The Month in Reviews: January 2021

Can you believe we are a month into 2021? It has been a month that is the epitome of the old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I feel like my readings certainly have fit the times, whether a commentary on wisdom, learning to think and write with the clarity of Shakespeare, or learning to seek God in prayer and grow in knowledge of the holy God and holiness of character and thought. Then sometimes, there have been those delightful diversions, whether a Ngaio Marsh mystery, a story about a rescue of stranded flyers of a Greenland glacier, the biography of a theologian from a hundred years ago whose work is just coming into English translation, or C.S. Lewis’s early narrative poem Dymer. Here are the books I was reading this month to navigate interesting times.

The Message of Wisdom(Bible Speaks Today). Daniel J. Estes. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2020. A study of the theme of wisdom, primarily in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament but also incorporating other passages in scripture including those in the New Testament focusing on the culmination of wisdom in Christ. Review

Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial ReconciliationJennifer Harvey. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. Argues that a reparations rather than reconciliation paradigm is what is necessary to heal the racial divides in the United States. Review

The Columbus Anthologyedited and with an Introduction by Amanda Page. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press) co-published with Rust Belt Publishing, 2020. An anthology of non-fiction prose and poetry by Columbus authors, mostly relating to Columbus. Review

Frozen in Time, Mitchell Zuckoff. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. An account of rescue efforts in 1942-43 and a retrieval effort in 2012 to recover several lost heroes, all occurring on the Greenland icecap. Review

Charitable WritingRichard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III, Foreword by Anne Ruggles Gere, Afterword by Alan Jacobs. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Two writing professors explore how Christian faith ought shape both how one writes and how one teaches students to write, shaped by the virtues of humility, love, and hope. Review

Prayer RevolutionJohn Smed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020. A call to kingdom prayer movements based in houses of prayer through which Christ comes, the Holy Spirit advances, and renewal spreads in cities, nations, and globally. Review

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the MonarchyA. N. Wilson. New York: Harper Collins, 2019. A full length biography, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, stressing his contributions to cultural and political life in Victorian England, published on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. Review

How to Think Like ShakespeareScott Newstok. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. A concise and engaging guide to the habits and practices of mind that enable clarity of thought, expression, and learning. Review

Bavinck: A Critical BiographyJames Eglinton. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. A biography tracing the origins, significant life events and theological scholarship of Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck. Review

Death of a Peer (Surfeit of Lampreys), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Harper Collins: New York, 2009. A New Zealander’s visit to a happy-go-lucky English family is interrupted by the gruesome murder of Lord Charles’ brother in the elevator serving their flat, making the family prime suspects for Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn. Review

Perspectives on Paul: Five ViewsEdited by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. Presents five perspectives on the ministry and message of Paul: the Catholic, traditional Protestant, the “New Perspective” pioneered by E.P. Sanders, the Paul within Judaism perspective, and the Gift perspective. Review

Splendour in the DarkJerry Root, annotations of Dymer by David C. Downing. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An annotated edition of C. S. Lewis’s Dymer and three presentations with responses given as part of the Hansen Lectureship series at Wheaton’s Marion E. Wade Center. Review

Finding the Dragon LadyMonique Brinson Demery. New York: Public Affair, 2013. A biography of Madame Nhu, part of the ruling family in Vietnam (1954-1963) based on the author’s personal interactions with Madame Nhu before her death, allowing her to obtain memoirs and a diary of her life. Review

Reading Scripture as the Church (New Explorations in Theology), Derek W. Taylor. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Brings Dietrich Bonhoeffer into conversation with three theologians concerning how the church reads and interprets scripture. Review

HolinessJohn Webster. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003. A theology of holiness, beginning with holiness in the theological enterprise and then thinking about the holiness of God, the church, and the individual. Review

Best book of the Month: I have to give the nod to James Eglinton’s illuminating biography, Bavinck. Herman Bavinck was a Dutch theologian of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century relatively little known outside of Reformed circles. With the translation of his theological works into English and his association with Abraham Kuyper, theologian and politician, interest is growing in Bavinck. Eglinton’s biography illuminates both the times and Bavinck’s efforts to navigate the tensions of doing theology that is both orthodox and engages modernity.

Best quote of the Month: Daniel J. Estes study on The Message of Wisdom is a gem. He offers this trenchant observation on truthtelling:

“Why is it so hard for us to be truthful? Truthfulness can fail for many reasons, but oftentimes it surrenders to fear. We fail to be truthful because we fear criticism, but then we end up looking like cowards when the truth eventually comes out. We fail to be truthful because we fear responsibility, but we end up trapped in a web of our deceptions. We fail to be truthful because we fear the personal cost of getting hurt, but we end up enslaved to the guilty conscience pricked by our dishonesty. We fail to be truthful because we fear upsetting others, but we end up missing the chance to provide constructive reproof that would actually help them” (pp. 121-122).

What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished Christ and the Kingdoms of Men on political theology. I found much that I believe is helpful, and one significant area to which I object. Watch for my review! I’ve almost finished Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Gamache series. These just keep getting better! I finally broke down and am reading The Handmaid’s Tale. This is not a happy story, but raises profound questions about how women might fare under a religiously authoritarian regime, and what happens when we unjustly constrain human freedom. Reading While Black by Esau McCauley has received a good deal of notice. McCauley argues for the unique contribution that blacks offer the rest of the Christian community as they read scripture. Ben Witherington III was one of my seminary professors, so I try to read whatever he writes (unfortunately he writes so much I can’t keep up!). His Voices and Views on Paul is a great overview and critique of recent Pauline scholarship. Finally, Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All is a fascinating memoir by the eponymous creator of Rubik’s cube.

Reading can help us both make sense of our times and how we might live in them, and take a break from thinking about them when we need to. I hope you find some time for some of each!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: December 2020

I began and ended December reading Louise Penny mysteries (#3 and 4 in the Chief Inspector Gamache series) and these were great books to frame the last month of 2020. In between, there were 16 others (I was on vacation for part of the month and with shelter-at-home, this was a great opportunity for some extra reading. A few that stood out included the first volume on Barack Obama’s memoirs, which I chose as my book of the year. Another was the sixth edition of the late James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door which has framed my years in collegiate ministry. A couple other notables for me were both written by Butlers. Dawn is an Octavia Butler sci-fi classic, the first in a trilogy. White Evangelical Racism by Anthea Butler makes a concise but persuasive overall case for the complicity of white evangelicalism in America’s racist history–hard to read as a white evangelical! I finally finished Jonathan Levy’s massive Ages of American Capitalism, which for its length is a highly interesting survey of America’s economic history.

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007. Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case. Review

Original Sin and the Fall (Spectrum Multiview Books), edited by J. B. Stump and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An overview of five different views of original sin and the fall, with responses by each contributor to the other views. Review

March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2016. The culmination of this three part work, focused on the movement to obtain voting rights in Alabama and Mississippi, the March on Birmingham, and the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Review

The Liturgy of PoliticsKaitlyn Schiess (Foreword by Michael Wear). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Drawing on the thought of James K. A. Smith, explores how the liturgies of our lives shape our political engagement and the gospel-shaped formative practices our Christian communities may embrace. Review

Wisdom From Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Considers what it means to live in a secular age, different ways of responding as churches, what may learned from sources ancient and modern, and the competencies of church leadership we need. Review

Sustaining Grace: Innovative Ecosystems for New Faith Communitiesedited by Scott J. Hagley, Karen Rohrer, Michael Gehrling. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2020. A collection of articles arising from conversations among church planters, traditional church leaders, denominational leaders and academics connected, in most cases with the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1001 New Worshipping Communities, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Review

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. The first volume of the presidential memoir of Barack Obama, tracing his early life, his entry into politics and rise, his first presidential campaign and first term up to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Review

Exodus Old and New (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), L. Michael Morales. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the Exodus theme from its anticipation with Abraham, to the exodus from Egypt, the prophesied second exodus and the new exodus of Jesus the Messiah. Review

We Will Not Cancel Usadrienne maree brown (Afterword by Malkia Devich Cyril). Chico, CA: AK Press, 2020. A plea to those within the modern abolitionist movement to not use “cancelling” or “call outs” against one another. Review

Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United StatesJonathan Levy. New York: Random House, (Forthcoming, April 20,) 2021. An economic history of the United States, dividing the history into ages of commerce, capital, control, and chaos. Review

A Bigger Table, Expanded Edition with Study Guide, John Pavlovitz (Foreword by Jacqueline L. Lewis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Traces the author’s journey into a bigger vision of and practice of Christian community that is far more inclusive in welcoming people and chronicles the stories of a bigger table and the lives it has touched. Review

The Fantasy Literature of England, Colin Manlove. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020 (first published in 1999). A study focusing on and surveying the fantasy literature of England, distinguishing it from that of other countries, identifying six types, and discussing a tremendous variety of writers. Review

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library (Warner Books), 1988 (publisher link is to a different, in print, edition). Lilith is chosen to lead a handful of humans preserved after a thermonuclear war by an alien race but faces difficult choices when she realizes the price she and her people must pay for their survival. Review

Stained Glass (Blackford Oakes #2), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1978). When a charismatic German who fought against the Nazis in the resistance in Norway campaigns to become Chancellor on a platform to reunite Germany, Soviets and Americans come together to block this, with Blackford Oakes at the center, restoring a family chapel of the candidate. Review

Angry WeatherFriederike Otto. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020. A description of the use of attribution science to assess the probability that anthropogenic-caused climate change is a factor in particular extreme weather events. Review

The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition, James W. Sire (Foreword by Jim Hoover). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A new edition of this foundational work on comparative worldviews, exploring the contours of various worldviews, including a new chapter on Islam, through the use of eight questions. Review

White Evangelical RacismAnthea Butler. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, (Forthcoming, March) 2021. A short history of the evangelical movement in the United States, showing its ties to racism and white supremacy from the time of slavery down to the present. Review

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008. The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history. Review

Best of the Month: Since I gave the nod to A Promised Land for my book of the year, I decided on A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. The Gamache series keeps getting better and the combination of intricate plot and the character development of Gamache as well as several other recurring characters makes for a satisfying read.

Best quote of the month: There were a number of candidates here but Anthea Butler’s concluding comments in her book White Evangelical Racism capture for me the challenge facing American evangelicalism:

“Evangelicalism is at a precipice. It is no longer a movement to which Americans look for a moral center. American evangelicalism lacks social, political, and spiritual effectiveness in the twentyfirst century. It has become a religion lodged within political partyIt is a religion that promotes issues important almost exclusively to white conservatives. Evangelicalism embraces racists and says that evangelicals’ interests, and only theirs, are the most important for all American citizens.”

What I’m Reading. I have two books ready for review. One is Dan Estes fine study titled The Message of Wisdom on the wisdom literature. The other is Dear White Christians and contends that we cannot speak about racial reconciliation without addressing the issue of reparation. I’ve just begun reading Charitable Writing in preparation for an interview with the authors. A much needed exploration of the connection between virtue and our writing. Prayer Revolution is a stirring call to prayer that fuels kingdom movements. The Columbus Anthology is a collection, similar to a literary review with contributions from various Columbus writers. Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy is on the life of the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. Frozen in Time is about a real life mission to retrieve the remains and the aircraft of two Coast Guard aviators who crashed on the ice cap of Greenland after 70 years had passed.

Well, there’s the rundown. I wish you much good reading in 2021 with the hope that this time next year we will be looking at the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Stay safe and read on, friends!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

Bob on Books Best Books of 2020

This has been a weird year in the book world as the pandemic has affected our reading habits (for better or worse), bookselling, publishing schedules and authors’ efforts to promote their books. Yet books have been there to inspire, to comfort, and divert. Many of the books here were published in 2020, but a few were such outstanding reads from earlier years I needed to include them. One difference this year is the inclusion of Ohio authors, not only in their own category, but in a few others.

Best of the Year:

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. I delayed this post to finish this book. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, the disciplined and flowing prose offers insight not only into the events of his rise and presidency but his thought processes, his conception of and respect for the office, his vision for the nation, as well as insights into his family life. Review

Best Memoirs:

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. I wrote about this book: “This skillfully written narrative, punctuated with poetry and Augustine, invites us into the the aching wonder of human love shaped by the growing pursuit of the City of God. We are left wondering if God has something better on offer, even when it comes to human sexuality.” Review

Answering the CallNathaniel R. Jones. New York: The New Press, 2016. Nathaniel R. Jones was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former general counsel of the NAACP. His memoir reflects a single vision to answer the call to use the law to fight for equal rights for Blacks. Jones was not only an Ohio author but from my home town of Youngstown. He died this year. Review

Best Biography:

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of HopeJon Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020. Meacham gives us an account not only of the events of the late Congressman John Lewis’s life but also the faith that sustained his efforts and the non-violent methods of his resistance. Review

Best History:

City on a Hill: A History of American ExceptionalismAbram C. Van Engen. New Haven: Yale University Press, Forthcoming, February 25, 2020. Van Engen traces the history of John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon that included the phrase “city on a hill” and how this became a metaphor for American exceptionalism. Review

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. This is a well-researched and written account of the Christian study center movement beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. I wrote: “It also reminds me of the great debt of gratitude I owe to the places and people Cotherman chronicles–from Francis Schaeffer and how he first helped me think Christianly, to Jim Houston and the influence he and Regent had on a close ministry colleague, to the vision of the doctrine and life that I acquired through Ligonier, and the vision of campus engagement Ken Elzinga and the Center for Christian Study has given so many of us.” Review

Best Graphic non-fiction:

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Derf Backderf. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2020. Backderf is an Ohio native and in this graphic novel, he traces the last days of the four students who died at Kent State on the fiftieth anniversary of the shootings. He captures the setting, the swirl of events and the tragic moments on May 4, 1970, as well as any I’ve seen. Review

Best Ohio Authors: (In addition to those elsewhere in this list)

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. Bonnie Proudfoot is a first time author from southeast Ohio whose lean yet descriptive prose narrates the lives of two sisters, their husbands and families making a go at life in rural Appalachia. Review

Barnstorming Ohio To Understand AmericaDavid Giffels. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. Akron native spent a year traveling around Ohio, which he describes as “an All-American buffet.” He proposes that Ohio is a political microcosm of the U.S. political landscape, with which I would agree. His rendering of Ohio is one I recognized as ringing true. Review

Best Books on Race:

The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames H. Cone. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2013. Black theologian James Cone’s reflection on the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree, the perplexing reality that this has been missed within the white community, and how an understanding of this connection and the meaning of the cross has offered hope for the long struggle of the African-American community. Probably one of the most powerful books I read in 2020. Review

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants. The author refutes the idea that the Latina/o church was an instrument of oppression, but rather sustained the resistance to oppression of the Latina/o community. An interview I did back in June with the author was one of the highlights of this year. Review

Best Essays:

UpstreamMary Oliver. New York: Penguin, 2016. These are exquisitely written essays on both nature and literary figures by poet Mary Oliver. Oliver is another Ohio-born author, growing up in Maple Heights, Ohio, where we also lived for nine years. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. McEntyre explores the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists we might create. Review

Best Theology:

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Ortlund discusses how Augustine approached the Genesis accounts of beginnings and suggests his approach may be helpful in our present day origins controversies. Review

Best Books on Existential Issues:

Companions in the DarknessDiana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle. The author skillfully interweaves her own experience with depression with those of whom she writes.

The Lost Art of DyingL. S. Dugdale. New York: Harper One, 2020. Dugdale is a physician on the front line of treating COVID patients. She challenges our over-medicalized treatment of the dying, advocating a recovery of the “art of dying,” which also makes it possible to live well. She draws on ancient texts known as the Ars Moriendi and recovers their wisdom at a time when it is greatly needed. Review

Best Fiction:

The Great AloneKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. A family moves to the wilderness of Alaska, hopefully for a new start for Ernt Allbright, a former POW in Vietnam, only to discover that in a beautiful and dangerous wilderness, the greatest danger may lay in their own cabin. Hannah evokes the terrible splendor of the Alaskan wilderness and the fine line between love and peril in this troubled family. Review

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018 (originally published in 1943). A coming of age story told through the eyes of Francie Nolan, about a girl’s life and ambitions in a struggling family in Brooklyn. I finally got around to reading a classic which was among the most popular books among soldiers in World War II. Smith draws us into a Brooklyn setting of the past to tell an ageless story. Review

I realize this is a bit different list than some years. More books that touch in some way on the experiences of people of color. It has been that kind of year. Books on serious questions like depression and death. I have less fiction than usual. I did read other fiction, more in the diverting rather than great category. The exception perhaps is that I began reading the Chief Inspector Gamache books by author Louise Penny. I’m only three books in but am taken with Gamache and the people of Three Pines and the deeply insightful writing of Penny on the human condition. I’ve begun reading some Octavia Butler and Georges Simenon. All have been quite good but somehow didn’t fit this list. At any rate I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my choices, and feel free to let me know your “best books” choices as well. So many good books!

The Month in Reviews: November 2020

This was a rich month of reading. I’ve been reading through a three-volume graphic autobiography of John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman. His resolution and commitment to non-violence and willingness to suffer make him a unique American hero. There was a lovely book of devotionals drawn from the lyrics of Michael Card. I dipped into the gritty noir crime fiction of Walter Mosley and explored the “gentle madness” of bibliomania. I read about the last months of World War II and a college leader’s presentations on his vision for higher ed. I met memorable fictional characters, Davis McGowan and Olive Kitteridge. Of course there was a rich mix of theological books and Rod Dreher’s cri de coeur to “live not by lies. Enjoy the list and click on “review” to read the full review of a book or the title to connect with the publisher’s page on the book.

Rhythms for LifeAlastair Sterne. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An approach to spiritual practices and a rule of life tailored to the unique identity, gifts, calling, and roles of each person. Review

Live Not By LiesRod Dreher. New York: Sentinal, 2020. Drawing on interviews with Christians in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Dreher warns of a rise of a similar, though “soft” totalitarianism in the U.S., and outlines what Christians must do to live in the truth. Review

A Gentle MadnessNicholas A Basbanes. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. An entertaining journey through the history and contemporary world of book collecting, and the “bibliomanes” whose passion for books formed amazing collections. Review

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout. New York: Random House, 2008. A collection of short stories set in a small coastal village in Maine, centering around an aging and abrasive middle school teacher, Olive Kitteridge. Review

Between History and SpiritCraig S. Keener. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020. A collection of the author’s journal articles on the book of Acts. Review

The Nazarene: Forty Devotions on the Lyrical Life of JesusMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. The author helps us consider Jesus through lyrics from his songs and biblically informed reflections. Review

You Can Keep That To YourselfAdam Smyer. New York: Akashic Books, 2020. A humorous and pointed list of “things not to say” to Black friends or colleagues. Review

All I Did Was Shoot My Man (A Leonid McGill Mystery #4), Walter Mosley. New York, Riverhead Press, 2012. The release from prison of a woman framed in an insurance heist sets loose a string of murders, including an attempt on McGill’s life, even while he tries to find out who is behind the heist and the murders. Review

A Commentary on James, Aida Besancon Spencer. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020. A scholarly and accessible exegetical commentary on the Epistle of James. Review

March: Book OneJohn Lewis, Andrew Aydin (co-author), Nate Powell (artist). Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013. A graphic non-fiction biography of John Lewis. Book One focuses on his youth, the contact with Martin Luther King, Jr. that changed the course of his life, and his early efforts in the desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville. Review

Biblical Theology According to the Apostles (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, Kevin McFadden. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the summaries of Israel’s story in the New Testament and their culmination in the person of Christ. Review

Companions in the DarknessDiana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle. Review

Six Months in 1945: From World War to Cold WarMichael Dobbs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. An account of the six months from Yalta to Hiroshima and how the decisions and events of those months shaped the post-war world. Review

Spiritual Practices of JesusCatherine J. Wright. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of three spiritual practices of Jesus found in Luke’s gospel considering them in the first century context of his readers and the writings of the earliest fathers of the church. Review

McGowan’s CallRob Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2007. A collection of short stories and a novella tracing the ministry of a pastor from a small Ohio river town to a suburb of Dayton. Review

March: Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2015. The second part of this graphic non-fiction narrative of the Civil Rights movement from the experiences of further sit-ins and marches to the Freedom Rides, the children’s marches, and the March on Washington. Review

Dreaming Dreams of Christian Higher EducationDavid S. Guthrie (Foreword by Bradshaw Fry; Afterword by Eric Miller). Beaver Falls, PA: Falls City Press, 2020. A collection of presentations given over a twenty year period on realizing the dream of Christian higher education by a leader in Christian higher ed. Review

The Enneagram for Spiritual FormationA. J. Sherrill (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. Explores how the Enneagram may be used as a tool for self-understanding that may serve as a guide on one’s discipleship pathway. Review

Best of the Month. I have to give the nod to first-time author Diana Gruver for her Companions in the Darkness. The book combines thoughtful studies of seven Christians who experienced depression interwoven with her own experience written with a flowing grace that offers hope in a season when many are struggling.

Best Quote of the Month. The Spiritual Practices of Jesus explores the spirituality of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. This is a challenging statement on wealth:

Perhaps one reason for the emphasis on radical almsgiving is the lens through which early Christians look at wealth. In their opinion, we don’t really own our wealth. It is placed in our care by God so that we may bestow it to those who have less than we do. Therefore, when we spend our wealth on ourselves alone, we are essentially stealing from the poor (and thereby from God). The reverse is also true. When we give to the poor, we show ourselves to be good stewards of the resources God has trusted us with, and we are, in essence, giving to God. This attitude could not be further from the attitude that many Christians in America have today (p. 63).

What I’m Reading. Next up for review is Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month, the third of her Gamache series. Gamache investigates a death at a seance while colleagues in the Surete’ plot his downfall. Original Sin and the Fall explores five theological views of the doctrine of original sin. I’ve been plodding my way through a lengthy economic history of America, Ages of American Capitalism. I’ve nearly finished the third and final volume of March, a graphic autobiography on the life of John Lewis, culminating in the first inaugural of Barack Obama. And that leads me to A Promised Land, the first volume in the presidential memoir of Barack Obama. It is not only well-written but striking for the humility that readily admits mistakes, blunders and his own struggles to balance political ambition and love of his family. I’ve just begun Gordon T. Smith’s Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age. Smith draws on sources throughout global church history for insight of how leaders might lead in this secular age. The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess looks at the habits and behaviors that shape the churches politics, and how we might choose different liturgies to shape a better political engagement.

The first snow of the season is in the air as I write during our county’s “stay at home” advisory. I think I’ll do just that with a cup of tea and a good book with some Christmas music in the background.

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: October 2020

With the cooler weather, I think I’m catching up on the books I didn’t read early in the pandemic. In this month’s reads, there are a couple books about relationships and marriage, a senator’s conversion to activism against gun violence, an exciting rescue, Marilynne Robinson’s latest, some good theology, a profound book on suffering, and a wonderful book about political and civic engagement that renewed my hope.

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A story of how the decision to choose “the city of God” transformed love, sexuality, and relationships for the author. Review

The Violence Inside Us, Chris Murphy. New York: Random House, 2020. A Connecticut Senator describes his own awakening to the scourge of gun violence after Newtown, and explores the causes and remedies for this uniquely American problem. Review

Sarah’s Laughter, Vinoth Ramachandra. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020. An exploration of suffering, whether through illness or physical decline, human or natural evil, and the embrace of grief, lament, doubt, questioning and more, and what it means to hope amid our struggle. Review

The Lost Get-Back BoogieJames Lee Burke. New York: Pocket Star, 2006 (first published 1986). On release from prison, Iry Paret leaves Louisiana for Montana for a new start with his prisonmate, Buddy Riordan, only to find he has landed in the midst of new troubles. Review

God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian TheologySteven J. Duby. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of what may be known of God in God’s self rather than in God’s external relations to the world and the role that scripture, metaphysics, natural and supernatural theology, and the use of analogy all play in forming this understanding. Review

Compassion (&) ConvictionJustin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Foreword by Barbara Williams-Skinner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A handbook for better political and civic engagement, overcoming the highly polarized character of our current discourse and the unhealthy assimilation of the church into politics. Review

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer TeamChristina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020. An account of the rescue of the Wild Boars boys soccer team describing the engineering and diving efforts, and how the boys endured this experience. Review

Good ManNathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Goes beyond the stereotypes of what a “real man” is to explore the character of a good man and the journey of discovery this involves. Review

Friends DividedGordon S. Wood. New York: Penguin Books, 2018. An account of the sometimes troubled and unlikely friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Review

JackMarilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020. The story of an inter-racial love affair between Jack Ames Boughton and Della Miles, and Jack’s struggle to find grace. Review

Blessed Are The NonesStina Kielsmeier-Cook. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A memoir of a Christian woman coming to terms, with the help of some Catholic nuns, with her husband’s de-conversion. Review

Tales of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1922). A collection of eleven short stories, the most famous of which is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Review

Leading Lives That Matter (Second Edition), Edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. An anthology on what the well-lived life looks like exploring four important vocabularies and six vital questions through a range of religious and secular readings. Review

Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy, Reid Forgrave. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2020. The account of Zac Easter, who grew up in the football culture of small town Iowa and his family, played hard, until he began to experience the consequences of repeated concussions, when his life began to unravel. Review

Best Book of the Month: Compassion (&) Conviction is a timely primer on practical and effective political and civic engagement built on a biblical framework that moves beyond the binaries that have so deeply divided us. It was so refreshing to read a book taking both a strong pro-life stance and a strong social justice stance.

Best Quote of the Month: Carolyn Weber is a gifted writer whose work I’ve previously enjoyed, but I thought she soared to new heights in Sex and the City of God, a book on singleness, courtship, and marriage as a young Christian. This quote is one of many I could have pulled:

Sex as the template for genealogy is important because sexuality is a reflection of God’s relationship with us. Our relationship to sex speaks of our relationship to God. And because our relationship to God must precede our relationship with everything else, including our own selves, working from this first relationship changes everything. As a result, more often than not in a culture that neglects our dignity as spiritual beings, pursuing this foundational relationship can feel countercultural, though it is God’s norm, for in becoming children of God we become who he intended us to be (p. 63).

What I’m Reading: I have three books ready for review this coming week. Rhythms for Life helps connect spiritual practices to the kind of person you are. Live Not By Lies is Rod Dreher’s sequel to The Benedict Option. Having studied the Communist governments of eastern Europe and talked to Christians who bore faithful witness under totalitarian regimes, he offers a warning of the coming of a soft totalitarianism, and what Christians must be prepared for. Nicholas A Basbanes A Gentle Madness was written in the 1990’s and tells the stories of those obsessed with book collecting, a very different group, I found, from those who love reading.

I’m in the middle of several other books right now. All I Did Was Shoot My Man is my first dip into the crime fiction of Walter Mosley, the dean of Black crime fiction writers. Olive Kittredge is an older work, a collection of stories set in a coastal New England town around the formidable title character. Craig S. Keener’s Between History and Spirit collects a number of journal articles by Keener on the book of Acts. on which Keener wrote a four volume exegetical commentary. Finally, Aida Besancon Spencer’s Commentary on James is just that–a careful exegetical commentary that draws out James on faith and works, money and speech.

Writing from the United States, it appears with the spike in COVID-19 cases that I will be sheltering in place for a good while yet. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, collaborating with colleagues and connecting with friends via video technology. I’m also quite grateful for the literary companions with whom I have the chance to keep company. I hope this time affords you that opportunity as well. Stay safe, my bookish friends!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: September 2020

My reading for the month illustrates the many forms of delight in reading. From works to nourish the soul in kindness to oneself, in an account of the writing of a spiritual classic, in understanding of the scriptures and theology to historical fiction set in ancient Rome and mysteries set in Russia and Canada. I also read books illuminating the civil rights struggle, the interior struggle of depression, the enhancing of our cognitive capacities, the divisions of the country, and the many faces of Ohio.

Be Kind to YourselfCindy Bunch (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2020. A little handbook of ideas and practices to help us exercise kindness toward ourselves by releasing what bugs us and embracing joy. Review

How to Read Daniel (How to Read series), Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A helpful introduction to the Old Testament book of Daniel, dealing with its original setting and context, the theme of the book, basic commentary on each story and vision, and contemporary applications. Review

Into the Unbounded NightMitchell James Kaplan. Raleigh, NC: Regal House Publishing, 2020. Historical fiction set in the mid-first century AD in the Roman Empire, spanning conquests from Albion (Britannia), Carthage, and Jerusalem, and the center of power in Rome. Review

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of HopeJohn Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020. An account of the life of Congressman John Lewis, focusing on the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement and the faith, hope, commitment to non-violence and the Beloved Community that sustained him. Review

The Long Night: Readings and Stories to Help You through Depression, Jessica Kantrowitz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020. Short readings and personal narratives reflecting the author’s experience with depression, both honest and hopeful. Review

The Holy Spirit (Theology for the People of God), Gregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020. First in a new series, a biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, evangelical and continuationist, but not pentecostal. Review

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Random House, 2020. Proposes that American society throughout our history has been structured around a caste hierarchy, showing the character, costs, and hope for a different future. Review

Rostnikov’s Vacation (Porfiry Rostnikov #7), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012. Rostnikov, on vacation in Yalta, learns that the death of a fellow investigator on vacation was murder, and that top investigators throughout Moscow are being sent on vacation at the time of a major political rally. Review

Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?Antipas L. Harris. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Explores and answers the title question, showing the misreading of scripture and the affirmation of diverse cultures in scripture. Review

Enhancing Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious CommunityBrad D. Strawn and Warren S. Brown. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. The authors propose that as persons we are embodied and embedded in particular contexts, but also that extended cognition expands our capacities as we engage our physical and social worlds, with implications for the importance of Christian community. Review

A Fatal GraceLouise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2006. An unliked but aspiring author comes to Three Pines and is murdered in front of a crowd at a curling match yet no one sees how it happened. Review

Henri Nouwen & The Return of the Prodigal Son (Stories of Great Books), Gabrielle Earnshaw. Brewster: MA: Paraclete Press, 2020. An account of the crisis, transformation and subsequent writing process behind Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and ModernityPatrick Curry. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. A study of the enduring power of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, tracing it to both its counter to modernity and its genius as modern myth. Review

Divided We FallDavid French. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. An argument warning that the political divides in American life could lead to a dissolution of the nation through secession and may be averted by a tolerant federalism. Review

The Jesus of the Gospels: An IntroductionAndreas J. Köstenberger. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020. An introduction to the four gospels, providing accessible scholarship, introductions and commentary focused on Jesus, to whom each gospel witnesses. Review

Barnstorming Ohio To Understand AmericaDavid Giffels. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. The author recounts a year of traveling Ohio, always a political bellweather, to understand America. Review

Best Book of the Month. Jon Meacham’s His Truth is Marching On is an absolutely wonderful and inspiring account of the life of John Lewis, and particularly the deep faith that drove him on in hope through beatings and imprisonments, and many years in Congress.

Best Quote of the Month. I finished the month reading Akron journalist and author David Giffel’s Barnstorming Ohio To Understand America. He explains the significance of Ohio (at least to this Ohioan) as well as anyone I know. Here’s his summary:

Geographically and culturally, the state is an all-American buffet, an uncannily complete everyplace. Cleveland is the end of the north, Cincinnati is the beginning of the South, Youngstown is the end of the East, and Hicksville (yes, Hicksville) is the beginning of the Midwest. Across eighty-eight counties, Ohio mashes up broad regions of farmland, major industrial centers, small towns, the third-largest university in the country, the second largest Amish population, and a bedraggled vein of Appalachia. It is coastal, it is rural, it is urban, and suburban. (p. 5)

What I’m Reading. Sri Lankan theologian Vinoth Ramachandra’s Sara’s Laughter is a profound reflection on evil and suffering, doubt, questioning, lament…and hope. Carolyn Weber’s Sex and the City of God is an absolutely beautiful account of a new Christian torn between the longing for intimacy and the embrace of a chaste life as a Christ-follower, and an absolutely delightful account of two Christians awakening to and growing in love. God in Himself is a theological exploration of the nature of God and what we may know by both general and special revelation. The Violence Inside Us by Senator Chris Murphy is an exploration of gun violence. Finally, on a different note, James Lee Burke’s The Lost Get-Back Boogie is one of Burke’s non-Robicheaux novel.

With cool days and longer nights, I hope you have the opportunity to find a sunny bench on a crisp autumn day, or a warm drink and a comfy chair on those chilly evening–and of course, a good book!

The Month in Reviews: August 2020

A vacation week and some extra time on hot days just to read afforded the time to read sixteen books during August. Jeffrey Sachs and Anne Applebaum’s books offered different snapshots on global affairs. From very different perspectives, both Elaine Howard Ecklund and Gavin Ortlund’s books contribute to a better science and faith conversations. I had a chance to review a couple of new fiction authors, Bonnie Proudfoot and Joe English. Uncommon Ground and The Beautiful Community addressed divisions, the first in the culture, the second in the church. One of my most fun reads focused on amusing anecdotes about books, the other about the making of lists. And my baseball book for the summer was a fascinating account of the women’s professional baseball league that was the basis for the movie, A League of Their Own.

The Ages of GlobalizationJeffrey D. Sachs. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. A study of seven ages of globalization, in which geography, technology, and institutions result in scale-enlarging transformations with global impacts. Review

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Differenceedited Timothy Keller & John Inazu. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. Twelve individuals from different walks of life discuss what Christian faithfulness and the pursuit of the common good looks like in a deeply divided culture. Review

Why Science and Faith Need Each OtherElaine Howard Ecklund. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. A sociologist who has researched the relationship between science and faith proposes that there are eight shared values that make it possible to move beyond a relationship of fear or conflict between religious and scientific communities. Review

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. A story told across two generations of two sisters, their husbands and children, and their dignity and struggle to exist in working-class, rural West Virginia. Review

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of AuthoritarianismAnne Applebaum. New York: Doubleday, 2020. An extended essay considering the shift to authoritarian leaders in Europe and the United States, analyzing both why such leaders are attractive, and the strategies they used to gain power. Review

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of Augustine’s writing about creation and what that might contribute to the contemporary controversy. Review

The Beautiful CommunityIrwyn L. Ince, Jr., Foreword by Timothy Keller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An argument that churches united amid their diversity are beautiful communities that reflect the beauty of the triune God they worship. Review

For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and MoreGraham Tarrant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. A fun read about everything books, from the beginning of the book, stories of authors and their loves and their fights, different genres, and the world of publishing. Review

Unto Us a Child is Born, Tyler D. Mayfield. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. Proposes that, as we read Isaiah during Advent, we need to read “with bifocals,” considering both the Advent liturgical significance of the texts and their meaning for our Jewish neighbors. Review

Somebody Else’s TroublesJ.A. English. Union Lake, MI: Zimbell House Publishing, 2020. Several troubled individuals find their way to Mabuhay, a tiny Caribbean Island, and find in the troubles of others the possibility of the redemption of their own. Review

The Gospel in DickensCharles Dickens (edited by Gina Dalfonzo, foreword by Karen Swallow Prior). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A collection of excerpts from the works of Charles Dickens showing the Christian gospel themes evident throughout these works. Review

Befriending Your MonstersLuke Norsworthy. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Discusses the fears (monsters) we often run from or that shape our lives, advocating befriending them by facing our fears, allowing us to move into healthier lives. Review

Seeing by the Light: Illumination in Augustine’s and Barth’s Readings of John, (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Ike Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study on the doctrine of illumination examining how both Augustine and Barth exposited this doctrine in the gospel and letters of John. Review

The Breadth of Salvation, Tom Greggs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. An exploration of the extravagant breadth of God’s saving work in all of its dimensions. Review

When Women Played HardballSusan E. Johnson. Seattle: Seal Press, 1994. The story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a professional league of women playing hardball from 1943 to 1954 told through a game-by-game summary of the 1950 championship, stories about the league, and player narratives. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. An exploration of the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists wee might create. Review

Best Book of the Month: I really liked first-time author Bonnie Proudfoot’s Goshen Road. I loved the lean prose, character development, and believable dialogue in this work portraying the struggles and aspirations of working class people in rural West Virginia.

Best Quote of the Month: I loved this statement by Elaine Howard Ecklund expressing her own sense of the integration of science and faith in her life:

I am devoting my life to sociology, and to the sociological study of religion, because of gratitude. I am grateful for my Christian faith and the role it plays in my life. I am grateful for my church community. I am also grateful for the advances that science and social science have made in helping us better understand and navigate our world. I am grateful for the scientific tools and concepts that allow us to better get along and work together. Indeed my gratitude for both faith and science has compelled me to study faith communities and scientific communities and to endeavor to give back to both of those communities. And because of this gratitude I can say that my work is part of my worship.

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished Cindy Bunch’s Be Kind to Yourself, a book that commends that we afford more grace than criticism to ourselves and suggests practices to help with that. Also just completed, Tremper Longman III’s How to Read Daniel is a clearly written guide to help readers of this often puzzling book. I’m greatly enjoying Jon Meacham’s new His Truth is Marching On, his account of civil right’s pioneer and congressman John Lewis. What a life well-lived. Into the Unbounded Night is historical fiction set in the first century spanning the Roman Empire from Britannia to Rome to Carthage to Jerusalem. Jessica Kantrowitz’s The Long Night explores the realities of depression, both the author’s experience and those of others, offering hope. Finally, I just began The Holy Spirit by Gregg Allison and Andreas J. Kostenberger, which looks to be a highly readable study of the biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit.

Read on, my friends!

The Month in Reviews: July 2020

the lost art of dying

There are so many ways in which books may be interesting. It may be reading a classic adventure novel in the full adult version that I had read in a children’s abridgment fifty years ago. It might be learning to think like a lawyer. It could be an in-depth dive into how junior officers and those they led helped re-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1864. You could read a memoir of an African American from your home town who pursued the fight for civil rights through the practice of law as an attorney, chief counsel, and eventually, a federal judge. You may learn about the Ars Moriendi, the art of dying, and the need to recover this wisdom in our day. You might explore the daily life of Ephesus in 90 AD, and the growing pressures on Christians during the expansion of emperor worship. I had a chance to do all that and more in July. With that, here are the fourteen books I read and reviewed.

influence of soros

The Influence of SorosEmily Tamkin. New York: Harper, 2020. More than a biography, an exploration of George Soros’ origins, how he made his money, and the motives behind his use of it in his Open Society Foundation, and the resulting contradictions. Review

the lost art of dying

The Lost Art of DyingL. S. Dugdale. New York: Harper One, 2020. A physician challenges our over-medicalized treatment of the dying, advocating a recovery of the “art of dying,” which also makes it possible to live well. Review

a republic in the ranks

A Republic in the RanksZachery A. Fry. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2020. A study of political loyalties in the Army of the Potomac, and the influence of junior officers and the experience of war among enlisted men, resulting in Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 to a second term. Review

wait with me

Wait With MeJason Gaboury. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2020. Proposes that the experience of loneliness is an invitation to grow in our friendship with God. Review

tending soul, mind, and body

Tending Soul, Mind, and BodyEdited by Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A collection of papers from the 2018 Center for Pastor Theologians Conference drawing from a variety of perspectives to consider how as whole persons we are formed in Christ. Review

Working in the presence of God

Working in the Presence of GodDenise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019. Addresses the question of workplace spirituality–practices that help us engage with God in the context of and amid our work. Review

That Way and No Other

That Way and No OtherAmy Carmichael (Introduction by Katelyn Beaty). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A curated collection of writings of Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India who became house mother to girls saved from sex trafficking. Review

Approaching the Atonement

Approaching the AtonementOliver D. Crisp. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of different models of the atonement, explaining and critiquing each model, focusing on the “mechanism” of atonement, the issue of violence, and the author’s own preferred approach. Review

Answering the Call

Answering the CallNathaniel R. Jones. New York: The New Press, 2016. The memoir of Judge Nathaniel Jones, from his early civil rights efforts to his work as general counsel of the NAACP, and then service as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Review

A week in the life of ephesus

A Week in the Life of Ephesus (A Week in the Life Series), David A. deSilva. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A historical novel exploring the religious and cultural context of Ephesus during the reign of Domitian c. 90 AD. Review

3 musketeers

The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2011 (originally published 1844). An adventure that begins with D’Artagnan, a young nobleman who wants to join the musketeers of the guard, and quickly gets entangled with plots to bring about war between England and France, and love affairs that endanger his life and break his heart. Review

no border land

No Border LandTom Graffagnino. Grand Rapids: Credo House Publishers, 2020. A prophetic call to a world without moral or spiritual borders, to a lukewarm, compromised church, concluding with a vision of the beauty of the Christian hope rooted in the cross. Review

Thinking Like a Lawyer

Thinking Like a LawyerColin Seale. Waco: Prufrock Press, 2020. Applies the framework law students learn to teaching critical thinking for all school students. Review

analog church

Analog ChurchJay Y. Kim (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Downers Grove: IVP Praxis, 2020. An argument for churches maintain real community, participatory worship, the ministry of the word, and communion in an era when it is tempting to “go digital” with the rest of the culture. Review

Best of the Month: The Lost Art of Dying combined a depth of thoughtfulness with a quiet, articulate voice asking probing questions about how we die, and what it means to die well. The author proposes that we cannot truly live well if we haven’t reckoned with our deaths. Seems a most timely book in this time of great sickness.

Best Quote of the Month: In a wonderful collection of the writings of Amy Carmichael, I came across this statement that is a challenge for every bibliophile:

It matters a good deal that your book-food should be strong meat. We are what we think about. Think about trivial things or weak things and somehow one loses fiber and becomes flabby in spirit.

What I’m Reading: I’m finishing up several books as I write. Just finished Jeffrey Sachs The Ages of Globalization, looking at seven ages of “global” empires and the technology, the geography and the institutions that made them possible. I’m getting ready to interview John Inazu for work, and have been enjoying the collection of essays called Uncommon Ground that he and New York pastor Tim Keller have co-edited. Each essayist, in their own field, explore the challenge of Christian engagement in a divided world. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist, looks at eight shared values of people of faith and scientists that may lead to a better science-faith conversation in Why Science and Faith Need Each Other. I’m greatly enjoying the work of a regional author, Bonnie Proudfoot, in her novel about a couple generations of close relations in rural West Virginia, their struggles and their dignity. Lastly, Graham Tarrant’s For the Love of Books, is a topically organized collection of book trivia that is a fun read for any book lover.

It’s hard to believe how fast the summer is going! I look at the books I had thought I would read this summer. I still want to read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve had for a couple years. It is both significant and imposing. I probably just need to set aside some of the books I have waiting for review. Ah…so many books, so little time! But it is not how many books we get through, but how many get through to us, as Mortimer Adler has remarked. Hope you will have one or more good books get through to you in the remaining weeks of summer!

The Month in Reviews: June 2020

the great alone

A classic biography. Agatha Christie at her best. Books on issues of race. American ideals, religious and otherwise. Theological works and atlases. A thoughtful work on the second half of life. A frank discussion of sexual abuse in the church. An exploration of the revival we so desperately long for. And quite possible one of the best novels I’ve read since the last one by the same author. That’s this month’s reading in a nutshell. And here are the books.

Paul and the Language of faith

Paul and the Language of Faith, Nijay K, Gupta (Foreword by James D. G. Dunn). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. A study of the word pistis, often translated as “faith” as used in the writings of Paul, the rest of scripture, as well as in literature contemporary to the time, showing the rich nuances of meaning that must be determined by context. Review

The Myth of the American Dream

The Myth of the American DreamD. L. Mayfield. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A collection of Christian reflections chronicling the author’s awakening to the ways the American dream neither works for everyone nor reflects the values of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated. Review

sacred liberty

Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious FreedomStephen Waldman. New York: Harper Collins, 2019. Rather than a given of American religious history, religious liberty has often been honored more in the breach, and fought for by religious minorities excluded from this liberty. Review

when narcissism

When Narcissism Comes to ChurchChuck DeGroat. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Explores the expressions narcissism can take in the church, the damage it may do, and healing both for the abused and the narcissists who abuse them. Review

The Basic Bible Atlas

The Basic Bible AtlasJohn A. Beck. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. An introductory Bible atlas that combines an overview of the biblical narrative and colorful and detailed maps, with an emphasis on the significance of the geography to the unfolding plan of God. Review

In the Hands of the people

In the Hands of the PeopleJon Meacham. New York: Penguin Random House, 2020. A collection of the sayings of Thomas Jefferson, reflecting his belief in the critical responsibility of the people to the health and growth of the new Republic, with commentary by the author. Review

good white racist

Good* White RacistKerry Connelly (Foreword by Michael W. Waters). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Explores how whites may be complicit with a system of racism while being well-intentioned and how white efforts to sustain a sense of “goodness” help perpetuate racial divides. Review

Crowmwell the Lord Protector

Cromwell: The Lord ProtectorAntonia Fraser. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973. A biography of Oliver Cromwell, a military and parliamentary leader during the English Civil Wars, rising after the death of Charles I to Lord Protector. Review

brown church

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants. Review

Longing for Revival

Longing for RevivalJames Choung and Ryan Pfeifer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A practical work on revival that begins with defining what it is and why we ought hope for it; second, what it means to experience revival; and third, what it means to lead in a time of revival. Review

the murder on the links

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2), Agatha Christie. New York Harper Collins, 2011 (first published in 1923). A man who writes Poirot from the north of France of his life being in danger is found dead by Poirot under circumstances similar to another murder many years earlier that is key to Poirot unraveling the case. Review

53046797._SX318_SY475_

See-Through Marriage, Ryan and Selena Frederick. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. A fulfilling marriage is one that is transparent, about our joys and desires, our past and our failures, where all these things are brought into the light. Review

the great aloneThe Great AloneKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. A family moves to the wilderness of Alaska, hopefully for a new start for Ernt Allbright, a former POW in Vietnam, only to discover that in a beautiful and dangerous wilderness, the greatest danger may lay in their own cabin. Review

the metoo reckoning

The #MeToo ReckoningRuth Everhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A discussion of sexual harassment and assault in the church, the impact on victims and the response of many churches more focused on institutional reputation than protecting victims and justice for the perpetrators. Review

becoming sage

Becoming SageMichelle Van Loon. Chicago: Moody Press, 2020. An exploration of what Christian growth looks like in the second half of life. Review

Best of the Month: Hands down, it has to be Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. The combination of wonderful writing about Alaska’s beauty and the lines that run between beauty and danger, love and danger, and characters that you can’t get out of your head makes this a truly great work. I’d be surprised if people weren’t reading this work ten years or more from now.

Best Quote of the Month: Jon Meacham’s In the Hands of the People, a book of quotes by and about Jefferson on numerous themes includes this one on voting that seems apropos in an election year:

It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.

What I’m reading. I’ve just begun to read Lydia S. Dugdale’s The Lost Art of Dying. Dugdale explores how we have over-medicalized death and contends we need to recover the ancient wisdom of what it means to prepare for our death and die well. A Republic in the Ranks by Zachery Fry (an acquaintance) explores the way political influence played out in the Union Army and the reasons for the shift in affection from the Democrat McClellan to the Republican Lincoln that led to his 1864 re-election. The Influence of Soros by Emily Tamkin explores the ideals that motivate George Soros, the contradictory aspects of his life, and some of the reasons behind why so many vilify him. Lastly, I’m just beginning Tending Body, Mind, and Soul, an exploration of a theology of spiritual formation. As always, an interesting mix. It has been a busy month for me. I look forward to a quieter July, some chance to read and reflect, as the pandemic seems to be heating up. Stay safe out there my friends!

The Month in Reviews: May 2020

5282This month’s reviews began with a graphic non-fiction work on the Kent State shootings on the fiftieth anniversary of the event. I ended the month with a sixty year retrospective on the Christian Study Center movement. Both were great accounts to understand different pieces of history in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s (as well as a chance to revisit some memories.). In between was the discovery of the mysteries of Georges Simenon, and the concluding volume of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell. I reviewed a history of the ServiceMaster company, which in reality focused around the character and values of five men who led the company during its first 75 years and an excellent study of how people learn. The rest? A good selection of biblical studies, theology, a faith and science book, and writing about different aspects of Christian living.

Kent State Four Dead in Ohio

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Derf Backderf. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2020. A graphic non-fiction account of the shooting of four students at Kent State University, focusing on the students who died, and the sequence of events leading up to the shooting, and the dynamics within the National Guard Troops sent to suppress the student demonstrations. Review

A Multitude

A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global IdentityVince L. Bantu. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A well-documented study of the global spread of ancient Christianity, controverting the argument of Christianity as White and western, and contending for the contextualizing and de-colonizing of contemporary global Christianity. Review

shaped by suffering

Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal  HomeKenneth Boa, with Jenny Abel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A study of how suffering may shape a person for eternity with God, based on 1 Peter. Review

learning cycle

The Learning CycleMuriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer. Downers Grove: IVP Academiv, 2020. The Elmer’s propose a five level process for learning that is not a transfer of information from the teacher to the student but the transformation of the life of the learner. Review

The Jesus Creed

The Jesus CreedScot McKnight. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2019. Explores how reciting, reflecting upon, and living the Greatest Command can transform the lives of disciples. Review

From Adam and Israel

From Adam and Israel to the Church (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology [ESBT], Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of the theme of the people of God, tracing this theme throughout scripture in Eden, in Israel, in Christ, and in the church. Review

the sacred change

The Sacred ChaseHeath Adamson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Using Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac who ran toward him, the author encourages us that as we pursue God, we may have the intimate relationship with God we desire. Review

Maigret

Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse , (Inspector Maigret #58), Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2019 (originally published 1962). Maigret investigates a murder of a loved and respected retired businessman, with no hint of motive from family, neighbors or associates–all good people. Review

the servicemaster story

The ServiceMaster StoryAlbert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A history of ServiceMaster, attributing its success to its ability to hold four ethical principles in tension and to the five leaders, who like overlapping shingles, led the company for over 70 years, including 29 consecutive years of revenue growth. Review

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture. Review

A worldview approach to science and scripture

A Worldview Approach to Science and ScriptureCarol Hill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. This book proposes that a worldview approach offers the best prospect of reconciling scripture and science, taking both seriously. Review

the mirror and the light

The Mirror & the LightHilary Mantel. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2020. The third and final installment of Mantel’s historical fiction account of the life of Thomas Cromwell from the pinnacle of his own career under Henry VIII following the execution of Anne Boleyn, to his own downfall. Review

to think Christianly

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A history of the Christian study center movement, beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri, and James Houston’s Regent College. Review

Best Book of the Month. Charles Cotherman’s To Think Christianly is a highly readable, well-researched narrative of Christian Study Centers, tracing the influence of Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri and James Houston’s Regent College on present day study centers.

Best Quote of the Month. In From Adam and Israel to the Church, I came across this statement on the new creation that was worth some wonderful reflection:

Perhaps another dimension of imaging God in the new creation will be the development of technology and science. Will we invent the wheel again? Will we learn how to start a fire once more? What about basic human knowledge such as math, language, music, and so on? I suspect that we will not start from scratch. One could possibly argue that we, being perfected in God’s image, will develop what we have learned in the past. The knowledge that humanity has acquired and is acquiring through observing the world around us may not only inform us about God’s creative power, but it may also prepare us for life in the new creation.

What I’m Reading. Having finished one Cromwell, I’ve moved on to another. I’ve had Antonia Fraser’s Lord Protector on my to read stack for a long time, her biography of Oliver Cromwell, the grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister. Unlike Thomas Cromwell, Oliver was executed after his death. I am also reading D.L. Mayfields essays titled, The Myth of the American Dream, how the American dream of some is the nightmare of others. Nijay Gupta’s Paul and the Language of Faith takes the novel approach of studying the language of faith throughout Paul’s writing (as well as in other parts of scripture and contemporary literature). Steven Waldman’s Sacred Liberty studies the history of religious liberty in the United States, one in which religious liberty was often a privilege of a religious majority, more respected in the absence of equal enjoyment by others, sadly accompanied by violence and death in some cases.

Hope you are able to relax with a good book this summer even if vacation is staycation this summer.