The Month in Reviews: October 2019

The Library Book

I find it is hard to make sense out of this set of books I read in October. There were several theological books on intimacy with God, on scripture, on creation, and on the Trinity. These are all topics worthy of study and coming back to again and again. One theological work outside of my typical reading detailed an exorcism and the subsequent effects it had on a community. A mystery set in a bookstore and a crime thriller by C.J. Box were diverting but in very different ways–one evoking curiosity, and the other keeping me on the edge of my seat and not letting me put the book down. Four books took me cross country from the introduction of coeducation at Yale, to the history of O’Hare Airport, to a library fire in Los Angeles, and finally to the westernmost Aleutian Island. There are other good books in the list below but rather than dream of clever connections, I’ll just let you peruse the list. The link at the end of each summary takes you to the full review.

into his presence

Into His PresenceTim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019. Offers a biblical study of the idea of intimacy with God, and engages with Catholic mystical, Pentecostal experiential, and Evangelical devotional approaches to intimacy with God. Review

storm

The Storm on Our ShoresMark Obmascik. New York: Atria Books, 2019. The story of a forgotten battle in 1943 on Attu in the Aleutians, and two soldiers, “enemies” to each other, one who died, one who survived, and the after story. Review

OHare

A History of Chicago’s O’Hare AirportMichael Branigan, foreword by Christopher Lynch. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011. A history of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from its earliest days through to the post-9/11 environment for air travel. Review

the reformation and the irrepressible word of god

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of Godedited by Scott M. Manetsch. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A collection of eight papers on the vital role of scripture in Reformation thought and practice. Review

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A response to the widespread lack of engagement in work, exploring the changes to our approach to our workplace, our work ethic, and our work life that foster joy in work that is more than a job, more than an occupation, but rather a calling. Review

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000. An account of Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt’s victorious ministry with a demonized woman, Gottlieben Dittus, the awakening in the village that followed, and the miraculous works and the reactions that followed. Review

Mr. Penumbra

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan. New York: Picador, 2012. When Clay Jannon starts clerking in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, he discovers a most unusual bookstore with unusual customers and figures out that the store is part of a far-flung scheme pursuing one of the oldest quests. Review

liturgy of creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre, foreword by C. John Collins. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 should be understood in light of the calendars in the Pentateuch, particularly as instruction for our work and sabbath, rather than for science. Review

throw like a girl

You Throw Like a Girl, Don McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019. Proposes that unhealthy masculinity arises from raising boys not to be women or gay rather than a positive model of what it means to be a man. Review

Kinnaman_FaithforExiles.indd

Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The results of a Barna study identifying five defining characteristics of resilient young Christians who continue to pursue Christ in our generation. Review

Yale Needs Women

Yale Needs WomenAnne Gardiner Perkins. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2019. The history of Yale’s first women’s class, entering in 1969, and the challenges of transitioning an all-male institution to co-education. Review

The Library Book

The Library BookSusan Orlean. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Centered around the fire that destroyed much of the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, chronicles the history of the library, and why libraries are such important parts of our communities. Review

Trinity without Hierarchy

Trinity Without HierarchyMichael F. Bird and Scott Harrower, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Engaging the American theologians who argue for eternal and functional relationships of authority and subordination in the Trinity, the contributors uphold a traditional, Nicean orthodoxy of recognizing the oneness of God, who is three equal and distinct Persons without hierarchy or subordination. Review

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Proposes that difference ought be viewed as gift rather than problem, that difference, and even disunity, as messy as it is in the church, can be a source of growth. Review

wolf pack

Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. Strong-armed by the F.B.I. from prosecuting illegal drone activity, and confronting a drug cartel’s killers known as the Wolf Pack, Joe Pickett is challenged to protect a community and those he most loves as deaths mount. Review

how reason can lead to God

How Reason Can Lead to GodJoshua Rasmussen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Argues for a “bridge of reason” that leads us to God, based on the foundation of reality. Review

Best of the Month: I honestly didn’t feel there was a standout, but if I have to choose, I would single out Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. It is a combination of history, a celebration of libraries, a crime thriller, and memoir–all things I like, and reminds me of all the libraries I’ve known and loved.

Quote of the Month: I usually choose a quote from a book other than my best of the month, but this argument for the value of our nation’s libraries caught my attention:

Mitnick and I talked about the future of libraries. She is an idealist. She thinks libraries are adapting to the world as it is now, where knowledge streams around us as well as being captured in physical books. . . . Mitnick sees libraries as information and knowledge centers rather than simply as storehouses of material. She is one of a large cohort of library people who believe libraries will remain essential to their communities. By most measures, this optimistic cohort seems to be right. According to a 2010 study, almost three hundred million Americans used one of the country’s 17,078 public libraries and bookmobiles in the course of the year. In another study, over ninety percent of those surveyed said closing their local library would hurt their communities. Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s; they outnumber retail bookstores two to one. In many towns, the library is the only place you can browse through physical books.

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: Right now, I am finishing Bookmarked by Wendy Fairey, a kind of memoir through the lens of books. I am thoroughly delighting in Fearfully and Wonderfully, a revised version of Dr. Paul Brand’s exploration of the wonders of the human body, and by analogy, the body of Christ. I just started reading Make Way for the Spirit by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, the son of the author of The Awakening, reviewed this month. It is a narrative of how the son both went on from and differed with his father. I’m not quite a third of the way through David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. It is a long read but magnificent, capturing the passion and ambition of Douglass for abolition, his oratorical skills, and the deeply embedded racism he faced, that we still face today. Two of my next reads are Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve, looking at how women through history have interpreted Genesis 1-3, and a very different book by a professor I met recently, W. Stephen, The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing. As a very amateur singer, I was intrigued by how he approaches training vocal singers. I look forward to writing about these and more in the next month!

The Month in Reviews: September 2019

Working

Working in collegiate ministry, it seemed a good idea to read some books related to higher education, one on Christian colleges, and one on free speech and speech codes in the academic world. Also apropos were a couple of books on science and faith, one a review on theology after Darwin, contributed by guest reviewer Paul Bruggink. Two books outlined approaches to counseling and personal transformation. A pair of books were set in the Roman world, one from the point of view of slaves, and one from emperors. One was a memoir on the writing methods of biographer Robert Caro and one considers “place” and the arts. Place is always a theme of Wendell Berry’s books and a recent collection of his essays was part of this month’s readings as well as one considering how we lost an opportunity to address greenhouse gases that affect the place for all of us, the earth. Finally, a lifelong Inkling lover can’t go too wrong without reading something about one of them–in this case Tolkien, his methods, and his works. Here are the reviews!

fundamentalist u

Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Traces the ways eight institutions that developed with the rise of fundamentalism in the 1920’s responded to the changing fundamentalist/evangelical movement and wider trends in higher education and American society up to the present time. Review

science and faith

Science & Faith: Student Questions ExploredHannah Eagleson, editor. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2019. A collection of essays addressing various questions on the relationship of science and Christian faith, incorporating groups discussion questions for use with small discussion groups. Review

a liberated mind

A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What MattersSteven C. Hayes, Ph.D. New York: Avery Books, 2019. An introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a psychological counseling approach that develops psychological flexibility through learning acceptance rather than resistance or flight from painful thoughts and reality, and how we may pivot toward commitments rooted in what we value most deeply. Review

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution. Review

Working

Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. Less a full biographical memoir than a description of the author’s methods of researching material for his books, writing them, and the question that has driven his work. Review

placemaking

Placemaking and the ArtsJennifer Allen Craft. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Considers the “place” of the arts in placemaking, particularly in the settings of the home, the church, and the wider society. Review

a week in the life of a slave

A Week in the Life of a Slave (A Week in the Life Series), John Byron. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A creative re-telling of the story of runaway slave Onesimus that casts light on the institution of slavery in Greco-Roman society and the church’s response. Review

The Soul of an American President

The Soul of an American President, Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Traces the spiritual heritage and growing religious faith of Dwight D. Eisenhower, especially through the years of his presidency and later life. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980’s to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day. Review

The Road to Middle Earth

The Road to Middle-EarthTom Shippey. New York: Houghton Mifflin, rev. ed. 2003. A study of Tolkien’s methods in creating the narratives of Middle-Earth, including words, names, maps, poetry, and mythology. Review

The Winding Path of Transformation

The Winding Path of TransformationJeffrey Tacklind, Foreword by Cathleen Falsani. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. The author proposes that spiritual growth means walking in paradoxical tensions of glory and humility lived out in a winding journey toward the transformation of our character and spiritual freedom. Review

I Claudius

I, ClaudiusRobert Graves. New York: Vintage International, 1989 (first published 1934). A fictional autobiography of Claudius, of how a physical handicap and speech impairment enabled him to escape death by intrigue until he rose to emperor. Review

boundaries

Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019. A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life. Review

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2019. Therese Greenwood had minutes to evacuate her home as the Fort McMurray fire approached. The book recounts both her escape, and reflects on what she took, and what this revealed about her life.Review

Tyranny of Virtue

The Tyranny of VirtueRobert Boyers. New York: Scribners, 2019. A distinguished liberal scholar critiques the new academic orthodoxy, one that defines virtue through the excoriating of privilege, identity, safety, microaggression, ableism, and appropriation, creating an academic tyranny in which people fear to speak their minds under threat of denunciation. Review

Our Only World

Our Only World, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015. Eleven essays on various subjects related to our care for our world and its people emphasizing the local and the sustainable. Review

Best Book of the Month: Perhaps it is because I am working on a book, but I especially enjoyed Robert Caro’s Working. I could never see myself spending the time in archives or re-writing as Caro does, but neither will I write the definitive five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. His doggedness in tracking down the facts, his passion for understanding the ways of power, and commitment to excellence was inspiring. Most of all, there is the diligence of showing up and writing every day.

Quote(s) of the Month: One of the more sobering books I read this month was Losing Earth. Nathaniel Rich spoke to why the discussion of climate change is so loaded. The truth is that none of us likes to think of a catastrophic die-off of many of the species on earth, including possibly our own. He writes:

We do not like to think about loss, or death; Americans in particular, do not like to think about death. No matter how obsessively one follows the politics of climate change, it is difficult to contemplate soberly an existential threat to the species. Our queasiness even infects the language we use to describe it: the banalities of “global warming” and “climate change” perform the linguistic equivalent of rolling on sanitary gloves to palpate a hemorrhaging wound.

Even his language of “existential threat” feels a bit sanitary to me, but he puts his finger on the problem: no one wants to admit that we may have signed the death warrant of our children or grand-children’s generation. It is almost too terrible to contemplate or even to admit for most of us. Hence we mock or cast aspersions upon a young, autistic woman who has the temerity to ask the world’s leaders, “How dare you?” Yet I do not wish to end here, because we still must consider how we will live the days given us. Wendell Berry helped me in writing:

In this essay and elsewhere, I have advocated for the 50-Year Farm Bill, another big solution I am doing my best to promote, but not because it will be good in or for the future. I am for it because it is good now, according to present understanding of present needs. I know that it is good now because its principles are now satisfactorily practiced by many (though not nearly enough) farmers. Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good–good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places–by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve just completed Tim L. Anderson’s Into His Presence which explores a theology of intimacy with God. Many of us start with experience or a romanticized idea of relating to God (“Jesus is my boyfriend”). Anderson starts with scripture and the wealth and wonder of intimacy with God on God’s terms. Shundrawn Thomas, a CEO of a financial services company, reflects on what makes work joyful, which has as much to do with our approach to work as the work itself. His book, appropriately is named Discover Joy in Work. I am thoroughly enjoying The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God. The importance of scripture has come under attack for bibliolotry and other shortcomings, but these authors explore the Reformers belief in scripture as the Word of God, and the power of preaching and use of scripture faithful with this conviction to transform lives. The Storm on Our Shores describes a forgotten battle on Attu, an island at the end of the Aleutians briefly occupied by the Japanese during World War II, centered around a Japanese surgeon who had trained in America, and the American soldier who killed him. Finally, I’ve flown to or through O’Hare Airport countless times. With A History of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I’m learning about this place where I’ve spent so much time, including who O’Hare was.

The Month in Reviews: August 2019

religion in the university

It is Labor Day today in the U.S. Traditionally this marks the end of summer. Students are back in school. And as befits that, three of the books here concern life on the college campus, including an important defense for including religious ideas in academic discourse. A couple books tackle tough theological questions, particularly that of God-sanctioned violence in the Bible. Others chart a vision for a faith that doesn’t make enemies, reflect on what it means to be in Christ, and propose that Christian witness can be delightful rather than dreadful. Jean Vanier was probably one of the most non-violent of men. I read a wonderful biography of his life. Two books deal with very different forms of ecology–of the American desert and of digital space. Two fine historical books are in this list, one on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and one on the first settlement of the Ohio country. It wasn’t all serious stuff though–a mystery in a bookstore, a spy thriller set in the Sputnik era, and a beautiful debut novel. Good reads of all sorts here. It can’t be all back to school or back to work!

the church of us vs them

The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies, David E. Fitch. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Discusses the roots of a church of us versus them and proposes a vision of the church as a space beyond making enemies. Review

desert solitaire

Desert SolitaireEdward Abbey, illustrated by Peter Parnell. New York: Touchstone, 1968. The author’s account of spending six months as a park ranger in the Arches National Monument in southwest Utah. Review

the violence of the biblical god

The Violence of the Biblical GodL. Daniel Hawk, foreword by John Goldingay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019. A study of the narratives of violence in scripture and the multiple perspectives one finds in the text regarding God’s involvement in that violence. Review

campus life

Campus Life: In Search of CommunityEdited by Drew W. Moser and Todd C. Ream, Foreword by David Brooks. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An expanded version of a 1990 Carnegie Foundation report on the basis for community on college campuses, with contributions from pairs of academic and student development leaders at six Christian universities. Review

midnight at the bright ideas bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreMatthew Sullivan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. When Joey the Bookfrog commits suicide at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Lydia Smith’s ordered life is overturned as she discovers a connection between his death and buried memories from childhood that had marked her life ever since. Review

controversies

Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions About Evolution, Sexuality, History, and ViolenceTremper Longman III. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. With a commitment both to the authority of the Bible, and pastoral concern for readers, the author addresses controversial questions about origins, historicity, violence, and sexuality. Review

the impeachers

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just NationBrenda Wineapple. New York: Random House, 2019. A history of the accidental presidency of Andrew Johnson, his resistance to the civil rights fought for in the Civil War, and the impeachment proceedings against him. Review

hidden in Christ

Hidden in Christ: Living as God’s BelovedJames Bryan Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2013, 2019. Thirty short reflections on different key words found in Colossians 3:1-17 on what it means to be “in” Christ. Review

The Pioneers

The PioneersDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. An account of the first European-Americans to settle the Northwest Territory, focused on their settlement at Marietta, the challenges they faced, key figures in the town’s early history, and three important conditions they established in the new territory. Review

Ecologies

Ecologies of Faith in a Digital AgeStephen D. Lowe and Mary E. Lowe. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Proposes an ecological model of faith formation and the possibility of creating this kind of spiritual ecology in online educational settings. Review

jean vanier

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man Anne-Sophie Constant. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. A biography of Jean Vanier, the founder and guide of the L’Arche homes where assistants and cognitively disabled live together in community. Review

Who's on First

Who’s On First (A Blackford Oakes Mystery), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published 1980). Oakes becomes involved in a plot to abduct a Soviet scientist couple involved in the research to launch Sputnik. Review

religion in the university

Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Defends the idea of the place of religious ideas in scholarly discussion. Review

The dearly beloved

The Dearly BelovedCara Wall. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. Two couples, the men holding a joint call to a New York City church in a time of change, two wives utterly unlike, and the bonds forged between them as they lean into suffering and the challenges of faith each approaches differently. Review

In search of the common good

In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured WorldJake Meador. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Observing the breakdown in community in both church and society, the author traces the root causes, and the practices of Christian community that can lead to recovery of community and a church that seeks the common good in society. Review

WalkingWithJesus_COV.inddWalking with Jesus on CampusStephen Kellough. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019. A former college chaplain reflects on ten key issues students face. Review

reluctant witness

The Reluctant WitnessDon Everts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. One reluctant witness shares personal narrative, helpful principles, and survey data that indicate that spiritual conversations may be delightful rather than dreadful. Review

Best Book of the Month: In this case, my choice is one that I thought the most significant of the month, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Religion in the University. Far too often, the assumption is that we must keep religious ideas out of academic discussions, except when we are talking about religion. Wolterstorff makes an argument for how religious ideas are important to the discussions that occur in the university and, in fact, can enrich those discussions.

Quote of the Month: I love Ann-Sophie Constant’s description of Jean Vanier’s compassion for the intellectually challenged:

Jean has a profound intuition of human beings and of their beauty. “They don’t realize that they are so beautiful!” he says. “They are so crushed with guilt and feel very dirty. They don’t have any self-confidence. They do not realize that they are loved. They don’t know how valuable and how precious they are” (p. 75).

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I’m very excited to be reading a collection of short essays titled Science and Faith. The mistaken notion is out there that there is a war between the two. These essays suggest that the two are complementary ways of understanding the world. I’m also reading Fundamental U, a scholarly study of fundamentalist Bible institutions and colleges, their history and development, and impact on the wider higher education landscape. A Liberated Mind is on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), a counseling approach. Way back when, I was a psychology major and still try to work in a few books on the subject. Finally, I’m an inveterate Inklings lover, and digging into Tom Shippey’s Road to Middle-Earth, which looks at the influence of Tolkien’s philological studies on his work.

The end of summer has brought a raft of new books to review. Look for a post previewing these new arrivals soon!

 

The Month in Reviews: July 2019

Write Better

I was traveling for a week this month and so posted fewer reviews than usual, but read some gems, nonetheless. For lovers of literature, there was a work on the influence of the Bible on English poetic imagination, a collection of essays on the work of Marilynne Robinson, and a book on the “earthy” spirituality of C. S. Lewis. For those who are writers themselves, I reviewed a couple books on writing. In the area of fiction, I discovered Stuart Kaminsky’s Chief Inspector Rostnikov, and the first installment of a new fantasy trilogy. My history read for the month was Michael Beschloss’s study of war presidents. It was sobering to see the cost to these presidents of leading the nation in war. I liked Paul Gould’s idea of an apologetic of beauty, goodness, and truth, and Chris Nye’s challenge to a kingdom vision that far surpasses the American dream. Two books fell in the category of unusual topics: Ben Witherington’s fictional account of the life of Priscilla, who appears in Acts and several of the letters of Paul, and Karl Deenick’s biblical theology of circumcision. Rounding out the month was David Brooks, The Second Mountain, describing the journey from success to commitent, and something of what it has meant in the New York Times columnist’s own life. So, here’s the list, along with links to the full reviews.

scripture and the english poetic imagination

Scripture and the English Poetic ImaginationDavid Lyle Jeffrey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. A collection of essays tracing the influence of the scriptures, and particularly the poetry of scripture, upon poetry in the English language from medieval to modern times. Review

priscilla

Priscilla, Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, C2019. An imaginative rendering of the story of Priscilla, a companion of Paul, as a dictated narrative recorded by her adopted daughter Julia, as she faces possible trial before a Roman tribunal. Review

balm in gilead

Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, edited by Timothy Larsen and Keith L. Johnson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A collection of presentations from the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, discussing the work, and particularly the fiction, of Marilynne Robinson with contributions from Robinson. Review

presidents-of-war-cover

Presidents of WarMichael Beschloss. New York: Crown Publishing, 2018. An account of eight American presidents who led the nation into war, how they coped with its stresses, and the consequences of their actions with regard to presidential power. Review

cultural apologetice

Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted WorldPaul M. Gould, foreword by J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. Contends that in our disenchanted post-modern world, the apologist needs to engage in a culturally aware apologetic that appeals to goodness, truth, and beauty. Review

fall of a cosmonaut

Fall of a Cosmonaut (Porfiry Rostnikov #13), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press, 2000. Chief Inspector Rostnikov and his team are charged with investigating three cases, a missing cosmonaut, a stolen film, and a brutal murder in a Paranormal Research Institute, only the first of the murders in the course of the story. Review

less is more

Less of MoreChris Nye. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Proposes that the American dream is making us miserable and that the vision of the kingdom turns the American dream upside down, leading us to a truly rich life. Review

Righteous by Promise

Righteous by Promise (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Karl Deenick. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A biblical theology of circumcision, beginning with Abraham’s being reckoned righteous on the basis of faith in God’s promised seed, who would bless the nations, through its significance in the law of Moses, and fulfillment in the work of Christ. Review

the poppy war

The Poppy WarR. F. Kuang. New York: Harper Collins, 2018. First of a fantasy trilogy, focuses on an orphan woman, Rin, who escapes from her village by testing into a military academy, overcomes prejudice, only to discover disturbing powers that reveal her true identity, thrusting her into life-changing choices as war breaks out between Nikan and the Federation. Review

stones and stories

Stones and StoriesJudith E. Anderson. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2019. A guide for understanding and writing with clarity, whether about literature or in any of four forms of discourse. Review

Write Better

Write BetterAndrew T. LePeau. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming October 8, 2019. An experienced writer and editor describes the craft, art, and spirituality of writing well, or at least better. Review

the second mountain

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks. New York: Random House, 2019. A book on our life journey, from the first mountain of individual achievement and success to the second mountain of rooted commitment to relationships and service. Review

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality, Gary S. Selby. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A survey of the works of C.S. Lewis through the lens of their incarnational spirituality, discussing how Lewis brings together spiritual formation and the embodied life. Review

Best of the Month: I thought that Andrew T. LePeau’s Write Better does what it says. LePeau writes with wit, practicality, and a great deal of encouragement to those who have given themselves to the hard work of writing. I wrote, “LePeau’s advice . . . is characterized by the unpretentious common sense that calms fears, and offers the coaching that helps the writer lean into the hard work that turns ideas into books.” If you regularly write in any form, get this book when it comes out in October!

Best Quote of the Month: I was moved by David Brooks account in The Second Mountain of how Anne (then his research assistant) walked with him on his spiritual journey:

“Anne answered each question as best she could. She never led me. She never intervened or tried to direct the process. She hung back. If I asked her a question, she would answer it, but she would never get out in front of me. She demonstrated faith by letting God be in charge. And this is a crucial lesson for anybody in the middle of any sort of intellectual or spiritual journey. Don’t try to lead or influence. Let them be led by that which is summoning them” (p. 239).

In a wonderful turn of events Anne and David later married, a story he also tells.

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I’m just finishing up The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch, exploring how churches can turn others into enemies and how to move beyond us versus them. I’m also coming to the close of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. His account of boating down the Glen Canyon, before a dam turned the area into a lake, is worth the price of admission. Brenda Wineapple’s The Impeachers helps me understand how Andrew Johnson barely survived an impeachment vote. Dan Hawk’s The Violence of the Biblical God takes a different approach from most books I’ve read on the subject. He doesn’t try to explain away or gloss over instances of violence in which God is involved or rationalize these but rather proposes that this was the cost of being a God who did not remain aloof from a fallen creation but committed himself to work through his covenant people to accomplish his redemptive purposes. I also hope in the next month to read David McCullough’s new book The Pioneers, which explores the settlement of southeast Ohio around Marietta, a book on the faith of Dwight Eisenhower and a biography of the recently deceased Jean Vanier.

So, I hope you can make the most of the dog days of summer to enjoy a good book, sip a cool drink, and refresh both body and mind!

The Month in Reviews: June 2019

the hearts necessities

Christians are sometimes thought of as “answer people,” answers that may be simple or even simplistic. Three of the books in this month’s reviews focus on questions, and the paradoxical or upside-down character of Christian belief and practice. C. Christopher Smith’s new book on how the body of Christ talks explores how we get beyond the superficial “chat” that characterizes many of our churches. Another book, co-authored by Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas exemplified that rich sort of conversation, and the inclusive hospitality that welcomes the mentally disabled. Alister McGrath’s book also contends that better conversations between theology and science result in a richer view of reality. Henry Reichman contends for “conversational” freedom in higher education in his defense of academic freedom. This month’s reviews also include my much-belated memoir of Malala Yousafzai, a study of one chapter in Ezekiel, biblical theology of death and the afterlife, Tommy Orange’s blockbuster novel, a classic Agatha Christie, and a wonderful collection of poetry.

The future of academic Freedom

The Future of Academic FreedomHenry Reichman (foreword Joan Wallach Scott). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. A defense of academic freedom in a contemporary setting where it is under attack by political leaders, and facing curtailments with the rise of the corporatized university. Review

Death and the Afterlife

Death and the Afterlife (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Paul R. Williamson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A discussion of the biblical texts concerning death and what follows: the state of the dead post-mortem, the resurrection, judgement, hell, and heaven. Review

i am mulala

I Am MalalaMalala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. A memoir describing a Swat Valley family committed to education, including the education of girls, Malala’s shooting by a Taliban fighter, and her recovery from near death. Review

How the Body of Christ Talks

How the Body of Christ TalksC. Christopher Smith. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. A discussion of how substantive conversation can be central to the growth and transformation of our churches and the people who are part of them, the ground rules and spiritual practices that enable such conversation, and how conversation might be sustained as conflict arises. Review

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Saved By Grace Alone: Sermons on Ezekiel 36:16-36D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2018. Fourteen sermons on Ezekiel 36:16-36, demonstrating from this text that salvation is by grace alone, due to our inability because of sin, and God’s loving initiative for his glory and our salvation. Review

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot #15), Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011 (originally published 1936). Mr. Shaitana, who throws great parties, but seems to be feared by many, throws a party for the entertainment of Poirot, with four guests who he claims have gotten away with murder, and ends up murdered himself, but with no clue as to who the murderer was. Review

Live the Questions

Live the Questions, Jeffrey F. Keuss. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Proposes that a deep and satisfying life is closely related to the questions we ask, how we pursue them, and to whom they lead us. Review

there there

There ThereTommy Orange. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. The narratives of twelve “Urban Indians” making their way with various motivations to a powwow in Oakland. Review

Living Gently

Living Gently in a Violent WorldStanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Essays by the two authors reflecting on the practice of gentleness in the L’Arche communities where assistants and the disabled live in community, and the theological and political significance of this witness in a violent world. Review

the power of Christian contentment

The Power of Christian ContentmentAndrew M. Davis. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.  A biblical study of Christian contentment, exploring in what it consists, how it may be found and learned, the great value of contentment, and how contentment is sustained in one’s life. Review

Don't knock the hustle

Don’t Knock the HustleS. Craig Watkins. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019. An investigation of the ways young entrepreneurs are combining tech savvy, hard work, and social capital to create the careers, with a special focus on the inclusion of under-represented populations in tech fields including women and people of color. Review

surprised by paradox

Surprised by ParadoxJen Pollock Michel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. In a world where things are often defined in either-or terms and a quest for certainty, Michel proposes there are many things, beginning with basic biblical realities that are both-and, inviting our continuing curiosity. Review

the hearts necessities

The Heart’s Necessities: Life in PoetryJane Tyson Clement with Becca Stevens. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. A collection of the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement, a member of the Bruderhof Community, interleaved with biography and comments by musician Becca Stevens, who has set several of Clement’s works to music. Review

Enriching Our Vision

Enriching our Vision of RealityAlister McGrath. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2017 The natural sciences and Christian theology can enrich each other’s understanding of reality and help us better understand this strange world in which we find ourselves. Guest Review

upside down spirituality

Upside-Down SpiritualityChad Bird. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Highlights nine areas in which Christian faith turns cultural conventions on their head, turning the world “upside-down.” Review

Best of the Month: The Heart’s Necessities: A Life in Poetry traces the life of Jane Tyson Clement through her exquisite poetry which explores the matters and longings of the heart, from her growing love for the man who would be her husband to her love of nature offering glimpses of the transcendent. I’m trying to read more poetry and this was a wonderful book, enriched by the reflections of musician Becca Stevens, and gorgeous photography.

Quote of the Month. A rival for my best of the month was Vanier and Hauerwas’s Living Gently in a Violent World. I thought this quote by Vanier summarized with simplicity and beauty the profound work of the L’Arche Communities:

“The heart of L’Arche is to say to people, ‘I am glad you exist.’ And the proof that we are glad that they exist is that we stay with them for a long time. We are together, we can have fun together. ‘I am glad you exist’ is translated into physical presence” (p. 69).

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I just finished David Lyle Jeffrey’s Scripture and The English Poetic Imagination, a collection of Jeffrey’s essays showing the profound influence of the poetry of scripture on poetry in English from the 8th century to the present. It is coincidence that I picked up Presidents at War by Michael Beschloss as our current president has engaged in brinkmanship that could lead to war with Iran. One theme is that Americans have granted extraordinary powers, both foreign and domestic, to presidents during war, something that gives me great pause. Priscilla by Ben Witherington III is an imaginative rendering of the story of this significant woman in the New Testament, casting light on the persecution of Christians, the ministry of Paul, and everyday life in the Roman world. Balm in Gilead is indeed balm for any lover (including yours truly) of the work of Marilynne Robinson. It reflects papers given at the Wheaton Theology Conference in 2018, and includes an interview and a discussion with Robinson. Finally, I’ve seen a lot of acclaim for the debut effort of fantasy author R. F. Kuang in The Poppy War. I’ll let you know if it lives up to its press for me.

To cold drinks, a shady spot with a good breeze, and a good summer read!

The Month in Reviews: May 2019

a world lost

I always choose a best of the month, but in this collection, there were a number of wonderful books, including one of the most complete treatments of the Enneagram that I have read, a great book on the question of what it means to live by faith in seasons of doubt, a reflective memoir by philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Graham Green classic, a highly readable and informative handbook on the Jewish roots of Christianity, and a narrative of a modern day Thoreau. That’s in addition to my “best of the month.” There are a number of other gems here including a fascinating collection of stories about my beloved Cleveland Indians.

enneagram

Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, Adele and Doug Calhoun, Clare and Scott Loughrige, foreword by Jerome Wagner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2019. More than just a discussion of Enneagram numbers, this handbook utilizes “harmony triads” to lead to greater spiritual and relational transformation, and offers recommendations for spiritual practices suitable for each number and triad. Review

the gift of wonder

The Gift of WonderChristine Aroney-Sine. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2019. A “serious” Christian discovers creative practices that cultivate wonder, joy, and even fun in one’s relationship with God. Review

a world lost

A World Lost, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008. (no publisher’s webpage available). Young Andy Catlett’s life is forever changed the day his namesake Uncle Andrew is murdered, an event he spends a lifetime trying to understand. Review

Embracing the other

Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love (Prophetic Christianity), Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015. Explores the multiple oppressions experienced by women who are Asian-American (or other) immigrants of color, and how the “Spirit-Chi” of God enables the embrace of others across ethnic and gender boundaries. Review

Faith in the Shadows

Faith in the ShadowsAustin Fischer (Foreword by Brian Zahnd). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Explores how one may live a life of faith in Christ in the midst of doubts and questions. Review

The Ultimate Cleveland

Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book, Martin Gitlin. Lanham, MD: Lyons Press, 2019. A collection of stories about baseball in Cleveland chronicling the up and down and strange history of the Indians (and their predecessor, the Spiders). Review

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Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent ManLynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. A narrative of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine at the end of World War Two, the five day struggle for survival that took the lives of nearly two-thirds of those who made it into the water, and the fifty-year effort to exonerate her court-martialed captain. Review

none greater

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, Matthew Barrett (Foreword by Fred Sanders). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Drawing on classical and reformed theology, discusses the perfections of God, that set God apart from all else. Review

Clingan's Chronicles

Clingan’s Chronicles, Clingan Jackson. Youngstown: Youngstown Publishing Co., 1991. A memoir of Youngstown political writer and office holder, Clingan Jackson. Review

NW

In This World of WondersNicholas Wolterstorff. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2019. A memoir tracing vignettes of the different periods of the author’s life from childhood in rural Minnesota to a career in higher education in which he was instrumental in leading a movement of Christians in philosophy. Review

the quiet american

The Quiet AmericanGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1955). A novel set in French-occupied Vietnam paralleling the entangled lives of a British journalist and American agent with the entanglement of war in Vietnam. Review

Laying Dowh

Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation Evolution DivideGary N. Fugle (foreword Darrell R. Falk).  Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015. Christians can be comfortable with the revelations of both Scripture and scientific study. Review

transhumanism

Transhumanism and the Image of GodJacob Shatzer. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An exploration of how developing technologies raise questions of what it will mean to be human as we are formed by, or even integrated more closely into our technological devices, along lines some have envisioned as a transhumanist or even post-humanist future. Review

Robicheaux

Robicheaux (Dave Robicheaux #21), James Lee Burke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Robicheaux tries to navigate his way through grief from the tragic death of his wife, his friend’s debt issues, a mobster wanting to make a movie, a demagogic politician and a serial murderer, while trying to clear himself of suspicion in the death of the man who killed his wife. Review

lost world torah

Review: The Lost World of the Torah (The Lost World Series Volume 6), John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Like other books in this series, argues that Torah must be understood in its Ancient Near East context as a legal collection teaching wisdom and covenant stipulations rather than legislation, and cannot be appropriated into a system of moral or social ethics today. Review

handbook on jewish roots of christian faith

A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Edited by Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019. A topical handbook on the Jewish background of the Christian faith, informed by the perspectives of both Jewish and non-Jewish Christian scholars. Review

The Way Home

The Way Home: Tales of a Life Without Technology, Mark Boyle. London: Oneworld Publications, (Forthcoming in the US, June 11) 2019. A narrative of a year without modern technology, and what it is like to live more directly and in rhythm with the immediate world of the author’s smallholding and community. Review

Best of the Month. A World Lost by Wendell Berry was my choice. I’ve always been a Berry fan, and recently came across this story about the world lost when a person is taken violently from us, through the eyes of a ten year old boy. He captures the process of grief and the struggle to cope when a loved one is torn from the fabric of your life.

Quote of the Month. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff is a kind of academic hero for those of us who are involved in ministry in the context of higher education. This quote on doing philosophy caught my attention:

“What do I love about thinking philosophically? I love both the understanding that results from it and the process of achieving the understanding. Sometimes the understanding comes easily, as when I read some philosophical text that I find convincing and illuminating. But often it comes after struggle and frustration. My attention has been drawn to something I do not understand, which makes me baffled and perplexed. Questions come to mind that I cannot answer. I love both the struggle to understand and the understanding itself–if it comes. The love of understanding and the love of achieving that understanding are what motivate and energize my practice of philosophy. For me, practicing philosophy is love in action” (p. 105).

Current reads and upcoming reviews. The Future of Academic Freedom not only explores the future but also the history, the nature, and the challenges of academic freedom by one of the national leaders of the American Association of University Professors. Death and the Afterlife is a study of what the Bible says about what awaits us all following death. Saved by Grace Alone is classic D. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Fourteen sermons covering the twenty one verses of Ezekiel 36:16-36. I Am Malala is the captivating narrative of this Pakistani daughter of a teacher, who was shot in the head for advocating for the right of girls to go to school, and miraculously survived. Some of my next reads after completing these books include C. Christopher Smith’s How the Body of Christ Talks on recovering the practice of conversation in the church. I love the idea of Jeffrey F. Keuss’s Live the Questions, and how our questions deepen our faith and life. I’ve heard a number of rave reviews of There There, Tommy Orange’s novel on life in Native communities. Michael Beschloss’s Presidents of War explores how different American presidents have confronted the ultimate leadership challenge of war. David Brooks last book, The Road to Character, suggested that Brooks has been on a spiritual journey. I’m curious where this goes in The Second Mountain, tracing the movement from success to significance.

Hope you can find some time this summer to settle in with a good book!

The Month in Reviews: April 2019

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddApril was a book-filled month highlighted by two Fleming Rutledge books that were wonderful preparation of Passion week. A couple books dealt with the local and global effects of our changing climate. Another two books focused on education, the stresses girls face, and the challenge to provide just education to students of color. Three science books, including a guest reviewed book, focused on origins of life, a new kind of matter, and the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy in the study of conscience. There was a delightful book lover’s dream of launching a rolling bookstore and a classic Agatha Christie. I’d have to list all the rest individually, so I’ll just let you prowl through the list. As usual, titles are linked to the publisher’s website for the book, the word “review” to my full review of the book. Enjoy!

chesapeake requiem

Chesapeake RequiemEarl Swift. New York: Del Rey Books, 2018. A journalist’s account of nearly two years on Tangier island, the tight knit community organized around watermen harvesting blue crabs, and the likelihood that it may disappear within the next century. Review

The givenness of things

The Givenness of ThingsMarilynne Robinson. New York: Picador, 2016. A collection of essays drawn from various lectures questioning our prevailing ideas through the lens of John Calvin, and others in the Reformed and Humanist tradition. Review

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

The CrucifixionFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017. A study of the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus including the biblical motifs that have been used to express that meaning. Review

under pressure

Under PressureLisa Damour, Ph.D. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. A book on responding constructively to stress and anxiety so that it stretches and builds resilience in girls, and empowers them to alleviate unhealthy stress and anxiety. Review

common rule

The Common RuleJustin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Offers an alternative to the habits of our technological world that make us busy, distracted, anxious, and isolated by proposing a set of habits enabling us to live into loving God and neighbor, and into freedom and rest. Review

Leading Minds

Leading MindsHoward E. Gardner with Emma Laskin. New York: Basic Books, 2011 (Review is of the 1996 edition). Studies how leaders effectively communicate with the minds of those they lead using case studies of eleven direct and indirect leaders. Review

becoming a just church

Becoming a Just ChurchAdam L. Gustine. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Develops the idea that the pursuit of justice for Christians begins in and flows out of their communities as they learn to practice God’s shalom in every aspect of their church life. Review

the uninhabitable earth

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After WarmingDavid Wallace-Wells. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2019. An exploration of our near future if projected increases in global temperatures occur and the multiple impacts of these increases. Review

the bookshop on the corner

The Bookshop on the CornerJenny Colgan. New York: William Morrow, 2016. Nina Redmond loses her librarian job, pursues a dream of a mobile bookshop, ending up in the Scottish Highlands, bringing joy to a cluster of small towns in her Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After, while longing for her own happy-ever-after. Review

Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling CyanideAgatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2002 (first published 1944). Six table guests meet a year after the apparent suicide death of Rosemary Barton, and when her husband dies by the same means, it is apparent there is a murderer in their midst. Review

old earth

Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogosEdited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Dialogue between BioLogos (evolutionary creation) and Reasons to Believe (old-earth creationism), moderated by Southern Baptist Convention seminary professors. Review

the21en

The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic MartyrsMartin Mosebach, translated by Alta L. Price. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. An account of the background and faith of the twenty-one men martyred on a Libyan beach by ISIS, profiling their village, family, the Coptic faith, and the challenges of living as a minority religion throughout history. Review

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The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and WhitfieldJoseph Tracy. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2019 (first published 1842). A reprint of the first comprehensive history of the English and colonial revivals of the late 1730’s and early 1740’s, focusing in New England and upon the work of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Review

Three Hours

Three Hours: Sermons for Good FridayFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. Short messages on the “seven last words” of Christ on the cross, preached on Good Friday of 2018. Review

the-second-kind-of-impossible-9781476729923_lg

The Second Kind of ImpossiblePaul J. Steinhardt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. A narrative of the search for a new form of matter, first theorized, then synthesized, and then first found in a mineral collection of questionable provenance that gave tantalizing hints that it might really exist. Review

Conscience

Conscience: The Origins of Moral IntuitionPatricia S. Churchland. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. (Forthcoming June 4) 2019. Exploring the neuroscience of our sense of right and wrong, integrating our knowledge of neurophysical causation, social factors, and philosophy, arguing that moral norms are based in our brain functions, interacting with our social world. Review

Survive

We Want to Do More Than SurviveBettina L. Love. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019. A plea and argument for abolitionist teaching that advocates for educational justice in our schools, that understands and is in solidarity with the struggle people of color face in our often racialized schools, and affirms the goodness and joy of one’s ethnic, sexual, and gendered identity. Review

Best of the month. Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion is probably not just best of the month, but one of the best theological books I’ve read in the last five years. Elegantly and deeply thoughtful text offered wonderful insights into the death of Christ, and how it was both for us, and the great victory of Christ over sin and death.

Quote of the month. I usually try to find a different book to quote, but in this case, Rutledge’s The Crucifixion was full of quotable material. Here was one passage I liked:

“Forgiveness is not enough. Belief in redemption is not enough. Wishful thinking about the intrinsic goodness of every human being is not enough. Inclusion is not a sufficiently inclusive message, nor does it deliver real justice. There are some things–many things–that must be condemned and set right if we are to proclaim a God of both justice and mercy. Only a Power independent of this world order can overcome the grip of the Enemy of God’s purposes for his creation” (p. 610).

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I have a couple of books related to spiritual formation awaiting review. Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram shows ways each Enneagram type might pursue spiritual practices that fit their type in ways that bring harmony to head, heart, and gut. The Gift of Wonder invites us to playfulness, joy, and creativity in our walk with God.  I’ve always delighted in Wendell Berry, and A World Lost explores the lifelong impact of losing a relative to a violent death. Indianapolis was on a number of best seller and top book lists last year. It is the account of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis just before the end of the war, and the effort to exonerate her captain. Embracing the Other is an account of how a Spirit theology may help women of color to experience God afresh. None Greater explores the perfections and “omni’s” of God, proposing that God is far greater than our domesticated versions.

Hope you find something good to read in the “merry, merry month of May.”

 

The Month in Reviews: March 2019

for the life of the world

Leadership was a theme of many of the books I read this month. Several considered factors making leaders effective, ranging from their grit, whether they are givers or takers, their originality, and their relationships. One book offered an unvarnished overview of the earliest leaders in the church. Two others considered key figures in the early history of the United States. Several, as usual, were on theological themes: the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in both Christ and us, and one (a guest review from Paul Bruggink) making the case that creation did not fall when the first couple did. One argued more generally that the theological enterprise, in its quest to be a respectable academic discipline, has lost a critical focus on theology for the church and the world. A devotional book used the analogy of pruning to explore why God wants to “cut back” the false self that we might grow “true.” There are a couple fun reads in here, some classic and contemporary crime fiction, and a unique book on travel. So here are summaries along with links to the full reviews.

sinners and saints

Sinners and Saints, Derek Cooper. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2018. An unvarnished summary of the first five hundred years of church history, looking unflinchingly at the flaws, as well as the favorable qualities of early Christians. Review

Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth. Scribner: New York, 2016. Contends that those who achieve outstanding success combine purposeful passion with perseverance–in other words, they have grit. Review

Basil

Basil (Oxford World Classics), Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 (originally published in 1852). The account of a secret marriage between an aristocrat’s son and the daughter of a shopkeeper and all the ways things went terribly wrong. Review

reciprocal church

Reciprocal Church, Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Addressing the loss of young people from the church, makes an argument for a theology of the church as vital in our Christian life, and for mutuality and reciprocal engagement between youth and other generations in a flourishing community where all contribute. Review

Give and take

Give and Take, Adam Grant. New York: Viking, 2013. Proposes that many of the most successful people are givers who have learned how to give without being doormats and without expectation of return and explores why such giving is so powerful. Review

true you

True You, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the analogy of pruning, explores how our true selves, our true callings can emerge when we remove the clutter of business, of false selves, and idolatries that obscure the true shape of our lives. Review

for the life of the world

For the Life of the World, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Contends that for theology to make a difference it must address what it means for human beings to flourish in the world “in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Review

originals

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, Adam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016. A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life. Review

God's Good Earth

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019. A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature. Review

rush

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. Stephen Fried. New York: Crown, 2018. A full-length biography of this doctor-founder of the American republic covering his personal life and beliefs, advocacy, war service, and friendships with the Founders, and estrangement from Washington. Review

Madison's gift

Madison’s Gift, David O. Stewart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. A biography of our fourth president, through the lens of five key partnerships he formed that helped establish a new nation. Review

Travel

Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Peter Grier. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2018. A travelogue with a difference, exploring travel from a Christian perspective and how God may work in and through our lives as we travel. Review

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Sculptor Spirit, Leopoldo A. Sanchez M. (Foreword by Oscar Garcia-Johnson). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Starting from a “Spirit Christology,” explores five models by which the Spirit shapes our lives in the likeness of Christ. Review

electric mist

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, James Lee Burke. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011 (my Avon edition, 1994). Investigation of multiple rapes and murders, and a murder from 1957 confront Robicheaux with dark figures from his past, and pose a threat to all he holds dear. Review

relationomics

Relationomics, Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity. Review

Best of the Month. I think Volf and Croasmun’s For the Life of the World is a ringing challenge to the theological establishment to consider their calling, who their audience ought be, and what might be the focus of their work: on questions of human flourishing in relationship to Christ. I would hope it might provoke a vigorous conversation among theologians, pastors, and other thoughtful Christians who are concerned for a renewal of public theology that engages the church and the world.

Quote of the Month. Derek Cooper’s Sinners and Saints does a great job of rescuing the early leaders of the church from the musty and reverential mists of time. This quote offers a sense of his approach:

“Unlike countless other church history books that dance around the distasteful details of our Christian past, let’s humanize our history. Counterintuitively, perhaps, let’s emphasize as much grit as glory, let’s feature as much flesh as faith, and let’s showcase as many sinners as saints. It’s important for you to know at the onset, however, that we are not going to do this because we think mudslinging is a spiritual discipline, but only because we believe truth-telling is. I, personally, have no desire to sully the reputation of saints, nor do I find any pleasure in wallowing in the faults of our most faithful. When I air the dirty laundry of our most hallowed heroes and heroines, I am fully aware of all the clean clothes they have neatly pressed and attractively arrayed in their dresser drawers. Because of the nature of this book, I will not usually refer to that clean laundry; but make no mistake: I know it is there” (p. 11).

Current reads and Upcoming Reviews. I just finished a chronicle of a year or so on Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay. Subsidence, rising water levels and erosion endanger the way of life of this small community, the character of which is captured well in Tangier Requiem. I also just finished a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays that include an interview between her and former president Barack Obama. I have been reveling in the rich theological writing of Fleming Rutledge in The Crucifixion, a big book that accounts for a few less reviews than normal in the latter part of March. It is worth it! Justin Whitmel Early’s The Common Rule offers eight practices for a rule of life in our tech-oriented, device driven age. David Wallace-Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, is a bleak account of the drastic changes that could come with a warming planet. Finally, I just moved Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls onto my reading pile. The title squares with reports I’ve been hearing in recent years from those working in university counselling services so I’m interested in what this will say about causes and possible remedies for this trend.

I hope you will follow Bob on Books to catch all these reviews, and others that will appear later next month. And thanks to all of you who do follow, read, and comment!

The Month in Reviews: February 2019

InexpressibleMy favorite book this month was on a single Hebrew word. Another word that a couple books had in common was peace–in our churches and in the world. Perhaps apropos of Black history month, a couple of my books explored the minority experience, and a couple others, what it means to pursue justice in our neighborhoods and communities. I always enjoy a good biography and this month I enjoyed two–on George Washington and Bobby Kennedy. I read my usual dose of theology with a book on the philosophy of revelation, a wonderful exposition of Philippians, and a delightful book on what our hope of the new creation means for how we live in this one. On the science and technology front, there is a guest review on four views of evolution, and a book on our perspective on technology. Finally, I read an interesting book exploring what we mean by the term “democracy.” Just a typical month at Bob on Books!

thepeacemakingchurch

The Peacemaking ChurchCurtis Heffelfinger, (Foreword by Ken Sande). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Outlines a pro-active approach to peacemaking in the church consisting of eight principles that enable us to do our very best to pursue the peace and unity that is ours in Christ. Review

How Our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick

How Neighborhoods Make Us SickVeronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A case study showing how social determinants impacting health outcomes work in different zip codes and how these manifest in an urban neighborhood in southwest Atlanta. Review

Kennedy Justice

Kennedy JusticeVictor S. Navasky. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1971). A study of Robert F. Kennedy’s tenure as Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice during the John F. Kennedy and Johnson presidencies. Review

four views

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent DesignJ.B. Stump ed., Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, Stephen C. Meyer, contributors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017. A snapshot of the current origins debate in America. Review

Inexpressible

InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live. Review

Philosophy of Revelation

Philosophy of Revelation, Herman Bavinck (edited by Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, foreword by James P. Eglinton). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018 (Originally given and expanded from Stone Lectures in 1908). A new annotated edition of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s 1908 Stone Lectures at Princeton, arguing that revelation is a warranted basic belief. Review

The Minority Experience

The Minority ExperienceAdrian Pei. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A book that explores the minority experience in organizations and how organizations can meet these challenges redemptively. Review

Washington

Washington: A LifeRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. A one volume biography focusing on the character and emotional life and the qualities that enabled him to lead so effectively as general, in presiding over the Constitutional Convention and serving as first president. Review

Carson_BasicsforBelievers.indd

Basics for Believers, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (Re-packaged edition, originally published in 1996). Expositions of the Letter to the Philippians focusing on the core concerns of Christian faith and life. Review

New Creation

New CreationRodney Clapp. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. An exploration of how the end of the Christian story, or eschatology, ought shape the life of the church in this time between the comings of Christ. Review

The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth

The Rise and Fall of Peace on EarthMichael Mandelbaum. New York: Oxford University Press, (Forthcoming, March 1,) 2019. Develops the thesis that 1989-2014 represented a singular period of widespread peace marked by absence of conflict between major powers, and what might lead to a return to peace in the future. Review

Democracy

Democracy May Not Exist, But We Will Miss It When It’s GoneAstra Taylor. New York: Metropolitan Books, (Forthcoming May 7,) 2019. Explores what we mean when we speak of democracy, argues that real democracy has never existed, and explores the balance of paradoxes or tensions inherent in the idea of democracy. Review

Between the World and Me

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. Coates extended letter to his son following the Michael Brown verdict on the struggle for the dignity of his people against the violence to their bodies by those who “believe they are White” and part of a pursuit of a Dream built “on looting and violence.” Review

welcoming justice

Welcoming Justice (expanded edition), Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018 (original edition 2009). A renewed call for the church to pursue Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of a “beloved community” even in a day of increased white nationalism and polarization. Review

modern tech

Modern Technology and the Human FutureCraig M. Gay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Explores the factors shaping modern technology and how a mechanical view that fails to acknowledge embodiment has diminished human flourishing. Review

Best of the Month: This is a tough one because I could easily give the nod to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. My choice is Michael Card’s Inexpressible, an exploration of perhaps the most wonderful word in scripture, hesed, which Card describes as “When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Quote of the Month: I loved this statement from Rodney Clapp’s New Creation, on how stories, and particularly the end of our Christian story are important in our lives:

“We are storied creatures, and everything happens because we lean toward endings. These endings are the goals, the pursuits, the destinies, the termination points that mark and animate our lives. Without endings we could never begin anything. We would lack plots and our lives would be without purpose, devoid of meaning.”

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I just finished Angela Duckworth’s Grit, which makes the case that beyond skill and smarts, one of the critical factors in success in any field is perseverance. Duckworth uses examples from sports to science to illustrate her research findings. Sinners and Saints is an “unscrubbed” history of the early centuries of Christianity that as much as anything makes the case that the rise and continued existence of Christianity is a sheer work of God’s grace. I’ve just started a fascinating book by Adam Grant, Give and Take that argues that some of the most effective leaders are characterized as giversBasil is the second book Wilkie Collins, a pioneer of the mystery, wrote that features an agreement of the title character to not consummate his marriage for a year. Rush is a biography of one of the Founders of the United States, and a pioneer in medicine in this country, Dr. Benjamin Rush. He comes up in practically every history of the War of Independence so I thought it time to read about this fascinating individual. I enjoyed a biography of Katharina and Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha, and so picked up a very different book by her, True You, a spiritual formation book that likens coming to terms with our false and true selves to a Japanese form of tree pruning! Finally, many are concerned about the exodus of youth from our churches. Reciprocal Church explores how our theology of the church, and an understanding of the vital role of reciprocal, intergenerational relationships is critical to stemming this loss.

Gustave Flaubert has written, “What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright.” I hope as the winds and rains of early spring beat on your windows, that you will have some good hours of being occupied with a good book!

 

The Month in Reviews: January 2019

perfectly humanNineteen reviews for free. That’s what you received in January if you’ve been following Bob on Books. And if not, they are all summed up here with links to the full reviews. They include three memoirs ranging from Tara Westover’s best-selling Educated to Sarah C. Williams exquisite and poignant Perfectly Human.  Part of my sabbatical reading (that’s how I read so many books!) included three books on coaching. In fiction, I reviewed a novel by Ann Patchett, and an old and re-published one by Upton Sinclair. One that kind of defied categories is Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, an exploration of both the life of Coleridge, and his most famous poem, which Guite says parallel each other. There is the usual mix of theology: art and theology, the theology of sexuality, and the application of intersectionality to theology, and a couple on science and faith, including my first guest review. I won’t go into all the others, but one other standout was a biography of Fred Rogers, who was the “good neighbor” in life as well as on screen.

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. A memoir a young women raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, physically abused by an older brother, self-taught until entering Brigham Young, beginning a journey taking her to Cambridge, Harvard, ultimately at the cost of severing family ties. Review

Evolving Certainties

Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and ScienceTerry Defoe. Self-published, 2018. A well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue. Review

leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite PerformanceJonathan Passmore (ed.). London: Kogan Page, 2015 (second edition, review is of first edition). A compendium of articles by experts in the field of leadership coaching describing and assessing different models. Review

jesus revolution

Jesus RevolutionGreg Laurie, Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. An account of the Jesus Movement centered around Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith, who mentored Greg Laurie into ministry, and how such a revival might come once more. Review

a peculiar orthodoxy

A Peculiar OrthodoxyJeremy S. Begbie. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A collection of essays exploring the intersection of theology and the arts. Review

between two worlds

Between Two Worlds (Lanny Budd #2), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1941). Traces Lanny Budd’s life through two love affairs and his marriage to a rich heiress, during the 1920’s war weariness, good times, the rise of fascism, and the crash of the stock market. Review

commonwealth

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. New York: HarperCollins, 2016. Traces the lives of six children and the parents from two families over five decades from the beginnings of an affair at a christening that broke up two marriages and threw the children together. Review

the power of the 72

The Power of the 72John Teter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A description of the theology and practice of equipping ordinary people to join in the mission of calling people to follow Jesus. Review

co-active coaching

Co-Active CoachingHenry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011 (3rd edition–link is to 4th edition published in 2018). A model of coaching in which coach and client actively collaborate to accomplish the clients needs, and the cornerstones, contexts, and core principles to realize those outcomes. Review

mariner

Mariner (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Malcolm Guite. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with an analysis showing how his most famous poem foretold and paralleled the course of his own life–a journey of fall, a need for grace, and redemption. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

is there purpose in biology

Is There Purpose in Biology?Denis Alexander. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2018. An exploration of the idea purpose in biology, the association of purposelessness with the randomness and chance of evolution and whether this is warranted, and how a Christian perspective may both be consistent with what may be observed, and how Christian theology may deal with questions of pain and suffering in evolutionary processes. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. The biography of this pioneer in children’s television, the good neighbor in life as well as on screen. Review

religion and american culture

Religion and American Culture (3rd edition), George M. Marsden. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. A survey of the interaction of religion and American civil culture from the nation’s beginnings up to 2016. Review

mindful silence

Mindful SilencePhileena Heuertz (Foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM; afterword by Kirsten Powers). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. Part narrative, part instruction, this work traces the author’s experience of “deconstruction” and how Christian contemplative practice enabled a deeper relationship with God and knowledge of herself. Review

how to read literature

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. An introduction to the basics of understanding literature–symbols, themes, and contexts–that enrich our reading of literary fiction. Review

beauty, order, and mystery

Beauty, Order, and MysteryGerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of papers given at the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians conference exploring various aspects and contemporary issues concerning human sexuality from the perspective of the church’s historic consensus. Review

intersectional theology

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory GuideGrace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. An introduction to the application of intersectional analysis to theology, understanding how identities and social locations within systems of power might both challenge and shape our theological understanding and praxis. Review

business coaching and mentoring

Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies, 2nd edition, Marie Taylor and Steve Crabb. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017. A detailed overview of the nature of business coaching and mentoring offering resources for assessing potential client opportunities, working with mind-sets, vision and planning processes, and marketing oneself as a coach. Review

Best of the Month. I had a number of good books to choose from this month but the standout for me was Sarah C. Williams beautifully written Perfectly Human. her narrative of learning that she was carrying a child with serious birth defects, who at best would die shortly after birth. She narrates the decision to carry the child, how they coped as a family, and loved their daughter. Here is a taste:

“During the nine months I carried Cerian, [Welsh for “loved”] God had come close to me again unexpectedly, wild and beautiful, good and gracious. I touched his presence as I carried Cerian, and as a result I realized that underneath all my other longings lay an aching desire for God himself and for his love. Cerian shamed my strength and in her weakness she showed me a way of intimacy.”

Quote of the Month. I was tempted to make it the one above, but I also loved this one from The Good Neighbor, showing how it was not only children who loved Fred Rogers:

“One of Fred Rogers’s most loyal fans was Koko, a famously communicative gorilla who appeared on the Neighborhood in 1998. Since Koko had been a faithful viewer of Rogers’s program for years, Fred visited her at the Gorilla Foundation in Redwood City, California, in his sweater and sneakers. When she saw him, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and took off his shoes. Then they conversed in American Sign Language, shared a hug, and took pictures of each other.”

Current Reads. I’m about 400 pages into Ron Chernow’s Washington. This is one of the books on my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list (it will be the second I’ve read since I wrote the post). All I can say is it is just as good as Grant, which I read at this time last year. Tomorrow, I will be reviewing How our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick, exploring how you can have significant differences in life expectancy between two zip code areas in the same city. Michael Card’s Inexpressible is a rich extended meditation on the Hebrew word hesed in scripture, which he defines as “When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” Kennedy Justice explores Robert F. Kennedy’s years as Attorney General–fighting political corruption, organized crime, and advocating for civil rights. Herman Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation is a new, annotated edition of his Stone Lectures from one hundred years ago, meaty material, and surprisingly relevant.