The Month in Reviews: July 2017

becoming curious

I opened the month with a bookImpossible People, which explores the calling of Christians in our modern culture. Subsequently, I read a couple of books about the challenges millenials are facing in engaging both their faith and their culture. A couple of books dealt with death–exploring suicide from the perspective of survivors, and what the Bible says happens to us upon death. Then there were a couple books concerning the Middle East–one concerning reading the Qu’ran, the other a fresh approach to “Christian Zionism.” The rest were hardly “miscellaneous.” There was a wonderful book on curiosity and questioning as transformational practices, a far-reaching collection of essays responding to various facet’s of N.T. Wright’s work on Paul, a delightful collection of Marilynne Robinson essays, a book on nuclear energy as key to buying time in our energy transition, and a prescient book on White House chiefs of staff and their critical role in the success (or failure) of a presidency. Here’s the tally:

impossible people

Impossible People, Os Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Delineating the advance of modernity and its negative consequences, Guinness calls upon Christians to be the “impossible people” who both resist and positively engage the culture to “serve God’s purposes in this generation.” (Review)

becoming curious

Becoming Curious, Casey Tygrett (Foreward by James Bryan Smith). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Commends curiosity as essential to transformation and helps us cultivate the practice of asking questions as a spiritual practice. (Review)

vanishing american adult

The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. Concerned about the passivity he observes among many emerging adults, the author proposes five character building habits to foster resilient, responsible adults and wisely engaged citizens. (Review)

abandoned faith

Abandoned FaithAlex McFarland and Jason Jimenez. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. Explores the reasons unprecedented numbers of millenials are leaving the church or are religiously unaffiliated, and what parents and other thoughtful adults can do to address this challenge. (Review)

when I was a child

When I Was a Child I Read BooksMarilynne Robinson. New York: Picador, 2013. A collection of essays reflecting on the state of the nation and our culture, the values of literacy, liberality, and Christian generosity that have shaped us, and what the loss of these values to austerity, utility, and secularist atheism might mean for us. (Review)

buying time

Buying Time: Environmental Collapse and the Future of Energy, Kaz Makabe. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017. A study that looks at the world’s increasing energy demands and the environmental challenges these pose, and makes the argument that nuclear power, even with its risks, needs to be considered in the energy mix. (Review)

The Qu'ran in Context

The Qu’ran in Context, Mark Robert Anderson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A study by a Christian theologian of the Qu’ran in its seventh century AD context exploring its teachings in relation to Christian teaching, noting both similarities and points of divergence in the hope of encouraging open and honest dialogue between adherents of these two faiths. (Review)

god and faithfulness of paul

God and the Faithfulness of PaulChristoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers assessing N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of Godby scholars from a number of fields of theological study, with a concluding response from N. T. Wright. (Review)

the gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple. New York: Crown, 2017. A study of the White House Chiefs of Staff, from the Nixon through Obama administrations, and how critical the effective execution of this role is to an effective presidency. (Review)

What Happens After You Die

What Happens After You Die Randy Frazee. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017. An exploration of the Bible’s teaching on what happens to us after death, if we know Christ or if we don’t, both before he returns, and after. (Review)

Grieving a Suicide

Grieving a Suicide (Second Edition), Albert Y. Hsu. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A narrative of how the author learned to deal with the trauma of his father’s suicide, the questions it raised, and the movement through grief toward healing. (Review)

New Christian Zionism

The New Christian Zionism, Gerald R. McDermott ed. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Argues that the Old Testament promises of restoration for Israel, including restoration to the land, can be supported in the New Testament, and that Christian Zionism enjoys a long history of theological support not rooted in premillenial dispensationalism. (Review)

Best book: I really liked Casey Tygrett’s Becoming Curious. I work with people who spend their lives being curious and asking questions and found this book such a welcome encouragement that our curiosity and our questions are essential to our growth and transformation. There was a freshness about this book that seemed, to me, to arise from the author’s own willingness to question the familiar, enabling him to see with new eyes.

Best quote: I could equally have given my “best book” nod to Albert Y. Hsu’s Grieving a Suicide, a deeply thoughtful, yet gentle exploration of what it is like to survive a suicide rooted in the author’s personal experience. He writes:

“In most literature on the topic, “suicide survivor” refers to a loved one left behind by a
suicide—husband, wife, parent, child, roommate, coworker, another family member, friend—not a person who has survived a suicide attempt. It is no coincidence that the term survivor is commonly applied to those who have experienced a horrible catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions. We speak of Holocaust survivors or of survivors of genocide, terrorism, or war. So it is with those of us who survive a suicide. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ‘the level of stress resulting from the suicide of a loved one is ranked as catastrophic—equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience.’

. . .

Such is the case for survivors of suicide. We have experienced a trauma on par psychologically with the experience of soldiers in combat. In the aftermath, we simply don’t know if we can endure the pain and anguish. Because death has struck so close to home, life itself seems uncertain. We don’t know if we can go on from day to day. We wonder if we will be consumed by the same despair that claimed our loved one. At the very least, we know that our life will never be the same. If we go on living, we will do so as people who see the world very differently” (p. 10).

What I’m reading:  Currently I am delighting in a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery, Have His Carcase, as puzzled as Wimsey and Vane as to the identity of the murderer. I’m in the middle of my baseball book for this summer, written by Jane Leavy, one of my favorite baseball writers. It is The Last Boy and chronicles both the greatness and tragedy of Mickey Mantle, one of my boyhood heroes. I enjoyed When I Was a Child I Read Books so much that I’m reading another Marilynne Robinson essay collection, The Death of Adam which has a great essay on Ohioan William Holmes McGuffey as well as one on Puritans and prigs! Ethics at Work is a study guide for groups exploring three pillars of ethics: commands, consequences and character. I also have several “on deck” books I am looking forward to dipping into: Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake, a book on ministering in honor-shame cultures, and The Loyal Son on Ben Franklin’s difficult relationship with his own son.

I hope these last weeks of summer afford you the opportunity to put your feet up with a cold drink at your side and a good read in your hands.

The Month in Reviews: June 2017

the last lion

I read fewer titles, though probably as many or more pages as most months, completing two long biographies, one of Calvin Coolidge and the other Manchester and Reid’s magnificent final volume on Winston Churchill. In the category, more or less of biography, I also reviewed a republication of a classic work on the life and theology of Reinhold Niebuhr.  I also read several books on the elemental realities of human life: food, sexuality, and loss. Online technology was a theme as well. On the fiction side, I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and on the non-fiction side, The Tech-Wise Family.  I was curious to see if the ideas of the latter could prevent the dystopia of the former. The jury is out. I read two books that drew on the text of Jeremiah 29:4-7, at least in part, to frame how the Christian community should relate to the world, and to give another major prophet equal time, a book on the idea of “kingdom” as the major theme of Isaiah.

Publication info and summary of the books are below as well as links to the full review. Enjoy!

The Circle

The CircleDave Eggers. New York: Vintage, 2014. Dystopian fiction exploring the potential in a digital, online age to create a world where nothing is secret, and whether that is a utopia or a nightmare. (Review)

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961. Lewis’s reflections after he lost his wife, Joy, that explores the different seasons of grief and his honest wrestling with what it means to believe in God when facing profound loss. (Review)

Two views

Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the ChurchPreston Sprinkle (ed.), William Loader, Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes (contributors). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Four biblical scholars and theologians, two holding a traditional understanding of human sexuality, and two holding an affirming stance, but all taking the biblical testimony about human sexuality seriously, articulate the basis on which they hold their positions, and respond to the statements of the other three in gracious dialogue. (Review)

Embrace

EmbraceLeroy Barber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. An extended reflection on Jeremiah 29:4-7 and God’s invitation to embrace the difficult places, people, differences, and callings involved in bringing his peace and justice into a divided world. (Review)

To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World, Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores a different metaphor for the church’s role in God’s mission, that of midwife to what God is birthing, and how this might change the ways we engage with our world. (Review)

the living temple

The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976). A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories. (Review)

Coolidge

Coolidge, Amity Shlaes. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. An account of Coolidge as a man of quiet conviction who presided over a great American transformation. (Review)

tech wise family

The Tech-Wise FamilyAndy Crouch. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A book for taking steps to put technology in its proper place, allowing persons to grow in wisdom and courage instead of giving in to an “easy everywhere” life. (Review)

book of isaiah and God's kingdom

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew T. Abernethy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A thematic approach to understanding Isaiah organized around the idea of ‘kingdom’ exploring the nature of the king, the agents of the king, and the realm and people of the king as elaborated throughout the book. (Review)

niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind)Bob E. Patterson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017 (originally published in 1977). An introduction to the life and theological contribution of this mid-twentieth century theologian, known for re-introducing a conversation about sin into liberal theological circles. (Review)

the last lion

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965William Manchester and Paul Reid. New York: Bantam Publishing, 2013 (first published 2012). The third volume of Manchester’s biography of Churchill, covering his leadership of England during World War II, and his political and personal life until his death in 1965. (Review)

Best book of the month: I have to give this to the book that it took me nearly a month to read, William Manchester and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. I’d long awaited the completion of Manchester’s biography of Churchill, having read the first two volumes when they were published in the 1980’s. This provided an account of Churchill’s courageous leadership throughout World War II. Churchill insisted that Great Britain’s people were in fact the lion and he was simply its roar. But the account suggested to me that his speeches and leadership called out the “lion” in his people, when lesser leaders might only have instilled confusion, fear, or even capitulation. A great read, and worth a month!

Best quote of the month:  I liked this summary of the contribution of Reinhold Niebuhr’s life (in Reinhold Niebuhr (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind)), that if anything, seems far more relevant today than when it was written in the 1970’s:

“We still need his genius to see that human behavior is complex, that demonic possibilities are built into church and social structures, that human pride and spiritual arrogance rise to new heights precisely at the point where they are closest to the Kingdom of God, and that advance brings vulnerability to new temptations. Since overweening self-regard is ubiquitous, religious and political groups need Niebuhr’s caution about special arrogance, about the self-righteous smoke screen laid down by the powerful, and about cheap grace” (pp. 130-131).

What I’m reading right now: I’ve just completed Os Guinness’s latest book, Impossible People, and Casey Tygrett’s Becoming Curious, a wonderful book which commends the spiritual practice of asking questions. Look for reviews of these this week. I’m also reading a couple books exploring the character of the rising generation. One is Senator Ben Sasse’s book on The Vanishing American Adult which is concerned with rebuilding what he sees as a needed culture of self-reliance. The other, Abandoned Faith, concerns why so many of this generation are walking away from the church, and the role parents and other church leaders may play in helping some come back.  I’m also about 300 pages into an 800 plus page collection of papers on various aspects of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright’s magnum opus on Paul (which is over twice that long and which I probably should spend a summer reading some year soon).  Finally, I am reading a collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books. I just finished one on the role of imagination in enabling us to enter deeply into community–quite thought-provoking. I can understand why she has been called Barack Obama’s favorite Christian intellectual and was interviewed by him for the New York Review of Books (Part One and Part Two).

Hope you find something good here for your summer reading. And I’d love to hear what you have been reading and found interesting as well. Building on Marilynne Robinson’s title, when I was a child I read books, and I haven’t stopped yet!

The Month in Reviews: May 2017

Uneasy Conscience

I can’t think of a good way to summarize the books I reviewed this past month. They were fifteen distinctive books ranging from an Agatha Christie mystery, historical fiction, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a political memoir (by the sitting governor of my state), a classic manifesto that shaped mid-20th century evangelicalism, an exploration of prison ministries, a theological reflection on forgiveness, and much more. I reviewed another of the recent books commemorating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, posted the first of a series of reviews of books on homosexuality and the Bible, a great survey of scripture on the theme of multi-ethnic reconciliation, and a passionate and practical book on praying for pastors!

Uneasy Conscience

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern FundamentalismCarl F. H. Henry (foreword by Richard J. Mouw). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003 (originally published 1947). Henry’s classic manifesto challenging the heirs of the fundamentalist movement to a recovery of a social and intellectual engagement while maintaining gospel integrity. )(Review)

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2010. Book One of a historical fiction trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, a key figure in the English Reformation, covering the rise of Cromwell to power under Henry VIII, up until 1535. (Review)

Worship in the Way of the Cross

Worship in the Way of the CrossJohn Frederick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Contends that worship should be “cross-shaped,” that communities who do so may be formed in service of God and each other. Addresses flawed assumptions, interpersonal relationships, and liturgical elements as these related to cross-shaped worship. (Review)

God in Captivity

God in Captivity, Tanya Erzen. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017. Explores the role that faith-based, predominantly Evangelical ministries are playing in the U.S. prison system, the hope they offer inmates, and the ways they may reinforce the efforts toward control and maintenance of a retributive justice and prison system. (Review)

Salvation by Allegiance Alone

Salvation by Allegiance AloneMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. Argues that the words we translate as “belief” or “faith” are better translated as “allegiance” and that the focal point of the gospel is not simply being forgiven for sins or obtaining eternal life, but allegiance to King Jesus. (Review)

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

How I Changed My Mind About EvolutionKathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Twenty-five narratives of Christians who accept evolutionary creation and how, in most cases, they changed their minds in reaching this conclusion. (Review)

The Affair at the Bungalow

The Affair at the Bungalow, Agatha Christie. New York: Witness Impulse, 2013 (originally published in the anthology Thirteen Problems in 1932). Actress Jane Helier tells a story of a mysterious burglary at a bungalow in the town where she is acting in a play, involving a woman impersonating her and an unfortunate young playwright. Miss Marple, professing to be baffled, privately hints at a different story. (Review)

Two Paths

Two Paths: America Divided or UnitedJohn Kasich. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017. The presidential candidate’s memoir of his campaign and the choice of the low and high paths of political engagement we face and his vision for that high path. (Review)

An Anomalous Jew

An Anomalous JewMichael F. Bird. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016. A collection of studies on the life and ministry of Paul that explores this unusual Jew who is comfortable moving among Greeks and Romans as he proclaims the Christ he encountered on the way to Damascus. (Review)

The Face of Forgiveness

The Face of ForgivenessPhilip D. Jamieson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Explores the struggle of many in experiencing and granting forgiveness and what the author believes are inadequate understandings of the atonement that fail to deal with our shame as well as our guilt, and how in fact the work of Christ addresses both. (Review)

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins, Margaret R. Ellsberg ed., Foreword by Dana Gioia. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017. An exploration of the life and faith of Gerard Manley Hopkins through commentary and a selection of his poetry, letters, journal entries, and sermons. (Review)

Remembering the Reformation

Remembering the Reformation: Martin Luther and Catholic TheologyDeclan Marmion, Salvador Ryan, Gesa E. Thiessen (eds.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers exploring Martin Luther in historical context and his roots in the medieval tradition and what might be learned by Catholics and Lutherans from him and how that may contribute to rapprochement. (Review)

Speaking of homosexuality

Speaking of HomosexualityJoe Dallas. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A point by point refutation by a former gay activist of the arguments against the church’s traditional view of homosexuality. (Review)

The Post Racial Church

The Post-Racial Church, Kenneth A. Mathews & M. Sydney Park. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2011. A survey of the teaching of the Bible that concludes that racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic Christian communities are integral to the message of the gospel. (Review)

Praying for your Pastor

Praying For Your PastorEddie Byun (foreword by Chip Ingram). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A practical guide both advocating for the importance of prayer for our pastors and offering a practical rubric in the form of the acronym PRAYERS. (Review)

Classic book of the month: I came up with this category so that I could feature Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry is a bit of an unknown these days but he offered an intellectual and theological heft and vision of social engagement to mid-twentieth evangelicalism that is well worth reconsidering.

Best Book of the month: This was especially tough because there is so much good material here, but I found Eddie Byun’s Praying For Your Pastor singular in addressing a great need in an age when pastors are leaving the ministry in droves. It is a model of concision, passion, and practicality. If I might add, I found it striking in tracking review stats that it received less than one-tenth the attention that a book on sexuality reviewed a few days before received, yet I would consider it far more vital, and a better book!

Best quote of the month: This is from another wonderful book, Philip Jamieson’s The Face of Forgiveness:

“In his last act, high and lifted up, Jesus–the man who fully reveals God, now fully revealed–joins sinful humanity in our downward gaze. Jesus dies in the posture of shame, embracing the world’s shame. ‘It is finished.’ The face, once set like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) on his way to Jerusalem, to this very death (Lk 9:51), now stares, unblinkingly downcast, bearing humanity’s shame. He joins all of us: solidarity with the shamed. But again, this face is different. For this face in its downward gaze is not looking away from his neighbors; he is looking at them. The last act of the dying Savior is to fix his gaze upon those who are in need of salvation. Our forgiveness has already been pronounced (Lk 23:34) and now the dying God provides the means to accept it. Karl Barth notes there is no other face like Jesus. Jesus’ is the face that will not look away. Jesus is the face that sees all and still loves all. Jesus’ face alone is the one that has power to forgive and to give us the healing power to accept that forgiveness” (p. 114).

What I am reading right now. I’m just finishing up Dave Eggers The Circle, a dystopian piece (out as a movie recently) that is chilling because all the technology required to make this dystopia happen basically is in place. I just began Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church in which two theologians and two biblical scholars with opposing views (traditional and affirming) engage in respectful dialogue around the relevant scriptures, theological history, and their bearing on how the church responds to gays, lesbians, and bi-sexually oriented persons. Our Dead Theologians group is just completing our reading of A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (written after the death of his wife Joy Davidman). I’m enjoying a biography by Amity Shlaes of Calvin Coolidge who among other things said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job.” And I’ve just begun Michael Frost and Christiana Rice’s To Alter Your World which explores how Christians ought engage their society, using the metaphor found in scripture of being midwives to what God wants to give birth.

I’d love to hear what you are reading!

The Month in Reviews: April 2017

The Heir Apparent

This month’s reading spanned the gamut from Eastern Orthodoxy to the English Reformation to classic evangelicalism to thinking on the church’s ministry with the rising generation. Along the way there were several biographies including that of Hermann Rorshach, King Edward VII, and Katharina and Martin Luther. Each explored a lesser know figure–Rorshach, the man behind the test, Edward VII, the playboy who ended up a hard-working monarch, and Katharina Von Bora, truly a match for Luther, though often overshadowed in the history. At one point, I reviewed back-to-back a book in hope for politics, and another on resisting tyranny. I read some classic science fiction, and a summary of the cutting edge science of astro-physics. Mixed in were Lewis’s classic on pain, a book on the ten commandments, a wonderful theology of preaching, and a path-breaking book on leading multi-ethnic worship.

Modern Orthodox Thinkers

Modern Orthodox Thinkers, Andrew Louth. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Biographical sketches and theological summaries of some of the leading thinkers in the modern Orthodox Church from Russia to Paris to Mount Athos to England and the US, and the significant role the Philokalia has played in Orthodox thought and piety. (Review)

The Inkblots

The InkblotsDamion Searls. New York: Crown Publishers, 2017. A biography of Hermann Rorschach and the after-history of the test that bears his name. (Review)

Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z, James Emery White. Grand Rapids: Baker 2017. The book profiles the generation born since 1993, describing them as the first “post-Christian” generation, and what the church in the US must do to reach this generation. (Review)

Recovering Classical Evangelicalism

Recovering Classic EvangelicalismGregory Alan Thornbury. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Addressing an evangelical context that seemingly has lost a sense of its identity, core convictions, and model for cultural engagement, the author commends a re-appraisal of the work of Carl F. H. Henry as a source of wisdom for the future. (Review)

The Heir Apparent

The Heir ApparentJane Ridley. New York: Random House, 2013. An award-winning biography of Edward VII, often criticized for his faults of character as heir to the throne under Victoria, whose reign ushered in a critical transition in the British monarchy in the first decade of the twentieth century. (Review)

Preaching in the New Testament

Preaching in the New Testament (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Jonathan L. Griffiths. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exegetical and biblical theology of preaching from the texts of the New Testament. (Review)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., (forthcoming May) 2017. A clear and concise discussion in understandable terms about the current state of our understanding of astrophysics, everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of the elements on the periodic table, and all the space between the galaxies. (Review)

The English Reformation

A Brief History of The English ReformationDerek Wilson. London: Robinson, 2012. A history of the house of Tudor, and how their rule transformed England both religiously and politically, and the influence of the vernacular scriptures on the English people. (Review)

Reclaiming Hope

Reclaiming HopeMichael Wear. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2017. Written by an Obama staffer in his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and faith outreach director in his 2012 campaign, this is not only a narrative of that work, but also an exploration of controversial decisions made by this administration, and how Christians might think of the possibilities and practice of political involvement. (Review)

On Tyranny

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. A Yale historian draws twenty lessons from fascist and communist movements of the twentieth century and applies them to the American context. (Review)

The Decalogue

The DecalogueDavid L. Baker. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. After an exploration of the shape, form, origin, and purpose of these ten “words”, the author takes each in turn, exploring the command in its cultural context, it’s biblical and theological meaning, and contemporary relevance. (Review)

The Next Worship

The Next WorshipSandra Maria Van Opstal (foreword by Mark Labberton). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Using the language of an international table, this book gives both theological basis and practical help in leading Christian communities into multi-cultural and multi-lingual worship led by empowered multi-ethnic worship teams. (Review)

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of PainC. S. Lewis. New York: Harper Collins, 2015 (originally published 1940). Lewis’s classic work exploring the existence of suffering and pain and how this is possible in a world made and sustained by a good and omnipotent God. (Review)

City

City, Clifford D. Simak (Introduction by David W. Wixon). New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1952). A collection of eight connected stories stitched together by “notes” from dog commentators on how human beings died out as a species on earth. (Review)

Katharina and Martin Luther

Katharina & Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2017. An account of the “most unlikely to succeed” scandalous marriage of Katharina Von Bora and Martin Luther, a runaway nun and former monk who marry out of necessity and principle, and grow into love. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent is a fascinating and masterful study of the life of King Edward VII, from his troubled childhood under Albert and Victoria, his playboy life, even while he is cultivating a public life that would make him “the people’s king” and his last years as England’s monarch, including his efforts to avert the conflict that became World War I, which he did not live to see. It made several “best books” lists in 2014.

Best Quote of the Month: In David L. Baker’s The Decalogue he includes some trenchant reflections on how the commandments bear on contemporary life, with this on the bearing of false witness particularly telling:

“The Old Testament affirms the importance of truth in public life, with particular condemnation of religious leaders who use their positions to propagate lies (Jer 6:13-14; 8:10-11; 23:21-32; Ezek 13) and pander to their audiences with smooth talk (cf. Is 30:9-11). Mendacity brings iniquity (Is 5:18) and causes confusion by pretending to be virtue (Is 5:20).

    Another kind of untruth that is pervasive today is the use of moral euphemisms designed to make what is wrong appear right or at least unobjectionable. Instead of committing adultery, people have an affair. Instead of having an abortion, they terminate a pregnancy. Instead of killing innocent citizens, there is collateral damage. Instead of unemployment, there is downsizing. Instead of lying, there are ‘terminological inexactitudes’ (Winston Churchill, 1906).

What about us? Are we habitually truthful. When we speak and write, it is often easier to say what we think people want to hear–or what we want them to hear–than what is actually true. Sometimes it is tempting to keep quiet and not say anything at all rather than speaking up when we ought to. The Bible encourages us to go beyond the rejection of false testimony, to become people who speak the truth from our hearts” (p. 141).

Coming soon: Tomorrow I will be posting a review of Carl F. H. Henry’s classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. I picked this up after reading Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism exploring the life and theology of Henry. I’m in the midst of Salvation By Allegiance Alone which challenges our formulations of “faith alone” in many presentations of the Christian message, and particularly emphasizes the rule of Jesus and our allegiance to him. I’m also reading a work on how worship is meant to form us to be like Christ, Worship in the Way of the Cross. For fun, I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a great historical fiction follow up to the book on the English Reformation, focused on Thomas Cromwell. This weekend, we picked up Dave Eggers, The Circle, and John Kasich’s political memoir Two Paths. I’ve just started a book of narratives of a variety of Christians whose views of evolution changed–ranging from N. T. Wright to Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project and current National Institutes of Health director).

Hope you will stop by frequently to catch the reviews of these books, and tell me what you think!

The Month in Reviews: March 2017

Caring for Words

One theme I saw in this month’s readings concerned the question of how Christians ought engage a society, particularly American society. In the last month or so, two important books have been published with very different perspectives and approaches: Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Philip Gorski’s American Covenant. I reviewed both of these books in March and the “review” links below will take you to the reviews. John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion explored a similar theme, as does, on more of a note of praxis, David Gushee’s A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends. Two books I read took a different approach, both along the theme of “care” and were among the most personally moving books I read this month: Makoto Fujimura’s recently published Culture Care, and an older work by Marilyn McEntyre on Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.

Then there was the eclectic mix of books that reflect my interests and “to be read” pile. Ed Larson’s Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory was my science read for the month–a surprisingly non-polemical work from a secular source. There was science fiction from Robert Silverberg, a novel by Canadian author Robertson Davies, and my re-reading (thanks to the Dead Theologians group) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In presidential biographies, there is A. Scott Berg’s Wilson. On the theological side, I reviewed Kevin Van Hoozer’s important book on biblical authority, a very practical book on conflict resolution by Lou Priolo, a delightful discussion of “Jesus Behaving Badly” by Mark Strauss, and a wonderful set of sermons on the cross by Christopher J. H. Wright, just in time for Good Friday.

So here is the list of sixteen books reviewed in March with links in the titles to publisher’s web pages and a review link at the end of the summary if you want to read the whole review. evolution

Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific TheoryEdward J. Larson. New York: Modern Library Chronicles, 2004. A history of the development of evolutionary theory, including both the antecedents to Darwin and Russell and the extension of this theory, the controversies, both past and present that it provoked, and the genetic discoveries that have further revealed the theory’s mechanisms. (Review)

letter-to-anxious-christian-friends

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, David P. Gushee. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Written as a series of letters, this is an exploration of what it means as a Christian to both love and be anxious for one’s country as people of faith committed to the global kingdom of God. (Review)

culture-care

Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A call for a different kind of engagement with culture, one of care, of becoming generative, rather than engaging in war or battle, to foster beauty in our common life. (Review)

Biblical Authority After Babel

Biblical Authority After BabelKevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. A proposal that the five Solas of “mere Protestant Christianity” provide a framework to check the interpretive anarchy for which Protestant Christianity is criticized. (Review)

Across a Billion Years

Across a Billion Years, Robert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2013 (originally published in 1969). A group of space archaeologists from different planets make a discovery that puts them on the trail of an ancient, highly advanced race that disappeared nearly a billion years ago. (Review)

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism and Civil ReligionJohn D. Wilsey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. Explores the history of American exceptionalism, distinguishing two kinds of exceptionalism and considers them under five theological themes. (Review)

Wilson

Wilson, A. Scott Berg. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013. A definitive biography of Woodrow Wilson, that traces the arc of his life from boyhood to professor to college president to U.S. president in biblical terms fitting for this deeply religious man. (Review)

Resolving Conflict

Resolving ConflictLou Priolo. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2016. A practical guidebook to the biblical prerequisites and principles of resolving conflicts between Christians both in home and church contexts. (Review)

Caring for Words

Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. Explores, in a culture of “spin” and poisoned discourse, practices for caring for our use of words, that they may be used well and true. (Review)

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (with an introduction by James M. McPherson). New York: Vintage Books/Library of America: 1991 (originally published 1852). Stowe’s classic novel depicting the evils of slavery, the complicity of North and South, and the aspirations and faith of slaves themselves. (Review)

American Covenant

American Covenant, Philip Gorski. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. Traces and argues for an American civil religious tradition combining prophetic religion and civic republicanism that avoids the extremes of religious nationalism and radical secularism. (Review)

Theology in the Flesh

Theology in the FleshJohn Sanders. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. A survey of how the field of cognitive linguistics lends insight into how we understand theological matters ranging from morals to the nature of God to understanding the Bible. (Review)

Jesus Behaving Badly

Jesus Behaving BadlyMark L. Strauss. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Explores some of the disturbing acts and statements of Jesus, that actually reveal his counter-cultural message and mission. (Review)

The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinel, 2017. A proposal that in the face of pervasive cultural decline that has led to political, theological, and moral compromise within the church, it is time for Christians to consider a kind of strategic withdrawal patterned on the monastic movement founded by St. Benedict. (Review)

To The Cross

To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ. (Review)

The Lyre of Orpheus

The Lyre of OrpheusRobertson Davies. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. The project of a gifted but difficult graduate student to realize an unfinished opera of  E. T. A. Hoffman uncovers darker and hidden aspects in a number of the central characters who join in undertaking the project. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Without question, it is Marilyn’s McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I appreciate my friend Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books for recommending (and selling) this book to me! In turn, I haven’t stopped telling people about it from the moment I started reading it. The topic of our care for words and for truth is certainly a top priority in our time if we are to preserve a just, free, and open culture. McEntyre addresses this with cogency and grace, and practices the care for words in her writing for which she advocates.

Best Quote of the Month: While reading Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care I came to this personal statement of faith and calling that left me saying, “Yes! Yes! YES!”:

“I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being. Vincent van Gogh was not a Christian artist either, but in Christ he painted the heavens declaring the glory of GodEmily Dickinson was not a Christian poet, and yet through her honest wrestling, given wings in words, her works, like Vincent’s, like Harper Lee’s, like Mahalia Jackson’s–speak to all the world as integrated visions of beauty against injustice.

    “It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church” (pp. 84-85).

Coming Soon: Tomorrow, I will be posting a review of Andrew Louth’s Modern Orthodox Thinkers, a collection of theological biographies of Orthodox thinkers over the last couple centuries. Recovering Classic Evangelicalism is a plea to return to the evangelicalism of Carl F. H. Henry. Not sure yet whether I buy the argument! I’m working my way through a long biography of Edward VII, the playboy son of Victoria as well as a fascinating account of the life of Hermann Rorschach, and the inkblot psychological test he developed. Because of our Dead Theologians group, I am re-reading C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. A few others on the TBR pile include Sandra Van Opstal’s The Next Worship, James Emery White’s Meet Generation Z, Michelle DeRusha’s Katharina and Martin Luther (It is the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle door), and Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope on lessons learned from his experiences in the Obama White House.

Here’s to a good month of reading!

 

 

 

The Month in Reviews: February 2017

temple-and-tabernacle

There were books I read this month that fascinated me, like Hit Makers and others that scared the living daylights out of me, like Lights Out. Temple and Tabernacle warmed my heart while Confident Pluralism challenged me. I felt that several of the books I read challenged me in engaging with those who differ, whether in differing understandings of life’s meaning, differing faiths, or simply in reconciling across differences within our own faith. I delighted in the pithy essays in Richard Mouw’s Praying at Burger King and waded through a couple of books on higher education. One thing I discovered in looking over the list was that there was no fiction on it! Look for that to change next month. So here is what I read in February:

confident-pluralism

Confident PluralismJohn D. Inazu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Recognizing the deep fissures in American society and the necessity of maintaining some kind of civil union in the face of the scary alternatives, this book explores the constitutional commitments and civic practices that make that possible. (Review)

the-future-of-evangelicalism

The Future of Evangelical TheologyAmos Yong. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.  An exploration of the contribution that has been made and could be made from
Asian-Americans to evangelical theology, with particular attention to context and the author’s Pentecostal perspective. (Review)

the-power-of-meaning

The Power of MeaningEmily Esfahani Smith. New York: Crown Publishing, 2017. Explores the importance of meaning in one’s life, four pillars upon which meaning rests, and how we might cultivate cultures of meaning. (Review)

outlaw-christian

Outlaw ChristianJacqueline A. Bussie. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. Challenges the “unwritten rules” of Christianity that respond with denial or cliches when faced with the hardest challenges of evil, pain, suffering, doubt, and death and invites both honest responses and offers reality-based hope. (Review)

from-bubble-to-bridge

From Bubble to Bridge, Marion H. Larson and Sara L.H. Shady. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores how to equip Christians for engagement in our religiously diverse multifaith environment, moving out of our Christian “bubbles” and building bridges of understanding without compromising the convictions of one’s own faith. (Review)

awakenings

AwakeningsOliver Sacks. London: Picador, 1991. Chronicles the experience of post-encephalitis patients existing as prisoners in their own bodies in a trance-like state, who, when treated with L-DOPA, experienced dramatic “awakenings” nearly always followed by debilitating side effects, often resulting with withdrawal of the drug, and a return to their former state. (Review)

pietist-vision

The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationChristopher Gehrz, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. The contributors to this volume consider the “usable past” in Pietist thought and practice that might serve in the “forming of whole and holy persons” in Christian colleges with a Pietist heritage. (Review)

the-faculty-factor

The Faculty FactorMartin J. Finkelstein, Valerie Martin Conley, and Jack H. Schuster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. A data-rich study of the profile, experience, and influence of university faculty in the turbulent and rapidly changing landscape of higher education institutions in the United States. (Review)

lights-out

Lights OutTed Koppel. New York: Broadway Books, 2016. Explores the vulnerabilities of our power grid to attack, the state of our preparedness for such an attack, and what it would take as individuals to survive such an attack. (Review)

temple-and-tabernacle

The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. An exploration of God’s dwelling places as described throughout the Bible from Eden to tabernacle, to the first and second temples, the question of Ezekiel’s temple, and the temple in John’s Revelation. (Review)

praying-at-burger-king

Praying at Burger KingRichard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. Short essays on the life of faith in the world, originally appearing on beliefnet.com, and several other publications. (Review)

roadmap-to-reconciliation

Roadmap to ReconciliationBrenda Salter McNeil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. This veteran of racial reconciliation work shows us not only that reconciliation is necessary but the path individuals and groups must take to pursue that reconciliation. (Review)

hit-makers

Hit Makers, Derek Thompson. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. Explores what makes a hit, and explodes some of the myths around hits such as the idea of something going “viral.” (Review)

Best book of the month: Perhaps because it might not get the notice of others, I would commend The Temple and the Tabernacle. This book was a delight of scholarship, clarity, and devotional richness, well-illustrated on good paper and excellent graphical layout. Hays made what could be a dry subject come to life.

Most significant book: I won’t include this every month but John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is such an important book for our time. Inazu shows us both how to legally protect a robust diversity, and how to foster a civil yet substantive conversation and even collaboration across our differences. Shut the news off during Lent and read this book if you care about civic and political engagement!

Best Quote of the Month: I’m still pondering this observation from Derek Thompson in Hit Makers that captures the tension of artists living between the “feedback loops” of audience and their inner sense of artistic integrity:

  “I’ve come to see that I need the feedback loop, the standing ovation and devastating silences that can greet an online article. But when I circle a pile of books at the Strand, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that perhaps the best writers also knew to just do the work and forget, for a moment, that anyone would ever read their reverie. They mounted a stage production in their minds, but just for them, something palatial and private, like a daydream” (pp. 280-281).

Coming Soon: I’ve already finished up a book by Ed Larson on evolution in the Modern Library series, and another by David Gushee, Letter to My Anxious Friends about what it means to choose faith in a fearful time. I recently began A. Scott Berg’s biography of President Woodrow Wilson and have been surprised to find what a fine scholar Wilson was. Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care provides a fresh alternative to the culture wars we are so wont to fight. I’m waiting to see if Kevin Van Hoozer in After Babel can succeed in his argument for a “mere Protestant Christianity” over against the Roman Catholic criticism of the interpretive pluralism and anarchy of Protestantism. Our Dead Theologians group will soon finish Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which has felt so relevant to our present time. Finally, I just started Robert Silverberg’s Across a Billion Years, a classic science fiction work from 1969. All of these should appear in reviews over the next month. Until then, happy reading!

The Month in Reviews: January 2017

slow-kingdom-coming

I began and ended the month with classic mysteries — a great way to turn aside from the concerns of the day that I would commend to any reader. I read one of the best explanations of the Enneagram and one of the best studies of the idea of “mystery” in the Bible. I read a history of Americans in Paris in the nineteenth century, and a fictional account of westerners in Haiti in the “Papa Doc” Duvalier era. I read books on civility and sensitivity. I explored the philosophical beginnings of the American republic, and what might be the brief history of the Affordable Care Act. Sprinkled into this mix was a delightful Oliver Saks book, Kent Annan’s wonderful Slow Kingdom Coming, and an exploration of the importance of relationships in Christian discipleship. Fourteen books reviewed in all summarized right here with links to the full reviews!

strong-poison

Strong PoisonDorothy L. Sayers. New York: HarperCollins, 2012 (originally published 1930). Harriet Vane is accused of murdering her lover with arsenic. Lord Peter Wimsey believes she is innocent despite damning evidence and sets about to prove it. (Review)

the-road-back-to-you

The Road Back to YouIan Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Describes the Enneagram and each of the nine types, and how these may be helpful in self-discovery, uncovering one’s true self and experiencing spiritual growth. (Review)

the-comedians

The ComediansGraham Greene. New York: Penguin, 2005 (my edition 1976). Three men, Brown, Smith, and Jones meet on a ship bound for Haiti during the reign of terror of “Papa Doc” Duvalier. They are the “comedians” who must confront not only the tragedy of Haiti, but themselves. (Review)

the-greater-journey

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Vignettes of the waves of Americans who came to Paris as writers, artists, medical students, musicians, politicians, diplomats, and members of the cultured elite, and the profound impact the “City of Light” had on their lives. (Review)

adventures-in-evangelical-civility

Adventures in Evangelical Civility, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.  An intellectual memoir, tracing Mouw’s efforts to find common ground while maintaining reformed and evangelical convictions. (Review)

sensitive-preaching

Sensitive Preaching to the Sexually HurtingDr. Sam Serio. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2016. Explores the different kinds of issues that arise around sexuality in our post-sexual revolution society, and how pastors and others extending pastoral care might counsel and preach with sensitivity that may open the door to the healing of sexual wounds. (Review)

the-minds-eye

The Mind’s EyeOliver Sacks. New York: Picador USA, 2010. Narratives of those who because of optical or neural issues experience distortions in or loss of sight, and how they adapt to such losses. (Review)

rescuing-jesus

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming EvangelicalismDeborah Jian Lee. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016. An account of how three marginalized groups within American evangelicalism are finding increasing acceptance, and the struggles they have faced along the way. (Review)

hidden-but-now-revealed

Hidden But Now RevealedG. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the word mystery in scripture, particularly considering its use in the Old Testament book of Daniel, and how nearly all New Testament usages connect back to this book, and show the once hidden but now revealed realities surrounding the person of Christ, his kingdom, and the inclusion of the Gentiles. (Review)

slow-kingdom-coming

Slow Kingdom ComingKent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. From years of experience in justice work, Kent Annan commends five practices that both better enable us to serve and to sustain our efforts for the long haul. (Review)

unraveled

Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power, Josh Blackman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. A history of the writing, passage, and defense, both in the courts, and by the executive branch of the Affordable Care Act, against those who would attempt to unravel it and prevent it from becoming part of the fabric of American society. (Review)

power-of-together

The Power of TogetherJim Putnam. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A pastor of a thriving church explores what he believes to be the key to both spiritual maturity and the ministry effectiveness of his church–the fostering of relationships of depth between believers throughout the church. (Review)

and-then-there-were-none

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1939). Ten strangers are invited to an island by a mysterious U.N. Owen, accused by murder, and one by one are murdered following a rhyme found in each of their rooms, Ten Little Soldier Boys. (Review)

natures-god

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, Matthew Stewart. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. An argument that the key ideas at the foundations of our country were not Christian but rather traceable back to Lucretius and to European thinkers, the foremost of whom was Spinoza, whose ideas were shaped by Enlightenment reason resulting more in a materialist atheism or nature pantheism/deism. (Review)

Best of the Month: Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming is my choice because he delineates the practices that sustain anyone pursuing God’s kingdom, particularly those pursuing advocacy work. The book is real, clear, and concise and reflects the authenticity of Annan’s own “long obedience” in these things. I haven’t seen this book get much notice but believe it can serve as a kind of manual for our times.

Best Quote of the Month: This is from Oliver Saks The Mind’s Eye describing the adjustments a concert pianist made when she lost the ability to read music due to a progressing neurological problem and gives you a taste of his wonderful writing:

“Lilian had been ingenious and resilient in the eleven or twelve years since her illness started. She had brought inner resources of every kind to her own aid: visual, musical, emotional, intellectual. Her family, her friends, her husband and daughter, and above all, but also her students and colleagues, helpful people in the supermarket or on the street–everyone had helped her cope. Her adaptations to the agnosia were extraordinary–a lesson in what could be done to hold together a life in the face of ever-advancing perceptual and cognitive challenge. But it was in her art, her music, that Lilian not only coped with disease but transcended it. This was clear when she played the piano, an art that both demands and provides a sort of superintegration, a total integration of sense and muscle, of body and mind, of memory and fantasy, of intellect and emotion, of one’s whole self, of being alive. Her musical powers, mercifully, remained untouched by her disease.”

Coming soon: Look for a review of John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism tomorrow, another important book in how we engage the conversations of our time. I’ve just started a book, From Bubble to Bridge that also explores these conversation virtues in the context of interfaith conversations. The Power of Meaning explores the role of connection, purpose, story and transcendence in a meaningful life, and strikes me could be a great book for discussions in an interfaith context. I’m also reading a book looking at the future of evangelical theology from a pentecostal Asian American perspective–the last four words of which are decidedly not my own perspective but actually quite stretching.  The Faculty Factor explores the changes in the career paths of university faculty in the last decade. And I’m thoroughly enjoying a re-reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, having just finished reading that memorable scene of Eliza and her son escaping across moving chunks of ice on the Ohio River. Having seen the Ohio River like that, my heart was racing!

 

 

 

The Month in Reviews: December 2016

liturgy-of-the-ordinary

This will be my last “look back” at 2016–a year many of us are glad to have in the rear view mirror. But this last month was a great month for books. I read biographies of a President and a First Lady, both with the same last name (but associated with different presidencies). I finished a classic of Russian literature, and lesser known works of fiction writers Madeleine L’Engle and Walter Wangerin, Jr. I read books on America’s original sin, and on American grace and the “very good gospel.” There were a couple of books on economics with different perspectives. I read an outstanding book connecting liturgy and our ordinary lives. So, if I’ve piqued your curiosity about these books, here is the list:

river-of-doubt

The River of DoubtCandice Millard. New York: Doubleday, 2005. Narrates Roosevelt’s exploratory expedition to South America, the decision to navigate “The River of Doubt”, and the harrowing journey that nearly cost Roosevelt his life. (Review)

anna-karenina

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Penguin, 2000. The classic work exploring the illicit loves and lives of Russian nobility against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russian class struggles and philosophical speculation. (Review)

americas-original-sin

America’s Original SinJim Wallis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Explores our nation’s deeply ingrained history of racism and particularly the challenges facing white Christians in bridging these racial divides. (Review)

the-church-in-exile

The Church in ExileLee Beach. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Accepting the premise that we are in a post-Christendom world, the book explores how the biblical theme of exile can be helpful for how the church conceives of its life and presence in the world. (Review)

american-grace

American GraceRobert D. Putnam, David E. Campbell. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2012. A sociological study of the landscape of American religion, the connections between religious and political attitudes, and changes between 2006 and 2011, when the newest edition of this work was published. (Review)

very-good-gospel

The Very Good GospelLisa Sharon Harper (foreward by Walter Brueggemann). New York: Waterbrook, 2016. Through a study of the early chapters of Genesis with application to contemporary life, Harper explores the theme of shalom and how this enlarges our understanding of the good news. (Review)

certain-women

Certain WomenMadeleine L’Engle. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992. As actor David Wheaton dies of cancer, his daughter joins him on the Portia and as they re-read the unfinished script of Emma’s estranged husband Nik on King David, they consider the parallels with their own lives, and struggle to come to terms with life in its brokenness, and its joys. (Review)

being-consumed

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian DesireWilliam T. Cavanaugh. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008. An extended essay in theological reflection from a Catholic perspective on the economic realities of the free market, consumer culture, globalization, and scarcity. (Review)

liturgy-of-the-ordinary

Liturgy of the OrdinaryTish Harrison Warren (foreword by Andy Crouch). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Walking through the common events of an ordinary day from waking to sleeping, Warren explores how we encounter in these ordinary things the Christ we worship each Sunday. (Review)

eleanor-roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and AfterBlanche Wiesen Cook. New York: Viking, 2016. The third and final volume in this biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, covering her advocacy, friendships, and relationship with Franklin during the war years, and briefly, her accomplishments after his death. (Review)

just-capitalism

Just Capitalism Brent Waters. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. A theological defense of capitalism and particularly economic globalization as the best means, through exchange, of providing an preferential option for the poor and promoting human flourishing, albeit shaped by different goals for exchange, and the promotion of human community. (Review)

the-crying-for-a-vision

The Crying for a Vision, Walter Wangerin, Jr. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2003. A tale of conflict between an orphan boy, Moves Walking, and a ruthless warrior, Fire Thunder over the life of their people, set in Lakota culture. (Review)

one-of-the-few

One of the FewJason B. Ladd. Wasilla, AK: Boone Shepherd, 2015. A Marine’s story of coming to faith, his “reconnaissance of the Christian worldview”, and challenging words as one trained in warfare about the nature of the spiritual warfare in which we find ourselves. (Review)

Best of the Month:  This month, I would give the nod to Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary. Warren writes compellingly about the connection between the truths we celebrate each Sunday, and the ordinary activities of life throughout the week.

Best Quote of the Month: Jim Wallis, in his book America’s Original Sin recounts a dialogue with a class of elementary school children who asked him why Congress was afraid to change the immigration system:

 “I paused to consider their honest question and looked around the room–the classroom of a public school fifth-grade class in Washington DC. I looked at their quizzical and concerned faces, a group of African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and European American children. Then it hit me.

     ‘They are afraid of you,’ I replied

     ‘Why would they be afraid of us?’ the shocked students asked, totally perplexed. I had to tell them.

     ‘They are afraid you are the future of America. They’re afraid their country will someday look like this class–that you represent what our nation is becoming.’”

Coming Soon: My first review of 2017 will be of Strong Poison, a classic Dorothy L. Sayers mystery, in which we are first introduced to Harriet Vane, on trial for murder. I am thoroughly enjoying David McCullough’s The Greater Journey about the many American culture-shapers who traveled to Paris in the 19th century. Unraveled explores the drafting of and legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. Fans of the Enneagram  will look forward to my review of The Road Back to You. I am also reading a Graham Greene novel, The Comedians, chronicling life in Haiti under “Papa Doc” Duvalier. And Richard Mouw has written a wonderful new memoir that follows his life as a theologian and public intellectual.

I’m enjoying some great reads, and I hope you do the same in 2017!

The Month in Reviews: November 2016

cam-and-woody

The authors are brothers whose books were both published in October!

The highlight of this month was the chance to review two very different books by two brothers, both friends, published in the last month. The brothers are Cameron (“Cam”) and Garwood (“Woody”) Anderson. Cameron’s book The Faithful Artist explores the intersection of modern art and Christian faith. Garwood’s book proposes a new way of thinking about Paul’s thinking about salvation, and is fittingly called Paul’s New Perspective. Formerly, all three of us worked together in a collegiate ministry where I worked on a leadership team with Cam and a staff training teaching team with Woody. Both books break new ground in their respective fields and I hope they both get a lot of attention (and sales!).

Beyond these, this was a month of biographies. I read biographies of J.C. Ryle, a late nineteenth century Anglican preacher, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and religious freedom pioneer. Then there was a novelized account of the last three years of the life of abolitionist John Brown. Finally, I had the chance to read a fictional biography of sorts, Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel, Lila, in the Gilead series.

And then there was an eclectic mix of other things–a Swedish crime novel, a book on solar energy, a Reformed view of common grace, and a book exploring spiritual formation practices to counter the distractions and re-wiring of our brains in our modern digital world. Someone recently commented on my diverse array of reviews. For me, it all comes down to wanting to understand the world I live in and to reflect deeply on the spiritual significance of life in our times. I hope these reviews, and the books themselves, help you to do the same.

sun-and-shadow

Sun and Shadow, Åke Edwardson, translated by Laurie Thompson. New York: Penguin, 2006. DCI Erik Winter, newly bereaved of his father, is confronted with a gruesome double-homicide of two sexual “swingers”, the possibility of involvement within his own ranks, and a pattern of clues that suggests that his partner, pregnant with their first child, may be at risk. (Review)

common-grace

Common Grace and the GospelCornelius Van Til (foreward and edited by K. Scott Oliphint). Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2015 (2nd edition). A collection of essays by presuppositional theologian Van Til with introduction and annotations by K. Scott Oliphint, articulating Van Til’s understanding of a Reformed doctrine of common grace, engaging views of others in this tradition that differ from his own. (Review)

new-perspective

Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood P. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  Argues that both the traditional Protestant perspective and the New Perspective on Paul are each partly right, based on the idea that Paul’s ideas on salvation developed as he wrote over a period of time and addressed different circumstances. (Review)

lila

LilaMarilynne Robinson. New York: Picador, 2014. The story of the unlikely marriage between Lila, a homeless drifter, and Rev. John Ames, a widowed older pastor. (Review)

j-c-ryle

J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand AloneIain H. Murray. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016. The biography of this nineteenth century evangelical Anglican, from his early student days, his conversion, the decision to enter ministry, and his growing national reputation and his different assignments, including his last years as the first Bishop of Liverpool. (Review)

roger-williams

Roger Williams and The Creation of the American SoulJohn M. Barry. New York: Viking, 2012. [Publisher link is to paperback edition] A study of the life of Roger Williams focusing on the intellectual influences upon Williams, his journey to Massachusetts, banishment and founding of Rhode Island, and his signal ideas of freedom of conscience and government by consent of the governed. (Review)

tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien: A BiographyHumphrey Carpenter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014 (originally published 1977).The biography of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, describing his early life, participation in The Inklings, and his habits of work, scholarship, and how his most famous works came to be written. (Review)

harness-the-sun

Harness the SunPhilip Warburg. Boston: Beacon Press, 2015. A survey of the spread of solar power throughout the U.S. telling the stories of how different communities are utilizing this power source, and the technological, industry, and political challenges this growth faces. (Review)

the-insurrectionist

The InsurrectionistHerb Karl. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, forthcoming, February 2017. A fictionalized biography of the last three and a half years of John Brown’s life from the Pottawotamie massacre in “Bloody Kansas” to his raid of the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, ending in his execution in 1859. (Review)

the-faithful-artist

The Faithful Artist, Cameron J. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Addresses the tensions between the world of modern art and evangelical faith, where opportunities for creative engagement might be found in tensions, and what values might shape the life of one sensing a call to be both faithful Christian and artist. (Review)

the-wired-soul

The Wired Soul, Tricia McCary Rhodes. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016. Explores how our communications technology is changing how our minds work in ways that militate against a centered, focused life and introduces practices of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation that help us attend to God in a distracted world. (Review)

Best of the Month: This was a month with a number of books I really liked. But in the end, I will give the nod to Lila. It is a well-crafted parable of grace in the form of a most unlikely marriage that unfolds like the most beautiful rose of spring.

Best Quote of the Month: The idea of being “born again” or “the new birth” has fallen into disrepute and is often mocked. Here is the idea expressed at its best, by J. C. Ryle in J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone:

“The change which our Lord he declares needful to salvation is evidently no slight or superficial one. It is not merely reformation, or amendment, or moral change, or outward alteration of life. It is a thorough change of heart, will, and character. It is a resurrection. It is a new creation. It is a passing from death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above. It is the calling into existence of a new creature, with a new nature, new habits of life, new tastes, new desires, new appetites, new judgments, new opinions, new hopes, and new fears. All this and nothing less than this is implied, when our Lord declares we all need a ‘new birth’…. Heaven may be reached without money, or rank, or learning. But it is clear as daylight, if words have any meaning, that no one can enter heaven without a ‘new birth.’ “

Coming Soon: I am in the last hundred pages of Anna Karenina. As I’ve written, this is a much better read when you have some life experience behind you. It was lost on me as a high school student. I thoroughly enjoyed Candace Millard’s Destiny of the Republic on the shooting of James Garfield, and so I’ve gone back to an earlier work, River of Doubt and have been riveted by her account of the harrowing journey Roosevelt and his company of explores endured down the river known by that name. I’ve finally gotten around to Jim Wallis’s America’s Original Sin, and I find the book confirming my own conviction that racism is a sin we’ve tried to heal lightly in our country. Robert Putnam’s American Grace explores the pluralistic religious environment of our country and perhaps gives one of the earliest warnings of the trends of decline in white evangelicalism, and insight into why groups thrive and decline, and the mosaic of faith that makes up America. I’ve just begun The Church in Exile, a work exploring the theme of exile in the Bible, and proposing that this may in fact be the best way for a church accustomed to privilege but losing it to conceive of itself. I also just received a memoir by Richard Mouw, Adventures in Evangelical Civility which I am looking forward to reading as well as John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. Both works speak to the needs of our time. I’m also looking forward to reading the concluding installment of a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt that has gotten high praise in reviews I’ve read.

Books are wonderful Christmas gifts for a booklover. There might be something here for your wishlist, or perhaps a good idea for that someone special.

 

 

The Month in Reviews: October 2016

the-good-shepherd

I didn’t do as much reading as some months, partly due to travel, and then to a five day stint in my local hospital related to foot-surgery. Thankfully, I’m healing up well, and the time off my feet has afforded some extra reading time, although I’m digging into some longer books. Nevertheless, this month’s collection of books is a pretty diverse haul, ranging from controversies among librarians (!) to surviving the apocalypse. Mixed in there is a Dorothy Sayers mystery, a review of Shusaku Endo’s Silence (soon to come out as a motion picture), a biography of G. F. Handel, reflections from Luci Shaw, and Jamie Smith’s new You Are What You Love and Kenneth Bailey’s last book, The Good Shepherd, both tremendous books! So, here is the month in review:

clouds-of-witness

Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (originally published 1926). Lord Peter is summoned to find out the truth concerning the death of Denis Cathcart, for which his brother Gerald is facing a murder trial before the peers of the realm. (Review)

the-good-shepherd

The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the theme of the good shepherd beginning with Psalm 23 and considering consecutively eight other passages in which this theme is found. (Review)

how-to-survive-the-apocalypse

How to Survive the ApocalypseRobert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2016. Explores the fascination of the apocalyptic in contemporary film, television, and gaming through the lens of Charles Taylor’s work on secularism and the self. (Review)

handel

Handel: The Man & His MusicJonathan Keates. New York: Random House, 2009.  A biography of George Frideric Handel, tracing his life through his music, from his training in Halle, his time in Italy, and his long career in England, following George I’s ascent to the English throne, through the formation of three opera companies, and the composition of the oratorios for which he is most famous. (Review)

in-search-of-moral-knowledge

In Search of Moral KnowledgeR. Scott Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.  Surveying the history of ethical thought, it argues for the possibility of universal moral knowledge contrary to contemporary theories consigning moral propositions to the realm of subjective, relative values. (Review)

thumbprint-in-the-clay

Thumbprint in the Clay, Luci Shaw. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  A series of reflections, including some of the author’s poetry, on the “marks of the Maker” evident both in creation and in our lives. (Review)

which-side-are-you-on

Which Side Are You On?Elaine Harger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. An account of seven debates in the American Library Association Council over matters of social responsibility and how this body exerts its influence in broader social debates. (Review)

you-are-what-you-love

You Are What You LoveJames K. A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Smith contends that our hearts and the ways we live our lives are shaped by what we love and worship, and that “liturgies” historically have shaped the loves of our hearts and the ways of our lives. (Review)

silence

SilenceShusaku Endo. New York: Taplinger, 1999 (Link is to an in-print edition from a different publisher). Endo’s classic novel set in seventeenth century Japan during the persecution of Christian missionaries and converts. (Review)

Best of the Month: I’ve been thinking all month about The Good Shepherd by Kenneth Bailey and the great need for such shepherds in both our churches and civic life. It also made me profoundly grateful for the Great Shepherd and for the life and scholarship of Kenneth Bailey.

Best Quote of the Month:  James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is a profoundly insightful book concerning how transformation takes place in our lives and could equally have been my “best of the month.” So I will share a passage that captures some of this book’s important ideas:

“If worship is formative, not merely expressive, then we need to be conscious and intentional about the form of worship that is forming us. This has one more important implication: When you unhook worship from mere expression, it also completely retools your understanding of repetition. If you think of worship as a bottom-up, expressive endeavor, repetition will seem insincere and inauthentic. But when you see worship as an invitation to a top-down encounter in which God is refashioning your deepest habits, then repetition looks very different: it’s how God rehabituates us. In a formational paradigm, repetition isn’t insincere, because you are not showing, you’re submitting. This is crucial because there is no formation without repetition. Virtue formation takes practice, and there is no practice that isn’t repetitive. We willingly embrace repetition as good in all kinds of other sectors of life–to hone our golf swing, our piano prowess, and our mathematical abilities, for example. If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth” (p. 80).

Coming Soon: Right now I am reading two very different books written by two brothers, Cameron and Garwood Anderson, both good friends. Cam’s book sets out a vision for Christian engagement in the arts. Garwood seeks to move the debate about Pauline biblical theology beyond the conflict between traditionalists and what is known as “the New Perspective on Paul” by proposing that they are both right, but at different times in Paul’s life as his perspective developed. An intriguing thesis! I’ve just started Marilynne Robinson’s Lila as well as a book on Roger Williams and the ideas of church and state and religious freedom that have shaped our country. And I have a review coming tomorrow of a collection of essays by Cornelius Van Til on the idea of “common grace.”

Until next month, unless you follow me more regularly!