Fall 2021 Book Preview — Assorted Christian Titles

I had a hard time figuring out what to call this collection of books. They are all Christian but not academic theological books. Many are thoughtful books on important questions. Some focus more on devotion and spiritual formation. A couple are particularly for younger readers. All, I think, are important to maintaining a faithful Christian presence in the world. I wanted you to know about them before I get the chance to review them.

Beyond the White Fence, Edith M. Humphrey. Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021. This strikes me as a Chronicles of Narnia-type book in which a mysterious valley beyond a grandmother’s garden leads a young girl into tenth century England.

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?, Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021. I’ve been asked this question in student ministry and have wrestled both with what we have in common and what is distinct in Christian faith and am intrigued with how Bannister, with a Ph.D in Qur’anic studies will answer this question.

Following the Call, Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021. A collection of readings for 52 weeks on how we might live the Sermon on the Mount in community from writers like Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and many more.

When We Stand, Terence Lester, Foreword by Fr. Gregory Boyle. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. When faced with an injustice to be addressed, the author proposes that we are better seeking justice together.

Together in Ministry. Rob Dixon, Foreword Ruth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Some think men and women can’t work together in ministry. Dixon has both worked with women in ministry and researched the key attributes and best practices that create flourishing partnerships.

Centering Prayer, Brian D. Russell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A primer on the practice of sitting silently with God, its history and theological basis, as well as practical advice for dealing with obstacles to this practice that can deepen our relationship with God.

Power Women, Edited by Nancy Wang-Yuen and Deshonna Collier-Goubil. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. The contributors to this book discuss various aspects of how motherhood, academic life and faith can come together.

Stuck in the Present, David George Moore, Foreword by Carl R. Trueman. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A case for the importance of history for Christians enabling us to exercise discernment amid the bombardment of information we face.

Journey Toward Wholeness, Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2021. Within the Enneagram there are three centers of intelligence: thinking, feeling, and doing. This focuses on how we incorporate all of these in living wisely.

Welcome, Holy Spirit, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. No matter our spiritual tradition, Gordon Smith think we may grow in both our understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit and invites us into that in this book.

Restless Devices, Felicia Wu Song. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Explores the ways our digital devices form us and challenges us to consider who we want to be.

Stability, Nathan Oates. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. In a world on the move, Oates considers the monastic practice of stability to root our lives in God deepening our relationships, churches, and communities.

Cradling Abundance, Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna with Elsie Tshimunyi McKee. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A personal narrative of empowering African women and fighting poverty.

With Fresh Eyes, Karen Wingate. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2021. The author was nearly blind most of her life until surgery restored vision in one of her eyes. These devotions come out of the experience of literally seeing the world anew.

Refuge Reimagined, Mark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville, Foreword by Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Lays a basis for concern for refugees through the lens of biblical kinship, our mutual responsibility that extends to the marginalized.

Good Works, Keith Wasserman and Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. Athens, Ohio is home to a state university in the heart of Appalachian poverty. Good Works has provided housing, support, care, and community to this population. This is a ministry with which I’m familiar and I’m excited to read this narrative co-written by its founder and a scholar of hospitality.

Thirsting for Living Water, Michael Mantel, Foreword by Richard Stearns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An account of the director of a ministry providing fresh water and the living water of available to all of us in God’s redemptive work.

A Sacred Journey, Paul Nicholas Wilson. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2021. A university professor seeks to articulate what faithful presence looks like for academics in secular settings.

Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, Retold and illustrated by Ned Bustard. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2021. This is one of the debut books in InterVarsity Press’s new IVP Kids imprint and features a poetic rendering of the Saint Nicholas story asking who this giftgiver is and why all the presents. Ned Bustard not only retells the story but complements this with his wonderful illustrations!

I was taught as a young Christ follower that the growing Christian is a reading Christian. These are books to help us grow toward God, toward each other and toward God’s world. Where might God be inviting you to grow and is there a book or two here that might be a good companion on that journey of growth?

Review: Paul & The Power of Grace

Paul & the Power of Grace, John M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020.

Summary: Looks at the theology of Paul through the lens of grace, an unconditioned and incongruous gift for Jew and Gentile alike, personally and socially transformative.

John M. G. Barclay stirred up a conversation in Pauline studies in 2015 with the publication of Paul and the Gift, an analysis of what Paul meant by “grace.” This book represents both a distillation and extension of the ideas of the former book. It is less technical, expands the analysis beyond Galatians and Romans while summarizing the previous work in these texts well, and does more to consider the present implications of these ideas.

His central contention, based on analysis of charis in other Second Temple Jewish texts, and especially of Paul in Galatians and Romans, is that grace may be understood as God’s unconditioned and incongruous gift that is both personally and socially transformative. “Unconditioned” emphasizes that there is nothing the individual does to deserve the gift. It is not unconditional, because the empowering presence of God’s grace in those who trust in Christ, is meant to transform people who live new lives in dying bodies, and transforms social relationships, creating a new community making no distinctions by ethnicity, gender, or status. All this is redounds to the glory of God. It is also incongruous whether for the Gentiles as uncircumcised outsiders or for disobedient Jews. Indeed, Barclay points to Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 as an example of the incongruity of grace in saving all Israel.

In this work, Barclay extends his analysis to the Corinthian correspondence and Philippians. He notes Paul’s treatment of grace and power in Corinth, how the incongruity of grace overturns the power value system of Corinth. and what it means to be “in Christ,” as Christ’s gift of himself to the believer in Philippians. He then extends the significance of grace as gift in inspiring giving communities, generously given to one another where all are cared for, as well as to other communities, as in the offering for Jerusalem, from when the gift of Christ arose.

Barclay addresses the various “perspectives” on Paul and what his own contributes to each. To the traditional Protestant view, his unconditioned but not unconditional reconciles the free aspect of grace and the obedience of faith as the consequence of grace. To Catholics, there are not two stages of grace, but grace transforms, eventuating in good works. For the New Perspective folks, the incongruity of grace explains the inclusion of the Gentiles and the hope for the nation of Israel. For the “Paul within Judaism” people, the incongruity of grace reconfigures his understanding of the law in ways that offer hope both for Israel and the nations.

A concluding chapter considers contemporary implications. Incongruous grace doesn’t recognize distinctions when it comes to who is included. The generosity of giving is one that recognizes all are “gifted,” regardless of economic status. And we all need the gifts of each other as manifestations of God’s incongruous gift.

I appreciate the explicit focus on “grace” in Paul, both for the correctives Barclay brings to notions that smack of “cheap grace” while focusing on the incongruous, unconditioned initiative of God. I’ve often sensed that grace gets eclipsed in the covenantal nomism and focus on faithfulness in various renderings of the New Perspective. Yet Barclay draws on the wealth of learning about Second Temple Judaism to sharpen our understanding of grace such that we don’t read the Reformation back into the New Testament language of grace. And the material about how grace transforms in this volume casts a joyful vision of the possible of our life in Christ, where incongruent grace transforms us into people living congruently with that grace.

Review: Book Row

Book Row, Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador. New York: Skyhorse, 2019 (originally published in 2003).

Summary: A history of Book Row, a collection of used and antiquarian bookstores along and around Fourth Avenue in New York City.

Most of us who have loved books for many years have our favorite used and antiquarian bookstores. Many are memories. Others are still operating. Some were in out of the way places, some in bigger cities. In some cases, I remember places with multiple stores near one another. I think of some college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison where you could go from one store to the next. At one time, Harvard Square was like that. Now imagine all of those stores in one place, within walking distance of each other. There once was a place like that in New York City, known as Book Row, with upwards of twenty five stores along a one mile stretch on Fourth Avenue or one of the side streets. The heyday of Book Row ran from the 1890’s to the 1970’s.

Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador are Book Row veterans who have captured in a thoroughly enjoyable account the wonder of this place. One can almost smell the books and imagine the booksellers who delighted in the poor college students and the curmudgeons who begrudgingly permitted the worthy into their domains. They begin with George D. Smith, who began selling on Fourth Avenue in the 1890’s and created the ideal of the Book Row bookseller. He was among the foremost of antiquarian booksellers, who both acquired collections and helped build some of the greatest collections including that of Henry Huntington. He started his store near the Bible House, the home of the American Bible Society, which played a surprising role in many of the stores. He was a pioneer in the use of catalogues to market his books. He was a master on the auction floor, trusted by many famous clients to acquire books.

The authors go on to recount the lives of the other stores and booksellers along Fourth Avenue. What is striking is how importance the training of these booksellers was. They worked for publishers, they served as “book scouts” for established stores in acquiring needed inventory, they apprenticed in stores learning every aspect of the business. Then, often still at a young age, they launched out on there own, or sometimes with a partner. (The two Jacks, Biblo and Tannen, complemented each other in temperament and skills in one of the most famous Book Row businesses.) One of the marvelous aspects that comes up again and again is how booksellers actually helped newcomers enter the business, offering lots of books at low prices.

Perhaps part of the reason for this practice was the realization that Book Row was a draw because of the sheer number of stores. Everyone from poor college students buying books in the outdoor bins (seven for a quarter!) to rich collectors as well as business people and travelers from all over the country and the world came to Book Row to feed their particular love of books. The booksellers built on this shared interest and formed the Fourth Avenue Booksellers Association whose first act was to fight efforts to remove the sidewalk bargain stands that moved merchandise and brought people into the stores. They worked together from the 1940’s on to promote Book Row as a destination and eventually to host book fairs. They also contributed support and leadership to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, which continues to promote the ethics and interests of the antiquarian book trade to this day.

Why did Book Row, apart from the venerable Strand, not survive? Two words: “rents” and “age.” Some operations, like the Strand, passed through two or more generations (three at least with the Strand). But beginning in the 1950’s several things happened. Wanamakers, the department store that was a magnet to the district, closed. The building owners started raising rents or seeking to convert buildings to high rent apartments. For a time, booksellers moved to lower rent storefronts. Some converted to doing mail order out of their homes, no longer opening their shops to “off the street” trade. Some moved away, opening shops elsewhere for a time. By the 1970’s, few were left and by the 1990’s they were all gone.

For a time, only the Strand, which owns its own building, was left (and still is, a destination in itself, with its miles of books). Then Steve Crowley opened Alabaster Books in 1997, still in business at the date of this review. The book also mentions Gallagher’s Art & Fashion Gallery, which was still in business in 2004 but no longer appears online. So it is now one store plus the Strand holding up the legacy of Book Row.

Oh, how I wish I’d visited Book Row in its heyday! I would have thought I’d died and gone to book heaven. This book is the next best thing. The accounts of the stores and their proprietors offered hours of delight imagining browsing those shelves. While Book Rows have disappeared in all but a few of the world’s great cities, there are stores still to be found, and even new ones that have opened during the pandemic. If you are so fortunate to have one nearby, treasure it while you can. The business is not easy and not one that usually enriches the bookseller, who certainly cannot survive on your good wishes alone. I cannot imagine that wandering from website to website would every be as delightful as a day spent wandering among the stores on Book Row. What a time that must have been!

Review: Getting to the Promised Land

Getting to the Promised Land , Kevin W. Cosby, Foreword by Cornel West. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021.

Summary: An argument for the use of the Nehemiah narratives rather than Exodus to ground the appeal by American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) for restitution for the centuries of abuse they and their ancestors suffered.

Most often, Black preaching and rhetoric appeals to the Exodus narratives to cast a vision for throwing off the yoke of oppression and coming into the freedom of the Promised Land. Indeed, the title of this book might lead one to think that this is another lesson in Exodus preaching. That is not the case.

Kevin W. Cosby, who has served as pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, the largest African American church in Kentucky and the president of Simmons College, a HBCU school, contends for replacing the preaching of Exodus with Nehemiah. He believes the advocacy of Nehemiah for his vulnerable people in Jerusalem, which included material assistance in repairing the walls and legal protection against those who would stop these efforts, is a model for the focused advocacy which American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS) need to make for restitution for the history of forced servitude and subsequent oppression under Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination, the cost of which has been passed down through the generations.

Cosby’s use of the term ADOS was new to me. It is his contention that the cause of the descendants of slaves has been weakened by coalitions with other oppressed groups. He uses Solomon’s alliances as an example of coalitions that weaken identity and leave one’s own group further behind. He also points to Daniel and Ezra who maintain the Jews distinctiveness of identity in exile.

But his central argument is about reparations, first under the decree of Cyrus, later reinforced by Darius, and the support raised by Nehemiah make the case for the importance of reparations in restoring a broken people. Along the way, he uses Hanani’s report to challenge the myth of “movin’ on up” that uses singular examples to minimize the plight of a whole people. He notes how Nehemiah first weeps, then mobilizes people to work opposite their homes, giving them tangible evidence of the importance of their struggle. He commends Nehemiah as a servant rather than a celebrity.

The chapters have the echoes of preached material while also making a cohesive argument for focused advocacy of ADOS people, drawing on the example of Nehemiah. I don’t think it my place to discuss the strategy of focusing upon a particular aggrieved group within the larger Black community. I do think the advocacy, the resources granted, the legal protection with teeth in it, and the servant leadership of Nehemiah, as well as the efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra to maintain Jewish identity are instructive in the advocacy for and of ADOS people.

I do wonder about the exegesis that presses the case for reparations from Nehemiah. It is the case under Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes that material resources are provided for the reconstruction of the temple and later, the walls of Jerusalem, important in the restoration of the returned exiles. But is this truly restitution intended to repair a broken, unjust relationship? The Jews are just as much a subject people in Jerusalem as in Babylon and Susa. Unless it was tacit in the restorative grants, there was no admission of wrongdoing, and certainly no restoration to full self-government. From an earthly standpoint, this appears to be nothing more than a shift in the policy of dealing with subject peoples.

What we do see is the significant effect Nehemiah’s advocacy and the material, legal, and enforcement assistance given the Jews. Can these also be the providence of God for ADOS, even if they reflect political expediency rather than profound repentance? Yet this would seem to “heal lightly” the wounds and the relationships of Blacks and Whites, something we’ve been very good at doing ever since the Civil War. I’m increasingly convinced that some form restitution for ADOS is a necessary part of the healing between white and Black if we are to get the promised land of becoming the beloved community. The question remains of whether we know we are sick and wounded, whether we want to be well, and whether we are willing to accept the cost for what is to be gained.


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 Coming Race Wars

The Coming Race Wars, William Pannell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: A new edition of a book first released in 1993 following riots in Lost Angeles, calling the evangelical church to address the issues of racial justice in the country. The new edition shows the prescience of Pannell’s observations and the even greater urgency of coming to grips with our racial transgressions.

The year 2020 was not unlike 1992 in a number of ways. In 1992 riots broke out in Los Angeles and other cities over the acquittal of officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. In 2020, people took to the streets once more in anger over the police involved death of George Floyd. In 1993, William Pannell, a Black evangelical who taught at Fuller Seminary wrote the first edition of this book as a wake up call to the White evangelical church to deal with the ways it was implicated in the legacy of racism in America. It is a cry of the heart combined with a social analysis of American culture.

This new edition, introduced by Jemar Tisby, a Black Christian leader of this generation, draws the arc between the book’s original publication and the present, noting some of the ways that Pannell’s analysis was prophetic, prescient in identifying both the deepening of our cultural divides around race and the neglect of a prosperous evangelicalism to address these issues. In the first chapter of the book, Pannell extends the arc further back. Evangelicals were largely silent in the years of Dr. King, choosing instead to migrate to the suburbs.

Pannell then discusses the black male, and all the ways black men were excluded from economic progress during the Reagan years. He traces the beginning of Republican efforts to play on discontents of the working class to drive a deep divide between them and Blacks where once there had been shared interest. He describes a multiculturalism that displays diversity without allowing Black evangelical leaders real influence. Against the popular focus on violence in the cities, Pannell decries the psychological violence of the warfare between city and suburb and unequal education systems.

The evangelical church of the 1990’s is a big part of this warfare. Black churches are no less evangelical than their white sisters in the suburbs. He chides Christianity Today as becoming Suburban Christianity Today, reflecting both in the housing patterns of its staff and the network of ministries on which it reports a highly networked suburban evangelicalism far removed from their sister churches in the city. In his original concluding chapter, he asks “where do we go from here?” and in the words of Rodney King, “Why can’t we get along?” He believes that an evangelicalism infatuated with ministry in the countries of the former Eastern bloc ought instead consider its own cities. He calls for reconciliation, and with it a ministry that unflinching speaks against the sins it is politically incorrect to denounce, both personal and social. He calls for a spirituality centered on the development of character. He calls for discipleship.

In his afterword, while not losing hope, acknowledges that white evangelicalism has unraveled in many of the ways he feared, becoming a church that looks for revival in the form of Christian nationalism, where most evangelicals align with “Make America Great” while from across the divide comes the cry “Black Lives Matter.” He leaves open what will become of a race war that already exists in the psychology and structures of the country. What he calls for in the end is the making of disciples. He observes that if we set out to make churches, we may miss making disciples, but if we call people to be the disciples of Jesus who become the “beloved community” Dr. King envisioned, we will be the church, which he believes our only hope.

The striking thing to me about this work is how evangelical it is. It is a call to conversion from affluence and infatuation with the American dream to following Jesus, becoming salt and light. It is Christ and cross centered, a call to a downward journey amid a church infatuated with power and access. It is a call to be shaped by our Bibles and to act in light of them. The most chilling part of the book’s analysis for me was to see his anticipation of what would come to fruition in 2016 and 2020 in the driving of a wedge between the working class and Blacks where once they shared values of both social and economic justice. Pannell also sees through the heady growth of evangelicalism in the 1980’s and 1990’s to its spiritual bankruptcy and questionable strategies of church growth that are now bearing fruit in the unraveling of many of these mega-ministries.

I wonder how Pannell’s words about reconciliation would be received today when the conversation has shifted to reparations, the repairing of the harms done over our four hundred years. Perhaps that is for another conversation. What is striking for me is how much Pannell saw with clarity nearly thirty years ago and how much benefit remains in listening to him today. I’ve seen Pannell compared to Jeremiah. The question is whether we will give him greater attention than the prophet. Let us hope.


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.

Fall 2021 Book Preview — Fiction and Non-fiction

I don’t only read academic theology. I enjoy history, essays, discussions of current affairs, and of course, good fiction. All of that has arrived at my door in the last months. Many are new books published this year, but mixed in are also some older titles, mainly from authors I’ve discovered I liked.

In the Shadow of King Saul, Jerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2018. Recently, I reviewed Swimming to the Top of the Tide. The publisher included a bonus book in their mailing, this collection of essays by the author of Sergeant Salinger, which I had reviewed this spring. I’m intrigued with what he will say in his essay on Saul, a biblical character I happen to have been studying of late.

Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson. New Haven: Yale University of Press, 2011. I love Marilynne Robinson’s fiction and essays, and this was a collection I had not read, found while browsing Thriftbooks. Turned out I was able to use a free book credit! What fun. She writes about the relation of science and religion and the new atheism in this collection.

Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. I recently read this author’s Immunity and decided to pick up some of her other essays including this collection on race in America, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Having and Being Had, Eula Biss. New York: Riverhead Books, 2020. This is a more recent collection, examining middle class ethics.

After the Apocalypse, Andrew Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. Argues for a different approach to U.S. foreign policy based on moral pragmatism and mutual coexistence with war as a last resort.

Devil in the White City, Erik Larson. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. I’ve discovered Erik Larson’s books and I’m looking forward to this one on the 1893 World’s Fair and a serial murderer!

Riding High in April, Jackie Townsend. Phoenix: Sparkpress, 2021. Just received this with LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The book is a tech thriller with a human element of love and friendship written by a former Silicon Valley management consultant.

Abundance Nature in Recovery, Karen Lloyd. New York: Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2021. This is a collection of essays on conservationist efforts in the face of biodiversity loss.

The Power of Us, Jay J. Van Bavel and Dominic J. Packer. New York: Little, Brown, Spark, 2021. Builds on the idea that the groups we are part of shape identity and can enhance performance, cooperation and social harmony.

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, Louis Menand. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. Menand is an intellectual historian whose Metaphysical Club was one of my great reads several summers ago. This one is on the art and thought trends that arose during the Cold War.

Children of Ash and Elm, Neil Price. New York: Basic Books, 2020. The Vikings enter into the history of peoples from the Asian Steppes to North America. This birthday gift gives me a chance to read a history of these people who keep barging into so many others stories!

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. I thought All The Light We Cannot See was one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade. The writing voice I so appreciated in that work is here, but in a story occurring in three distinct times–as you can tell, I’m already into this book.

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles. New York: Viking, 2021. Towles is another novelist I’ve discovered in the past year, enjoying both of his deep dives into Jazz Age New York and a Russian hotel. This one is a cross-country flight to New York of several young fugitives on the title highway.

Along the way, I will be mixing in mysteries from Louise Penny, Ngaio Marsh and others. And what’s with the essays? Best I can figure is that blog posts are a version of essay, and I enjoy seeing how those who do it so well practice their craft–as well as the ideas they explore. Maybe this list will suggest some Christmas gift ideas–or not! At least you will know what not to buy me for Christmas if you are family! Whatever the case, you can look forward to hearing more about these books in the months ahead!

Fall 2021 Book Preview — Christian Academic

At the end of May, I did a summer preview post. Looking back, I’ve reviewed most of those books as well as others. While I’ve heard reports of books being in short supply in some places, that hasn’t been the case at our house. So I am actually breaking this book preview into three–one on Christian books that are academically oriented, one on more “popular” Christian subjects and themes and a “general” category including both fiction and non-fiction. While most of the books are new, some are older books I ordered, usually because references to them in newer works suggested I might like reading them. So buckle up for the first (and longest) installment.

From Pentecost to Patmos, 2nd edition, Craig L. Blomberg and Darlene M. Seal with Alicia S. Dupree. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2021. A textbook introduction of the New Testament from Acts through Revelation.

The Federal Theology of Jonathan Edwards, Gilsun Ryu, Foreword by Douglas A. Sweeney. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2021. An exegetical study of Edward’s doctrine of the federal headship of Christ in our redemption.

From Plato to Christ, Louis Markos. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the influence of Platonic thought on Christianity through history.

Reformed Public Theology, Edited by Matthew Kaemingk. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A collection of Reformed scholars address how Reformed theology bears on a number of public and global issues.

A Short History of Christian Zionism, Donald M. Lewis. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Explores the history of the idea, from the period of the Reformation to the present, that scripture mandates a Jewish return to Palestine.

Paul & The Power of Grace, John M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. A pathbreaking study of the idea of grace in Paul’s writing, understanding grace as gift.

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. What Hebrews means in calling Jesus “Son,” both as eternal and Incarnate.

Loving to Know, Esther Lightcap Meek. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011. A proposal that all knowing takes shape in an interpersonal, covenantal relationship, the basic idea in covenant epistemology.

T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian (New Exporations in Theology), Joseph H. Sherrard, Foreword by Alan Torrence. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Addresses the overlooked area of Torrance’s missiology.

Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity, David Wenham. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995. I read a recent festschrift on Wenham’s pathbreaking work on the relationship of Paul’s thought to the life and teaching of Jesus.

Thriving with Stone Age Minds, Justine L. Barrett and Pamela Ebstyne King. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. What insights can we gain from both scripture and evolutionary psychology that contribute to human flourishing?

The Making of Biblical Women, Beth Allison Barr. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of how the idea of “biblical womanhood” actually subjugated women and the way forward.

Changed into His Likeness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), J. Gary Millar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the ongoing transformation of the Christian between conversion and the resurrection.

The Doctrine of Scripture, Brad East, Foreword by Katherine Sonderegger. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. A study of the doctrine of scripture that considers this through the lens of our liturgical affirmations around “hearing the Word of the Lord.”

Piercing Leviathan (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Eric Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. After enduring terrible suffering and unhelpful counsel, God comes to Job speaking of Behemoth and Leviathan. What is that all about?

The Parables, Douglas Webster. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A careful study of the parables guiding us into understanding of each for personal transformation.

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament, William A. Simmons. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A Pentecostal approach to the study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

A History of Evangelism in North America, Thomas P. Johnston, ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A collection of articles studying evangelism in the North American context from Wesley and camp meetings to the Twenty-first century.

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew, Scot McKnight, Foreword by Hans Boersma. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. What biblical scholars wish theologians understood about biblical studies.

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew, Hans Boersma, Foreword by Scot McKnight. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A companion to the above volume, on what biblical scholars need to understand about theological scholarship. I may review these two together.

I’m sure some must scratch their heads and wonder at me for reading these academic works of theology, particularly at my age! Why not just kick back and just enjoy a diverting piece of fiction? As you will find if you scroll through this blog, I enjoy that as well. I guess part of it has been a lifelong apprehension that there are always greater depths to plumb in exploring the majesty of God, the glory of Christ, the working of the Spirit, and how we might align our lives with God’s purposes and intentions for his world. Certainly not all of this is in books, but read attentively, books and the book of scripture may turn ears and eyes and understanding to more deeply apprehend all that God has for us. I want to do that as long as eyes, ears, and mind work, which I believe is but a foretaste of the glories of eternity. I’ve never thought of eternity as boring as it seems an infinite time, or perhaps timelessness, is required to know an infinite and yet personal God, and to employ all my capacities without infirmity in the new creation for its flourishing and the pleasure of God. As C. S. Lewis wrote at the conclusion of The Last Battle, speaking of the newer, truer Narnia they had entered: “Come further up, come further in! I hope some of these works might encourage you on that journey and I look forward to writing about them in coming months.

Review: Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter, Edited by Timothy Larsen, Introduction by Thomas S. Kidd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A collection of articles in honor of historian of evangelicalism, David Bebbington, exploring expressions of the “biblicism,” in Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism, known as the “Bebbington Quadrilateral.”

Historian David Bebbington is most widely known for his description of the defining characteristics of evangelicalism: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, which has become known as the “Bebbington Quadrilateral.” This collection of articles focuses on biblicism, an effort to honor Bebbington on his 70th birthday and retirement from his Chair. The articles cover a span of time from the 1730’s to the present and are organized by century. One of the main themes of the books is the variety of uses of the Bible and forms of expression of evangelicalism’s commitment to the Bible. In my review I will summarize the articles by century, noting salient points.

Eighteenth Century

Kristina Benham opens this collection considering American preaching during the Revolutionary War and the widespread invocation of Exodus and Independence as ascent to an American Zion. She notes how the exodus theme will later be used by slaves from within the American system. Bruce Hindmarsh takes some exception with Bebbington’s observation of Enlightenment influence in 18th century evangelicalism by noting the extensive examples of figural reading of the biblical text. Then Jonathan Yeager rounds out this section by contrasting the views of Jonathan Edwards and John Erskine on faith and free will. Yeager exposes Edward’s distinctiveness from the reformers on his views of the place of the will in the exercise of faith, contrasting him with the more traditionally reformed Erskine.

Nineteenth Century

I found K. Elise Leal’s “Young People Are Actually Becoming Accurate Bible Theologians” one of the most interesting essays in the volume. She looks at children’s Bible education, including a heavy emphasis on memory work and the efforts of the Sunday school movement to form children into “Bible Theologians.” I saw echoes of these efforts in my own childhood Sunday school experience. Mark Noll explores the challenge that the debate to slavery posed to the belief in sola scriptura–the reality that pro-slavery and abolitionist preaching both invoked the same Bible. I’m convinced that evangelicalism in the U.S. bears the mark of this crisis down to the present day. I had not previously been acquainted with Josephine Butler, a crusader for women’s rights whose life was animated by her reading of scripture, particularly in its focus on the gospels and an almost mystical love for Jesus. Mary Riso offers a fascinating portrait of her as an example of the expression of biblicism in evangelical piety.

Twentieth Century

This section opens with David Bebbington’s own contribution to this volume: a study of the Bible crisis in British evangelicalism in the 1920’s, the fundamentalist reaction to critical studies that brought significant divides in the U.S. was more muted, in part because of the strong Anglican evangelical presence who refused to denounce or separate. I was fascinated to learn of the significant role the Bible league played in the student movement that became Inter-Varsity Fellowship in the UK, later spreading to Canada and the U.S. Timothy Larson follows up with a study of Liberal Evangelicals in the UK through a study of the ministry of Vernon Faithful Storr, a leader in the Anglican Evangelical Group Movement, the locus of liberal evangelicalism. It was telling that they were defined as much for their stance against Anglo-Catholicism and for the “central” churchman rather than doctrinal views, although Storrs moved to a position of believing neither in the plenary inspiration or final authority of the Bible. Sadly his efforts to be “on the right side of history” led to the eclipse of his movement by the evangelicals led by John Stott, much to his chagrin.

The next essay shifts the focus to the United States and the anti-lynching efforts of Francis Grimke and the biblical arguments he used, the lack of attention he received, and his developing arguments for the legitimacy of defensive resistance in the face of white tyranny and oppression. The section concludes with the rise of the charismatic movement, particularly in New Zealand and Britain, the rift between Michael Harper and John Stott over whether Spirit baptism was a second and distinct work to justification and how the charismatic renewal led to more democratic uses of scripture in personal and public devotion and ministry.

Twenty-first Century

This last part begins with what I thought a chilling study of the Patriot’s Bible, the interweaving of biblical text and American history laying groundwork for a kind of Christian nationalistic fervor and militarism in defense of country. It is interesting to trace how many problems in American Christianity trace to what is in the margins of our Bibles along with the Biblical text from C. I. Scofield to the present. I’ve often warned against treating the notes as inspired and that we may do better to read Bibles without such notes. Finally Brian Stanley, a global church historian considers the variety of forms biblicism takes in global evangelicalism, particularly in context where oral tradition or hymn-singing are important.

While this is a selective treatment of biblicism in evangelical history as any such treatment must be, this festschrift offers rich food for thought. The two articles on early twentieth century evangelicalism remind me of the challenge of avoiding either polemical dogmatism or liberal latitudinarianism. It was fascinating to think about the formation of children, which seems less important in many circles, than even in my youth. More striking is how often evangelicals have appropriated scripture for political ends, from revolution to slavery to making America great. It makes sense to me of the advocacy of some Christians that we need a new revolution. It seems to me instead that we need a better reading of scripture, perhaps one shaped by the other aspects of Bebbington’s Quadrilateral–the centrality of Christ and his cross, the necessity of conversion (rarely talked about these days) and activism like that of Josephine Butler, fueled by the biblical text and the love of Christ.


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: Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends

Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends (Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics #1), Carmen Joy Imes. Wichita, KS: TUMI Press, 2021.

Summary: A collection of readings for all the Psalms drawn from the writings of Augustine and other classic spiritual writers from Origen to Calvin.

This is the first of the Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics series to be released. The Sacred Roots Project, in cooperation with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) and inspired by the brief but effective ministry of Samuel Morris, a Taylor University student, believes “fresh readings of Christian spiritual classics can lead Christian leaders into a deeper engagement with the God revealed in Scripture and into deeper relationships with one another” (p. 331). The larger dream is to equip a million Christian workers to serve the global poor and this series is driven by the premise that “leaders are readers.”

The bulk of the book is taken up with reflections on each Psalm by Augustine or another classic spiritual writer, with Augustine in the predominance. Each of the reflections are 1-2 pages in length except for a few in verse that may be up to 3-4 pages. Readers are encouraged to read the Psalm in their Bible, then the reflection, and then re-read the Psalm The readings are organized into eight chapters for groups going through this together, which means two or three readings over the day, sometimes leaving one with “make up” days. At the end of each chapter, five discussion questions are offered that concern Habitat, Head, Heart, Hand, and Habits according to an explanation in the resource section.

The readings usually focus in on a verse or several verses from the Psalm. Augustine and Calvin, it seemed to me stayed closest to the text. Mary Sidney Herbert’s verses offered paraphrases of the text, often accompanied with notes on archaisms and what they mean. Others often began with the text and brought in other insights from scripture and the spiritual life. One theme developed in many of the readings is epitomized in John Calvin’s observation on Psalm 4: “David testifies that although he may lack all other good things, the fatherly love of God is sufficient to compensate for the loss of them all.” Throughout we are reminded that God’s most precious gift to us is the gift of God’s self. Caesarius of Arles reminds us from Psalm 41 that “Confession is the very beginning of restoration to health.” Reflecting on Psalm 55, Augustine proposes that “Perhaps the reason your heart is troubled is because you have forgotten him in whom you have believed.” And as the Psalms come to a close, Augustine urges us from Psalm 148 to “Praise with your whole selves: that is, do not let your tongue and your voice alone praise God, but your conscience also, your life, your deeds.”

Reading through the Psalms using this book reminded me of what a gift both the Psalms and the great figures of the church are to us. The Psalms remind us of what matters, God and his word and give us words when we have sinned, are in a great need, beset by enemies, discouraged personally or for our people, and for exultation in God. The saints in these pages testify from the Psalms to the truth of what is written. What a powerful combination.

The reader should not conclude without reading through the resource section which includes an afterword, and explanation of the purpose of this series and a variety of ways to do “Psalm work” and “Soul work including a wonderful chart on what Psalms to pray for particular purposes. Other sections give us brief biographies of Augustine and friends, place them on a timeline, show the Psalms each appear in, and provide for each Psalm, the source of the reading–many available for free online. Resources for further reading are offered as well.

My sense is that this book is well designed for the devotional and discipleship purposes for which it is intended with carefully curated readings, discussion questions for groups, and supporting resources. I might also mention that this may be a good resource for those who regularly read the Psalms as they follow a lectionary set of readings through the year (the one I follow, for example has morning and evening readings that go through the Psalms every two months). Saints through history have found that the Psalms give them language to express their longings for God and the turmoil in their souls. In this book, we get to accompany a number of them as we read the Psalms with them and each other.


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: Forty Days on Being a Five

Forty Days on Being a Five, Morgan Harper Nichols (Suzanne Stabile series editor). Downers Grove: Formatio, 2021.

Summary: Forty short reflections with prayers and questions for those who are Enneagram Type Fives.

This is part of a collection of nine nicely bound books with forty reflections for each of the nine Enneagram types. Why am I reviewing the one for Fives? I could say random choice or because Five is halfway between One and Nine. But you’ve probably already figured out that it is because I am a Type Five, or as those into Enneagram would say, I’m a Five. We are variously described as the Investigator, the Thinker, the Observer. I actually think I am far more, but if the Type fits…

The introduction by series editor Suzanne Stabile encourages us to be generous with ourselves as we undergo change and transformation as we grow in self-understanding. Then Morgan Harper Nichols, a five begins with a chapter “On Being a Five.” I felt like she knew me when I read this description:

“The basic desire of the Five is to be capable and competent. We seek to understand and we fear being helpless. We are driven by a pursuit of knowledge that can at times, cause us to live in our heads. We find comfort in our safe places and reading nooks. We can spend a lot of our time thinking, compromising, and searching for insight” (p. 6).

The forty reflections that follow reflect an understanding of that desire and way of living. At different points, we are invited to notice and live in our bodies. We are invited to trust that we know enough and that God can meet us where we don’t. We’re invited to share our understanding rather than keep it to ourselves. We are encouraged to step away from being the removed observer all the time. We’re allowed to acknowledge our need to recharge and give up trying to control that and allow God to fill our cup.

Many of the reflections conclude with a prayer or a question or both. Space is allowed with the questions to jot down your own responses. One example of a question that recognizes how easily Fives compartmentalize life is “How have you compartmentalized your life? Are there ways you could zoom out and look at the whole?” A short prayer that spoke to me was this:

Thank you for giving me this mind.
Thank you for the gift of wisdom.
Teach me today that to lean into your All-Knowingness
     more than I lean into my own understanding.
Give me strength to live with questions so that I
     may trust that in the space between what I have
     asked and your answer, there is abundant room
     to grow in faith.

The reflections are short, between two and four pages. These easily may be read and reflected upon in fifteen minutes. Self-understanding and transformation are a journey of a lifetime. This little book covers just forty days of that–maybe 600 minutes. But the reflections can lead the five to trust that we are prepared enough, that we know enough, and that God is more than capable of meeting us in the gaps, and to step out on the dance floor rather than hug the wall.


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.