of listening to the “better angels of their natures.” Although less noticed, I think asking why this is so is equally worth careful study.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The 30-Minute Bible

The 30-Minute Bible, Craig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, with illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: An overview of the big story of the Bible, broken into 30 readings of roughly 30 minutes in length, accompanied by charts, diagrams, and illustrations.

Paige Vanosky, a co-author of this book describes its beginning with a request from an ecumenical women’s group, asking if she could “explain the story of the Bible in just thirty minutes?” This, in turn led to a chronological study of the message of the Bible with women’s groups and her collaboration with theologian Craig G. Bartholomew in development of The 30-Minute Bible, a collection of thirty short readings tracing the big story of scripture through six acts:

  1. Act One: God Establishes His Kingdom: Creation
  2. Act Two: Rebellion in the Kingdom: The Fall
  3. Act Three: The King Chooses Israel: Salvation Initiated
  4. Act Four: The Coming of the King: Salvation Accomplished
  5. Act Five: Spreading the News of the King: The Mission of the Church
  6. Act Six: The Return of the King: Redemption Completed

The largest portion of the readings are devoted to Act Three (15 readings covering Old Testament history from the fall to the intertestamental period) and Act Four (7 on John and the ministry of Jesus in the gospels).

The readings are straightforward, clear, and free of technical language. Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two (Act One) on the Creation:

“If, like us, you love art, Genesis 1 is like being taken to the most extraordinary exhibition you have ever seen. But imagine if, even as you are exploring the exhibition with wide eyes, a friend comes up to you and asks, “Would you like to meet the artist?” Of course, your answer would be, “Yes.” This is exactly what the Bible does in its opening chapters. Yes, the creation is wonderful, but even more wonderful is the One who made it, and a major aim of the Bible is to introduce us to the Creator God. What is the Creator like? The opening words begin to provide our answer.

Craig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, p. 15

At the conclusion of each chapter of four to six pages, short scripture readings related to and often referenced in the readings. The authors encourage reading these passages in a modern translation. In my own reading, I found I could read each chapter and the scripture passage in about twenty minutes, although one might want to take a little more time for reflection, so the title is accurate.

This is not a comprehensive introduction to every book in scripture, although a helpful chart outlines the organization of the books in our Bibles. The Old Testament portion focuses on historical narratives, with scattered references to the writings and the prophets. Likewise, in the New Testament, the greatest attention is to the gospels and Pauline works, Acts, and Revelation. The authors suggest online and written resources that help in going deeper.

The readings do include charts, chronologies, maps and diagrams that help provide background context. One of the most delightful features are the illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer, allowing for a visual as well as textual engagement of the story. I was particularly taken by the art piece showing Jesus with Mary in the garden after the resurrection.

I’ve worked with many intimidated as they try to read the Bible. They got lost in Leviticus or numbed by Numbers. They lack a sense of how all the books of scripture cohere. Even for many who have some familiarity with the Bible, they know the stories, but lack a sense of the big story of God, how this is for everyone, and relates to all of life. The authors point out how all of us live within Act Five, Spreading the News of the King, looking forward to Act Six, the Return of the King. Knowing the story within which we live is life-shaping, speaking to our sense of purpose, what we value most dearly, how we relate to the different communities we are part of, and how we think about the substance of our work. This compact book leads the reader into discovering that story. I wish I had this to pass along years ago and I look forward to using it with groups in the future.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair, Graham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1951).

Summary: A writer struggles to understand why the woman he has had an affair with broke it off, discovering who ultimately came between them.

Maurice Bendrix, a rising writer, encounters Henry Miles, the successful but dull civil servant Bendrix had cuckolded by having a five year affair with Sarah Miles, his attractive wife. The affair, hidden from Henry had ended nearly two years earlier. All that Henry knew (or claimed to know) was that Bendrix had been a great friend. Now he comes to Bendrix with a problem. He is concerned that Sarah may be seeing someone else and wonders about hiring a private detective.

Bendrix discourages this plan, but ends up hiring the detective himself. He’s never understood why Sarah broke off their affair, although at some level, he knows his jealousy of Henry, who she will not leave, had been driving them apart. But they had a powerful love that drew them together. They were parted toward the end of the war when a German V-1 struck the building they were in, leaving him apparently dead underneath some debris. But in fact, he survived. Their affair did not.

Only when the private detective purloins a journal does Bendrix discover the truth. Sarah had found him under the debris, apparently lifeless and made a plea, a promise to God for his life. If he lived, she would not see him again. And the others Sarah was seeing? An atheist and a priest helping her sort out the question of belief. In the end, Bendrix finds out it is not Henry or any of these rivals who came between him and Sarah. It was God. The God he hated who did not exist.

He discovers something else as he reads the journal, and talks with Henry, the atheist, the priest, and the detective. There had been a saintly goodness about Sarah that Bendrix hadn’t seen amid their torrid affair. Even that affair was a longing for passionate love, a love she hadn’t found with Henry. There was more–Henry’s life given back, a disfigurement that disappeared, a sickly child healed. I’m intrigued that Greene includes this “miraculous” element in the story.

We discover that neither Henry Miles nor Maurice Bendrix truly took the measure of Sarah during her life. There was a higher love in her life unsatisfied by being the trophy wife of a civil servant or the possessive passion of Bendrix’s love. The question we are left with is whether Bendrix will respond with love or with hate both to Sarah and Sarah’s God.

Greene, who wrote several novels touching on religious themes raises a searching question: can God call for ultimate love and loyalty? Even when it means the end of the affair? It may be one of the marks of modernity that this is even a question.

Review: Evil and Creation

Evil & Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian Dogmatics, Edited by David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020.

Summary: An essay collection considering the doctrine of creation and how theologians and others have grappled with the emergence of evil.

The doctrine of creation is foundational for so many other elements of Christian theology. That includes our understanding of evil. Often this is posed as a problem. If God is good and all-powerful, and God’s creation is very good, whence evil? This collection of essays considers first early Christian explorations, and then recent thinking from theology, literature and other fields. These are the essays included;

Introduction; Evil in Christian Theology, David Luy and Matthew Levering. Two of the editors frame the discussion, noting the trend in modern theology to modify either the classic understanding of God or the destiny of the unrepentant evil.

Evil in Early Christian Sources

Judgment of Evil as the Renewal of Creation, Constantine R. Campbell. Considering the testimony of Paul, Genesis, Isaiah, Peter, and Revelation, argues that evil is intertwined with creation both in its corruption of creation and the obliteration of evil in the new creation.

Qoheleth and His Patristic Sympathizers on Evil and Vanity in Creation, Paul M. Blowers. Outlines the patristic understanding of this book as simultaneous flourishing and languishing, wisdom and vanity pointing toward Christ as the true Ecclesiast.

Problem of Evil: Ancient Answers and Modern Discontents, Paul L. Gavrilyuk. A survey of approaches to the problem of evil from ancient to modern times noting six major shifts.

Augustine and the Limits of Evil: From Creation to Christ in the Enchiridion, Han-luen Kantzer Komline. Considers how the Enchiridion holds together creation, fall, and Christology in addressing evil.

Augustine on Animal Death, Gavin Ortlund. Augustine, it turns out, had no problem with animal suffering and death before, or after, the fall, seeing it “as a beauty to be admired–a cause for praising God more than blaming him. Ortlund assesses both the helpful and unhelpful aspects of this stance.

Contemporary Explorations

The Evil We Bury, the Dead We Carry, Michel René Barnes. Proposes that evil is an experience, is ineluctable for human beings, and the first evil, which we cannot escape, is the immediate evil of our personal experience.

Creation and the Problem of Evil after the Apocalyptic Turn, R. David Nelson. With the contemporary focus on the apocalyptic–the death, resurrection, and in-breaking kingdom-Nelson considers the shift in thinking about evil in light of the creation.

Creation without Covenant, Providence without Wisdom: The Example of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, Kenneth Oakes. A reflection on the Cormac McCarthy work, and the response of God to evil in the absence of his covenantal relationship with his people culminating in the incarnation, and a providence that is mere inscrutable purpose apart from wisdom.

The Appearance of Reckless Divine Cruelty’: Animal Pain and the Problem of Other Minds, Marc Cortez. Another essay on animal pain, considering the mental experience of suffering through the lens of the philosophical problem of other minds that finds the “no animal suffering view” untenable.

Recent Evolutionary Theory and the Possibility of the Fall, Daniel W. Houck. Reviews the traditional “disease” view of the fall in light of evolutionary theory, proposing a Thomist view of the fall as the loss of original justice.

Intellectual Disability and the Sabbath Structure of the Human Person, Jared Ortiz. Seeks to retrieve the distinction of person and nature in disability discussions and argues that the powerful impact the disabled often have on others reflects the “sabbath structure” inherent in all of us.

As is evident, this is a wide ranging collection of articles loosely tied together by the doctrine of creation and the existence of evil. Perhaps one other thread that connects a number of the articles is the movement from creation to Christ in our attempts to come to terms with evil. In some sense, we never quite find the emergence of evil explicable; it is only the hope of a new creation in Christ that can give meaning to the suffering that often attends evil. The essays on animal suffering and death are important in relating Christian hope to a world where animals are often afforded increasing dignity, as is the moving essay that concludes this volume on disability. Finally, the thread of how we hold ancient understandings in the light of modernity as reflected in philosophy, critical theories, evolutionary science, and literature recurs throughout this collection. Contrary to the tendency warned of in the preliminary essay, these writers do not jettison the scriptures, the councils, and the creeds, even as they grapple with modernity.

This is another valuable addition to the Lexham Press’s series of Studies in Historical and Systematic Theology.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: 40 Patchtown

40 Patchtown, Damian Dressick. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2020.

Summary: Set during a coal strike in Windber, Pennsylvania in 1922, captures the hardship striking miners faced in their resistance to mine owners, their efforts to form unions and gain better wages for dangerous work.

My family and that of my wife traces its history to towns between Johnstown, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio. Many had associations with either the coal or steel industries. I was reminded in reading 40 Patchtown of the stories we heard at family gatherings of mine and mill owners, strikes and strike-breakers, Pinkerton’s, the hardships and the violence that came with encounters between powerful corporations and workers who risk their lives to dig coal out of the earth and to forge the steel that built the nation. There were the ethnic rivalries between eastern Europeans who arrived earlier, and Italians who came later. Company housing, rooming houses, and camps for evicted strikers. Finally, I encountered words I used to hear as a kid, but rarely since like studda-bubba (old woman) and dupa (your butt).

Damian Dressick, a writing professor at Clarion College (Pa.), grew up in coal country and through interviews with retired miners and their families and archival research, captures the hardships, the dangers, the family bonds, and the struggles to maintain worker solidarity during a grinding strike. His novel is set in Windber, Pennsylvania, a small mining town three miles south of Johnstown, in Somerset County during a coal miner strike in 1922. The novel opens with main character Chet Pistakowski joining his older brother Buzzy and a friend to go after “scabs” being brought in to take over the jobs of strikers. Buzzy ends up killing one of the men. The death of this replacement worker intensifies the conflict between the strikers seeking recognition for their union and the company. A train with more replacement workers is surrounded by armed guards who violently suppress and disperse the workers. Meanwhile, Chet struggles in his conscience over the killing of the Italian “scab,” who didn’t know he was taking the job of another.

After Buzzy is apprehended and killed, Chet’s family faces eviction. Dressick takes us into the worker camps and the efforts of union organizers to support the workers and the grinding poverty into which they descended. Chet takes over Buzzy’s job hauling bootlegged alcohol, running risks both with law enforcement and the bootlegging gangs themselves. The job brings in a lot of money, but the illicit activity, what his family and girl friend think of what he is doing, and the time it takes away from the union creates tension within Chet. This all comes to head with the death of a union organizer, confronting him with choices that could change his life or end it.

Dressick tells a riveting story that evokes the conditions of this era without becoming a documentary. The novel raises questions about the moral choices facing those subject to the overwhelming use of power and violence. Do oppressive conditions justify violence? Is violence folly when the oppressor has overwhelmingly superior force? Our understanding of how terrible the conditions these miners faced is intensified when we realize that it is a fourteen year old Chet who must wrestle with questions like these.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 (originally published in 1905).

Summary: An adventure set in Revolutionary France as a secret league led by the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues prisoners headed to the guillotine as a French agent ruthlessly seeks to track him down.

It’s 1792 in Revolutionary France. Day after day the aristocracy is going to the guillotine. All it takes is the denunciation of a citizen. The whole story of the Scarlet Pimpernel centers around one aristocrat family denounced by the beautiful French actress, Marguerite St. Just. The Marquis de St. Cyr had beaten her brother Armand for his interest in the Marquis’s daughter Suzanne. Marguerite’s denunciation sent them to prison, awaiting execution.

Except. They have the fortune to be rescued by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, so named for the little flower that appeared on the dispatches of the leader of this secret society. The St. Cyrs make it through the barricades secreted in a wagon driven by an old hag, one of the disguises used by the Pimpernel himself, known for accomplishing impossible rescues.

Marguerite has done well for herself, marrying a wealthy English baronet, Sir Percy Blakeney. He is a fun-loving fop of a man and they make a dashing couple. Then, they encounter Suzanne and her mother and brother at a coastal inn, and Marguerite is shunned by them for her role in denouncing them to the French. This knowledge creates an estrangement between Marguerite and Percy, who looks down at her for betraying the St. Cyrs, although he remains unfailingly courteous.

Enter the French agent Chauvelin, who follows the refugees to England, determined to find the Scarlet Pimpernel. From papers on two league members, he discovers that Marguerite’s brother Armand is part of the League and has gone back to Paris to assist in the rescue of the Marquis de St. Cyr. He uses this and Marguerite’s privileged access to English society to pressure her to help him discover the Scarlet Pimpernel to save Armand. She detests him but reluctantly agrees, only discover that the information points to someone else very close to her, who she had least suspected!

The climax takes her back to France to warn off the Pimpernel, only to fall into Chauvelin’s grasp, even as he tightens the cordon on the Pimpernel himself. I’ll leave you to discover how things end.

This is a classic adventure story for both youth and adults and made a diverting summer vacation read. Chauvelin is the classic villain and the Scarlet Pimpernel the classic swashbuckling hero. The characters are stereotypes and the writing can be overblown at times, yet in the end this was a satisfying and engaging read. Baroness Orczy tells a great story!

Review: Science and the Doctrine of Creation

Science and the Doctrine of Creation, Edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp, afterword by Alister E. McGrath. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A study of ten modern theologians and how each engaged science in light of the doctrine of creation.

Creation and science. These are often viewed in conflict and the discussion of how these relate is often a contentious space. This work takes a more constructive approach based on the idea that the doctrine of creation consists of far more than how humans came to exist. We fail to consider the God who has created, what is entailed in the act of creating, and what the nature and end of what is created.

Rather than seeking to articulate the doctrine of creation, this work considers ten theologians from the last two centuries, how they engaged the science of their day, and brought their particular grasp of the doctrine of creation to bear on this engagement. There are both recurring themes and divergences among these ten voices. Each chapter begins with a brief biography of the theologian, a discussion averaging about twenty pages, with resources for further reading at the conclusion of the chapter.

The theologians discussed and authors of the chapters are:

William Burt Pope (Fred Sanders). Pope distinguished between primary creation, in which God calls all things into existence, and secondary creation, the formation of an ordered universe, which both scripture and science may inform.

Abraham Kuyper (Craig Bartholomew). Kuyper both affirms creation, common grace and the image of God that grounds the scientific enterprise, and how nonregenerate thought in all dimensions of thought is flawed. For Kuyper, this meant neither unqualified endorsement of evolution nor uncritical opposition.

B. B. Warfield (Bradley J. Gundlach). Warfield hosted Kuyper’s Princeton Stone Lectures. Many have claimed Warfield for eolution. Gundlach offers a more nuanced picture, emphasizing both Warfield’s humble and open approach to the science of his day while focusing on creation (including the idea of mediate creation), providence and supernaturalism.

Rudolf Bultmann (Joshua W. Jipp). This chapter looks at how Bultmann’s demythologization project applied to creation, with the conclusion that scripture doesn’t give us an objective view of the world or ontology. It is rather “faith in man’s present determination by God.” Jipp prefers the concord Alvin Plantinga sees between science and faith to the bifurcated view of Bultmann.

Karl Barth (Katherine Sonderegger). Barth had little to say about theology and natural science. Sonderegger contrasts Barth and Schleiermacher, emphasizing Barth’s doctrine of creation as one that “lays claim to the whole of reality.”

T. F. Torrance (Kevin J. Vanhoozer). Torrance propounded a “kataphysical” theology that brought together ontology and epistemology, denying a divergence between the way things appear and the way they are. Central to all of this Christ, the God-man, who is homoousios, of the same substance with the Father and the Spirit.

Jürgen Moltmann (Stephen N. Williams). Williams explores Moltmann’s “open system” doctrine of God and his vision of a common environment of science and theology.

Wolfhart Pannenberg (Christoph Schwöbel). Drawing on Faraday’s “field of force,” Pannenberg developed a theology of nature that is neither mechanistic nor a “God of the gaps” but rooted in the unity of all reality.

Robert Jenson (Stephen John Wright). Drawing on narrative and history, ideas of time and eternity, and Christology, Jenson contended both science and theology focused on the same reality, the world of creation.

Colin E. Gunton (Murray A. Rae). Gunton’s theological career focused on a reinvigorated understanding of the Trinity. Rae focused on how Gunton’s understanding of the Triune creator affirms creation ex nihilo, a contingent creation, and science as an extension of the human cultural mandate.

One of the themes running through a number of these chapters was the importance of understanding the nature of God to understand the nature of creation. Also, a number of the chapters countered the “non-overlapping magisteria” idea with a unitive vision of theology and science grounded God’s being and activity. One consequence is the intelligibility of the world, both through revelation and science.

This is a valuable resource for the science-theology conversation that moves beyond evolution debates. Both the theologians featured and those who write of them model humble appreciation of both the creative work of God and scientific inquiry. Not only do these contributions underscore, as Alister McGrath notes in the afterword, the coherence of Christian faith, but they highlight the glory of the Creator in the creation.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.