Review: Jesus Revolution

jesus revolution

Jesus RevolutionGreg Laurie, Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: An account of the Jesus Movement centered around Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith, who mentored Greg Laurie into ministry, and how such a revival might come once more.

Some might argue that the last major American Awakening took place in the late 1960’s to mid- 1970’s in what was known as the Jesus Movement. Young men and women were coming to faith out of the hippie, drug culture. It was happening all over the United States in locality after locality. There was no national campaign. I know. I was a part of it.

So was Greg Laurie, and in this book, he, along with Ellen Vaughn offers a personal narrative of the times, the Southern California movement that centered around Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, and Greg’s conversion to Christ, growth as a young believer under Smith’s mentoring, and the beginnings of his own ministry, resulting eventually in Harvest Christian Fellowship.

Laurie and Vaughn narrate the times: the transition from the staid 1950’s to the tumultuous 1960’s, the rise of the civil rights and anti-war movements, the proliferation of drug use, the rock festivals, and how the promise of Woodstock rapidly unraveled, leaving the children of the counter-culture desperate for something better.

Greg’s own story involved growing up in a single parent family with his mother and a series of her boyfriends. He didn’t know who his father was. Then he encountered Lonnie Frisbee, a charismatic minister who, at the time, was working with Chuck Smith, an older pastor who was open to this movement of God among young people and taught them the Bible, training converts to be disciples and witnesses.

Greg narrates coming to faith, and plunging into the life of Calvary Chapel, learning that drugs and discipleship could not go together. He began bearing witness to his faith, using art talents to create what became a popular pamphlet. Eventually he is invited to lead a Bible study over in Riverside that explodes, at which time Chuck Smith helps him plant a church that became Harvest Christian Fellowship.

The book goes on to interweave the subsequent life of Greg Laurie, and his wife Cathe, also converted through the ministry, and the subsequent narrative of the next forty years in the U.S. This includes some of the personal tragedies in his life including the death of his own son, and the falling out he had with Chuck Smith when he planted a church in Orange County, where he grew up and where Calvary Chapel was based. Fortunately, the two of them reconciled before Smith’s death.

One of the most significant parts of the book for me were a couple pages where he cited Billy Graham’s The Jesus Generation (a book I read during that period, so grateful for the affirmation of the evangelist for the work of God we were seeing all around us). Graham noted strengths of this movement that were evident in Greg’s narrative and that I saw as well:

  • “It was spontaneous, without a human figurehead…”
  • It was “Bible based.” All of us had dog-eared, marked up Bibles.
  • “The movement was about an experience with Jesus, not head knowledge.”
  • There was an emphasis on the Holy Spirit.
  • “[L]ives were dramatically transformed” as people were liberated from “addictions, and ingrained patterns of sin.”
  • “The movement’s emphasis was on Christian discipleship.” We talked about being “sold out” to Christ in every area of life.
  • “It was interracial and multicultural.”
  • “The movement showed a great zeal for evangelism.” I’ve often joked that if it moved, we tried to witness to it!
  • “The movement emphasized the second coming of Jesus.” Given the turbulence of the times with assassinations, Middle East conflict, and so much discord in the country, we thought Christ could come in our lifetime (pp. 165-166).

An odd characteristic of the book is that references to Laurie are in the third person, perhaps due to it being a co-authored work. Nevertheless, the book offers an eyewitness account of the times and the Jesus Movement that is helpful for anyone who wants to know more about this revival. While the cultural history offers a broad summary, and the account is centered in Southern California, I found that it rang true to my own experience, and that of others I’ve talked to from other cities.

It has been debated whether the Jesus Movement was a revival. The authors argue that it was, as a movement orchestrated by God and not human agency, in which Jesus was powerfully transforming lives through the Holy Spirit. Their purpose is not nostalgia, but rather to challenge the church that it can happen again. They ask whether, like the youth, and some of the churches of the 1960’s, we are desperate enough in our day:

“God grants revival. He grants it to those who are humble enough to know they need it, to those who have a certain desperate hunger for Him. Only out of self-despair–a helpless understanding of the reality of sin and one’s absolute inability to cure it–does anyone ever turn wholeheartedly to God. That desperation is sometimes hard to come by in America, because it is the opposite of self-sufficiency. In the US, many of us live under the illusion that our needs are already met, that maybe God is an add-on to our already comfortable existence” (pp. 232-233).

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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: Leadership Coaching

leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite PerformanceJonathan Passmore (ed.). London: Kogan Page, 2015 (second edition, review is of first edition).

Summary: A compendium of articles by experts in the field of leadership coaching describing and assessing different models.

Leadership coaching is becoming increasingly common with senior leadership in organizations and corporations. What one quickly discovers however is that there are a number of models used by coaches in this field. This work is a great introduction to a number of the leading models used in the field.

An introduction to leadership coaching by Jonathan Passmore, editor of this work, focuses on developing a rigorous, evidence-based research basis to coaching, looking at the effectiveness of different models. Following this introduction, fifteen different models are considered:

  • Authentic leadership
  • Integrated leadership model
  • Emotionally intelligent leadership
  • The Leadership Radar
  • Asian perspective on leadership coaching: Sun Tzu and The Art of War
  • Coaching Icarus leadership: helping leaders who can potentially derail
  • Coaching for integral leadership
  • Coaching political leaders
  • Leadership coaching with feedforward
  • Coaching from a systems perspective
  • Coaching for transactional and transformation leadership
  • Coaching for leadership style
  • Strategy coaching
  • Coaching global top teams
  • Coaching using leadership myths and stories: An African perspective

Nearly every chapter includes a case study showing the application of the coaching model in specific leadership situations.

These are some of the valuable resources I gleaned from this survey:

  • Authentic leadership occurs when there is an unforced alignment between personal values and corporate vision.
  • The integrated leadership model recognizes that effective leadership is not a single quality but propose six factors in leadership effectiveness: goal orientation, motivation, engagement, control, recognition and structure. Leaders operate on a continuum between two extremes with each factor.
  • Emotional intelligence is not a single thing but includes understanding and articulating our own emotions, ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others, the ability to manage our emotions, the ability to manage change and solve problems on an intra- and inter-personal basis, and the ability to generate positive mood and be self-motivated.
  • The Leadership Radar involves leading in the dimension of people, task, and thought, similar to a model I’ve worked with of vision, structure, and people.
  • The Icarus chapter identified a number of characteristics of leaders who fail, and most have to do with their personal character, and particularly highlighted leaders with narcissistic personalities, far from uncommon. (The description sounded chillingly similar to the current occupant of the Oval Office.)
  • Feedforward coaching doesn’t ignore past behavior, particularly past failures, but focuses on envisioning how one might improve particular behaviors through careful listening to suggestions from coaches and peers.
  • I found the chapter on coaching from a systems perspective helpful in understanding the relationships within which one leads–those on top, in the middle, on the bottom, and those who are customers. He also helpfully outlines how systems differentiate, homogenize, individuate, and integrate.

I think I might have found more relevance in reading Sun Tzu that the chapter, which seemed an abstraction of principles from this work. The chapter on transactional and transformational leadership helped make the distinction between these two forms of leadership similar, and helped me see how articulating and embodying vision is critical to the latter. The chapters on coaching politicians and coaching global top teams seemed less applicable, though the chapters made the case for the relevance of each. The African perspective was fascinating in terms of its use of myth and story in leadership coaching.

This work serves as a primer and resource for further study on a number of extant leadership coaching models and introduces one to leading researchers and consultants in the field. The second edition adds chapters on conversational leadership, team leadership, strengths-based leadership, and complexity informed leadership.

 

Guest Review: Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and Science

Evolving Certainties

Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and ScienceTerry Defoe. Self-published, 2018.

Summary: A well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue.

Pastor Terry Defoe’s goal for this book is to inform, not to persuade, and inform he does. In his introduction he points out that scientific discoveries have resulted in significant challenges for the Christian church, specifically, (1) How old is the cosmos and the earth? (2) Do species evolve? and (3) How was creation accomplished?

The author focuses his attention on the dialogue between science and Christianity, both historically and currently. He begins by discussing the scientific revolution, the cosmological revolution, the geological revolution, and the biological revolution.

He then devotes a chapter each to possible belief systems in response to the scientific advances: [1] Atheistic evolution, [2] Old Earth Creationism (including the gap theory, the day-age theory, and progressive creationism), [3] Evolutionary Creationism (aka theistic evolution), [4] Young Earth Creationism, and [5] Intelligent Design Creationism. Evolutionary creationism is clearly the author’s preference.

For him, it comes down to “the critical importance of hermeneutics – an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures” (p. xviii). He includes very brief discussions of the theological issues impacted by adoption of an evolutionary perspective, including original sin, death before the fall, theodicy, the image of God, and the historicity of Adam and Eve. Pastor Defoe refreshingly admits several times that these issues have not yet been settled.

In his concluding chapter, Terry Defoe suggests that “The truth of evolution cannot and should not be decided by those who are not scientifically literate. It is important that Christian leaders possess a basic scientific literacy if they are to evaluate science and scientists. We have seen that it is not helpful to the church or to its integrity when church leaders make statements about science that are clearly ill-informed.” (p. 195) He is not advocating a scientific takeover of theology but is asking that science be given a fair hearing. He further suggests that “Scientific discoveries remind Christians that the science in the scriptures is simply the common-sense understanding of an ancient people living in a prescientific world. Rather than inappropriately reading modern notions back into the scriptures, evangelical Christians are learning to let the scriptures speak for themselves, uncovering the message intended by the original authors.” (p. 147)

His conclusion is followed by a 23-page Appendix in which he presents and discusses the results of a number of polls on the topic of evolution, including Gallup, Religion Among Academic Scientists, the Pew Research Center, the National Study of Religion and Human Origins, and a Barna pastors’ survey.

The book is written for the popular audience and in a somewhat unusual style. It reads very smoothly, but almost every other sentence is footnoted, resulting in 1,704 endnotes, most of which are from the popular literature and many are references to readily accessible websites.

Except for numerous typos (a hazard of self-publishing), this book is a well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue.

This would be an excellent book to recommend or give to a young earth creationist who is amenable to examining the compatibility of the Bible and modern science since the author shows “why it is possible to leave young earth creationism for biblical reasons.” (p. 11)

[This guest review was submitted by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.]

Review: Educated

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018.

Summary: A memoir a young women raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, physically abused by an older brother, self-taught until entering Brigham Young, beginning a journey taking her to Cambridge, Harvard, ultimately at the cost of severing family ties.

She holds a Ph.D from Cambridge, has studied at Harvard, as well as receiving her B.A. from Brigham Young. And before her first classes at Brigham Young she had never set foot in a school classroom. She is Tara Westover. She was one of seven children of Mormon survivalists living in a beautiful mountain setting in rural Idaho. Tara did not have a birth certificate. Her father embraces theories of the Illuminati who had pervaded the Church and all government institutions.  He rejected all traditional medicine other than his wife’s herbal potions, which Tara helped mix as a child. Food, gasoline, and guns were stockpiled and Tara slept with a “head for the hills” bag in anticipation of the End Times. An older brother, “Shawn” (a pseudonym), having suffered multiple head injuries, violently and sadistically abused her, stuffing her face in a toilet, calling her “whore,” and breaking bones. No one intervened.

Westover’s memoir has been on a number of “best book” lists and has been a recommended read by the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Gates. For all that, this is a painful book to read, yet inspiring at the same time. Tara’s exposure to unsafe working conditions in her father’s scrapyard and construction projects, the verbal abuse and emotional manipulation she experiences from her father and the physical violence of her brother are horrendous.

Yet her journey, from performing in local plays, to getting jobs not dependent on her father, to the effort to teach herself enough to pass college entrance exams, and her near-miraculous admission to BYU and subsequent scholarships hint at a voice, an agency within, a sense of self not controlled by her highly controlling family.

She quickly discovers the holes in her efforts at self-education and what little schooling she received from her parents. In one of her first classes she reveals her ignorance of the Holocaust. Yet those gaps become the impetus for curiosity, and not only educational discovery but self-discovery. She discovers symptoms that match her father suggestive that he suffered some form of bi-polar illness.

Another form of inspiration comes in the form of mentors who recognize the intelligence hidden in this uneducated girl–a bishop in her church who provides financial assistance and lets her talk, a professor who encourages her by taking her on a summer at Cambridge, a Cambridge academic who affirms the quality of her scholarship, a counselor who helps her put her life back together when the tension between what her family and upbringing say she ought to be, and what her own inner voice aspires to become so great she experiences a breakdown.

Reading the book helped me understand how abuse victims who have experienced horrid abuse can blame themselves rather than their abusers. Tara internalizes their view of her and the world (including her brother’s epithet of “whore”). It shows us how even deeply dysfunctional families can still have deep bonds to and upon each other. The memoir helps us experience with Tara her struggle to come to terms with the reality that she was not the problem, and with that awakening the necessity to refuse her father’s “blessing,” which signified maintaining a relationship with her parents, indeed her identity, on their terms. It meant severing ties with her parents and some of her siblings in order to affirm her own voice, her own life.

Much like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (review), both extended family and educational mentors play an important role in Tara’s life, providing a safe space for her developing sense of self. We also see the power of education at its best as her academic work helps her understand her own experience. Some will respond critically that her education resulted in both estrangement from family and walking away from her faith. It seems to me that both family and faith as she experienced these were toxic (she is clear to distinguish this from Mormonism in an author’s note). It is also the case that there may be future chapters of this story to be written. If this book is any indication, Westover’s account will be one of strikingly compelling prose.

Review: Mirror for the Soul

Mirror for the Soul

Mirror for the SoulAlice Fryling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2017.

Summary: An explanation from a Christian perspective of the Enneagram and its use in spiritual formation, helping us to live out of our gifting, recognize our blind spots, and experience the grace of God.

Perhaps all of us have asked the question asked by Alice in Alice in Wonderland: “Who in the world am I?” Alice Fryling proposes that the Enneagram is a useful tool for not only understanding ourselves but for living out of our giftedness and experiencing Christ’s grace.

Her aim in this book is to offer a thoroughly Christian treatment of the Enneagram (ennea = nine and gram = points, reflecting the nine pointed diagram that is basic to all discussions of the Enneagram). In addition to explaining the different aspects of the Enneagram, each chapter offers both questions for reflection, and a personal meditation from scripture. Most significantly, Fryling understands each of the home spaces on the Enneagram in terms of the gifted true self (the self as God intends us), the compulsion of the false self, and the grace of God enabling us to find our way back to the true self for our type.

After a brief explanation of the nine spaces, she focuses on what she sees as one of the basic insights we gain from the Enneagram, the distinction between the true and false self evident in each of the types. She writes:

“The false self is the person we think we should be but are not. It is the person we want others to think we are. The false self perpetuates the illusion that we are able to love perfectly, to be wise and all-knowing, and to be in control of life. The false self thrives on success and achievement. The problem is not that the false self is a bad person. The problem is that the false self is a façade. It is an imitation of God that we “use” to impress others. The false self languishes in pretense and in grasping for abilities and gifts that are not ours to have. The true self, on the other hand, truly expresses the gifts God has given us to love well” (p. 25).

Fryling then goes on to explain the various aspects of the Enneagram–the three triads of heart, head, and gut, how we might begin to identify our home space, and how our “wings” and “arrows” add to our self-understanding. Having read a number of Enneagram book, Fryling’s explanations of these aspects were among the clearest I’ve encountered, no doubt resulting from the many workshops the author has led on this material. In particular, I found her counsel for identifying our “home space,” often just assumed, or reduced to a questionnaire, particularly helpful:

“As happy as inventories might be to tell you your number, most of them require a good deal of self-awareness, something our false self does not want us to have. I’d like to suggest that instead of turning to inventories, you spend some time in quiet reflection, thinking about yourself and what you’ve learned about the Enneagram. Look for places where you already see yourself. Notice where there are clusters of truth about who you are. Be patient with the process. In fact, you might consider this ‘dating the Enneagram.’ You do not need to ‘marry’ the first space you think might work for you. Try it on. Live with it for a while. But let go of it if it doesn’t fit. Remember that the Enneagram is supposed to reflect who you are, not dictate who you are” (p. 98).

She also advises sharing descriptions of the different spaces with those who know us well to get their insights, discuss what makes sense and what seems confusing.

Her concluding chapters explore the Enneagram through the lens of the biblical account of creation, fall, and redemption. Then she goes a step deeper and explores the issue of our compulsions, the addictions inherent in each type, and how these drive us to the truth of scripture and the grace of God. Facing our need leads us to the hope of transformation through God’s grace, which often comes through suffering, silence, and surrender. She invites us into practices of engaging scripture that deepen this transformative process.

The strengths of this book are not only the clear explanations of the different aspects of the Enneagram, but the thoughtful Christian perspective that transforms this from a self-help tool where we try to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” to a formational resource leading us into a deeper experience of the grace of God in our lives. This book invites an unhurried process of discovering something more of an answer to Alice’s question (“Who in the world am I?”) for the reader who will take the time to work through its chapters, reflection questions, and meditations.

Review: Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World

Matthew 5-10

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (originally published as two separate works 1978, 1987).

Summary: An expository study of Matthew 5-10 that focuses on the call to a distinctive life for the disciples of Jesus.

D. A. Carson published a number of his biblical expositions with Baker back in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Baker is introducing a new generation of students of scripture to these studies with re-packaged versions of these earlier works, still strikingly relevant as careful expositions of the biblical text.

In this volume, two of Carson’s earlier works (on Matthew 5-7 and 8-10, hence the long, compound title) have been combined in one reasonably priced book. Part One covers in six chapters the Sermon on the Mount:

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven: Its Norms and Witness (5:3-16)
  2. The Kingdom of Heaven: Its Demands in Relation to the Old Testament (5:17-48)
  3. Religious Hypocrisy: Its Description and Overthrow (6:1-18)
  4. Kingdom Perspectives (6:19-34)
  5. Balance and Perfection (7:1-12)
  6. Conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount (7:13-28)

In this part of the work, I especially appreciated Carson’s discussion of the relation of Jesus and his teaching to the Old Testament, articulating in what way Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. I also appreciated Carson’s unflinching warnings of the judgment awaiting those who fail to heed the words of Jesus.

The second part, also in six chapters, Matthew 8 through 10 under the heading of Jesus’s Confrontation with the World. They are as follows:

  1. The Authority of Jesus (8:1-17)
  2. The Authentic Jesus (8:18-34)
  3. The Mission of Jesus (9:1-17)
  4. The Trustworthiness of Jesus (9:18-34)
  5. The Compassion of Jesus (9:35-10:15)
  6. The Divisiveness of Jesus (10:16-42)

I particularly appreciated his treatment of the authentic Jesus in showing how Jesus breaks all our stereotypes with his personal and costly demands, the surpassing wonder of his authority over all creation, his priority of spiritual and human realities above all else, and his way of repeatedly defying common expectations.

He also makes trenchant observations about the divisiveness of Jesus:

“Clearly then, the fact that the divisiveness of Jesus leads to opposition by the world, and sometimes to outright persecution, is no cause for either paranoid glee or rough belligerence among the people of God. Instead it is cause for sober reflection, careful counting of the cost, wise assessment that fully expects trouble and is grateful when it passes us by. We are no better than fellow Christians in parts of the world where being a Christian can exact a high toll. Often we are less mature, because less tested. The principle laid down in this passage, however is that we as disciples of Jesus should expect opposition, sometimes of the crudest kind, and view it as part of our calling. That is the way the Master went” (p. 335).

While not a technical commentary (he has written a commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary), this work, lightly revised from expository messages, traces the arc from textual meaning to contemporary relevance, as for example, in his exposition of what it means to be “poor in spirit.” He establishes the connection between “poor” and the idea of lowly or humble, a sense of one’s spiritual poverty, and then applies the text pointedly:

“I suspect that there is no pride more deadly than that which finds its roots in great learning, great external piety, or a showy defense of orthodoxy. My suspicion does not call into question the value of learning, piety, or orthodoxy; rather it exposes professing believers to the full glare of this beatitude. Pride based on genuine virtues has the greatest potential for self-deception; but our Lord will allow none of it. Poverty of spirit he insists on–a full, honest, factual, conscious, and conscientious recognition before God of personal moral worth. It is, as I have said, the deepest form of repentance” (p. 22).

The book concludes with two appendices, addressing more technical matters related to the Sermon on the Mount. In the first, he addresses critical issues, that tend to undermine confidence in there being such an address in the ministry of Jesus. The second concerns itself with the different theological approaches to the text, and particularly whether, and how it ought apply to the believer.

As one considers the text of Matthew 5-10, one cannot help but consider who is this teacher, and what will be our response to the life of the kingdom he articulates for those who will follow him. This is a rich text for devotional reading if one is prepared for more than an inspiring or blessed thought. The danger in reading such work is it may make us, in some cases, ask why we do not hear such preaching in our churches. Carson demonstrates the power of expository preaching, which is not in the preacher, but in bringing out what the text says, means, and means for us as God’s people.

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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.

Books in this series previously reviewed:

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of JesusD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018. Review

The Cross and Christian MinistryD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993). Review

Review: Adam Bede

Adam Bede

Adam BedeGeorge Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 (first published 1859).

Summary: A tale centering around the love of Adam Bede, a woodworker, for Hetty Sorrel, a dairy maid who is eventually tried for murder of her infant child, conceived in an affair with the local squire, Arthur Donnithorne.

One reviewer of this book wondered why this book was not titled Hetty Sorrel. It’s a fair question. So much of the story seems to center around Hetty, the niece of tenants Mr. and Mrs. Poyser, who works with them as a dairy maid. She knows she is beautiful and one to turn the heads of all the young men around, including the hard working, respectable Adam Bede, a woodworker. Instead she falls for the son of the local landowner, Arthur Donnithorne, who woos her into a love affair, which he breaks off when forcibly shown the error of his ways by Adam. Unknown to either, Hetty is pregnant. Finally, Hetty recognizes Adam’s qualities and agrees to marry him, until realizing she is pregnant and can no longer conceal her condition. She flees to London, seeking Arthur’s help. But he is far off in Ireland. During a harrowing return journey, she gives birth, then abandons her child to die, and is arrested for murder.

It turns out that Eliot indeed wrote the story around a real-life incident in which a similarly afflicted woman, Mary Voce, murdered her child, was tried and sentenced to death. This edition includes journal entries from Eliot describing the genesis of the book in this incident. Why then should the book not have been titled Hetty Sorrel?

The answer, it seems to me, lies in the portrayals of a number of the other characters, local figures of no great distinction, as ordinary people with both foibles, and great qualities of character leading to actions that sustain the fabric of a rural community, and when tragic errors rend the fabric of local life, act with quiet wisdom and grace.

Chief of these is Adam Bede, elder brother of Seth and son of Lisbeth, the widow of a drunkard. His hard work as a woodworker gains the respect of all around, and while his father was living, finishing much of his neglected work, including a coffin on the night when he drowned in a local creek after a drunken binge. Eventually, his childhood friend, Donnithorne, taps him to manage his forest while the owner of the carpentry workshop is hoping Adam will succeed him, and even marry his daughter. It is Adam who searches for Hetty when she does not turn up when expected and keeps vigil during her trial.

But there are others. There is Dinah, the Methodist preacher, the object of Seth’s love, not to be returned but who has a way of gently coming alongside all from the elderly to children who are in distress, eventually including Hetty. There are the Poysers, salt of the earth farmers, she of strong opinion but warm heart, he of sturdy affection and integrity. Rev. Adolphus Irwine, the local rector, is no religious firebrand, but exhibits quiet pastoral wisdom that seems “the word fitly spoken” in every situation. Crusty Bartle Massey, the schoolmaster, cares deeply for the pupils of his night school, Adam chief among them. Even Arthur Donnithorne, now the landowner when his grandfather dies, is transformed by the tragedy, perhaps in ways surprising to the other principals.

This passage, full of insight, representative of many, reflects Eliot’s focus on the development of character among all these “ordinary people”:

“For Adam, though you see him quite master of himself, working hard and delighting in his work after his inborn inalienable nature, had not outlived his sorrow–had not felt it slip from nature, had not outlived his sorrow–had not felt it slip from him as a temporary burthen, and leave him the same man again. Do any of us? God forbid. It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling, if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of it–if we could return to the same blind loves, the same self-confident blame, the same thoughts of human suffering, the same frivolous gossip over blighted human lives, the same feeble sense of that Unknown towards which we have sent forth irrepressible cries in our loneliness” (p. 487).

Yes, Eliot could spin some long sentences! Yet as I followed her into this story, I was reminded of the instances in real human life in the communities of which I have been a part of ordinary people, decent people who meet tragedy and grow through it, acting with resolve and compassion toward each other and sustaining the bonds of society. She challenges our attraction to superficial beauty and charisma, and calls us to a quiet greatness of character that endures.

Readers Choice: Bob on Books Top Ten Reviews of 2018

CanoeingLast week I posted my list of “best” books of the year. It is always fascinating to me that rarely is there a relationship between my “best” books and the books followers of this blog are most interested in. Of the 174 books reviewed to this point in the year, here are the top ten according to the number of views their reviews received on the blog (as of 12/19/2018–some were close). The choices were heavily weighted on the religious end of spectrum, which reflects the following of the blog. I do hope those who read theological books also explore other genres! I think this enriches our imagination, our understanding of the world, and of what others who may or may not share our beliefs are thinking. So, here is the list:

Canoeing the Mountains

  1. Canoeing the MountainsTod Bolsinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Praxis, 2015. This book explores leadership in uncharted territories using the journeys of Lewis and Clark. This didn’t get a huge number of initial views, but steady traffic throughout the year. ReviewLittle Fires Everywhere
  2. Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. This was on my “best books” list as best literary fiction. Here’s my synopsis: “When Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl rent a duplex apartment from Elena Richardson, the matriarch of a successful Shaker Heights, Ohio family, it sets in motion a series of events, “little fires” that culminate in a fire that burns down the Richardson home, and transforms the lives of both families.” This has been neck and neck with #1 all year. Reviewwhite fragility
  3. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismRobin DiAngelo. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” in 2011 to describe the discomfort whites often experience in discussions of racial issues. She both describes this, and better ways to engage. ReviewTwelve Lies
  4. Twelve Lies That Hold America CaptiveJonathan Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming January 8, 2019. This book hasn’t even come out yet! It discusses twelve cultural myths that form a kind of American folk religion that are in conflict with the hope we find in the gospel and the vision of the kingdom of God. ReviewThe Lost World of the Flood
  5. The Lost World of the FloodTremper Longman III & John H. Walton (with a contribution by Stephen O. Moshier). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. One of the “Lost World” series of books, all of which seem tremendously popular, this one on the flood narratives of Genesis 6-9. ReviewHusband Wife Father Child Master Slave
  6. Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave, Kurt C Schaefer. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018. The author argues that the household codes in 1 Peter are actually a subtle satire opposing the norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day. ReviewWater at the Roots
  7. Water at the Roots, Philip Britts (edited by Jennifer Harries, foreword by David Kline). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. This also was on my best books list as an account of the extraordinary life and the writings and poetry of Philip Britts, a leader of the Bruderhof community that migrated to Paraguay. Reviewwashed and waiting
  8. Washed and Waiting (revised with new Afterword), Wesley Hill. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 (originally published in 2010). This is the narrative of a celibate, gay Christian man, including thoughts about the recovery of the place of celibacy and the importance of spiritual friendship in the church. Dr. Wesley Hill is a professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. Reviewbiblical leadership
  9. Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday LeaderBenjamin K. Forest and Chet Roden, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017. This is a study of leadership in the Bible, book by book. Reviewthe lost world of the israelite conquest
  10. The Lost World of the Israelite ConquestJohn H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. The second “Lost World” book to make this list. It explores the Canaanite conquest and argues that this was not a divinely commanded genocide or Holy war. Review

Looking over the list, several of these books were “near misses” on my best list and two made it. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me, but a number have an element of controversy, dealing with issues of race, Christianity and American culture, social roles, sexuality, the Flood narratives, and the Conquest narratives. It is also striking to me that two deal with the issue of leadership, including the book that was tops in views.

Looking over these statistics reminds me that each of these views represented a real person interested enough to visit my blog and read at least some portion of the review. TI love connecting people and good books, but that only works when people visit as you did this year. Thank you!

Review: The Sleepy Shepherd

the sleepy shepherdThe Sleepy ShepherdStephen Cottrell, illustrated by Chris Hagan. London, SPCK, 2018.

Summary: The story of a shepherd boy who constantly fell asleep and slept through the angels’ announcement of the birth of the king in Bethlehem.

It is not often that I review children’s stories (and perhaps for my own soul I should do it more) but I just received this eye-catching Christmas story and enjoyed the tale as much as I did the colorful illustrations.

The story in brief is that of Silas the shepherd boy who was constantly falling asleep, throughout his day, at a meal, and while tending sheep–which was not a good thing! It turns out that he was tending sheep on that starry night outside Bethlehem when the angels appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of a king. Silas slept through it all, and later when his friends returned, he refused to believe them, believing they were playing a trick on him. He never went to Bethlehem to see for himself, and missed seeing Jesus, the newborn king.

Years later, he is tending some goats in a garden called Gethsemane. He’s heard about this teacher who is stirring things up in Jerusalem. He’s heard the story he tells of a shepherd with a hundred sheep who leaves them for the one lost. And one night, he hears a commotion in the garden and watches as Jesus leaves his disciples to stand guard while he agonizes in prayer…and they sleep. What will Silas, the sleepy shepherd, do?

This story ties the birth and passion of Jesus together. Through the fictional character of Silas, we understand the mission of Jesus more deeply–whether as an adult or a school age child.

Sleepy shepherd (2)

One of Chris Hagen’s illustrations from the book. Silas “counts sheep” at night.

The illustrations grew on me. The human figures look the way I would have drawn them as a school age child. The colors are vibrant, ideal for reading with a child on one’s lap, delighting in the illustrations which tell the stories as well as the words.

You might still be able to get this before Christmas, but even if it comes during the twelve days of Christmas, I think it will quickly become a family favorite that you will pull out at Christmastime during the coming years!

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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: You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed MeKent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Describes the global refugee crisis, the opportunities that the church has to extend welcome, and the fears and misunderstandings that prevent us from doing so.

There are as many as 66 million refugees in the world today. Currently, the U.S. is slated to accept fewer that 22,000, the lowest number in decades while much smaller countries have accepted as many as 2.5 million. Kent Annan, who directs the humanitarian and disaster leadership program at Wheaton College was asked by his son whether we are for or against refugees. A good question indeed, considering these numbers.

Starting with the simple statement of Jesus in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Kent Annan explores why the church should be for refugees and how we can extend welcome. He does much of this by telling stories. He begins with the idea of how these people could be any of us, helping us through these stories to recognize the common humanity we share with refugees, reminding us that scripture tells us that it could be angels we entertain when we welcome these strangers.

Annan explores fears that we have about opening our doors more widely to immigrants. Through both stories and statistics, he shows that these fears are misplaced. We have a 1 in 364 billion chance of being murdered by a refugee in a terrorist attack, a 1 in 10.9 billion chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack by an illegal immigrant, while we have a 1 in 14,000 chance of being murdered by anyone, a 1 in 303 chance of dying in an auto accident, and 1 in 7 chance of dying of cancer. Immigrants and refugees in this country contributed $63 billion more than they cost this country over the last decade. Urban neighborhoods into which immigrants move often see a reduction in crime and revitalization.

Annan also helps us empathize by sharing stories of the refugee experience. The snapshots he relates involve departures from unsafe or politically insecure situations, often leaving careers and possessions behind. Often, their flight involves harrowing and life-endangering journeys. Many spend years in refugee camps awaiting resettlement while undergoing rigorous vetting.

He gets practical in terms of what can be done, including information about agencies assisting refugees in the U.S. (some whose existence is threatened by our country’s reduction in the number of refugees it will accept). He urges us to become part of a human chain of being good neighbors, committing to hope, to reconciliation, and to grace.

Finally, drawing from the name of a relief organization, Annan pleads that to be for refugees is to say “here is life.” To welcome refugees is to participate in God’s in-breaking kingdom where we were welcomed and have found life through the Life Giver. We exchange fear for hope, hate for love, scarcity for abundance.

In each chapter, Annan offers practices that can set us started on the road to welcoming refugees and immigrants, making the book useful for a church mission team or study group. An appendix provides descriptions and contact information for the major refugee organizations working in the U.S. The book admits but doesn’t try to solve public policy problems. It helps us empathize (as much as a book can do) with what it is like to be a refugee, and encourages us to find out personally. It focuses on what church people can do to learn and act. I suspect if  a growing movement came forward and said “we want the country to increase the amount of refugees we welcome and we are willing to do the hard work of helping them settle,” that could have public policy implications.

This is a short book that does not try to do to much. And perhaps there is wisdom in this. If we will not heed and wrestle with Jesus’s words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” I’m not sure the need at this point is for more words.

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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.