Review: Faith for Exiles

Kinnaman_FaithforExiles.indd

Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: The results of a Barna study identifying five defining characteristics of resilient young Christians who continue to pursue Christ in our generation.

David Kinnaman has been studying youth culture for some time, especially trying to understand the reasons many young people are leaving the church, detailed in his book You Lost Me, reviewed here several years ago. This book is different. Based, as were his previous books on Barna research, he and his co-author Mark Matlock look at five key practices that help account for a resilient Christian faith amid what they call “digital Babylon” in which are youth are often discipled far more on their screens than in their churches.

The book walks through each of these five practices and the survey data that distinguishes “resilients” from prodigals/ex-Christians, nomads who are unchurched, and habitual church goers. These practices are:

  1. To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus. Resilients clearly identify as Christian, consider Christ central, experience intimacy with God and talk with Jesus.
  2. In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment. They learn wisdom for living faithfully, with those who differ, stewarding their sexuality and their money. The Bible serves as an anchor for that wisdom and resilients spend far more time digesting Christian content.
  3. When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships. Resilients connect meaningfully to a local congregation and have strong relationships with adults one and two generations ahead of them, especially those who genuinely care for them without ulterior motives.
  4. To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship. Resilients are equipped with a robust theology of work and calling and engaged Christianly in their workplaces. There is no sacred-secular divide and Christians are supported and equipped for workplace discipleship.
  5. Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission. Resilients have a strong sense of mission worked out in countercultural practice in their lives. They live as exiles in Babylon discerningly seeking the peace and prosperity of the city. Life is about the big thing God is up to in the world and not one’s personal fulfillment.

The book both explores the practices of churches that have equipped resilients, including a special section on mentoring, and tells stories of many Millennials and Generation Z youth who are living the resilient life outlined in these pages. The book strikes the right combination of stories and statistics, empirically grounding and personally elaborating its conclusions. This is not the book to provide fodder for intergenerational criticism, but rather one that offers hope for what God is doing in the rising generation, and wisdom for those in preceding generations who want to bless, mentor, and release these resilient disciples.

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

 

Review: You Throw Like A Girl

throw like a girl

You Throw Like a Girl, Don McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019.

Summary: Proposes that unhealthy masculinity arises from raising boys not to be women or gay rather than a positive model of what it means to be a man.

Don McPherson is a former NFL and CFL quarterback who works in the area of gender-based violence prevention. In this book, he observes what he believes to be the blind spot of “masculinity,” which is that we don’t train boys to be men but rather not to be girls — or gay. It is captured in the title putdown–you throw like a girl. It makes being a girl or woman inferior to being a man and results in a male culture of violence against women as inferior beings, with violence an assertion of dominance, of superiority. It also means closing oneself with emotional expressions that might be associated with being a woman–crying for example.

His book particularly explores the masculine culture surrounding sports and the incidence of violence against women by athletes, often in which the victim is blamed, and fans come to the defense of the beloved. He traces his own increasing awakening to this burden of toxic masculinity at age 29, when his salary was reduced as team owners devalued his playing utility. He reflected on his own sense of how he defined what it meant to be a man, and while not having engaged in sexual violence, recognized the ways he had objectified women and devalued them in conversations with other men, the privilege he had enjoyed, and how sport had defined his identity, and that this did not answer well to his own deep sense of what it meant to be a man, particularly one who valued close friendships with women.

He is forthright in his discussions that violence against women is a men’s issue, that men nearly always are the perpetrators of violence, and men have an important role in working with peers, sons, other youth, in developing a sense of being a men defined in character separate from deeming women inferior. He also exposes the silence and institutional support men often receive that enable them to escape the consequences of violence against women. Finally, he dares to name the pervasive presence of pornography, “the ‘streets’ in the pocket’ as reinforcing negative masculinity, rather than healthy, mutually caring relationships with women.

The thing that makes this book particularly compelling is McPherson’s personal journey, his honesty about how this culture of masculinity shaped his life, and the burden of this. His examples both from his playing days and in his violence prevention work call to mind in the male reader similar experiences, and the tough exterior one learns to put on to not be thought a sissy, a girl.

McPherson mentions in the book a publisher he pitched a version of this book to who wrote back:

Our concern about the book, however, is that those who agree with your message won’t feel the need to read a book in order to be convinced, while those who really need it would not buy one.

As I reflected, I still think this is a problem for this book, and part of my question was, “who was he writing for.” By his liberal use of gender theory language like patriarchy, privilege, and normalization in his book, it struck me as one written for the “woke” fellow-travelers in his work, those who didn’t need to be convinced. My challenge to the author would be to write a version of this book without the jargon as he would talk to a group of young men in a workshop, perhaps young athletes. I’d write it “I” to “you” rather than in academic third person.

I say this because the message of this book is important, but I do not think the men who McPherson would like to win as allies will read it. They might find his personal stories intriguing but when they hit the jargon, I suspect the defenses will go up, the book will get laid down, not to be picked up again. This is sad, because as men, we are doing a terrible job in our culture of helping boys make the transition to becoming men who are responsible, in touch with their emotional lives, and able to cultivate deep relationships with people of both genders, whatever their sexual or gender orientation, without abusiveness or violence. I hope McPherson will write a book for the men he actually needs to reach.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Liturgy of Creation

liturgy of creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre, foreword by C. John Collins. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: An argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 should be understood in light of the calendars in the Pentateuch, particularly as instruction for our work and sabbath, rather than for science.

This book examines an area I’ve never studied before: the significance of the calendars of the Pentateuch, and the importance of reading Genesis 1:1-2:3 within this context. Michael LeFebvre is a scholar-pastor who noticed how calendar references run through the Pentateuch, studied these, and became convinced that they offer an important clue to understanding the beginning of Genesis.

The first part of the book looks at Israel’s calendars, and how they are shaped by day, month (lunar) and year. He notes the significance of cycles of seven. Days in the week are fairly obvious. Less obvious but striking for me is that all Israel’s major festivals fall in the first seven months. There are also cycles of seven years, and the seven times seven of Jubilee.

He then studies the different festivals and one of the most significant discussions here is between dates of occurrence and dates of observance (we have this in our own calendar with the observance of Washington’s birthday on President’s Day, which never falls on the day of his actual birthday, February 22. Often, difficulties of chronology arise because of failure to observe this distinction. It also means that because a date of observance may differ from a date of occurrence, this does not mean the occurrence did not happen.

Finally, he argues that the creation week is a calendar narrative. The struggles, for example, to explain evening and morning before the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day is not a problem if we understand this narrative as a calendar narrative having a liturgical purpose rather than describing an actual chronology.  LeFebvre admits that this may be frustrating for those who have worked out apologetic systems to reconcile the narrative with known science, but his contention is that science was not the point but rather the worship of the God who works six days and rests, establishing a model for his creatures to follow in their work and rest as the fourth commandment indicates. He contends this makes good sense in reading Genesis as part of the Pentateuch, where sabbath is a weekly feast observance, a break of rest and celebration in the people’s rhythm of work. It is consonant with the rest of Pentateuch, and evident to any reader of the text without extensive theological and ancient cultural background, or apologetic expertise. As a corollary to this, he contends for the removal of this text for use in controversy in science and that it be used as Paul commends in 2 Timothy 3:16 for training in righteousness–in this case the proper rhythm of work and rest modeled after the first great worker–God.

No doubt, those who have made an intellectual, or even a remunerative occupation of defending a particular position with regard to Genesis 1 and scientific accounts of origins, LeFebvre’s account is inadequate. LeFebvre does distinguish between idolatrous naturalism, and the carefully delimited practice of science, which may be done by both believers and non-believers apart from philosophical or theological commitments. He remains somewhat agnostic about scientific accounts of origins, while affirming the important of scientific engagements in the study of evolution and cosmology so long as the conclusions affirmed are physical and not metaphysical. He just doesn’t believe Genesis is intended to give an account of origins reconcilable with science. That is not what it’s for. Thus, he does not incline here toward any of the apologetic models of origins on offer. None, he thinks, read the text literally enough.

LeFebvre’s book is important for understanding the calendar of Israel, the significance of festival observance dates, and so forth. His charts of all this are very helpful. Most of all, to pay close attention to the sanctity of work, a creation made to be fruitful and to foster the flourishing of God’s creatures, and the vital practice of sabbath and rhythms of work and rest–all of this offers much for Christians in their worship, practice, and rhythms of daily life. With so much of worth, why press these texts to answer and teach things they were not intended to teach?

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

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan. New York: Picador, 2012.

Summary: When Clay Jannon starts clerking in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, he discovers a most unusual bookstore with unusual customers and figures out that the store is part of a far-flung scheme pursuing one of the oldest quests.

Clay Jannon is an out-of-work web developer who happens on a help wanted sign for the late shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. He takes the job. He discovers there are two kinds of customers. There are the ordinary customers who buy books in the front of the store in its eclectic and relatively limited selection. As it turns out, there are relatively few of these. Then there is a much more interesting group of members of a secret society, which we later learn is called The Unbroken Spine. They have a card with a number. They return a book and ask for another. A description of the transaction, including the person’s appearance and the book returned and requested are to be logged. No questions asked. No looking in the books. These books are in the back of the store on shelves that tower up several stories and must be reached by ladders. They are the Waybacklist.

Jannon’s curiosity gets the best of him, so he uses programming skills and the advice of geeky friends to create a 3-D visualization of the store, then programs the current log into the visualization. He discovers there is a pattern. About this time a cute girl who works at Google, Kat Potente, happens into the store as a result of a Google ad Clay wrote. She spots his visualization and they start working together to add more to the visualization by “borrowing” another log book. Penumbra happens on him in the store just as the visualization is complete. It is a face, that of Aldus Manutius, a pioneer in type-setting. Jannon has completed a task in hours that it would take other members years or even decades.

This discovery sets an unexpected turn of events into motion. Mr. Penumbra’s store is shut down and he is called to New York to meet “Corvina” who it turns out is head of the secret society of the Unbroken Spine, which has stores (really libraries) all over the world for novices to solve the first part of the quest. It turns out that the ultimate quest is to decode the codex left by Manutius, and those who have significantly progressed are all engaged in this, yet for centuries, no one has done so. It is believed that to decode Manutius will result in immortality for all the members of this secret society.

The plot turns on the conflict between old fashioned scholarly study, and the marvels of Google’s algorithms. Should such new ways even be employed? Will either yield the solution to Manutius? And what will happen to Mr. Penumbra and his store?

For lovers of bookstores, this is a great mystery, with the smell of old books and a quest for knowledge. It explores the time we are in, between the world of texts engaged by readers, and the different path of knowledge the web and its algorithms offer. The plot is a page-turner, first as Jannon and his friends (and Kat, with whom Clay falls in and out of love), try to unravel the mystery of the Waybacklist, and then the quest to decode Manutius.

If I would have one beef, it is the characters. They are quirky, but flat. They seem to be caricatures that provide the needed personnel to move a story of old and new ways of knowing forward. It almost feels to me that they are in a video game. The plot saves this book as one is drawn in by the mystery and sense of adventure. I find it interesting that the book was named a best book by NPR and several newspapers and won several other awards. It was a good and diverting read but fell short of great for me. I did like the cool, glow-in-the-dark cover, however.

 

Review: The Awakening

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000.

Summary: An account of Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt’s victorious ministry with a demonized woman, Gottlieben Dittus, the awakening in the village that followed, and the miraculous works and the reactions that followed.

Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt at thirty-three was assigned to ministry in Mottlingen in 1838. Very soon he learned of a woman in his parish suffering a strange illness, accompanied by bizarre symptoms that her doctor had been unable to alleviate. The symptoms were not limited to her body, but also in her surroundings. There were sounds of tapping, objects moved and more. Sometimes she reacted with great fear or hostility to prayer. Ruling out other explanations, Blumhardt entered an extended fight to rid this woman of demons, which eventually is accomplished. Blumhardt attributes the victory to Jesus. We see a pastor who quietly persists in invoking the name and power of Jesus in commanding the demons, who sometimes try to negotiate the terms of their departure, to leave.

Subsequent to this, an awakening breaks out in Mottlingen and the neighboring parish of Haugstett. A parish that had been indifferent to the things of God suddenly becomes stricken with their sins, coming to Blumhardt to confess those sins. As he hears their confessions, he experiences the Spirit’s prompting to absolve them in Christ’s name, a controversial act, but one marked by transformed lives in many who came to him.

Then miracles began. Blumhardt was eventually banned from personal ministry, limited to urging people to attend to the preaching of the gospel, and responding in faith to what was proclaimed, and still more miracles occur. This extends to deliverance of Blumhardt from several enemies who sought to kill him, including one who had broken into his home at night who was miraculously transformed when Blumhardt cried out, “Jesus is victor.”

This phrase, “Jesus is Victor” could have served as the title of this book. What is striking about Blumhardt is the combination of humility and authority that characterize this man. He has a humble estimate of his own abilities, but acts with conviction and confidence in the power of Jesus to counter the powers of sin and evil that he meets. One has the sense that the fight with Gottlieben was one engaged reluctantly, not sought. He refuses to use manipulative techniques to stir people up, trusting to the ministry of the Word and the work of the Spirit.

The book also makes a powerful case for the reality of spiritual warfare, the real existence of demonic personalities that may invade and afflict individuals. Much of this is connected in this narrative with engagement in magical and occult practices which opened people to these dark powers.

Blumhardt also contends that all he did was ask for and do what he saw in the gospels, coming importunately in prayer and exercising the authority Jesus spoke of to forgive sins. He wrote:

Jesus says, “I have authority from my Father to forgive sins, and those whom I forgive are forgiven.” What the Lord did ought to continue, for everything he did as a man shall be done by other human beings until the end of days. The Father authorized him, and he authorized others. He said to the disciples,”As my Father has sent me, so send I you.” Thus his disciples could say to repentant sinners as decisively as Jesus himself did, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” And what is to shake our conviction that this power remains in force for those proclaiming the good news today–that they, too, should have authority to forgive sins.

Blumhardt’s words offer a bracing challenge to those who seek revival. Are we prepared for spiritual warfare, and have we fostered a life of dependence upon the power of God? Are our revivals marked by deep grief and repentance for sins, and do we offer the assurance of the Lord’s pardon warranted in the finished work of Christ? His book also reminds me that we live in dark times where our nightly news carries reports of acts of singular evil. I’m troubled by our tendency to reduce all of these to mental illness, though in some instances, there is clear prior evidence of illness. In a society increasingly open to dark powers, might it not be possible that at least some individuals, or even groups have been invaded by such powers, giving themselves over to destructive evil. Blumhardt raises the issue of the call of the people of God to confront such evil under the greater authority of Jesus. Will a politically captivated, culturally co-opted, and personally compromised church be able to respond? Who are the Blumhardt’s of our day? Where is the repentance that marks a truly reviving church?

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

Review: Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A response to the widespread lack of engagement in work, exploring the changes to our approach to our workplace, our work ethic, and our work life that foster joy in work that is more than a job, more than an occupation, but rather a calling.

Shundrawn Thomas is the president of a trillion dollar global investment firm, who has worked in many other settings before attaining his present position. He has found deep joy in his own work and is concerned about the statistics that show that the majority of workers are not engaged with their work.

Thomas contends that the discovery of joy in our work has little to do with the job we are in and everything to do with the person doing that work. He writes:

However, only one person determines your joy: you. If you want to truly experience joy in your work, you only have one person to deal with: yourself! You are the only person standing in the way of experiencing joy in your work.

He begins with our approach to our workplace. He starts with changing our attitudes, our perspective on our workplace that shapes our feelings and actions, that when content and positive, sustains us through our workday. He proposes that we need to alter our approach, including proactive preparation, prioritization of our time, and partnering well with others. He advocates for raising our aptitude, working with talented people, and involving discovery, development, and deployment. Finally, we can take steps to ensure achievement by avoiding distractions, and working together with resolution to achieve team goals.

He then turns to our work ethic, what motivates us to put in the effort for excellent work. He addresses the love of money and how money may both be a primary and yet inadequate motivator when we recognize the value of time, the satisfaction of work that aligns with our gifts and interests, the greater value of our health and sense of worth, and the sharing rather than amassing of wealth. We can work for the praise of people, but growth occurs not only through praise but also through criticism. The most satisfying work is not what is praised but is praiseworthy. We may work for respect but greater joy comes when we are motivated from within and concerned more about doing good work for the benefit of others and modest about our own self-importance.

Finally, he talks about the fruits of our work life. Work reveals purpose when we allow it to perfect us rather than looking for the perfect occupation, and give ourselves diligently to it. This means work requires effort, calling on all our physical, mental, and spiritual efforts, undeterred by setbacks. Work promotes growth through training, advanced degrees, certifications, workshops, and seminars as well as cultivation of professional relationships in which one regularly receives and welcomes feedback. Work develops our skills, particularly the four skills of listening, visualizing, collaborating, and leading that are critical for success. Work fosters relationships of trust, transparency across a network of personal connections. All this comes together in producing value as we set goals that answer the questions of which opportunities we will pursue, what problems we will solve, and who we will serve. Most of all, work may glorify God as we combine all these qualities in work offered to God in service of others. Work becomes calling in which our efforts answer to God’s bidding.

This is a book chock-full with principles that feels a bit like reading Proverbs. Each paragraph, sometimes each sentence is worth reflection. Thomas has written a book rich with “work wisdom.” It also reflects a conviction of the inherent goodness of work, that it is not a curse, but done rightly, with the right attitude, can afford deep satisfaction within the greater joy of glorifying God. He does offer many examples, and each chapter concludes with a summary of key insights, valuable because each chapter, though short, is so full of these insights. If one reads too rapidly, or feels one must implement at once all that Thomas advises, this could be daunting. Listening for the one insight that resonates right now and considering what changes this means for one’s work life may be more helpful. This book could be dynamite read together with colleagues sharing a commitment to live transformatively in their work place.

Most of all, this book rings true with over four decades of my own work experience. I’ve found that I can never depend on an organization or workplace to make work joyful. Joy has much more to do with the perspective, the work ethic, the investment I bring to my work, than what I find there. Surely, work places are never optimal, and sometimes far less than that. Sometimes this means changing employers or at least jobs. It is apparent from the book that Thomas himself did so. Years ago, an executive search consultant advised me not to relinquish responsibility for my career path to my employer or anyone else. Shundrawn Thomas would add that we not relinquish responsibility for our joy to others.

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

Review: The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God

the reformation and the irrepressible word of god

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of Godedited by Scott M. Manetsch. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A collection of eight papers on the vital role of scripture in Reformation thought and practice.

“Irrepressible.” What a great word to use in a title. Mirriam-Webster’s definition of the word is “impossible to repress, restrain, or control.” The Reformers often pointed to Hebrews 4:12 which says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (NIV).

I suspect for many, “irrepressible” is far from the first word that might come to mind as they think of scripture. Some might consider it ancient, confusing, irrelevant, or even tedious. Yet many others (I would include myself here) have experienced the power of scripture to convict, to comfort, to open one’s eyes in wonder toward God, to assure in one’s hope in life and death, and to “equip for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). It is not so much a matter of understanding the Bible as discovering that I am understood by the Word of God, as God speaks through the words on the page, knowing me better than I know myself, facing me with those things of which I’ve been blind, deluded, and sometimes willfully oblivious.

Beginning with Martin Luther, it has been contended that the Reformation was driven by the study of and preaching of the scriptures as the Word of God for the people of God. This drove translation of the scriptures into the vernacular in countries where the Reformation took hold, particularly in Germany and England. In more contemporary scholarship, the power of the “scripture principle” has been eclipsed by other factors — economic, sociological, and political. However, recent scholarship has seen a resurgence of the Bible as a key factor in the Reformation, and this volume, consisting of eight papers plus an introduction by Scott Manetsch and an afterword by Timothy George, is a significant contribution to that scholarship. The papers were first presented at a conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2017 on the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.

The collection consists of four parts, each with two papers (complete table of contents at the publisher’s website):

  1. Biblical Interpretation in the Reformation
  2. Preaching and Pastoral Care in the Reformation
  3. Justification and the Reformation
  4. The Christian Life in the Reformation

Space does not permit discussing every paper, all of which were both accessible and rich in insight. David S. Dockery discussed Christological interpretation as central to the authority and interpretation of scripture. Scripture is not the final authority but Christ to whom all of scripture points and through which Christ speaks to us. Michael A. G. Haykin’s paper on Hugh Latimer highlighted his passion for the preaching of the Word of God. Latimer urged people to pray for both him and themselves that by God’s Spirit:

“…I may speak the word of God, and teach you to understand the same; unto you that you may be edified through it, and your lives reformed and amended; and that his honour and glory may increase daily amongst us.”

The following essay by Ronald K. Rittgers featured the devotional literature of the Reformation, which usually consisted of quoting one text of scripture after another, without commentary. It was believed that scripture read and meditated upon in this way was powerful to minister to hearts, a kind of “sacrament” as it were.

Michael S. Horton’s essay on justification makes a striking proposal that I could see as serving as the basis of a more extended research project. He observes that the idea of justification by faith was not discovered in the Reformation, but is evident in the church fathers. He focuses particularly on Chrysostom, who recognized Paul’s distinction of works of the law and faith, the difference between justification and sanctification and the idea of justification as the “great exchange” between Christ and sinner.

I also thought the last essay in the collection, by David Luy helpfully discussed both what is meant and not meant by the “priesthood of all believers,” a key Reformation tenet. He shows both that this was not meant to replace church offices or hierarchy, but rather that all Christians, having the Word of God, may share the grace of God in Christ with others.

Timothy George concludes by asking what we may learn from the Reformation, and particularly fleshes out how the Reformers ideas about scripture as the Word of God deepen and give substance to the four distinctives of evangelicalism noted by David Bebbington, without which evangelicalism is thin gruel, neither satisfying nor enduring.

It seems to me that George and the contributors to this volume have an important word to those who wish to move beyond the Reformation or are calling for a new one. In one sense, the church is to be semper reformanda, ever reforming. For some, what needs to be reformed is a “bibliolatry” that they perceive in the Reformation. No doubt, there are some that worship the Bible rather than the Lord to whom the Reformers pointed. But such bibliolatry is evident neither in the Reformers nor in this collection. What needs to be continually reformed is us–our hearts, our structures and practices, our tendencies to self-sufficiency and self-promotion, our indifference to God and other people. Only the alive and active, double-edged sword of God’s Word, illumined by God’s Spirit, pointing to God’s Son, can do this work. In this work, I was reminded afresh of the preciousness of this irrepressible Word for the people of God.

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

Review: A History of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

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A History of Chicago’s O’Hare AirportMichael Branigan, foreword by Christopher Lynch. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.

Summary: A history of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from its earliest days through to the post-9/11 environment for air travel.

I probably have flown to or through O’Hare at least a couple times a year over the last forty years. I never thought much of the history of the place until a recent trip when I walked past a series of aerial photographs showing the development of the airport over time. I realized then that the place I traveled through had gone through many changes over those past forty years–many I had not noticed.

Michael Branigan, who worked in aircraft maintenance at both Midway and O’Hare Airports shares his love and inside knowledge of these places in this book, which includes many photographs from different eras at O’Hare. He takes us back before the beginnings, when it was a battlefield for the U.S. military’s fight with the Sauk Indians in 1832. Later it became the home of a German settlement known as Orchard Place (from which the airport code ORD comes).

The beginnings of the use of this site as an airport trace back to World War II when McDonnell Douglas sited it’s C-54 Skymaster plant here. Midway Airport was too small, and this prairie site offered the land needed for the plant and runways. The Douglas plant became the first of the air-oriented cities here until its closure following the war. Branigan recounts how Chicago Mayor Ralph H. Burke had the vision for converting this to a major airport facility exceeding what was possible at Midway. The first terminal was developed and opened to commercial operations in the mid- 1950’s. At this time the airport, which up until then was know as Orchard Place Airport, was named after “Butch” O’Hare, a decorated Naval flier who died in action.

Branigan follows the development and rapid growth of O’Hare, the efficiency of its operations (except when the weather did not co-operate, as many of us who have been delayed in O’Hare can attest), transitioning into the jet age, expanding its terminals and facilities to accommodate the jumbo L-1011’s, 747’s, and DC-10’s. As I write, O’Hare handles more aircraft movements than any other airport in the world (Atlanta’s Hartsfield currently handles more passengers), and this book helps one understand how air traffic control, runway layouts and gate services all contribute to O’Hare’s success.

Branigan also traces air travel from the novelty and luxury of those early years to de-regulation and post 9/11 airport security that so many of us tolerate for the hope of secure travel. He recounts the terrible crash of flight 191 in 1979, when the engine of a DC-10 fell off just as the pilots “rotated” the plane into the air and the earlier collision of two planes on the ground in 1972. What is striking to me is that these were the two worst crashes at an airport that achieved over 900,000 aircraft movements in 2018. While one may remember the rare disasters, and the more common delays, what Branigan’s book impressed upon me was what an incredible place O’Hare is, moving so many passengers and flights safely through every day. I wonder if I’ll look at it with different eyes when I fly there in a few weeks for meetings in Chicago…

Review: The Storm on Our Shores

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The Storm on Our ShoresMark Obmascik. New York: Atria Books, 2019.

Summary: The story of a forgotten battle in 1943 on Attu in the Aleutians, and two soldiers, “enemies” to each other, one who died, one who survived, and the after story.

You are living quietly as a Japanese-American on the west coast, caring for an aging widow, whose husband died in the Japanese war effort. An elderly man visits your home who was in the battle in which your father died. As he leaves, he finally blurts out the reason the real reason for his visit: “I’m the one who killed your father.”

Mark Obmascik tells the story of the battle that the devoted pacifist Japanese husband and father, Dr. Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi, died in, and the story of Dick Laird, the scrappy, courageous soldier at whose hand he died. He fleshes out the life story of each that brought them to this moment, the moments that followed, and the healing Laird finally found as he and Laura Tatsuguchi Davis eventually talked.

Paul Tatsuguchi had emigrated from Hiroshima to California in the 1920’s, was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist home, and eventually enrolled in medical school, where he excelled as a surgeon. While there he met, and married Taeko Miyake, who he had known from childhood in Japan. Family needs brought them back to Japan where Paul served as a doctor in an Adventist tuberculosis sanitarium. As the clouds of war gathered, their first daughter Joy was born. Then Paul, who was a pacifist, was drafted into the Japanese war effort. Fortunately the need for doctors meant he would not be called on to kill the enemy. But he could still encounter those who once had been his American friends.

Dick Laird grew up in a southeast Ohio coal town. Enlisting in the army seemed the one thing that promised a better life. He met Rose in Columbus while going through training. They had a tumultuous relationship until the army finally grew him up. Laird was the guy you wanted on your side in a fight and he became a leader among men, rising to sergeant. He could have risen further except for his doubts about his education, offered the opportunity to go to Officers Candidate School.

In June of 1942, Japan invaded a lonely island at the western end of the Aleutians named Attu, about as far west as the U.S. goes. They thought they were getting a stepping stone, but the storms, the spongy soil, the cold and the fogs made it more or less useless as a base. They eventually took Kiska to the east. None of this afforded them much strategic advantage but they did not relinquish it.

American pride could not let this invasion of even these insignificant islands go unchallenged and so in May of 1943, Dick Laird was part of an invasion force sent to retake Attu. Much of the book chronicles this effort and the horrors to which this led. There was the Japanese no-surrender policy of fighting to the death, either in battle or in bushido (ritual suicide). There was the fog in war, in this case the literal fog that led to Laird accidentally killing one of his own runners, mistaking him for the enemy, and nearly taking innocent lives at another point. There were the gruesome deaths all around him of friends and others he fought alongside.

Meanwhile, there was the diary kept by Paul Tatsuguchi chronicling the deteriorating conditions that led to the giving of grenades to his patients so they could take their lives rather than be captured. There is also his faith, and his love for his daughters, including Laura, born during the war. The end came when the remaining Japanese defenders mounted a banzai attack. Tatsuguchi was among a group of soldiers charging Laird and his men. Laird had no choice but to throw a hand grenade, followed by his and his men’s rifle fire that wiped out the group.

When they searched the dead, Laird found Tatsuguchi’s diary, later widely copied and circulated by others. Someone else found his Bible. Laird struggled after the war with what we now know as PTSD, the memories of gruesome deaths, the runner, the innocent he almost killed, and the death of Tatsuguchi, a pacifist doctor mixed up in a fatal charge. He had nightmares for years, even as he tried to leave the war behind in the daylight.

The most moving part of the book is the encounters he has with Laura, including the incredible letter she wrote him that finally enabled him to sleep at night. The book also raises the questions war so often raises about soldiers each doing their duties honorably, mixed up in what was a needless battle because of the decisions of others and bearing the consequences in their deaths, or their lives. Laird is the embodiment of the tension of doing what he must do, deeply regretting what he had done and yet seeing no way out of this tragic dilemma. All the decorations he received could not unravel this. Only the aggrieved mother and daughter could do so. The wonder of this book is how they did.

Review: Into His Presence

into his presence

Into His PresenceTim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019.

Summary: Offers a biblical study of the idea of intimacy with God, and engages with Catholic mystical, Pentecostal experiential, and Evangelical devotional approaches to intimacy with God.

Tim L. Anderson contends that scripture assures us that God both longs to draw near to us and for us to draw near to Him. He writes this book to uncover the wealth of material in scripture that both assures us of this truth and explains how this can be a reality in the life of the believer. He writes that he is also seeking “an intervention of sorts.” He believes there are three approaches to intimacy with God that suffer from theological imprecision and thus will fail to lead believers into the fullness of intimacy with God that is promised the believer. He describers these approaches as Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional.

He begins with defining intimacy, which he proposes is “the movement of God and Christians toward a place of true knowledge and close contact.” He believes this consists in four elements: movement toward intimacy, intimate knowledge, intimate place/location, and intimate contact/touch, elaborating each of these from scripture. Chapter 2 looks at the place of intimacy with God in theology and philosophy, beginning with the God who is source of our existence, consciousness, and delights, thus making knowledge of God both our gift and our responsibility, pursued through God’s self-revelation in scripture, showing us a God both immanent and transcendent, all-present and knowing, and yet condescending to us.

Chapter 3 considers the fall and the barriers to intimacy this raises. Chapter 4, then, explores the beautiful symbols of scripture that convey God’s communication of intimacy, especially the anthropomorphisms of face, ears, hands, voice and mouth, and how we are to understand these.

Chapter 5 then elaborates the particular image of God as Father and how a proper understanding of God as an intimate. loving Father heals unhealthy shame that hinders our approach to God. Chapter 6 looks at Christ through the lens of the marriage images in scripture. Here he focuses on the intimate care and faithfulness of Christ and the church, but sets bounds on some of the highly romanticized or even sexualized applications of this imagery. Chapter 7 turns to the Holy Spirit and how he discloses truth in illuminating scripture and intercedes for us in prayer.

Chapter 8 deals with suffering and the apparent hiddenness of God in times of suffering. He shows from scripture how God knows us in our suffering and provides in himself a place of security as we suffer. He underscores this with the stories of the suffering of Moses and Elijah, and ultimately of Christ.

Finally, chapter 9 applies all this material on intimacy to assessing our songs of intimacy, our worship music, past and present, particularly for how the four elements of intimacy are present in them. I loved his treatment of “Just as I Am,” a song deeply etched in my own life from Billy Graham Crusades and other contexts.

I greatly appreciated the emphasis of setting forth the rich biblical testimony for intimacy that grounds intimacy in the promises, works, and commands of God and not in our experience. His critique of the “Jesus is my boyfriend or lover” kind of spirituality is a much needed corrective. I felt that the approaches of Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional were treated somewhat as straw men against which he took a few whacks while focusing more on elaborating a biblical theology of intimacy, and critiquing some examples of unhelpful teaching. I thought the book might have been stronger had he left the straw men out while focusing on his primary aim of a theology of intimacy, while offering helpful correctives to specific examples of inadequate or even false teaching, which I felt did not represent the best of the three approaches.

Because of the lack of good biblical/theological instruction in many of our Christian communities, many believers do not know what is theirs in Christ. As human beings, we long for intimacy. Anderson’s work assures us that God’s longing for intimacy with us more than matches our longing for Him, and in Christ the bridegroom, and the Spirit who discloses his bidding and intercedes for us, He has made that intimacy possible.

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