The Month in Reviews: September 2021

So many good reads this month! I began with a debut novel that combined a riveting plot, a great , collection of characters, and strong relationships. Then I moved on to another Louise Penny. I’ve finished number ten in the Gamache series and they just keep getting better. On a very different note, I found thought-provoking and unsettling a study of American history through the lens of beliefs about human nature. I’ve long loved Seamus Heaney’s rendering of Beowulf. Finally, I read some of his poetry, with all its evocation of Ireland. Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair won a Pulitzer. I have to admit I’m not sure why. Majority World Theology introduced me to so many fine theologians from around the world. I discovered Eula Biss, a fine essayist who wrote about immunology before the pandemic, addressing her fears by understanding the history and science. This was followed by a much-discussed book on how cultural models of masculinity shaped the evangelicalism of the last century. Erik Larson’s intimate portrait of Winston Churchill’s first year as prime minister was a refreshing look at someone about whom I’ve read many books. Art + Faith was a beautiful reflection on a theology of making and The Fire Within a beautiful treatment of the spirituality of sexual desire. Books like these make me wonder why we hide such good things as Christians. In between was a delightful Miss Marple from Agatha Christie. I wrapped up the month with a book on belonging, a former governor offering a distinctive vision for Christians in politics, and a survey of historical and global beliefs about the church.

Raft of StarsAndrew J. Graff. New York: Ecco, 2021. A coming of age adventure story of two friends fleeing down a river after what they think is the murder of the father of one of the boys, and the pursuit to save the boys from certain destruction from a danger unknown to them. Review

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache #10), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2015. Gamache’s peaceful retirement is interrupted when Peter Morrow fails to return as agreed a year after his separation from Clara and they embark on a search taking them to a desolate corner of Quebec. Review

We the Fallen PeopleRobert Tracy McKenzie. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An argument that we have witnessed a great reversal in American history from an assumption of fallen human nature to the inherent goodness of people, which the author believes could jeopardize its future. Review

Seamus Heaney Selected Poems 1966-1987Seamus Heaney. New York: The Noonday Press, 1990. A selection of the poetry of Seamus Heaney from previously published works between 1966 and 1987. Review

Dragon’s Teeth (The Lanny Budd Novels #3), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published 1942). As Irma’s fortune wanes, Lanny uses his art dealings both for income and to secure release of the Robins, who are swept up in the anti-Semitism of pre-war Nazi Germany. Review

Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global ContextEdited by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A global collection of scholars discuss the major doctrines of the Christian faith considering the history of doctrines, the scriptures, and cultural contexts. Review

On Immunity–An InoculationEula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014. A collection of essays about vaccines, immunity, fears, risks, and related concerns about environmental pollutants and other dangers faced by the human community. Review

Jesus and John WayneKristen Kobes Du Mez. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020. A historical study of how the ideal of rugged masculinity typified by John Wayne influenced the evangelical embrace of authority, gender roles, and conservative, nationalist politics. Review

The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson. New York: Crown, 2020. A day to day narrative of the first year as prime minister of Winston Churchill, focusing on the circle around him as well as how he inspired a nation fighting alone under the Blitz. Review

Art + FaithMakoto Fujimura, foreword by N. T. Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. A series of reflections connecting art and faith in the act of making. Review

The Mirror Crack’d From Side to SideAgatha Christie (Miss Marple #9). New York: HarperCollins, 2011, originally published 1962. A harmless busybody dies of a poisoned drink intended for a famous actress, the beginning of further threats, and murders that follow. Review

The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and GodRonald Rohlheiser. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A collection of short meditations on human, and particularly sexual desire, contending these come from God and are meant to draw us to God. Review

No Longer StrangersGregory Coles, Foreword by Jen Pollock Michel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A personal memoir on struggling to fit in and giving up on belonging to pursue Christ, and in the end, finding both. Review

Faithful PresenceBill Haslam. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021. The former governor of Tennessee makes the case for Christian engagement in politics, using the model of faithful presence. Review

An Introduction to EcclesiologyVeli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An introduction to different historical theologies of the church, contemporary theologies from throughout the world, the mission and practices of the church, and the church and other religious communities. Review

Best Book of the Month: Majority World Theology is a huge work in every sense from size to the quality of the contributions and the wide array of theologians this work brings to one’s attention. One thing I especially appreciated in a work of this size was how readable it was. It was a pleasure to work through.

Best Quote of the Month: Ronald Rohlheiser’s The Fire Within is a gem consisting of short reflections around the spirituality of our sexuality. This quote captures his contention:

“Sexuality is inside us to help lure us back to God, bring us into a community of life with each other, and let us take part in God’s generativityIf that is true, and it is, then given its origin and meaning, its earthiness notwithstanding, sex does not set us against what is holy and pure. It is a Godly energy” (p. xi).

What I’m Reading. Currently, I’m in the middle of Ngaio Marsh’s first Chief Inspector Alleyn book, A Man Lay Dead. I haven’t read the series in order, but the first is among the best I’ve read. Colm Toibin’s The Magician is a biographical fiction work on German writer, Thomas Mann tracing the inspiration of his works, his closeted homosexuality, his difficult relations with his children, and his ethical wrestling with how vehemently to speak against Nazi Germany, from which he and his family had fled. Identity in Action is a book written for students on how excellence in Christ may be expressed through one’s different identities. Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends is a wonderful devotional work pairing Psalms and what the church’s teachers have written on them. Finally, I’m reading Forty Days with a Five, which probably gives away my Enneagram type, if that’s not already apparent to those who study such things.

With the cooler weather of fall, I’m transitioning from reading in shorts in a lounge chair with a cold drink to a comfy chair indoors, a warmer shirt and a hot cup of coffee. The one thing that doesn’t change is the books. Happy reading!

The Month in Reviews: August 2021

The last full month of summer was full of good books. I roved the Red planet, went to space with Virgin Galactic, revisited Malabar Farm, remembered the life of one of my spiritual mentors, and witnessed a most wicked carnival! I remembered the past year of the pandemic, learned the rules of civility and retraced the history of the religious order that built the University of Notre Dame. I read about God’s agency, the two books in the Bible where God is not named, seven books at the end of the Bible that ought be read together, the theme of the servant that runs through the whole of scripture, and the emotional life of the ultimate Servant. Of course, I threw in a few mysteries as I continue to read through the Gamache series which just keeps getting better and another Ngaio Marsh mystery. I read about artful reading and hope I engaged in it. I’ll let you be the judge as you read the reviews!

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013. The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head. Review

Conspicuous in His AbsenceChloe T. Sun. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Adopting the approach of theological interpretation, explores through various lenses the significance of the absence of mentions of the name of God in Song of Songs and Esther. Review

Red RoverRoger Wiens. New York: Basic Books, 2013. An insider account of over two decades of space exploration culminating in the Mars Rover Curiosity mission. Review

Recovering the Lost Art of Reading, Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. An invitation to artful reading, considering its decline, different kinds of literature and how we read them, and the art of reading well to discover goodness, truth, and beauty. Review

Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn #22), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1962). An April Fool’s scavenger hunt organized by Lady Bantling ends badly when a body is found under a drainage pipe in a ditch. Review

A Burning in My BonesWinn Collier. New York: WaterBrook, 2021. The authorized biography of pastor-theologian and Bible translator Eugene Peterson. Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2), Ray Bradbury. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (Link is to a currently in print edition). A carnival comes to Green Town out of season and two boys, Jim and Will fight to escape the clutches of the sinister carnival master Mr. Dark. Review

Test GodsNicholas Schmidle. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2021. An account of Virgin Galactic’s effort to become a space tourism company focusing on the intersection of Richard Branson’s vision and the work of test pilots and engineers to make it work. Review

Perhaps, Joshua M. McNall. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Advances the idea of “perhapsing” that allows for the exploration of the space between doubt and dogmatism through close reading of scripture, asking hard questions, exercising imagination, and the practice of holy speculation. Review

Love in the Time of CoronavirusAngela Alaimo O’Donnell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A collection of poems written over the first year of the pandemic exploring the pilgrimage of those confined to their homes, exploring the ways we come to terms with endless days, the small gifts of love, and moment of hope amid the horror. Review

The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People (New Studies in Biblical Theology #54), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the application of the term “servant” to a number of key figures in scripture culminating in Jesus, and the way these were used by God to form a servant people. Review

Rules of CivilityAmor Towles. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. The year that changed the life of a young woman in New York, remembered when photographs trigger a flashback twenty-eight years later. Review

Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter,1-3 John, and Jude as CanonDarian R. Lockett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the catholic epistles, arguing that they ought be read together and exploring their shared themes and particular emphases. Review

The History of the Congregation of Holy CrossJames T. Connelly, C.S.C. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020. A history of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, describing its beginnings, its focus on education and missions, its approval in Rome, the succession of Superiors General, and the growth of the Congregation until Vatican II and decline in more recent years. Review

Passions of the ChristF. Scott Spencer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A study of the emotional life of Jesus in the gospels, drawing upon both classical thought and emotions theory. Review

The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food RevolutionStephen Heyman. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020. A biography of novelist, screenwriter, and sustainable farming pioneer Louis Bromfield. Review

Leadership, God’s Agency, & DisruptionsMark Lau Branson and Alan J. Roxburgh. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. Argues that “modernity’s wager” has shaped the leadership practices of church leadership, leading to a reliance on technique-driven strategies rather than responding to God’s agency. Review

Best Book of the Month: Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson, A Burning in My Bones captures the character and congruency of Peterson’s life, thought, and ministry. He was not a perfect man, and perhaps his growing awareness that he was but a man called to follow in the “long obedience” that made it possible to speak to so many of us.

Best Quote of the Month: Joshua McNall proposes that a stance of “perhaps” is an approach cultivating the imagination of faith that lives between doubt and dogmatism. He cites Luther as an example when he ascended the steps of Santa Scala, to pray for his father in purgatory, troubled by doubts about the steps, the power of relics, and even the reality of purgatory. He observes:

“Luther’s attitude is one of obedience. The question does not lead him to depart for a weeklong bender in the Roman brothels. Nor does it correspond directly to a repudiation of church tradition. This shift would come later through his outrage at indulgences, and by reading Paul. At the moment, Luther simply walks down the stairs. He descends Santa Scala–because a willingness to walk and wait and pray is the best response to doubt” (p. 126).

What I’m reading. Once again I’m thoroughly engaged in a Louise Penny novel, The Long Way Home. Gamache is retired from the Surete’ and living in Three Pines. But his sleuthing days are far from ended. I just finished Raft of Stars by Ohio author Andrew Graff. An edge of the seat story with a satisfying ending. I’m also working my way through a really long book, really six books combined into a single volume, Majority World Theology. It is a delightful dialogue of theologians from throughout the world on the major themes of Christian theology. I’ve just begun Robert Tracy McKenzie’s We The Fallen People. He proposes the thesis that our nation was founded on the premise of human fallenness, but a shift to a belief in the inherent goodness of people actually imperils democracy. I will be interviewing him later in September and look forward to seeing how he develops this thesis. After a long hiatus, I’ve returned to Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series, reading #3 in the series, Dragons Teeth. Not sure where this one is going yet or why it won a Pulitzer. Finally, I’ve at last dipped into a collection of Seamus Heaney’s poetry that has been on my shelves for some time.

I hope you will stay safe as the pandemic rears its ugly head once more. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is still time to enjoy a good book outdoors, or an outdoor gathering with some friends, maybe with conversation about the good books we hope to curl up with as the weather cools toward winter. If you check out one of the books here, I’d love to hear what you think, and tell me about the good books you’ve enjoyed. Blessings!

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: July 2021

If it isn’t obvious by now, I love reading a wide variety of books. Science fiction, mysteries, history, literary fiction, regional authors, biblical, historical, and practical theology, sociology, business and economics. My work and my interests touch on all of these and all of these are here. Mayday reminded me of an international crisis of my childhood when we were sheltering under our school desks and school basement in fear of nuclear attack. Octavia Butler’s imaginative scenarios of what happens when different species meet. I’ve mused about why men treat women so badly across cultures. David Buss’s answers weren’t satisfying to me but provoked my thinking. I had good fun revisiting The Scarlet Pimpernel, a great story! I won’t go through all the books here so that you can get on and skim the reviews!

Imago (Xenogenesis #3), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1989 (Link is to a current, in-print edition). The concluding volume of this trilogy explores what happens when human-Oankali breeding results in a construct child that is not supposed to occur. Review

The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic & Theological ApproachesDuane A. Garrett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An exploration of how and whether Christians ought read the Old Testament, contending that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and that its material still has authority and edifying value for the Christian. Review

Final Curtain (Inspector Alleyn #14), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1947. While Inspector Alleyn is returning from wartime service in New Zealand, Troy Alleyn, his artist wife is commissioned on short notice to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, a noteworthy stage actor, meeting his dramatic family, encountering a number of practical jokes including one that infuriates Sir Henry at his birthday dinner, after which he is found dead the next morning. Inspector Alleyn arrives home to investigate a possible murder in which his wife is an interested party. Review

A War Like No OtherVictor Davis Hanson. New York: Random House, 2006. An account of the Peloponnesian War tracing the history, the politics, the strategies, key figures, battles, and how the war was fought. Review

An Impossible MarriageLaurie Krieg and Matt Krieg. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Matt and Laurie Krieg are in a mixed orientation marriage and narrate both the challenges they have faced and what they have learned about God and love as they remained together. Review

Who Created Christianity?Craig A. Evans and Aaron W. White, editors. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A festschrift in honor of David Wenham focused around the centerpiece of Wenham’s theology, the relationship between Jesus and Paul and Wenham’s insistence that Paul was not the founder of Christianity but a disciple of Jesus. Review

Mayday: Eisenhower, Krushchev, and the U-2 Affair, Michael Beschloss. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1986). A detailed accounting of the shoot-down of a U-2 CIA reconnaissance flight over the USSR and the consequences that increased Cold War tensions between Eisenhower and Kruschchev and their respective countries. Review

Science and the Doctrine of Creation, Edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp, afterword by Alister E. McGrath. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of ten modern theologians and how each engaged science in light of the doctrine of creation. Review

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 (originally published in 1905). An adventure set in Revolutionary France as a secret league led by the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues prisoners headed to the guillotine as a French agent ruthlessly seeks to track him down. Review

40 PatchtownDamian Dressick. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2020. Set during a coal strike in Windber, Pennsylvania in 1922, captures the hardship striking miners faced in their resistance to mine owners, their efforts to form unions and gain better wages for dangerous work. Review

Evil & Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian DogmaticsEdited by David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. An essay collection considering the doctrine of creation and how theologians and others have grappled with the emergence of evil. Review

The End of the AffairGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1951). A writer struggles to understand why the woman he has had an affair with broke it off, discovering who ultimately came between them. Review

The 30-Minute BibleCraig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, with illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An overview of the big story of the Bible, broken into 30 readings of roughly 30 minutes in length, accompanied by charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Review

When Men Behave BadlyDavid M. Buss. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021. A discussion of sexual violence, deception, harassment and abuse, largely on the part of men, grounded in evolutionary sexual conflict theory that helps explain why so many relationships between men and women go bad. Review

PillarsRachel Pieh Jones, Foreword by Abdi Nor Iftin. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021. An account about how the author’s attitudes both toward Islam and her Christian faith changed as she and her husband lived among Muslims in Somalia and Djibouti. Review

Post-Capitalist SocietyPeter F. Drucker. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Describes the transformation of a society based on capital to one based on knowledge whose key structure is the responsibility-based organization. Review

Best Book of the Month. This is often a tough one to answer, and no less this month. It is rare that I give the nod to a collection of essays around a theme but Science and the Doctrine of Creation was one of the best. Ten outstanding theologians summarized the thinking of ten of the leading theologians of the last two centuries on the doctrine of creation and how they related that doctrine to science.

Best Quote of the Month: I’ve worked with Muslim students in collegiate ministry and in Pillars, Rachel Pieh Jones put into words what an incarnational ministry among Muslims is like. Here, she talks about the shift that took place in her life:

“I had a lot to learn about how to love my neighbors and practice my faith cross-culturally. I don’t identify with the label ‘missionary,’ with its attendant cultural, theological, and historical baggage, though I understand this is how many view me. I do love to talk about spirituality–and what fascinates me is that the more I discuss faith with Muslims, the more we both return to our roots and dig deeper. As we explore our own faith, in relationship with someone who thinks differently, each of us comes to experience God in richer, more intimate ways. In this manner, Muslims have helped me become a better Christian, though things didn’t start out that way” (p. 49).

What I’m Reading: Louise Penny just keeps getting better. I just finished the ninth in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, How The Light Gets In. Look for my review tomorrow. I’ve also been savoring a Ray Bradbury classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes, a dark exploration of the nothingness of evil and our power to say no to it. Conspicuous in His Absence explores the significance of the two books in the Bible in which God is not mentioned, Song of Songs and Esther. Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is a book about just that–how we might read well and discriminately. I love books about books and reading. Hand in Glove is another Roderick Alleyn mystery by the great Ngaio Marsh. I just had the chance to interview Roger Wiens, one of the NASA scientists involved in the Mars Rover Perseverance mission and have been reading his Red Rover to glimpse the inside story of his work. And in a similar vein, Test Gods is an account of the test pilots who have been involved in Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s space company.

We have one more full month of summer (in the northern hemisphere). I hope you have some days in a hammock or lounge chair with a cold drink and a good book. One of the joys of reading are the good things that go along with our good books!

The Month in Reviews: June 2021

I began the month with the notorious RBG and ended with poetry from the island of Iona. In addition to Ginsburg, I read biographies of Siggy Wilzig (read the review for Unstoppable to find out who that is) and Henrietta Mears, who influenced many of the major figures of early evangelicalism, as well as Simeon Booker’s memoir of covering the civil right era for Jet. Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound is classic Berry from 1968 which I followed with a contemporary work on mixed ethnic identity. I’m up to book eight in the Inspector Gamache series. For once the murder is not in Three Pines, but a remote monastery. Other fiction included a collection of short stories by Ursula Le Guin and a strange post apocalyptic book involving battles between people able to ride clouds and build thunderheads. The most theological of the books were ones on election, ethics, and preaching Jeremiah with practical theology on what we can do when it is “not our turn,” the practice of tentmaking and on ministry to the disabled. Rounding out this months list was an Erik Larsen non-fiction thriller.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader GinsburgIrin Cardmon & Shana Knizhnik. New York: Dey Street Books, 2015. A profile of the Supreme Court Justice, centered around her dissenting opinions read from the bench but also tracing her career, her marriage, work out routines and more, liberally illustrated with photos and images. Review

UnstoppableJoshua M. Greene. San Rafael, CA: Insight Editions, 2021. The biography of Siggi Wilzig, an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor who arrived in the U.S. with $240 and built a fortune in both the oil and banking industries while speaking out against the Holocaust. Review

Mother of Modern Evangelicalism: The Life and Legacy of Henrietta MearsArlin C. Migliazzo, Foreword by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. The first comprehensive biography on Henrietta Mears that focuses on her early life, her Christian Education ministry at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, and her national impact on a nascent evangelical network of leaders, on Christian publishing and retreat ministry. Review

The Hidden WoundWendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2010 (Original edition 1968, with Afterword 1988). An extended essay on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work. Review

Mixed BlessingChandra Crane, Foreward by Jemar Tisby. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. The author describes her own challenges and blessings of being a person of mixed ethnic and cultural identity, and how the Christian can affirm and include the growing number of mixed identity persons. Review

God Has ChosenMark R. Lindsay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A survey of the development of the doctrine of election throughout Christian history, including discussions of human freedom, those who are not of the elect, and the status of Israel as chosen. Review

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013. While solving a case involving the murder of a prior in a remote monastery, Gamache must confront his arch-nemesis Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur. Review

It’s Not Your TurnHeather Thompson Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. When everyone seems to be moving ahead while we are standing still, chosen for jobs while we are runners up, the question is how we should live while we wait our turn. Review

Shocking the ConscienceSimeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. A memoir of Simeon Booker’s career as a reporter, much of it during the height of the Civil Rights movement from the murder of Emmett Till to the busing battles of the 1970’s and beyond. Review

Working Abroad with PurposeGlenn D. Deckert, Foreword by James Lundgren. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019. A concise handbook on the practice of tentmaking, explaining the concept, offering practical tips on a number of aspects of working abroad, and recounting the author’s personal experiences. Review

Orsinian TalesUrsula K. Le Guin. New York: Library of America, 2016 (originally published in 1976). A collection of eleven short stories set in the fictional eastern European country of Orsinia taking place between 1150 and 1965. Review

Talking About EthicsMichael S. Jones, Mark J. Farnham, and David L. Saxon. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academics, 2021. An approach, which after a chapter of laying out different ethical approaches, applies these through fictional conversations between three students, friends, and classmates discussing various contemporary ethical issues. Review

ThunderstruckErik Larsen. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. The intersection of the lives of Guglielmo Marconi and Hawley Harvey Crippen occurs on a trans-Atlantic voyage with a Scotland Yard detective in pursuit. Review

Preaching JeremiahWalter Brueggeman. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020. Bruggeman takes the framework of Jeremiah as a model for preaching, both in its structure of introduction, ending(s), and body, in its bringing a message of beyond, that both confronts the denial of God, and the grounds for hope that outlasts despair. Review

Disability and the ChurchLamar Hardwick, foreword by Bill Gaventa. Downers Grove: IVP Praxis, 2021. An eloquent and theologically grounded plea affirming the value of persons with disabilities and the steps churches can take to welcome and fully include them. Review

Balcony of FogRick Shapero. Half Moon Bay, CA: TooFar Media, 2020. In a post-nuclear world, a laborer and a fugitive from a vengeful lover inhabiting a thunderhead meet up, transform to cloud-beings and eventually engage in a climactic battle. Review

Iona: New and Selected PoetryKenneth Steven. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. Summary: A collection of poems connected to the island of Iona, the spiritual home of the author. Review

Best Book of the Month. Mother of Modern Evangelicalism is an exceptionally well-researched account of Henrietta Mears, a Christian education director in a Hollywood church that influenced a number of film stars as well as early leading lights in evangelicalism. She formed a publishing house, Gospel Light, to publish high quality, biblical-based materials for all ages. The biography stands out from earlier ones in tracing her early life in Minnesota and training as an educator. She did all this as a single woman at a time when cultural and theological strictures would discourage the leadership she exercised and a fascinating aspect of this biography is how she worked around these strictures while never openly challenging them.

Quote of the Month: Wendell Berry makes an admission many find challenging to accept even in the America of 2021. He wrote this in 1968:

“If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know. If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of the wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society.

This wound is in me….I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it….

It leads me to ask how “fully and exactly” do I want to comprehend this wound?

What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished Imago, the final book in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. I found myself wondering why she did not carry the series on further. I also have awaiting review The Problem of the Old Testament, an exploration of how Christians ought read the Old Testament including the issues of continuity and discontinuity, how we read prophecy “fulfilled” in the New Testament and how we think of Israel and the church. I just began Who Created Christianity a festschrift for David Wenham with contributions from N.T. Wright, Stanley Porter, Alister McGrath, Michael Bird, Craig Blomberg, and Greg Beale among others. Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other is his account of the Peloponnesian War. I’m in the middle of another Ngaio Marsh, Final Curtain, featuring both Roderick Alleyn and his wife, an artist. An Impossible Marriage is the story of a “mixed orientation” marriage and how the seemingly impossible has been possible for them. Finally, 40 Patchtown is a novel by Damian Dressick, a first time author, of an Appalachian mining town and the challenges of standing up to big coal in the early twentieth century.

Hope you are able to find a cool place, a cool drink and a good books to read during the lazy, hazy days of summer!

The Month in Reviews: May 2021

I just finished a book edited by Marita Golden of interviews with Black writers discussing the transformative power of both reading and writing. That is what sustains reading and writing in my own life–to share what has been good and even transformative, and to hope I might connect you with writing that will have that effect in your life. That was certainly the case with the books I read this month whether it was a comprehensive study of the doctrine (indeed the wonder) of creation, the theme of rest in the Bible or a classic Octavia Butler work that explores the dynamics of colonization at the level of alien life. Reading Mary Wells Lawrence’s memoir of her life in advertising, which began in my home town of Youngstown was a walk down the memory lane of all those ad slogans that will forever be etched in my mind, and finally, I know who to blame! Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker on Jennifer Doudna and CRISPR is essential reading for understanding the coming biotech revolution. Contemporary issues were amply covered in works on sexual abuse in the church, whether we can have a redemptive presence on social media, and how Christians might faithfully engage the news. In the realm of fiction, in addition to the Octavia Butler, I enjoyed a historical fiction account of J.D. Salinger’s war experience and the first volume of a new fantasy series and continued reading my way through the works of golden age mystery by Ngaio Marsh. Take a look through this list and you just might find a few summer reads!

Reimagining ApologeticsJustin Ariel Bailey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A case for an apologetics appealing to beauty and to the imagination that points toward a better picture of what life might be. Full review

Sergeant SalingerJerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2021. A fictional account of J.D. Salinger’s early adult life, centered around his wartime service with the CIC including the landing at Utah Beach, fighting in Normandy’s Hedgerows, the interrogation of German captives, the harrowing fighting of Huertgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, and the discovery of a Nazi death camp. Full review

Prayer in the NightTish Harrison Warren. Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2021. Both an introduction to Compline and a phrase by phrase reflection using one of the loveliest of Compline prayers. Full review

#ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing, Emily Joy Allison. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021. An argument connecting sexual abuse and other sexually dysfunctional teaching to the purity teaching upholding an ideal of abstinence until marriage between a man and a woman. Full review

Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About ItDouglas S. Bursch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A discussion of the nature of online media, why it divides us, and how Christians can have a reconciling and redemptive presence. Full review

Candles in the DarkRowan Williams. London: SPCK, 2020. Weekly meditations by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, written for his parish church from March to September 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full review

A Big Life (in advertising)Mary Wells Lawrence. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003. A memoir of the first woman to head up a Madison Avenue advertising firm, producing some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Full review

Waiting for the Rest That Still RemainsArie C. Leder. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2021. A consideration of the theology of the former prophets, including the Book of Ruth, considered through the lens of rest. Full review

The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1), Mike Brooks. New York: Solaris, 2021. Former enemies seek refuge with the people of Black Keep against a backdrop of political infighting, intrigue around the succession of the God-King, and the rise of a sinister power. Full review

The Code BreakerWalter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. The story of the 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Jennifer Doudna, and the discovery of ways to use CRISPR enzymes to edit genomes, and her subsequent efforts to establish ethical standards for the use of this breakthrough discovery. Full review

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the NewsJeffrey Bilbro. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of what Christian faithfulness looks like as we engage the news, focusing on our practices of attention, our awareness of the time we are in, and the communities of which we are part. Full review

Death in Ecstasy (Roderick Alleyn #4), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1936). Nigel Bathgate happens upon the strange religious rites at the House of the Sacred Flame just in time to witness the death of Cara Quayne, the Chosen Vessel, when she imbibes a chalice of wine laced with cyanide. Full review

Adulthood Rites (Exogenesis #2), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1988. (Out of print. Link is to a different edition) Lilith’s son Akin, a human “construct,” is kidnapped by resisters and raised in one of their settlements, and realizes his own unique and risky calling. Full review

The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach, Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the doctrine of creation, demonstrating how this doctrine is foundational and related to everything else in Christian theology. Full review

The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and WritingEdited by Marita Golden. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011. Interviews with notable Black writers about formative influences on their reading and writing, significant books and their particular writing callings. Full review

Best Book of the Month. I give the nod this month to Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night. She introduces the unfamiliar to the practice of Compline prayers and reflects chapter by chapter on one of the most beautiful of these and how God meets us in the night in every circumstance of our lives from our joys to our dying. This is exquisitely beautiful and vulnerable writing.

Quote of the Month: I love quotes on reading. Edwidge Danticat, in Marita Golden’s The Word made this striking observation about the importance of both reading and writing, one to which I fully subscribe:

“Reading is important–although we can so easily go into platitudes here–because it expands your mind, your life. It extends your world. It’s traveling without a passport. I feel like there are people in my life I will never know as well as the people in the books that I’ve read. I believe that it’s the duty of every truly free citizen to read, especially to read beyond your borders, to read and read extensively. Writing is our footmark in the world. We’re still looking at cave writings of centuries ago and are asking, what are they saying? It’s one of the most important gifts we leave the world” (p. 72)

What I’m Reading. I just finished Notorious RBG, a somewhat light-hearted biographical sketch of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg written while she was still alive. It ranges the gamut from her legal career and cases involving women’s rights and her dissents on the bench to her jabots, who did the cooking in her household, and the love of opera she shared with “Nino” Scalia. Tons of pictures! I’m into a couple other biographies at present, one of Henrietta Mears, whose What the Bible is all About was a guidebook to me in my early Christian life, and one of Siggi Wilzig, a holocaust survivor who arrived here with a grade school education and $240 and became a Wall Street legend. The book is titled Unstoppable and it strikes me as a somewhat tragic tale of a driven and psychologically scarred man. I’ve just begun Chandra Crane’s Mixed Blessing, on embracing a bi- or multi-racial identity, something true of nine million Americans, and which will only grow in the years ahead. And I’ve just opened Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound. I can’t go a year without reading something of his. In my continuing quest to read through all the Chief Inspector Gamache stories, I anticipate reading #8, A Beautiful Mystery, this month. Her books helped me get through the pandemic, so I’m not giving up now!

The Month in Reviews: April 2021

I read two books this months defending the reading of the old books, particularly those associated with the western canon, which has come in for much scorn. Of the two, Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead had the advantage for me of an irenic approach that took the critics seriously while celebrating what is worthy in these works. Both spoke of the “strangeness” of these works and, in Jacobs’ words, their capacity to increase our “personal density.” Books on three different books of scripture (Jeremiah, Romans, and 2 Corinthians) were another part of my reading this month as well as Ben Witherington III’s Torah Old and New. I’ve come to appreciate those who write with great skill with their words and reveled both in the poetry of Mary Oliver and the Lenten devotionals of Marilyn McEntyre, each on a word or phrase. Zuboff’s book on surveillance capitalism raises important questions but in an overly repetitious fashion that I felt “showed all her work.” A couple other books that were an absolute delight were Michael Kibbe’s From Research to Teaching, which sparkled with practical insights, and Alister McGrath’s theological biography of one of my heroes, recently passed, J. I. Packer. A delightful new author for me was Liuan Huska, whose book Hurting Yet Whole offered one of the best explorations of how one lives with chronic pain. So here is the list with links to publishers in the title and a link to the full review at the end of each summary.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. A selection of the poetry of Mary Oliver written between 1963 to 2015. Review

Resurrecting Justice: Reading Romans for the Life of the WorldDouglas Harink. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An invitation to read Romans as a treatise on justice in our relationship with God, in the church, and in society. Review

From Research to Teaching: A Guide to Beginning Your Classroom CareerMichael Kibbe. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A practical guide for those transitioning from graduate research to teaching, focusing on what teachers must do and must know. Review

Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Book One), Dean Koontz. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. A serial murderer is loose in New Orleans, and something far worse that two detectives begin to unravel, helped by a mysterious, tattooed figure by the name of Deucalion. Review

J. I. Packer: His Life and ThoughtAlister McGrath. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An account of the theologian’s faith, life, and theological engagement. Review

Breaking Bread with the DeadAlan Jacobs. New York: Penguin Press, 2020. A case for reading old books as a means of increasing our “personal density” to expand our temporal bandwidth. Review

Where the Eye AlightsMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. A collection of forty Lenten meditations drawn from words or phrases from scripture and poetry, inviting us to pause and attend. Review

Torah Old and NewBen Witherington III. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. A study of the texts from the Pentateuch quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and how they were understood both in their original context and as used in the New Testament context. Review

Hurting Yet WholeLiuan Huska. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. When a vibrant young writer descends into a season of chronic pain, she discovers the disembodied character of much Christian theology, that she could be whole as a person yet hurting, and that pain and physical vulnerability can be a place where we are met by God. Review

The Age of Surveillance CapitalismShoshana Zuboff. New York: Public Affairs, 2019. An extended treatise on the idea of surveillance capitalism, in which we are the “raw materials” for others economic gain and the object of instrumentarian control. Review

The Theology of JeremiahJohn Goldingay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A survey of the life of Jeremiah, the composition of the book, and the theological themes running through it. Review

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and LiturgyMatthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson (Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. Proposes that a theology of work is not enough. In scripture, people were formed in their work through worship rather than simply an intellectual engagement. Review

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache #7), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2012. The vernissage for Clara’s art show is a stunning success with glowing reviews only to be spoiled when the body of her estranged childhood friend is found in her flowerbed. Review

The Western CanonHarold Bloom. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 1994, this edition 2014. A spirited defense of the traditional Western Canon of literature against what Bloom calls the “School of Resentment” and a discussion of 26 representative works Bloom would include. Review

Strength in Weakness: An Introduction to 2 CorinthiansJonathan Lamb. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Preaching Resources, 2020. A concise exposition of 2 Corinthians designed as a resource for pastors, and for personal and small group study. Review

The Battle of HastingsJim Bradbury. New York: Pegasus Books, 2021. A historical account of Anglo-Saxon England, the rise of Normandy and the precipitating events leading up to the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the aftermath. Review

Best Book of the Month: Work and Worship by Kaemingk and Willson gets the nod. They address a crucial missing link in the “theology of work” discussion in making the connection between our worship on Sunday and our work through the week, and do so with theological clarity and practical examples.

Quote of the Month: I appreciated the insight of Marilyn McEntyre into the connection between repentance and rest. I’ve never thought of repentance as very restful. She persuaded me otherwise:

“And repentance, to return to Isaiah [30:15], allows you to rest. I think of the many times I’ve heard–and said–some version of ‘I’m wrestling with…” “I’m struggling with…” “I’m working on…” changing a habit, coming to terms with self defeating patterns, releasing resentments or guilt or old confusions. Repentance allows us to rest in forgiveness, regroup, and rather than wrestling, float for a while, upheld while we learn to swim in the current, or walk unburdened, or do a dance of deliverance, day by day releasing the past and entering fully, with an open heart, into the present where an open heart is waiting to receive us.” (p.11).

What I’m Reading: At present, I’m soaking in Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night, a reflection upon one of my favorite compline prayers. I’ve just finished Justin Ariel Bailey’s Reimagining Apologetics which argues for an apologetics of beauty using the works of George MacDonald and Marilynne Robinson. I came across Mary Wells Lawrence in my Youngstown blog (she also grew up there), and learned she had written a memoir, A Big Life. She was the first women to head a Madison Avenue ad agency and she offers an insider look at this whirlwind life. Purity culture and abuse in the church has been much in the news and #ChurchToo is an exploration of this theme by one of the originators of the #ChurchToo hashtag. Sergeant Salinger is a biographical fiction account of J.D. Salinger’s World War 2 service. Pretty interesting read! Finally The Black Coast is the first installment of a fantasy series replete with dragons, raiding clans, demonic figures and a kingdom in danger from without and within. Still trying to figure out if I like this, which is probably a bad sign.

Much good reading and more on the review pile including Winn Collier’s new biography of Eugene Peterson that just came in and I can’t wait to get to read! Hope you have some books like that on your “to read” pile as summer approaches.

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: March 2021

Some great novels and historical fiction. A celebration of the wonders of the world and a hard look at what it will take to keep it habitable. Some delightful mysteries. Institutions at their best and worst. Spirituality in the cell of an anchoress, and in the city. Helps in understanding scripture, global Christian history, and our modern concept of the self. Books addressing abuse in the church and discipleship in the workplace. Books addressing the trauma of the pandemic and the experience of racism. Yes, I read, and enjoy a wide variety of books. So hopefully there is something here you will like. Scroll down, and click the review link to see the full reviews.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern SelfCarl R. Trueman. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020. Traces the intellectual history of what Charles Taylor calls expressive individualism and Philip Rieff calls the psychological man that the author argues explains the modern understanding of self contributing to a revolution in human sexuality. Review

Maigret and the Old PeopleGeorges Simenon. New York: Penguin Books, 2019 (originally published in 1960). Maigret investigates the shooting death of a retired diplomat, struggling to figure out who among all the old people in his circle would have the motive and opportunity to kill him. Review

Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the ChurchDiane Langberg. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. A psychologist looks at the dynamics of power behind various forms of abuse and trauma in which church figures are either perpetrators or complicit. Review

God and the PandemicN. T. Wright. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2020. Reflects both upon our quest to know “why the pandemic?” and how we should then live. Review

Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective OrganizationGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Believing that institutions are essential to human flourishing, unpacks the intelligence necessary to work effectively within organizations, and the different elements of organizational life that must be navigated wisely. Review

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache #6), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010. Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave after an attempt to rescue an agent goes terribly wrong. As each faces their own traumas they get caught up in murder investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines. Review

Bad BloodJohn Carreyrou. New York: Vintage, 2020. The account of Elizabeth Holmes, the blood testing company Theranos, and the ambition that led to lies upon lies deceiving famous investors, pharmaceutical companies, and business publications until an investigative reporter on a tip discovered the house of cards on which it was all built. Review

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. An assessment of what it will take to get to “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, and the technological breakthroughs we will need to achieve that. Review

Healing Racial TraumaSheila Wise Rowe (Foreword by Soong-Chan Rah). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A counseling psychologist describes the experience of racial trauma in story, drawing upon her own and other clinical experiences, and explores the resources for resilience to face continuing racial struggle. Review

Workplace Discipleship 101David W. Gill. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A practical guide to living as a follower in one’s workplace focused on how we get ready for our work, impact our workplace, and beyond our workplace. Review

The Four WindsKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. Set in the Dust Bowl depression era, Elsa Martinelli grows from a timid girl to a mother whose fight for her children fulfills her grandfather’s exhortation to “be brave.” Review

A Gentleman in MoscowAmor Towles. New York: Penguin, 2019. Count Rostov has been sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol for life during Stalin’s regime and must find purpose for life within its confines. Review

Misreading Scripture with Individualist EyesE. Randolph Richards and Richard James. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Shows how we may misread scripture if we do not reckon with the collectivist context in which it is written, and in which many cultures still live. Review

World of WondersAimee Nezhukumatathil. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2020. A combination of memoir and nature writing describing the variety of living creatures encountered by the author in the different places where she lived and her own lived experience in these places. Review

The City is My MonasteryRichard Carter. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2020. A monk moves to the heart of London and forms a community sharing a rule of life and offers a reflective account organized around that rule. Review

A Survey of the History of Global Christianity, Second EditionMark Nickens. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020. A study of Christianity from its beginnings to the present, tracing its global diffusion, and the resulting diversity within the big “tent” of Christianity. Review

The Burning Land (Saxon Chronicles #5), Bernard Cornwell. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Uhtred, Alfred’s warrior is torn between his oaths to Alfred and his daughter, his longing to recover his stolen home of Bebbanburg, his Viking friend Ragnar, and the threat of a dangerous woman, a knife edge on which the fate of Alfred’s kingdom balances. Review

The Way of Julian Norwich: A Prayer Journey Through LentSheila Upjohn. London: SPCK, 2020. Six meditations on the writings of Julian of Norwich that redirect our focus from sin and judgement to the greatness of God’s love revealed in Christ’s incarnation and death. Review

Best Book of the Month. So many candidates for this one. It came down to A Gentleman in Moscow and The Four Winds. I’ll go with Kristin Hannah. The story covers similar ground to The Grapes of Wrath. I thought Elsa Martinelli holds her own against Tom Joad and Hannah captures the desperate conditions of the dust bowl and California migrations as profoundly as Steinbeck–apologies if that is a heresy to someone! Warning, though. Not an easy read.

Quote of the Month. I found The Way of Julian delightful for the chance to discover the vision of the love of God that captivated Julian’s life. This short quote on prayer turns prayer from duty to joy:

“Our prayer makes God glad and happy. He wants it and waits for it so that, by his grace, he can make us as like him in condition as we are by creation. This is his blessed will. . . He is avid for our prayers continually.”

What I’m Reading. I just finished Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, a compilation of her poetry throughout her writing career. How amazing the insights this woman captured within miles of her home. I’ve just began Alister McGrath’s new biography on the life and thought of J.I. Packer. Resurrecting Justice offers a study on the theme of justice in Romans. Both Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs and Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon challenge the trend in academia to shun what were once the standard texts of western literature. Yes, they have their problems, but both authors think they have abiding worth as well. At the suggestion of a blogging friend who pointed out one of the deficits in my reading, I’ve picked up Dean Koontz Prodigal Son, the first in his Frankenstein trilogy. Definitely a page-turner. And to get ready for an interview with Michael Kibbe for my work, I’m reading From Research to Teaching, a guide to teaching effectiveness. And we haven’t even gotten to the others on my TBR pile. We’ll see how many of those I get to beyond the above in the next month. Until then, happy reading!

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: February 2021

We had a lot of snowy days and cold nights this February. Time to read a lot of great books. A couple of novels on their way to becoming dystopian fiction classics. Another Louise Penny Gamache novel. A book on the science of life. A couple books edited by the same team on Christian scholarship. A history of civil rights efforts in the north and one on the distinctive contribution of the Black church’s reading of the Bible. A biography of “muckraker” Ida Tarbell and a study of Abraham’s Lincoln’s anti-slavery interpretation and implementation of the Constitution. Books on politics, ecology, and exile and the Bible. Other good theology and biblical studies. A memoir by the creator of Rubik’s cube and a collection of the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Here are summaries and links to all the reviews. Visit the full review for anything that looks interesting!

Christ and the Kingdoms of MenDavid C. Innes, foreword by Carl R. Trueman. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2020. Explores the civic and political responsibilities of Christians and the proper purposes of government. Review

The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986. One woman’s account of life as a “handmaid” in the dystopian society of the Republic of Gilead, an authoritarian religious society organized around the urgent problem of declining birthrates. Review

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache #5), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009. The body of an unknown man is found in the bistro of Gabri and Olivier, and Olivier is the chief suspect! Review

Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All, Ernö Rubik. New York: Flatiron Books, 2020. A memoir that explores both the role of puzzles in our life, and the creation and afterlife of the eponymous cube that bears the author’s name. Review

Voices and Views on Paul: Exploring Scholarly TrendsBen Witherington III and Jason A. Myers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A discussion and analysis of recent Pauline scholarship focusing on E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, Stephen Chester, and Louis Martyn. Review

Reading While BlackEsau McCaulley. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of biblical interpretation in the traditional Black church that emphasizes the conversation between the biblical text and the Black experience and how this sustains hope in the face of despair. Review

Sinless Flesh: A Critique of Karl Barth’s Fallen ChristRafael Nogueira Bello. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. Drawing upon the doctrines of inseparable operations, grace of union and habitual grace, and original sin, argues against the contention of Barth and Torrance that the Son of God assumed fallen human flesh in the Incarnation. Review

Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be AliveCarl Zimmer. New York: Dutton, (forthcoming) 3/9/2021. An exploration of how scientists attempt (and have failed) to define what life is and the quest to understand how life arose. Review

Public Intellectuals and the Common, Edited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A collection of presentations defining, articulating the need for and practice of Christian public intellectual work that pursues the wider good. Review

Ecology and the BibleFrédéric Baudin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A study of the biblical material on ecology, and how it bears on our current crises. Review

Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the NorthThomas J. Sugrue. New York: Random House, 2009. A history of the fight for civil rights in the North from 1920 to roughly 2000, focusing on movements, leaders, issues, and their expression in northern cities. Review

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — And Won!Emily Arnold McCully. New York: Clarion Books, 2014. A biography for young adults highlighting Tarbell’s journalistic career including her series of articles and books taking on Standard Oil, her relationship with Sam McClure, her views on women’s suffrage, and her lifelong labor to support her family. Review

The State of the Evangelical MindEdited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A collection of essays surveying the state of evangelical thought twenty five years after Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Review

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. A dystopian story of a father and son helping each other survive in a post-nuclear America, scavenging for food and avoiding murderous mobs. Review

Rebels and Exiles (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the theme of exile throughout the Bible, from the garden, to the warnings and reality of Israel’s exile, the return from exile accomplished by Christ, realized in part even while his people remain exiles awaiting the new creation. Review

Thunder in the Soul (Plough Spiritual Guides), Abraham Joshua Heschel. (Edited by Robert Erlwine). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A collection of the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concerning the life of knowing and being known by God. Review

The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery ConstitutionJames Oakes. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2021. A historical account of how Abraham Lincoln, although not a traditional abolitionist, strongly supported and implemented the antislavery portions of the Constitution to pursue the end of slavery. Review

Best Book of the Month. If you have never read any Abraham Joshua Heschel, pick up a copy of Thunder in the Soul, a collection of the thought of Heschel. I found myself stopping to think and ponder after almost every sentence. Here’s one taste, as he writes about God: “His is the call, ours the paraphrase; His is the creation, ours a reflection. He is not an object to be comprehended, a thesis to be endorsed, neither the sum of all that is (facts) nor a digest of all that ought to be (ideals). He is the ultimate subject.”

Best Quote of the Month. Beside the above, I liked this statement about the role of puzzles in our lives”

“Puzzles bring out important qualities in each of us: concentration, curiosity, a sense of play, the eagerness to discover a solution. These are the versame qualities that form the bedrock for all human creativity. Puzzles are not just entertainment or devices for killing time. For us, as for our ancestors, they help point the way to our creative potential. If you are curious, you will find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

What I’m Reading. I have a couple mysteries going right now–the next Louise Penny for me, Bury Your Dead and Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Old People. John Carreyrou’s account of the rise and fall of Theranos and its young executive Elizabeth Holmes, Bad Blood, is a riveting account of the pursuit of money and power when ethics become optional. Redeeming Power by Diane Langberg is an eloquent and theologically grounded study of power and sexual abuse in the church. Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is a tour de force of intellectual history showing the development that has transformed our idea of the self, and its implications for our life in society and our understanding of sexuality. I also have Bill Gates new book on climate change and the latest Kristen Hannah book on my TBR pile. Later this month I will be interviewing Gordon T. Smith about his book, Institutional Intelligence, so I will be reading that as well. I look forward to our continuing conversation about good books!

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: 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.