The Month in Reviews: October 2018

Paul

October was the month I spent nearly the whole month (and the latter part of September) reading The Origins of Totalitarianism. Perhaps it is no wonder I had to read a book on the aging brain! In biographies, my reading spanned from the biblical era (Paul) to current politics (Elizabeth Warren). A couple of books explore the ways we self-deceive and are deceived. I read a couple good books in Christian history, on American Revivalism (1740-1840), and on the history of evangelicalism from 1900 to 1940. There were a few scholarly works in there on the oral tradition behind the New Testament, on the Wisdom literature, and the theology of middle knowledge. Both Quit Church and Healing Our Broken World explored practices that renew the church and make a difference in the world. Finally, I reviewed a recent book by Parker J. Palmer on aging. No fiction this month (although I spent a good part of the month reading Cloud Atlas).

The aging brain

The Aging BrainTimothy R. Jennings, MD. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2018. A discussion of the causes of aging and brain deterioration and the lifestyle measures that can be taken to avert or delay dementia. Review

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth WarrenAntonia Felix. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2018. A biography of the Democrat U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, from the financial struggles of her family, her academic life and the research that changed her life, and her work protecting consumers that led to her Senate run. Review

On the Brink of Everything

On the Brink of EverythingParker J. Palmer. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. A series of reflections on aging, living with grace and vitality as we age, and facing our deaths. Review

interpreting old testament wisdom literature

Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Edited by David G. Firth and Lindsay Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of articles on the wisdom literature of the Bible, discussing each book as well as recent developments in Wisdom literature scholarship. Review

From Good News to Gospels

From Good News to Gospels David Wenham (Foreword by Donald A. Hagner). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. Explores the role of oral tradition as a source for the written gospels. Review

Twelve Lies

Twelve Lies That Hold America CaptiveJonathan Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming January 8, 2019. 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. Review

Paul

Paul: A Biography, N. T. Wright. New York: Harper One, 2018. Wright translates his scholarship that gives a “new account” of Paul’s life into a popular biography, tracing the life and thought of the apostle through the letters he wrote and narrative of his journeys. Review

theologies of the american revivalists

Theologies of the American Revivalists, Robert W. Caldwell III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A study, not so much of the history, as the theologies underlying the different revival movements in America from 1740 to 1840. Review

Quit Church

Quit ChurchChris Sonksen (Foreword by Dave Ferguson). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A challenge to quit a half-hearted commitment to church for lives of discipleship in six areas. Review

Democracy Hacked

Democracy HackedMartin Moore. London: Oneworld Publications, 2018. An inquiry into the ways individuals and states have influenced democratic governments, how web-based platforms have made it possible, and some of the alternatives for the future. Review

middle knowledge

Middle KnowledgeJohn D. Laing. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. An exposition and defense of the doctrine of middle knowledge, also known as Molinism, and arguments for why this best addresses other theological issues. Review

Healing our Broken Humanity

Healing Our Broken World, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill (Foreword by Willie James Jennings). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. In a world with deep racial, gender, national, and political divides, the authors propose nine formative practices churches can pursue enabling the church to have a healing presence in the world. Review

the origins of totalitarianism

The Origins of  TotalitarianismHannah Arendt. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968. A work tracing the rise of totalitarian governments in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to their origins in racism and class warfare, reactions to imperialism, and the mechanics that distinguish totalitarian states from other kinds of states. Review

the disruption of evangelicalism

The Disruption of Evangelicalism (History of Evangelicalism Series, Volume 4) Geoffrey R. Treloar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Countering the existing narrative of evangelicalism at its zenith before World War I followed by a great reversal, this work argues a more positive assessment of evangelical response to the disruptions of war. Review

Best of the Month: This month the award goes to N. T. Wright’s Paul. Wright has been studying Paul’s life and work for decades and distilled all this scholarship into a biography that is at once engaging, concise (for Wright), and full of fresh insights about the apostle, his ministry, and his writings.

Quote of the Month: Parker J. Palmer’s wonderful little collection of essays on aging, death, and living generatively had this quote that I have been musing on most of the month:

“What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” 

This has been especially on my mind this past week as we witnessed a spate of mail bombs, the random killing of two blacks in a Kroger’s and the killing of eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It makes me wonder and pray about the pain of those who perpetrated these acts, and how the families of victims will hold and work with the pain they bear.

Current reads: I’ve just finished a delightful book on reading, I’d Rather Be Reading, by Anne Bogel, a kindred spiritI’m nearly through Cloud Atlas, a chiasm of linked stories, and a better read than I expected. I’m reading a couple of science and faith books, Cosmology in Theological Perspective by Olli-Pekka Vanio, and Creation Care by a father and son team, Douglas and Jonathan Moo. I’m just starting in on Ashley Hales’ Finding Holy in the Suburbs and am intrigued to see how she will address the realities of suburban life. Soon to come are The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and Julie J. Park’s new work, Race on Campus. I also will be reading a modern classic, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart with my reading group this month.

If you have read any of the books I mentioned here, or read them as a result of my reviewing them, I’d love to know what you think. Reading is social, as we share the good we find in books with others. I’d love to hear what you are finding.

The Month in Reviews: September 2018

On Reading Well

There are a number of people who have followed Bob on Books either here on the blog or via the Bob on Books Facebook Page in the last month. Welcome to all of you and I hope you are enjoying what you find. One of the recurring features of this page is a monthly “The Month in Reviews” post. Each month, I provide capsule summaries of all my reviews in case you missed the review when first posted. It serves as a listing of all the reviews on this site if you select “The Month in Reviews” category on the menu. I also highlight my “best” book of the month (often a hard choice) and a quote I really liked. I also offer a preview of upcoming reviews. One thing you’ll notice–I enjoy reading widely, as well as more deeply in Christian-related books. There is some method to this–it is one way I make connection between my faith and the rest of life–I think it is all connected. So in this month’s list you have theological books on retreats, the nature of being human, and being like Christ as well as a murder mystery, a debut novel by an Ohio author, a presidential biography, a book on Klan influence in my home town, and the story of a Navy baseball team on which Ted Williams played in World War II. One other note: the hypertext link in the title is to the publisher’s website for the book. The hypertext link at the end of the summary labelled “Review” will take you to my full review. Enjoy

What is man

What is Man?Edgar Andrews. Nashville: Elm Hill, 2018. An exploration of the answers different worldviews come up with to the question of what it means to be human, making the case for a Christian view of humans descended from a historical Adam who was created in God’s image, through whom sin entered the human race in the fall, and for the redemption of all who believe through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Review.

answering why

Answering WhyMark C. Perna. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018. Argues that behind the skills gap between unfilled jobs and Why Generation job-seekers is an awareness gap about possible careers that fails to answer the “why” question. Review.

Invitation to Retreat

Invitation to RetreatRuth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. A guide to retreat as a spiritual practice exploring why retreat, preparing for retreat, helpful practices on retreat, and concluding our retreat and returning from (and to) retreat. Review.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976. A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews. Review.

evangelical sacramental pentecostal

Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An argument for why the church at its best ought to embrace an emphasis on scripture, on baptism and the Lord’s table, and on the empowering work of the Spirit. Review.

Steel Valley Klan

Steel Valley Klan, William D. Jenkins. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990. A study of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Mahoning Valley in the early 1920’s, its composition, and factors contributing to the rise and decline of its influence. Review.

12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful MenCollin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Twelve thumbnail biographies focused on pastoral leaders who served faithfully through suffering. Review.

On Reading Well

On Reading WellKaren Swallow Prior. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so. Review.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyP. D. James. New York: Vintage Books, 2013 P.D. James writes a murder mystery as a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Review.

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His SonHaley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification. Review.

Ohio

Ohio, Stephen Markley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Four characters, acquainted with each other in high school return to their home town in Ohio ten years after graduation on the same night, unbeknownst to each other, driven by various longings reflecting lives that turned out differently than they’d hoped. Review.

Cloudbuster 9

The Cloudbuster Nine, Anne R. Keene. New York: Sports Publishing, 2018. The story of the 1943 Navy training school team on which Ted Williams, Johnny Sain, Johnny Pesky and others played, and the baseball hopes and disappointments of the team’s batboy, the author’s father. Review.

Disruptive Witness

Disruptive WitnessAlan Noble. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Noble explores our longing for fullness in a distracted, secular age of “buffered selves,” and the personal, communal and cultural practices Christians might pursue to disrupt our society’s secular mindset. Review.

Best of the Month: My best of the month is kind of a gateway book to cultivating the reading life. Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well not only whets our appetite for the reading of quality fiction, but also explores how great works may change us. Here is one pithy piece of advice to enrich our reading lives:

“Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it.”

Quote of the Month: Ruth Haley Barton has recently written a wonderful guide to retreats, Invitation to Retreat, that I’ve already used on a personal retreat and plan to return to often. Here is a taste:

“Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.” The emphasis is on the words extended and generous. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it!

But many of us are longing for more—and we have a sense that there is more if we could create more space for quiet to give attention to God at the center of our beings. We sense that a kind of fullness and satisfaction is discovered more in the silence than in the words, more in solitude than in socializing, more in spaciousness than in busyness. “Times come,” Emilie Griffin goes on to say, “when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding, but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.”

Current reads: I’ve actually just finished three books that I will be reviewing this week. Timothy Jennings writes in The Aging Brain, giving practical advice as a doctor, on delaying or preventing dementia and keeping mentally sharp as we age. Elizabeth Warren is a new biography by Antonia Felix, which has impressed me as a striking example of an academic who acted on her research on bankruptcy to protect consumers. On the Brink of Everything is Parker Palmer’s reflections at the end of his eighth decade on aging, and facing the eventual end of his life. My current reads include Paul, a biography of the apostle by N.T. Wright, who has probably written more about Paul than any New Testament scholar. I’m very excited to dip into Jonathan Walton’s Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive, a book coming out early next year. Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature brings together a group of scholars discussing the interpretive challenges of books like Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. And I’ve tackled one of the books on my list of Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die –Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. I’ll be at this one for a while.

As the weather gets cooler, a comfy chair, a warm beverage, and a good book seem an ideal way to spend a quiet evening. Perhaps something on this list may strike your fancy. Or maybe not. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading!

The Month in Reviews: August 2018

LeonardoMany book blogs focus on one genre of books. This is not one of them. I enjoy reading literary fiction, biographies, sports writing, history, and science fiction. I read a fair amount of “religious” material, particularly that which connects Christian faith with other aspects of life. My day job involves ministry with graduate students and faculty who are trying to make those connections, and I want to be a good companion with them on their journeys as well as progress on my own. You will find all of this in the books I reviewed in the last month. For those of you who are new to the blog and don’t know me well, I thought it might help to explain the eclectic mix you will find in this list. One other note: each book listed has two links. The title is linked to the publisher’s website and the word “Review” at the end links to my full review. I hope you will take time to visit both if you think the book sounds interesting.

loneliness of the long distance runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerAlan Sillitoe. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1959). A collection of nine short stories set in the pre-and post-World War II British working class, characterized by a strong sense of anger, alienation, and desolation. Review

kingdom collaborators

Kingdom CollaboratorsReggie McNeal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2018. An affirmation of kingdom-centered rather than church-centered leadership and a description of eight signature practices that characterize such leaders. Review

Contemporary Art and the Church

Contemporary Art and the ChurchEdited by W. David O. Taylor and Taylor Worley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017. Essays from artists, theologians, and church leaders participating in the 2015 Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Conference exploring the conversation to be had between the church and contemporary artists. Review

Early Christian Writings

Early Christian WritingsVarious, Translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Revised by Andrew Louth. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987. A collection of early, post-apostolic Christian writings concerned with the organization, leadership, worship, conduct, martyrs, and doctrinal teaching of the nascent church. Review

Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books: New Testament ResourcesJohn Glynn, edited by Michael H. Burer with contributions by Michael H. Burer, Darrell L. Bock, Joseph D. Fantin, and J. William Johnston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2018. A review of commentaries, dictionaries, and other scholarly resources related to the New Testament, singling out those the contributors deem of greatest value. Review

Born to Wander

Born to WanderMichelle Van Loon. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018. An exploration of the theme of our pilgrim identity as followers of Christ, and how this makes sense of the seasons of transition and loss, and struggles for control in our lives. Review

the eye of the world

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1), Robert Jordan. New York: TOR Books, 1990. Following an attack of trollocs and a Myrdraal on Emonds Field, Rand and two friends, joined by several others, flee when they realize that they are the object of the attack, and somehow at the center of a web of destiny that may either thwart or aid the rise of the Dark Power. Review

rethinking incarceration

Rethinking IncarcerationDominique Dubois Gilliard. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A call for Christians to address mass incarceration in the United States that considers its pipelines, its history, and proposes alternatives to prison and a focus not merely on punishment but upon restoration. Review

Tigerland

Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of HealingWil Haygood. New York: Knopf, (Forthcoming September 18), 2018. The story of the 1968-69 East High School Tigers championship basketball and baseball teams at a black high school in segregated Columbus, Ohio during the tumultuous aftermath of the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Review

Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual WarfareWilliam P. Payne (Foreword by Charles H. Kraft). Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018. A narrative of the author’s awakening to the reality of spiritual warfare and personal evil, and the resources and commended practices available to Christians for engaging that warfare. Review

Raise Your Voice

Raise Your VoiceKathy Khang. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Explores both why we stay silent and how we may learn to speak up about the things we most deeply care about, particularly in seeking a more just society for all. Review

Knowing and the Trinity

Knowing and the TrinityVern Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: Puritan and Reformed, 2018. How various triads of perspectives on both God and the world reflect the Triune God. Review

scars across humanity

Scars Across HumanityElaine Storkey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A description of the global crisis of violence against women, possible explanations, and the measures being taken to address different forms of violence. Review

the reckless way of love

The Reckless Way of LoveDorothy Day, edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Introduction by D. L. Mayfield. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017. A collection of Dorothy Day’s writings on following Jesus in the ways of faith, love, prayer, life, and communityReview

Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. A biography of da Vinci, from his illegitimate birth, his life long quest for patrons, his insatiable curiosity, his various artworks, and the notebooks, in which are revealed so much of the genius of da Vinci. Review

Book of the Month: The hands-down choice here is Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. This is a tour de force in every way in its exploration of da Vinci’s genius, surveying the notebooks, which are the particular record of that genius, and the works of art that made that genius visible. The book is printed on quality paper to properly render the works of art and other figures from his notebooks and drawings.

Quote of the Month: Dominique Dubois Gilliard’s Rethinking Incarceration is a thought-provoking challenge to a country, the United States, that leads the world in the number of people it incarcerates. This quote powerfully drove that home to me:

While the United States constitutes only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its incarcerated populace. Statistically, our nation currently has more people locked up—in jails, prisons, and detention centers—than any other country in the history of the world. We currently have more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities. In some areas of the country, there are more people living behind bars than on college campuses.

One out of every twenty-five people sentenced to the death penalty are falsely convicted. In many states, pregnant women are shackled to gurneys during their delivery. Thirteen states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults, such that children as young as eight have been tried and sentenced as adults, left vulnerable to trauma and abuse while living among adults in jails and prisons.

Eighty thousand inmates per day are locked in solitary confinement, where they are quarantined in a twelve by seven foot concrete cell (smaller than a standard horse stall), frequently for twenty-three hours a day, and are only allowed outdoor access and human interaction for one hour. This dehumanizing form of “incarceration” is more accurately defined as torture—a slow assault on the dignity of individuals and a strategic disintegration of their body and psyche.

Current Reads: Edgar Andrews, What is Man? explores the contrast particularly between materialist and Christian worldviews of what it means to be human. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and her Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream uses personal interviews as well as historical narrative to render a portrait of this president who carried out the Kennedy dream in social policy only to have so much of it, and his own reputation, undone by the quagmire of Vietnam. Answering Why is written by a Cleveland area author who explores the skills gap in the workplace and how effective career education can answer the “why” for the rising generation to pursue a particular line of work with passion and excellence. Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton is an insightful guide for anyone going on retreat that not only answers the question of why we all should, but also the practices and questions that help us enter into retreat, encounter God, and return to daily life with the insights of this time. Two other books I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into this month are Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness and Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well. Imagine that–reading about reading!

Here’s hoping that you find something good to read this month.

The Month in Reviews: July 2018

white fragility

The fifteen books I reviewed this month are not easy to sum up.

  • Four of the titles are on contemporary issues of race, immigration, and sexual assault and consent education on campus.
  • There is some classic fiction by Upton Sinclair and Chaim Potok.
  • I’ve included three devotional works including a wonderful collection of Oscar Romero’s sermons and diary entries, and a new Advent book by Russ Ramsey and a collection on the wisdom of Haddon Robinson, an instructor for many preachers.
  • There is some good biblical scholarship on the Psalms, the Exodus theme in scripture, and on the Apocrypha.
  • Finally, I read some good nature and science writing extending from our own backyards, to the future of humanity, all the way to the multiverse!

As always what appears below is publication information with a link to the publisher’s website, a summary, and a link to my full review

The Lord is Good

The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Christopher R. J. Holmes. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Explores what we mean when we say God is good, contending that God is essentially good, that this is why the Psalms focus so much on the goodness of God, and how Thomas Aquinas may prove quite helpful in our reading of Psalms and understanding of God. (Review)

white fragility

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismRobin DiAngelo. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. Explains white fragility, its sources, expressions, the challenge it poses to conversations about race, and a different way to engage. (Review)

serving god in a migrant crisis

Serving God in a Migrant CrisisPatrick Johnstone with Dean Merrill (foreword by Stephen Bauman). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Concisely sets forth the scope of our present-day global refugee crisis, how as Christians we might think about all this, and several levels of action steps we may take. (Review)

a field guide to your own backyard

A Field Guide to Your Own Back YardJohn Hanson Mitchell. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2014. An exploration, season by season of the animals, plants, insects, bird, amphibians and reptiles, and weather conditions we might encounter in our own back yard, even as city dwellers. (Review)

A Mentor's Wisdom

A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned From Haddon Robinson R. Larry Moyer. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. Forty-five sayings of Haddon Robinson with reflections by one of the men he mentored. (Review)

introducing the apocrypha

Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance, Second Edition, David A. deSilva (Foreword by James H. Charlesworth). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. An introduction to the books of the Apocrypha, covering matters of content, authorship, date, setting, textual transmission, and theological themes and influence in both second temple and post-second temple Judaism and early Christianity. (Review)

The Future of Humanity

The Future of HumanityMichio Kaku. New York: Doubleday, 2018. An exploration of the possibility and necessity of humanity becoming a multi-planetary species, and the revolutions of technology necessary to realize that future (Review)

World's End

World’s End (Lanny Budd #1), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published 1940). First in a series of eleven novels, introducing the character of Lanny Budd, a precocious youth on the eve of World War 1, his German and English friends and their respective fates during the war while Lanny divides his time between his glamorous mother and artist step-father on the Riviera, and in New England with his father’s Puritan munitions-making family, ending up as a secretary to a geographer at the Paris Peace Conference. (Review)

the advent of the lamb of God

The Advent of the Lamb of God (Retelling the Story Series), Russ Ramsey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A retelling of the story of the coming of Jesus, who would be God’s ultimate lamb, tracing from the Fall through Israel’s history to Christ’s advent, God’s relentless yet loving pursuit of his people. (Review)

echoes of exodus

Echoes of ExodusBryan D. Estelle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Traces the exodus motif from creation, through the paradigmatic event, to its later usage, culminating in the pilgrimage of the church as the people of God and the realization of the exodus promises in the new Jerusalem. (Review)

consent on campus

Consent on Campus: A Manifesto, Donna Freitas. New York: Oxford University Press, (forthcoming, August 1) 2018. An argument that current approaches to consent education as an approach to combating sexual assault on campus are inadequate both in the time devoted to deal with the complexities of sexuality, and the absence of campus leadership, faculty, presidents, and other university leaders, from the discussions. (Review)

the gift of asher lev

The Gift of Asher Lev, Chaim Potok. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. Asher Lev, exiled from a Brooklyn Hasidic community over a scandalous artwork portraying crucifixion, returns after twenty years with his family for the funeral of his uncle, only to find that he is being called upon to make a far greater sacrifice than the pain of exile. (Review)

the scandal of redemption

The Scandal of RedemptionOscar Romero (edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Foreword by Michael Lapsley). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. Diary entries and radio broadcast homilies by the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, capturing both the injustices that moved him and the gospel message of hope he proclaimed to the oppressed people that eventuated in his death. (Review)

faith across the multiverse

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science, Andy Walsh. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. Explores how science, particularly math, physics, biology, and computer science, might illuminate one’s understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible. (Review)

the heritage

The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of PatriotismHoward Bryant. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. An account of black athletes in professional sports, from the path-breakers whose very presence was political, to the athletes of the ’70’s onward whose success tempted them to just play the game, to the recent clash of patriotism and protest that has led to a new generation of athlete-activists. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I’m going to give the nod to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. DiAngelo is a white woman who coined the term “white fragility.” I hope a number of my white friends read this book, which helped me understand some of the ways as a white man, I contribute to breakdowns in conversation about race. The temptation with such a book is to say, “but what about…?” which illustrates the problem. She describes how vital it is to get to a place where we can say, “How where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant–it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.” Her book helped me want to get there.

Best Quote(s) of the Month: Oscar Romero’s sermons were full of statements that caught my attention. Here were a few:

For Christ does not suffer for his own faults; Christ made himself responsible for the sins of all of us. If you want to measure the gravity of your sins, simply look at Christ crucified…

Conversion means asking at every moment: what does God want of my life? If God wants the opposite of what I might fancy, then doing what God wants is conversion, and following my own desire is perversion.

By his resurrection Christ offers all the liberators of the earth this challenge: ‘You will not free people! The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness.’ 

The Church is not on earth to gain privileges, to seek support in power and wealth, or to ingratiate herself with the mighty of the world.

Current reads: I just finished Alan Sillitoe’s short story collection, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. This collection has far more to do with loneliness than running. I’m enjoying a pithy book called Kingdom Collaborators on leadership by veteran leader, Reggie McNeal. Contemporary Art and the Church explores what a conversation between the two might look like and how this may benefit both artists and the church. Tigerland by Wil Haygood is an account of the championship sports teams of the 1968 East High School Tigers of Columbus, Ohio, my home town. This was a segregated, black high school at the time when both Columbus and the nation were torn apart by issues of race. Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World is fantasy in the vein of The Lord of the Rings, the first of fourteen in his “Wheel of Time” series. I’ve just begun it, inspired by the Great American Reads list of 100 books on which it is listed. We’ll see if it hold a candle to Tolkien. It does have hand drawn maps!

So, that’s what I’m reading. So what is the best book you’ve read this summer?

 

The Month in Reviews: June 2018

the self-aware leader

The word for June seemed to be “subversive.” A book on sabbath and another on Flannery O’Connor used that word in the title. Hmm. A John Steinbeck book was my sampling of American classics for the month . Jon Meacham’s new book reminded me of the clash between hope and fear that has characterized our national conversation since the beginning. Keith Whittington accentuated the importance of our speech freedoms and how they are under attack on university campuses. I spent much of the month reading and enjoying another big book by Ron Chernow, one of his early works on the Warburg banking family. A shorter account by Simon Winchester recounted the fascinating story behind the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the life of an institutionalized paranoid schizophrenic convicted of murder who made a signal contribution to this work. For the theologically oriented (many of you!) I reviewed another John Walton book, this one on the Genesis flood, a couple of books on preaching, and a book on the hermeneutics of the prophets and apostles. For those engaged in ministry, I reviewed a marvelous book on becoming more self-aware as a leader and one of the best resources I’ve come across on ministering with international students. As book ends, I began the month reading a book on sabbath and finished with a fascinating book on work as parable. Hopefully I’ve piqued your appetite, so here are the books!

The Lost World of the Flood

The Lost World of the FloodTremper Longman III & John H. Walton (with a contribution by Stephen O. Moshier). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. An argument for why Genesis portrays what was a local cataclysmic flood as a global flood, considering both Ancient Near East backgrounds and the theological purpose of the narrative. Review

Subversive Sabbath

Subversive SabbathA. J. Swoboda, Foreword by Matthew Sleeth, MD. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. An extended argument showing how keeping sabbath is a counter-cultural, subversive practice in every area of life. Review

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the MadmanSimon Winchester. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999, 2005. The story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary; James Murray, the editor who gave critical leadership to the project; and Dr. W. C. Minor, the paranoid schizophrenic, whose contribution was vital to the project. Review

Preaching by the Book

Preaching by the Book (Hobbs College Library), R. Scott Pace, (Heath A. Thomas editor). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2018. A step by step guide to preparing and giving messages rooted in biblical texts in a slim volume. Review

Cannery Row

Cannery RowJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1992 (originally published 1945). Steinbeck’s Depression-era narrative of the residents of Cannery Row, eking out an existence on society’s margins, and forming an unlikely community in the process. Review

A Subversive Gospel

A Subversive Gospel (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Michael Mears Bruner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017. Proposes that the grotesque and violent character of Flannery O’Connor’s work reflects her understanding of the subversive character of the gospel and the challenge of awakening people in the Christ-haunted South to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the gospel. Review

Expository Exultation

Expository ExultationJohn Piper. Carol Stream, IL: Crossway Books, 2018. Contends that the purpose of preaching is expository exultation; that preaching is integral to worship in the preacher’s work of making clear and exulting over the text of scripture as it reveals the glories of God. Review

the cross and christian ministry

The Cross and Christian MinistryD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993). In these expositions from 1 Corinthians, Carson sets forth the cruciform character of biblically faithful Christian ministry. Review

Crossing Cultures with Jesus

Crossing Cultures with JesusKatie J. Rawson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.  An introduction to international student ministry that focuses on both entering into the world of international students, led by the Spirit of Jesus, and drawing those students lovingly into Christian community. Review

the self-aware leader

The Self-Aware LeaderTerry Linhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2017. Explores the blind spots of one’s leadership and helps us become aware of the unseen influences that shape and hinder us, so that brought into the open, they can be recognized, addressed, and redeemed. Review

Speak Freely

Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free SpeechKeith E. Whittington. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. A case for the vigorous defense of free speech as essential to fulfilling the mission of the university in the face of both institutional and outside attempts to suppress objectionable speech. Review

the soul of america

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Jon Meacham. New York: Random House, 2018. A review of American presidential leadership and the battle between the politics of fear and the politics of hope for our national soul. Review

The hermeneutics of the biblical writers

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical WritersAbner Chou. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. An argument for interpreting the Bible in the way the prophetic and apostolic writers interpreted prior texts, using careful exegesis to understand authorial intent, working intertextually, discerning the theological meaning, and its significance for the current day. Review

the warburgs

The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish FamilyRon Chernow. New York: Vintage, 1994. The story of a prosperous and sprawling Jewish banking family who eventually established banking and philanthropic efforts in Germany, England, and the U.S., experiencing both great success and influence, and stunning disillusionment with the rise of Nazi Germany. Review

every job a parable

Every Job a Parable John Van Sloten. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017. A theology of work proposing that our different jobs are “parables” that reveal various aspects of the character and ways of God, and therefore that all work matters and that God speaks to the world through our callings. Review

Best Book of the Month: Always hard to choose, but I have to give the nod to Terry Linhart’s The Self-Aware Leader. The longer I’ve worked in leadership, the more I’m convinced that usually the greatest obstacles leaders face are themselves. Linhart has so much wisdom and good practical counsel for discovering our blind spots, understanding our reactions, recognizing our temptations, and so much more.

Best Quote of the Month: I love when a writer can draw you into a work from the very first sentence. John Steinbeck’s first sentence in Cannery Row did that for me:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

I found myself eager to find out what kind of place this was, and Steinbeck did not disappoint.

Current Reads: Look for a review this week on The Lord is Good, a rich theological study of the goodness of God, one where I often had to stop and meditate on a single sentence. I will also be reviewing White Fragility, a discussion written by a white woman on how whites, especially progressive ones, often end up in frustrating conversations about race. Currently, I’m reading, with our Dead Theologians group, a collection of writings of the post-apostolic fathers, first and early second century church leaders like Clement and Ignatius. With all the news on this issue, I’ve picked up Serving God in a Migrant Crisis, exploring not so much public policy but how Christians should think and act toward immigrants and refugees. The recent visit of a skunk to our suburban back yard encouraged me to pull out A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard. Finally, to address a deficit I think many of us from Protestant backgrounds share, I’ve just begun David de Silva’s Introducing the Apocrypha. Some time this month, I hope to get to Walter Isaacson’s new book on Da Vinci, a Father’s Day gift.

I’d love to hear in the comments what you are reading this summer!

The Month in Reviews: May 2018

Water at the Roots

Eighteen books. Apart from the last, which encompassed one hundred stories, none were particularly long.  They span quite a breadth from texts on Exodus and the Wisdom books, to discussions of neuroscience and how we think about the body. I read about prayer and wonder, as well as the earthier concerns of Kerouac and Boccaccio. I read about Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India, and a Bruderhof community in Paraguay. Toward the end of the month, I threw in a couple of mysteries, one involving bookselling.   And there is a lesser know work of C. S. Lewis! Don’t know how else to introduce this list except to note that as always, the link in the title takes you to the publisher’s page for the book. The link that says “Review” at the end will take you to my full review, in case you missed it or want to know more about the book.

interpreting the wisdom books

Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An Exegetical HandbookEdward M. Curtis. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017.A handbook offering step by step help in moving from text to sermon exegeting and expositing the Wisdom books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Review

demanding liberty

Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious FreedomBrandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Looks at the history of the struggle for religious freedom in America through a study of the efforts of Reverend Isaac Backus to secure a religious freedom that negotiated a third way between established religion and secularism. Review.

blessings from beijing

Blessings from BeijingGreg C. Bruno. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge (UPNE), 2018. An exploration of how China is using “soft power” to undermine the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee community he represents. Review

winsome persuasion

Winsome PersuasionTim Muelhoff and Richard Langer (Foreword by Quentin J. Schultze). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores how Christians might effectively engage a dominant public culture by understanding the nature of counterpublics and the elements that go into effective communication and engagement. Review

Queen of Glen Eyrie

Queen of Glen EyrieCeleste Black. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008. (Book link is to ABEBooks since book appears to be out of print and not available at publisher’s site). The story of “Queen” Palmer, her love affair with General William Palmer, the castle home she inspired, life in frontier Colorado Springs and her later life in England. Review

neurotheology

NeurotheologyAndrew Newberg. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. A survey of the field of neurotheology, arguing for its viability as a field of inquiry, exploring the various research studies on religious and spiritual experience and practice and correlates of activity and changes in various brain structures, and what might be learned at the intersection of religion and neuroscience that may help us understand the most profound questions of our existence. Review.

Water at the Roots

Water at the Roots, Philip Britts (edited by Jennifer Harries, foreword by David Kline). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. The collected poems and essays of Philip Britts, a farmer and pastoral leader of a Bruderhof community in Paraguay, where he died in 1949 at the age of 31. Review

On the Road

On the RoadJack Kerouac. New York: Penguin, 2016 (originally published 1957). Kerouac’s classic account of Sal and Dean’s travels across America, laced with jazz, elicit drugs, sexual encounters, and jazz clubs, and the searching for “IT” that defined the “Beat Generation.” Review

love thy body

Love Thy BodyNancy R. Pearcey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Traces how a two story view of reality has led to a dualistic way of viewing human beings, splitting body and person, and traces the working out of this around our understanding of human life, sexuality, orientation, gender, and marriage. Review

teach us to pray

Teach Us To PrayGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A concise guide to prayer based on the Lord’s prayer, with a central focus on the coming of the kingdom and a dependence upon the Spirit expressed in thanksgiving, confession, and discernment. Review

iron Valley

Iron ValleyClayton J. Ruminski. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press), 2017. A history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century from the earliest blast furnace to the advances in furnaces and other technology, leading to the transition to steel-making. Review

The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known (New Studies in Biblical Theology), W. Ross Blackburn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. A study of the theology of the book of Exodus contending that it reflects God’s missionary purpose to make himself known to the nations through Israel. Review

the personal heresy

The Personal HeresyC. S. Lewis, E. M. W. Tillyard. New York: Harper One, 2017 (originally published 1939). A discussion of whether the personality of the author should enter into the criticism of a work of poetry. Review

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s TaleCharlie Lovett. New York: Viking, 2013. Peter Byerly, a recently bereaved bookseller living in a small English village, comes across a hundred year old watercolor that is a striking image of his deceased wife, a find that sets him on a trail leading to what could be a major literary discovery,  but also to danger and murder. Review

BAM Global Movement

BAM Global MovementGea Gort & Mats Tunehag, Foreword by Albert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. A compendium of short chapters on the theology and theory of the Business as Mission movement combined with thirty stories of practitioners. Review

Gods of Gotham

The Gods of GothamLindsay Faye. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. The first in the author’s Timothy Wilde series, in which Wilde, a newly installed New York Policeman in 1845, encounters a blood-covered girl, whose story leads to the discovery of twenty dead children and an assignment to find the killer before anti-Irish rage consumes the city. Review

Recapturing the Wonder

Recapturing the WonderMike Cosper. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores the disenchantment many Christians experience living in a modern secular age and the practices that may “re-enchant” our world with the supernatural presence of God. Review

Decameron

The DecameronGiovanni Boccaccio (translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn). New York: W. W. Norton, 2013 (originally published 1353). A classic collection of one hundred stories told for amusement over ten days by seven women and three men escaping the plague of 1348 in Florence. Review

Best Book of the Month: I have to go with Water at the Roots. The life, poetry, and essays of Philip Britts form an integral whole in which his pursuit of pacifism, his life as a farmer, and his life of faith weave together in a beautiful, seamless garment.

Best Quote of the Month: Gordon T. Smith has recently published a wonderful, slim but rich guidebook to prayer, Teach Us to Pray. He writes:

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ. (p.11)

Current Reads: I have long, since hearing John R. W. Stott preach as a student, had a commitment to expository preaching. Right now I happen to be reading a couple books on the subject: R. Scott Pace’s Preaching by the Book and John Piper’s Expository Exultation. I don’t always agree with Piper but this book is spot on. I’m reading A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath, which from the first 60 pages may be the best Christian book I’ve read of sabbath, reserving pride of place for Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book. John Walton’s latest book on the flood explores the flood narrative, and how it might be understood in its ancient Near East context. And for fun, I’m reading Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman–the true story of how one of the most significant contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary lived in an insane asylum!

Hope there is something here that you will find an enjoyable and edifying read this summer. And I always like to hear suggestions of books you’ve enjoyed!

The Month in Reviews: April 2018

love big be well

As I review the list of books from this month, I feel like I am coming away from a banquet. For appetizers, there were collections of essays by Madeleine L’Engle and Marilynne Robinson. For a savory, rich soup, you might taste Suzanne Stabile’s newest book on the Enneagram seasoned with Anthony Graves prison memoir. You have a choice of meaty main course items ranging from biblical studies in Isaiah and John and the Ten Commandments, to theological works on God’s providence, and the church as a political assembly, and Matthew Levering’s book on the virtues that the reality of death call forth, that help us live well. For those whose love is history, there is a masterpiece of battlefield history and an exploration of the years between Washington the general and Washington the president. Finally for dessert we have Winn Collier’s delightful fictional collection of letters of a pastor to his congregation, and Celeste Ng’s exquisite novel set in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. You may not think the metaphor works, but I hope this month’s reviews give you a sense of the rich fare that one may find at one’s local bookseller.

The Irrational Season

The Irrational SeasonMadeleine L’Engle. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1976). The third in a four book collection titled The Crosswicks Journals consisting of reflections shaped around the church year, and memories of different season’s in the author’s life. (Review)

Darkness Visible

Darkness Visible (Princeton Theological Monograph Series), Karlo V. Bordjadze (Foreword by R. W. L. Moberly). Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2017. A study of Isaiah 14:3-23, considering textual and interpretive issues, and focusing on how this passage may be read as Christian scripture today. (Review)

What are we doing here

What Are We Doing Here?Marilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. A collection of essays based on talks given, mostly at universities, between 2015 and 2017, questioning what she sees as a surrender of thought to ideology. (Review)

Farewell Discourse

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of JesusD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018. A study of John 14-17, based on expository messages on these texts. (Review)

the uncontrolling love of God

The Uncontrolling Love of GodThomas Jay Oord. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. Proposes a way of addressing God’s goodness and providence in the light of randomness, pointless suffering, and genuine evil by arguing for uncontrolling love as the cardinal attribute of God. (Review)

No Other Gods

No Other GodsAna Levy-Lyons. New York: Center Street, 2018. A liberal, progressive reading of the Ten Commandments, moving beyond personal morality to the social and political implications of the commands. (Review)

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. 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. (Review)

The Path Between Us

The Path Between UsSuzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Formatio, 2018. Using the tool of the Enneagram, this explores how each “number” interacts with the other numbers, how each number relates in stress, and security, and what is helpful for other “numbers” to understand about relating to a person with this number. (Review)

Dying and the Virtues

Dying and the VirtuesMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. An exploration of scripture, theological resources, and contemporary writing that considers the virtues that help the Christian believer to both live and die well. (Review)

Infinite Hope

Infinite HopeAnthony Graves. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. A first person account of an innocent black man wrongly found guilty of murder, leading to eighteen years in prison and twelve on death row until he was found innocent and released. (Review)

love big be well

Love Big, Be Well, Winn Collier. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017. Letters written through the seasons of the church year by Jonas McAnn to the people of Granby Presbyterian Church on the varying facets of believing and living as a church, the warmth of friendship and the dark nights of doubt, each ending with the words “love big, be well.” (Review)

the return of george washington

The Return of George WashingtonEdward J. Larson. New York: Morrow, 2014. An account of the life of George Washington, between his retirement as General of the Continental Army in 1783 until his inauguration as the first president under the new U.S. Constitution. (Review)

Political Church

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s RuleJonathan Leeman. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Explores the nature of the church, arguing that it is a political institution that serves as an embassy of the kingdom of God, with implications for both its internal life and its engagement with the nations and governments of the world. (Review)

Gettysburg

Gettysburg: The Last InvasionAllen C. Guelzo. New York: Knopf, 2013. An account of the three day battle at Gettysburg, the personalities, key turning points, battlefield topography, and movement by movement narratives that both zoom out and come up close in describing the unfolding of the battle. (Review)

Best Book: I could have chosen almost any book from this list. In the end, I choose Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier. I’ve been blessed on a couple occasions to know pastors like Jonas McAnn and they are a treasure. The letters he (and a few of his congregants) write take us into the nature of pastoral work, the meaning of the church, and the journey of souls with God with all the joys and vicissitudes that life brings.

Best Quote: There are some great quotes in Love Big, Be Well. Go check out my review for a few of them. I’m coming up on forty years of marriage, and I thought Madeleine L’Engle captured something of the essence of what this is like for so many of us who have kept loving for a long time:

“It takes a lifetime to learn another person. After all these years I still do not understand Hugh; and he certainly does not understand me. We’re still in the risky process of offering ourselves to each other, and there continue to be times when this is not easy, when the timing isn’t right, when we hurt each other. It takes a lifetime to learn all the varied ways of love, including intercourse. Love-making is like a Bach fugue; you can’t go to the piano and play a fugue the first time you hold your hands out over the keys.”

Current Reads: Look for reviews later this week on a handbook for exegeting Wisdom literature and a study of the life of Isaac Backus, an eighteenth century Baptist who played a pivotal role in advocating for religious liberty before and after the War of Independence. I’ve been reading a fascinating account of the field of “neurotheology,” which explores the intersection of neuroscience and religion. I’ve appreciated the care shown of not trying to “explain away” religion as nothing more than brain structure and chemistry while noting the interaction of religious experiences and physical processes. I’ve just begun reading a book on how we might engage in a better public discourse–I wonder if that’s possible. Blessings From Beijing explores the tension between China and the Tibetan Buddhism represented by the Dalai Lama. Our reading group continues to work through The Decameron by Boccaccio and we plan to finish later in the month. Glen Eyrie is a retreat center developed around a castle near Colorado Springs. I’ve been there and came across Queen of Glen Eyrie in the discount bin of a local Half Price Books. It’s the story of the woman who inspired the building of the Glen Eyrie. Water at the Roots is a collection of essays by Philip Britts who is touted as a British Wendell Berry. I’ll let you know!

Happy reading, and if you find something you really like, shoot me a line!

The Month in Reviews: March 2018

biblical leadership

I began this month with three reviews of books exploring the intersection of faith and science, all making the point in different ways that science and faith needn’t be in conflict. A couple other books explored evangelical missions, one considering the impact of missions upon American evangelicalism, and the other the factors driving the global expansion of Christianity.  Two of my books this month were on leadership, one a fine collection of articles on the biblical theology of leadership, the other exploring leadership in a time of change. In the area of history, I explored the history of higher education in the United States and the rise of the People’s Republic of China under Mao. You will also find my take on Colson Whitehead’s bestselling The Underground Railroad and a marvelous little mystery, set in a bookshop, a bibliophile’s dream. Rounding out this month’s collection are reviews of a collection of narratives from Rust Belt natives, and a diverse collection of stories of those who came to a faith in Christ they never expected possible.

Evolution and Holiness

Evolution and HolinessMatthew Nelson Hill (Foreword by Darrel R. Falk). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Evolutionary sociobiology proposes a genetic basis both for selfishness and altruism yet does not provide a sufficient warrant for altruism. The author proposes ways that Wesleyan theology and practice of holiness both intersects with scientific theory and offers a capacity for human goodness that goes beyond genetic dispositions. (Review)

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders

The Kingdom of God Has No BordersMelani McAlister. New York: Oxford University Press, (forthcoming, August 1) 2018. An exploration of the international dimension of American evangelicalism, focusing particularly on Africa and the Middle East, the impact this American movement has had globally, and in turn ways global evangelicalism is engaging American evangelicalism. (Review)

The Galileo Connection

The Galileo ConnectionCharles E. Hummel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986. A study of past and present “conflicts” between science and the Bible, that proposes that the reality of these conflicts were actually more complex, that Galileo and others were sincere Christians, and that it is possible both to pursue rigorous science and believe the Bible. (Review)

36899309

Mere Science and Christian FaithGreg Cootsona. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Many emerging adults think that science and faith should complement each other and are put off by church contexts that force a choice between faith and science. The book contends that it is possible to bring science and faith into fruitful conversation, and provides examples of how this is possible. (Review)

American Academic Cultures

American Academic CulturesPaul H. Mattingly. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. Traces the history and development of higher education in the United States as a succession of seven “generational cultures,” using examples of prominent institutions representing the emergence of each culture. (Review)

The Haunted Bookshop

The Haunted BookshopChristopher Morley. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published 1919). A mystery in a bookshop, involving a book that keeps disappearing, a wealthy businessman’s daughter, a young advertising salesman, a gregarious bookseller, and a German pharmacist. (Review)

Faith Unexpected

Faith Unexpected, Rick Mattson. St. Paul, MN: Pavement Publishing, 2018. The stories of ten people from diverse backgrounds who never expected to find faith in Christ and how they found the unexpected. (Review)

The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead. New York: Doubleday, 2016. A fictional narrative of a Georgia slave, Cora, who with another slave escapes the plantation, and through a series of harrowing experiences, and the existence of an actual underground railroad with trains and engineers, escapes to the North. (Review)

biblical leadership

Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday LeaderBenjamin K. Forest and Chet Roden, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017. An effort, book by book, to compile the a biblical theology of leadership, written by a team of scholars specializing in study of these texts. (Review)

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu

From Jerusalem to TimbuktuBrian C. Stiller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A book that surveys the global explosion of Christianity, identifying five drivers of growth and five other factors that weave through these drivers. (Review)

Voices from the Rust Belt

Voices from the Rust BeltAnne Trubek ed. New York: Picador, (forthcoming April 3) 2018.  A collection of essays from those living, or who have lived, in Rust Belt cities from Buffalo to Chicago, and Flint, Michigan to Moundsville, West Virginia. (Review)

Canoeing the Mountains

Canoeing the MountainsTod Bolsinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Praxis, 2015. Using the story of Lewis and Clark, Bolsinger explores the kind of leadership needed in the uncharted territory of our rapidly changing cultural landscape. (Review)

A Force so Swift

A Force So SwiftKevin Peraino. New York: Crown, 2017. A study of how the Truman adminstration, under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, framed America’s response to the rise of Mao as the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek fell to Communist forces in 1949. (Review)

Best book of the month: This month, I have to give the nod to Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. I thought this to be a fine collection of essays that looked to scripture for what we might learn about leadership rather than American management practice. Each of the contributors is a specialist on the book or portion of scripture on which they write. I found marvelous material to personally apply as well as that could be used in teaching and preaching. Here, for example, is Edwin Yamauchi’s main points from his article on Nehemiah, that I thought could serve as a great teaching outline:

  1. A man of responsibility
  2. A man of prayer
  3. A man who was rightly motivated (by God’s glory)
  4. A man of vision
  5. A man of action and cooperation
  6. A man of compassion
  7. A man who triumphed over opposition

Best Quote of the Month: You’ve probably picked up that I think brick and mortar bookstores are both wonderful and necessary places in any town of some size, and worth our trade. Browsing online sites is just not the same, in my opinion. I found this wonderful quote in Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop that makes a similar point:

“You see what I’m driving at. I want to give people an entirely new idea about bookshops. The grain of glory that I hope will cure both my fever and my lethargicness is my conception of the bookstore as a power-house, a radiating place for truth and beauty. I insist books are not absolutely dead things: they are as lively as those fabulous dragons’ teeth, and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”

I like the idea of a “bookstore as a power-house, a radiating place for truth and beauty.” I happen to think that this is also a good description of what ought to be taking place in our churches (some of which include bookstores!). I’m convinced that living a life characterized by goodness, truth, and beauty can never be a solitary pursuit, but only one pursued in a community of friends, some with us in flesh and blood, and others through their writing. I hope you find encouragement from both this month!

 

 

The Month in Reviews: February 2018

Grant

Looking over the list of books I reviewed in February, I once again had the sense of “so many good books; so little time.” From James K. A. Smith’s Awaiting the King at the beginning of the month to Ron Chernow’s magnificent Grant at the end, there were a number of works I found myself the better for reading. Washed and Waiting helped me understand what it was like for a Christian young man to come to terms with a gay orientation and choose to live a celibate life. Still Evangelical? explored a painful question many of us who have identified as evangelical wrestle with. Do we continue to do so, and if so, how? Delivered from the Elements of the World explores how Christians can make the audacious claim that the death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. The Myth of Equality is a challenging look at the idea of race in America and white privilege by a white pastor. The Greater Trumps concerns not our first family but a Charles Williams (one of the Inklings) supernatural thriller. Those are just some of the good things I read this month.

awaiting the king

Awaiting the King (Cultural Liturgies, Volume 3), James K. A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. A theology of public (and not just political) life exploring both how public life is “liturgical” and the church “political” and the possibilities and limits on engagement in the life of the “city of Man” for those who identify their hope and citizenship with the “city of God.” (Review)

washed and waiting

Washed and Waiting (revised with new Afterword), Wesley Hill. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 (originally published in 2010). An updated narrative of a celibate, gay Christian man, including thoughts about the recovery of the place of celibacy and the importance of spiritual friendship. (Review)

The Reckoning

The Reckoning (Welsh Princes #3), Sharon K. Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991 (Link is to a different edition). Brings to a close the struggles between Wales and England under Edward I, the complicated relationship between brothers Llewellyn and David ab Gruffyd, and tells the story of the women who loved them–a true tale of love and loss. (Review)

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Still Evangelical? Mark Labberton ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Ten ethnically diverse evangelical “insiders” explore whether to still identify as “evangelical” and what that means in light of the 2016 election. (Review)

delivered from the elements of the world

Delivered From the Elements of the World, Peter J. Leithart. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. An exploration of why Christians claim the death and resurrection of Jesus is the decisive event in human history, because it is the “delivering verdict” of God against human systems to control sinful human flesh, hence an act with socio-political significance for all peoples. (Review)

the good retirement guide 2018

The Good Retirement Guide 2018, Allan Esler Smith, ed. London: Kogan Page, 2018. A wide-ranging guide exploring everything from financial planning to housing to health to business and personal pursuits for residents of the UK approaching retirement. (Review)

resurrecting religion

Resurrecting ReligionGreg Paul. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2018. In an era when religion has a bad name, the author proposes that what we need is not “no religion” but the kind of religion that James writes about, and that his church is trying to live out. (Review)

the myth of equality

The Myth of Equality, Ken Wytsma. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A white pastor explores the reality of white privilege from the perspectives of both American history and the gospel of the kingdom and how white Christians might pursue justice. (Review)

Called to create

Called to CreateJordan Raynor. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A view of creative, entrepreneurial work as a good calling from God, and the challenges and opportunities of pursuing entrepreneurial work for the glory of God. (Review)

The Greater Trumps

The Greater TrumpsCharles Williams. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1932). An legacy of a singular pack of tarot cards that correspond to images of the Greater Trumps arranged in a dance on a platform of gold in the retreat of a gypsy master drives his grandson to risk love and life to uncover the powers of the cards. (Review)

Essential Writings of Meredith G Kline

Essential Writings of Meredith G. KlineMeredith D. Kline (Foreword, Tremper Longman II; Biography, Meredith M. Kline; Introduction, Jonathan G. Kline). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A collection of articles by Meredith Kline spanning Genesis to Revelation, and the author’s academic career characterized by biblical insight and theological integrity within a Reformed perspective. (Review)

Grant

GrantRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. A biography on the life of Ulysses S. Grant from his Ohio childhood, his years of failure in business, his rise during the Civil War, his presidency, and later years, including the completion of his memoirs as a dying man. (Review)

Favor

FavorGreg Gilbert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. An exploration of experiencing God’s favor on our lives, far greater than we can conceive, utterly dependent upon Christ, and leading us into the joyful worship of God. (Review)

Best Book: Hands down the nod goes to Ron Chernow’s Grant. Grant was a person worthy of a big book, which this is. Yet I wish Grant would have lived longer, if for no other reason than Chernow may have needed to write an even longer book. The text itself was 960 pages and yet I felt that it never dragged, that there was never too much. Chernow gives the lie to Grant as a butcher in the Civil War, and a more nuanced perspective on a presidency often associated with corruption. And we learn that perhaps the most heroic thing Grant did was write his Memoirs, winning the battle to finish this work while dying painfully of mouth and throat cancer.

Best Quote: I deeply appreciated this passage from Washed and Waiting as speaking of the journey all of us, and not simply those who are LGBT, are on in the life of faith:

“More and more, I have the sense that what many of us need is a new conception of our perseverance in faith. We need to reimagine ourselves and our struggles. The temptation for me is to look at my bent and broken sexuality and conclude that, with it, I will never be able to please God, to walk in a manner worthy of his calling, to hear his praise. But what if I had a conception of God-glorifying faith, holiness, and righteousness that included within it a profound element of struggle and stumbling? What if I were to view my sexual orientation, temptations, and occasional failures not as damning disqualifications for living a Christian life but rather as part and parcel of what it means to live by faith in a world that is fallen and scarred by sin and death.”

What I’m Reading:  I’m reading several books on science and faith. One is Charles Hummel’s The Galileo Connection, which has sadly fallen out of print but is marvelous both for demonstrating that science and Christian faith are really not at war, and how that is possible. A brand new book that covers similar ground but explores cutting edge issues of cognitive science and technology is Greg Cootsona’s Mere Science and Christian Faith. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Greg through a Fuller Seminary-funded program that seeks to promote a better conversation about science and Christian faith among emerging adults, and I think he is one of the most thoughtful writers and speakers on this subject. Evolution and Holiness also touches on this theme in a novel way, exploring the research on altruism in sociobiology and considering Wesleyan practices that promoted holy living and how these might intersect–a connection I would never have considered. American Academic Cultures surveys the history of higher education in the United States, suggesting it might be understood in terms of seven “cultures” that have succeeded one another. The Kingdom of God Has No Borders is an exploration of evangelical missions over the last seventy or so years. It is always fascinating to see how a researcher narrates a history you’ve been a part of. Later this month I plan to dig into Biblical Leadership (Kregel), a study of leadership throughout scripture to which a number of scholars contribute, including several friends!

Friends of mine once wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I find my life immeasurably enriched and enlarged through books like these, and indeed, that reading is a spiritual practice. I hope some of the books you’ve learned about here will be enriching and enlarging to you as well!

 

The Month in Reviews: January 2018

Karl Barth

The cold weather of January afforded lots of time to curl up with a number of good books including a William F. Buckley, Jr. mystery, a narrative of Winston Churchill’s adventures in the Boer war, including a prison escape and flight to safety, and the story of the ice bucket challenge. It was a treat to receive likes on my review from the Frates family including Pete Frates. One of the things I try to do in theological reading is to read both the best of evangelical scholars and those outside evangelicalism. This month, that included three Catholic writers including Pope Benedict, an Eastern Orthodox scholar, and a biography on Karl Barth. All told, I reviewed seventeen books in January. Here’s the list:

Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy NarrativesPope Benedict XVI (translated by Philip J. Whitmore). New York: Image, 2012. A study of the gospel accounts of the annunciations, the infancy, and boyhood of Jesus of Nazareth. (Review)

partners in Christ

Partners in Christ, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. A case by a convert to egalitarianism for why both complementarians and egalitarians find scriptural foundations for their views with a proposal for what can make the best sense of the diverse testimony of scripture. (Review)

an introduction to christian worldview

An Introduction to Christian WorldviewTawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A work designed for classroom or personal study, defining the idea of worldview and its importance, delineating the Christian worldview and responding to critical objections, and outlining and critiquing other major worldviews according to criteria established in the first part of the book. (Review)

creation and new creation

Creation and New Creation, Sean M. McDonough. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A work on the doctrine of creation with particular attention to the connection between the creation and the new creation in Christ, but also focusing on other aspects of creation including issues of time, space, Platonic ideas and their influence on the doctrine, in each case tracing relevant scripture, and the theological contributions of theologians from the fathers to the present day. (Review)

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes Trilogy Book 2)Sharon Kay Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. [Note: Publisher link to this edition unavailable; link is to another edition.] A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry’s sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English. (Review)

the ice bucket challenge

The Ice Bucket ChallengeCasey Sherman & Dave Wedge. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017. The story behind the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and Pete Frates, who has lived five years with ALS and has led a determined fight to raise funding needed for research to end this disease. (Review)

further up and further in

Further Up and Further InEdith M. Humphrey. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017. A survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus considering the theological themes developed in these works in interaction with Eastern Orthodox theologians. (Review)

called by triune grace

Called by Triune Grace (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Jonathan Hoglund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A monograph exploring the doctrine of effectual calling and how it is that God’s speech brings about our regeneration and conversion. (Review)

rhetoric of jesus mark

The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, David M. Young and Michael Strickland. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A study of the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark analyzing them in the context of first century Greco-Roman rhetoric. (Review)

Karl Barth

Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for EvangelicalsMark Galli. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017. An succinct overview of the life and theological relevance of Karl Barth, particularly for contemporary evangelicals. (Review)

Hero of the Empire

Hero of the EmpireCandice Millard. New York: Doubleday, 2016. The history of Winston Churchill’s involvement in the Boer War as a correspondent, his capture, imprisonment and dangerous escape–events that brought Churchill to national attention. (Review)

Bible Matters

Bible MattersTim Chester. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. An introduction to understanding the Bible, exploring the nature of this collection of books, what Christians believe about it and why, and how God speaks to us today through the Bible. (Review)

to light a fire on the earth

To Light a Fire on the EarthRobert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr. New York: Image Books, 2017. An interview between Barron and Allen that is part biography and part outline of Barron’s approach to the “new evangelization” of which his Word on Fire ministry is a leading exemplar. (Review)

the image of god in an image driven age

The Image of God in an Image Driven AgeBeth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A collection of papers from the 2015 Wheaton Theology Conference focusing on how our understanding of “the image of God” shapes our understanding of what it means to be human, and how we ought perceive the images that pervade our lives. (Review)

saving the queen

Saving the Queen, William F. Buckley, Jr. New York, Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1976). The first of Buckley’s Blackford Oakes espionage novels, covering his recruitment to the CIA and first mission, to ferret out the person high up in British government betraying atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. (Review)

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Ignatian Spirituality A to ZJim Manney. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2017. An introduction to Ignatian spirituality in the form of a glossary of commonly used terms and key people. (Review)

practices of love

Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World, Kyle David Bennett (foreword by James K. A. Smith). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017.  An approach to spiritual disciplines that explores how various spiritual practices not only nurture our relationship with God but shape our habits of being in the world including how we love our neighbors, and the rest of God’s creation. (Review)

Best Book: Always a tough call, but I’ll give the nod to Mark Galli’s biography of Karl Barth. I think Galli’s observation is worth heeding that Barth’s critique of liberal theology bears a warning for an evangelicalism grounded in subjectivism and activism. Read this biography and I dare you not to find your appetite whetted to read Barth!

Best Quote: It is rare that I quote a set of bullet points but this list of boundaries on a “hopeful universalism” in Edith Humphrey’s Further Up and Further In bears repeating:

  • We cannot say that God’s will may ultimately be thwarted.
  • We cannot deny that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
  • We cannot view the salvation accomplished by Christ as automatic in such a way that it violates human integrity or choice, or that it does not require a human response.
  • We cannot say that salvation depends upon us in a foundational sense.
  • We cannot say that human acceptance of God’s loving offer is unnecessary.
  • We cannot claim to know that someone is damned.
  • We cannot say that the effect of Christ’s righteousness on humanity is less powerful than Adam’s sin.
  • We cannot say that the doctrine of hell is only “heuristic” — that it is only a warning. (pp. 239-240)

What I’m Reading. I should note that I posted a review of James K. A. Smith’s new Awaiting the Kingdom on February 1, hence not listed here. Anyone who cares about Christian faith in public life ought to read this! I am in the middle of Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill’s narrative of his life as a celibate gay Christian. I’ve also just begun Peter J. Leithart’s massive Delivered From the Elements of the World, which explores this question: “How can the death and resurrection of a Jewish rabbi of the first century . . . be the decisive event in the history of humanity, the hinge and crux and crossroads for everything?” Still Evangelical? is a collection of responses from a number of evangelical leaders in light of the 2016 election about continuing to identify with the “evangelical tribe,” a question I’ve wrestled with here (I thought I would come up with my own answer to the question before I read those of others).  This past month, I reviewed Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman’s second book in the Welsh Princes series. I am currently finishing the third volume, The Reckoning, a moving story of love and loss and the loves and rivalries within families. Before the month is out, I hope to start Grant by Ron Chernow, though I won’t likely finish it. Look for that review in March!

Stay warm, stay safe, and curl up with a good book this month!