The Month in Reviews: October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: August 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on, my friends!

The Month in Reviews: July 2020

the lost art of dying

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

influence of soros

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

the lost art of dying

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

a republic in the ranks

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

wait with me

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

tending soul, mind, and body

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

Working in the presence of God

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

That Way and No Other

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

Approaching the Atonement

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

Answering the Call

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

A week in the life of ephesus

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

3 musketeers

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

no border land

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

Thinking Like a Lawyer

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

analog church

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: June 2020

the great alone

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

Paul and the Language of faith

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

The Myth of the American Dream

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

sacred liberty

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

when narcissism

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

The Basic Bible Atlas

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

In the Hands of the people

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

good white racist

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

Crowmwell the Lord Protector

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

brown church

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

Longing for Revival

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

the murder on the links

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

53046797._SX318_SY475_

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

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

the metoo reckoning

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

becoming sage

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: May 2020

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

Kent State Four Dead in Ohio

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

A Multitude

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

shaped by suffering

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

learning cycle

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

The Jesus Creed

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

From Adam and Israel

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

the sacred change

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

Maigret

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

the servicemaster story

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

materiality as existence

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

A worldview approach to science and scripture

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

the mirror and the light

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

to think Christianly

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: April 2020

the seamless life

This month, I went to war with Old Testament Israel and World War 2 soldiers and their books. I went questing for unicorns and explored life in the Cleveland Zoo and on to nearby Newark, Ohio for an up-close look at Ohio’s addiction crisis. I went to Princeton to listen to a professor from the late nineteenth century as he engaged the then-new theory of evolution and listened to seventeen biblical scholars talk about their work and how it has affected their faith.  I followed the career of John Jay. I traveled to idyllic Three Pines, and to dystopian southern California in a not-too-distant future. I did all this and more while staying at home.

still life

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2005. The suspicious death of Jane Neal a day after her painting is accepted into an art show brings Gamache and his team to Three Pines, and to the grim conclusion that someone in this small community is a murderer. Review

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (first published 1993). Lauren Olamina, whose life has been spent in a guarded enclave from a violent society, flees with two other survivors when it is destroyed, the core of an Earthseed community, the outgrowth of a religious vision. Review

When Books Went to War

When Books Went to WarMolly Guptill Manning. New York: Mariner Books, 2014. This history of efforts to supply American servicemen in World War 2 with books. Review

Philippians

Philippians (Kerux Commentaries), Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle. Grand Rapids, Kregel Ministry, 2019. A biblical commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians combining exegetical and preaching resources for each passage. Review

9781532690143

Evolution, Scripture, and ScienceB. B. Warfield (Edited by Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone). Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2019 (originally published in 2000). A collection of the writings of B.B. Warfield consisting of lectures, articles, and reviews showing his engagement with evolutionary writers and his conviction that scripture and science need not be in conflict. Review

This is Ohio

This Is OhioJack Shuler. Berkeley: Counterpoint, (forthcoming August) 2020. A narrative account of the overdose crisis in the United States, focusing on Newark, Ohio, a former industrial center, advocating for harm reduction and the involvement of drug users in policy decisions. Review

the last unicorn

The Last UnicornPeter S. Beagle. New York: Roc, 1968. A quest in which the last unicorn embarks on a quest to find her lost kin, eventually join by Schmendrick the Magician, and Molly Grue, a quest involving a confrontation with the Red Bull, and a grim king. Review

the seamless life

The Seamless LifeSteven Garber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A collection of short reflections around the integral relationship between our daily life and work and the love of God, accompanied by the author’s photography. Review

bloody, brutal and barbaric

Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Using an incremental, redemptive ethic approach, and careful textual study, the authors argue for assessing the Old Testament warfare and war rape narratives against the Ancient Near East cultural context, the constraints on warfare for Israel, and evidence in the arc of biblical narrative that God both grieves warfare and redemptively works for the end of it. Review

experiencing God

Experiencing God (Inner Land – Volume 3), Eberhard Arnold. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. What it means for us to truly experience the greatness of God and the peace of God. Review

i still believe

I (Still) BelieveJohn Byron and Joel N. Lohr, editors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Seventeen narratives of scholars who address the question of whether academic study of the Bible is a threat to one’s faith. Review

Life in the Cleveland Zoo

My Life in the Cleveland ZooAdam A. Smith with Rob Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2014. A memoir recounting numerous stories from the author’s years of working at the Cleveland Zoo as a tour train driver, a night watchmen, and a animal keeper with pachyderms. Review

john jay

John Jay: Founding FatherWalter Stahr. New York: Diversion Books, 2012. A full-length biography of this lesser-known founder, drawing on new material tracing his numerous contributions to the beginnings of the United States. Review

Best Book of the Month. I loved Steve Garber’s new book, The Seamless Life. He takes us on a journey across the country, complete with gorgeous photographs, describing people and organizations living a seamless life of faith and practice.

Quote of the Month. This is a short one that might well appear not only on a mirror in Louise Penny’s Three Pines, but on each of our mirrors:

“You’re looking at the problem.”

What I’m Reading. I’ve just begun Hilary Mantel’s latest and last installment in her account of the life of Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light. I’ve just begun a new book by Muriel and Duane Elmer, The Learning Cycle, on how we learn and how learning may transform us. Kenneth Boa’s Shaped by Suffering is a study of 1 Peter and how suffering may transform our character. Vincent L. Bantu’s A Multitude of All Peoples gives the lie to the idea that Christianity is the white man’s religion, showing the ancient global spread of Christianity. I expect to follow these by Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed, and a graphic non-fiction account of the Kent State shootings. This year marks 50 years since that tragic event that shattered the spring of my sophomore year in high school.

I hope in this time of stay at home orders, your books take you many places, help you reflect on things that matter, and remember.

The Month in Reviews: March 2020

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This has been a weird and scary month for us, no matter where on the planet we live. Suddenly, the world shifted into discussions of attempting to flatten exponential curves in country after country, in whole economies shutting down, and of infections and deaths. Suddenly, the number of books we read, or even what we were reading seemed far less important. We struggled with not being able to focus. Yet there were hours at home, and eventually we had to get away from the grim news. Losing ourselves in a good book sometimes was the one of the things (perhaps second only to prayer) to help us preserve our sense of sanity and some sense of perspective. Some of the books on this list even took on a relevance I hadn’t thought of when I requested them for review–things like community, the “bonus time” all of us are living each day, and praying in a distracting world.

paul's idea of community

Paul’s Idea of Community (3rd Edition), Robert J. Banks. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. A study of how Paul understood the nature of community in the churches he planted, considered against the cultural backgrounds of first century AD Greco-Roman culture. Review

Loving Your Community

Loving Your CommunityStephen Viars. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. A pastor whose church has developed a number of community-based outreach ministries, describes their journey into this work, and the variety of ministries that have resulted. Review

living in bonus time

Living in Bonus TimeAlec Hill. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. The President Emeritus of InterVarsity/USA recounts his experience of surviving cancer, how he experienced disorientation and growth, and reframed his purpose in life in light of his “bonus time.” Review

unsettling truths

Unsettling TruthsMark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.  Shows how “The Doctrine of Discovery,” an outgrowth of a Christendom of power rather than relationship has shaped a narrative of the United States, to the dehumanizing  of Native Peoples, slaves, and other non-white peoples. Review

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018 (originally published in 1943). A coming of age story told through the eyes of Francie Nolan, about a girl’s life and ambitions in a struggling family in Brooklyn. Review

our man in havana

Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1958). A struggling Englishman in 1950’s Cuba is recruited to be a secret agent for MI6 and ends up deceiving the service only to find his fabrications becoming all too real. Review

Running for our Lives

Running for our LivesRobb Ryerse (Foreword by Brian D. McLaren). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.  A northwest Arkansas pastor decides to run in a primary against one of the most powerful Republican representatives in a grassroots campaign to restore a say in government to ordinary citizens. Review

Three pieces of glass

Three Pieces of GlassEric O. Jacobsen. Grands Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. Focuses on loneliness and belonging and the influence of cars, television, and smartphones on the experience, and even design of community and the choices we may make to foster belonging. Review

including the stranger

Including the Stranger (New Studies in Biblical Theology), David G. Firth. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of the former prophets that makes the case that God was not an exclusivist who hated foreigners, but that God welcomed the stranger who believed and excluded the Israelite who repudiated him. Review

the big fella

The Big FellaJane Leavy. New York: HarperCollins, 2018. A biography of Babe Ruth, with the narrative of his life connected with a day by day account of a barnstorming tour of the country after his home run record-breaking 1927 season. Review

From Nature to Experience

From Nature to Experience, Roger Lundin. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Using two essays by Emerson, “Nature” and “Experience,” traces the shift in American moral and cultural authority during the last two centuries. Review

the possibility of prayer

The Possibility of PrayerJohn Starke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. We both long for a rich prayer life yet think it impossible for all but the spiritual elite; this work points to the possibility and practices that invite us into that life. Review

Best Book of the Month: I’m going with an American classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I can understand how this coming of age story was a favorite of soldiers in World War 2. For soldiers coming out of the Depression, I could see how this story of a family struggling through poverty, and a young girl’s dreams and aspirations, and the evocation of place that all come together in this story.

Quote of the Month: Most of us live in a tension between longings for a deeper life with God, and wondering whether prayer is really a productive use of our time. John Starke challenges the thinking at the heart of this tension:

The Bible challenges our utilitarianism. The prayers in the Psalms use words of waiting, watching, listening, tasting, and seeing, meditating and resting. It’s remarkable how inefficient these actions are. They aren’t accomplishing anything. There isn’t a product on the other side of these prayerful actions. Yet over the years they bring steadfastness, joy, life, fruitfulness, depth of gratitude, satisfaction, wonder, an enlarged heart, feasting, and dancing. (p. 7).

What I’m reading: I discovered Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache recently, but made the mistake of starting with book ten. Since then, I’ve picked up the first five and am nearly finished with Still Life, the first in the series–and I’m loving this introduction to Gamache, Beauvoir, LaCoste, and Three Pines. I also started into Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. I’m not sure picking up dystopian fiction was the best choice in this season, but Butler creates an interesting scenario of the breakdown of American society in set in the years following 2024, and the visionary response of a young girl trying to survive in an increasingly violent and changing world. I’m also reading a collection of writings by Benjamin B. Warfield, one of the Princeton theologians who both affirmed the inspiration, authority and trustworthiness of the Bible, yet did not think, with some qualifications, that evolution need not conflict with the Bible. To round it out, I’m working through a new commentary on one of my favorite Bible books, Philippians.

Reading is different right now. Sometimes it is escape. But at other times, it is an effort to understand the times, and gain perspective to live in this time as each day unfolds. I hope this will be so for you as well and that you are granted health in body and spirit in this time. Stay safe, friends. By grace, I hope to meet you here with another month’s tally when we get through the month of April.

The Month in Reviews: February 2020

City on a Hill

My first review of February was my first exposure to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache. I’m a convert. I also read another Inspector Rostnikov book, and a history of the first American-Russian Christian college. A couple reviews, including a guest review dealt with science and faith subjects. I looked at the history of sermon from which the phrase of “the city on the hill” originated and how it became the metaphor of American exceptionalism. Francis Su’s Mathematics for Human Flourishing is a distinctive exploration of how mathematics may both answer to deep human longings and cultivate human virtues. Another unusual book was a doctor’s healing journey of learning about autoimmune diseases and how a variety of lifestyle changes and alternative healing practices proved helpful. I read theological books on hell, spiritual warfare, and how culture, history, and scripture shape distinctive expressions of church. I rounded out the month with Austen Ivereigh’s Wounded Shepherd, and James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, each in their way about those who chose (or had chosen for them) the way of the cross.

the nature of the beast

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache #11), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. A young boy from Three Pines, prone to fantastic tales, reports seeing a big gun with a strange symbol, and then is found dead, setting off a search for a murderer, and an effort to thwart a global threat. Review

40 questions small

40 Questions About Heaven and HellAlan W. Gomes (Benjamin L.Merkle, series editor). Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Addresses with clear and concise biblically based answers common questions about the afterlife: heaven, the intermediate state, the final judgment, the new creation, and hell. Review

0569e4e1b4786e93a5b457eb58f2bb99 (1)

Mathematics for Human FlourishingFrancis Su, with reflections by Christopher Jackson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. An argument for the value of mathematics in all of our lives through meeting our deep desires and cultivating virtues helping us and others to flourish. Review

City on a Hill

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

our good crisis

Our Good CrisisJonathan K. Dodson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming March 17, 2020. Underlying the various crises of our culture is a moral crisis, a crisis of good into which the virtues of the Beatitudes can speak, leading to moral flourishing. Review

opening the red door

Opening the Red DoorJohn A. Bernbaum. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An inside account by a founder and President of the Russian-American Christian University, from the surprise invitation received from Russian leadership to its closing. Review

brave new medicine

Brave New MedicineCynthia Li, MD. Oakland: Reveal Press, 2019. When a physician trained in internal medicine experiences a debilitating autoimmune illness that the medical establishment couldn’t heal, she pursues a journey addressing both body and mind that allow her body to heal. Review

a cold red sunrise

A Cold Red Sunrise (Porfiry Rostnikov #5), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012. After making enemies in the Kremlin, a demoted Porfiry Rostnikov is sent to Siberia to solve the murder of a Russian official, while others are working to undermine Rostnikov, and prevent a solution to the murder. Review

spiritual warfare

Spiritual WarfareWilliam F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless (Foreword by Thom Rainer). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. A biblical and theological survey of all the passages in the Bible concerning Satan and spiritual warfare and practical applications for the life of the church. Review

friend of science friend of faith

Friend of Science, Friend of FaithGregg Davidson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Shows how we can trust both the witness of scripture and the findings of science as we consider God’s works. Review

wounded shepherd

Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic ChurchAusten Ivereigh. New York: Henry Holt, 2019. An account of the papacy of Francis into 2019, focusing on his efforts to convert the Catholic Church to a church with Christ at the center showing compassion for those on the margins from one focused more on preservation of an institution, law, and doctrine. Review

seeking church

Seeking Church: Emerging Witnesses to the Kingdom (Missiological Engagements Series), Darren T. Duerksen and William A. Dyrness. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An approach to the development of indigenous churches within a culture, shaped by emergent theory’s understanding of how cultural and historical forces interact with biblical understanding to form churches in culturally diverse ways. Review

the generations of heaven and earth

The Generations of Heaven and Earth: Adam, the Ancient World, and Biblical TheologyJon Garvey. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2020. This book presents Jon Garvey’s views of the positive theological implications of a scientifically credible historical Adam and Eve who could have lived in the Ancient Near East around 6,000 years ago and been the genealogical ancestors of everyone living since the time of Christ. Guest Review

the cross and the lynching tree

The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames H. Cone. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2013. A reflection on the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree, the perplexing reality that this has been missed within the white community, and how an understanding of this connection and the meaning of the cross has offered hope for the long struggle of the African-American community. Review

Best of the Month: This, as often was a tough choice. In this case, I opt for Abram C Van Engen’s City on a Hill. He tells a fascinating story about how a sermon meant to promote Christian charity and mutual care, subsequently forgotten for over 200 years, came to offer the classic metaphor for American exceptionalism. Along the way, he introduces us to the early American archivists who set a precedent for historical societies throughout the country, and how their choices in what they preserved shaped how American history was narrated.

Quote of the Month: The Cross and the Lynching Tree focuses on another aspect of American history, the horror of lynchings of Black men and women and the connection this suffering community saw with the cross of Christ. James H. Cone concluded this study with these words:

   The lynching tree is a metaphor for white America’s crucifixion of black people. It is the window of that best reveals the religious meaning of the cross in our land. In this sense, black people are Christ figures, not because they wanted to suffer but because they had no choice. Just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary, so black people had no choice about being lynched. The evil forces of the Roman state and of white supremacy in America willed it. Yet God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation there is a hope “beyond tragedy.”

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I’ve heard for years about Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’m already fascinated with this narrative of the growing up of Francie, the daughter of an alcoholic father and a mother who has to become the provider as dreams of love fade to the hard realities of fighting to care for her family. Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community offers a survey of Paul’s teaching on the church. Loving Your Community is a practical guide to community outreach by churches. Finally, I had the privilege of working under the leadership of Alec Hill, former president of InterVarsity. We were shocked and deeply concerned when we watched a video from Alec announcing his resignation to fight a rare form of cancer. We followed his Caring Bridge posts, which helped us pray, and eventually rejoice as he became one of the survivors. Living in Borrowed Time tells the story of his cancer diagnosis, successful treatment, and his subsequent efforts to make sense of the gift of “bonus time” which included both struggles with survivor’s guilt and how to steward this gift of further life. These are just the books I’m reading–only a portion of the books on my review stack!

The Month in Reviews: January 2020

Revelation (2)

No simple way to summarize this month’s reading. A number of shorter books and one long one, David Halberstam’s War in a Time of Peace, a history of US foreign policy in the decade of the Nineties, after the end of the Cold War. My first Mary Oliver book, a fascinating tale of what is purported to be da Vinci’s last painting, a history of the Amish and of New York’s Bowery Mission. A lot of theology and biblical studies from a variety of perspectives, from Sproul to Hauerwas to Eberhard Arnold to Matthew Bates. So here is the list.

the last things

The Last Things (Contours of Christian Theology), David A. Höhne. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A theology of the last things that is Trinitarian in focus, centered on the exaltation of the crucified Lord, and the preservation of the believer. Review

Bowery Mission

Bowery MissionJason Storbakken. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. A history of the Bowery Mission’s 140 year history of working with those down on their luck on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Review

Revelation (2)

The Heart of RevelationJ. Scott Duvall. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. A thematic approach to the book of Revelation focusing around ten key themes which answer the basic question of “who is Lord.” Review

Love and Quasars

Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and SciencePaul Wallace. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019. An astrophysicist recounts both his journey away from faith as he saw it in conflict with science, and his return to a faith enlarged by his pursuit of science. Review

the last leonardo

The Last LeonardoBen Lewis. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. The story of the Salavator Mundi, purportedly the last painting of da Vinci, sold in 2017 for $450 million. Review

sacred endurance cover

Sacred EnduranceTrillia J. Newbell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Using the analogy of running a race, sets out the promises of God and the practices of the believer that enable us to finish the race of faith. Review

upstream

UpstreamMary Oliver. New York: Penguin, 2016. A collection of essays on nature and literary figures and how we might both lose and understand ourselves as we interact with them. Review

choosing community

Choosing Community: Action, Faith, and Joy in the Works of Dorothy L SayersChristine A. Colón. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A compilation of three lectures and responses on the theme of community running through the works of Dorothy L. Sayers. Review

conscienceen

The Conscience (Inner Land, Volume 2), Eberhard Arnold. Walden: NY: Plough Publishing, 2019 (first published in German in 1936). A short treatise on the conscience, what it is, what it’s witness is, how it functions apart from God, and how it may be restored. Review

gospel allegiance

Gospel AllegianceMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Contends that our traditional ideas of salvation by faith reflect an inadequate gospel that fails to call people to allegiance to King Jesus. Review

a week

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman (A Week in the Life series), Holly Beers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A creative rendering of what life was like for a woman from the lower free classes in Ephesus during the period when Paul was preaching in the city. Review

halberstam

War in a Time of PeaceDavid Halberstam. Touchstone: New York, 2002. A history of the post-Cold War conflicts of the first Bush and the Clinton administrations, with extensive coverage of the Balkan conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Review

a history of the Amish

A History of the Amish: Third EditionSteven M. Nolt. New York: Good Books, 2016. A history of the Amish from their European Anabaptist beginnings to the present, tracing the different groups and their continued growth in the United States and Canada. Review

Making

The Making of Stanley Hauerwas (New Explorations in Theology), David B. Hunsicker, foreword by Stanley Hauerwas. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of the theology of Stanley Hauerwas and the apparently contrary threads of being characterized as both Barthian, and a postliberal theologian. Review

growing in holiness

Growing in HolinessR. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Compiled from the author’s lectures, the book offers both theological basis and practical help for the believer for growing in Christ-likeness. Review

Best of the Month: I really liked The Heart of Revelation. It will be the book I recommend as an introduction on Revelation with it’s focus on key themes in Revelation rather than systems for interpreting the symbols, or attempts to connect the text to contemporary events. I found my heart encouraged and moved to worship throughout my reading of the book.

Quote of the Month: Eberhard Arnold’s little treatise, The Conscience, written in the context of the rise of Nazi Germany made this trenchant observation that is well to consider in every era:

Jesus Christ is the only leader [Führer] who leads to freedom. He does not bring a disguised bondage. He does nothing against the free will of the human spirit. He rouses the free will to do that (and only that) which every truth-loving conscience must urge it to do. “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Freedom is the free power for free action. 

Anyone who wants to hand over the responsibility for his own actions to a leader [Führer]–anyone who wants to be a human leader–has betrayed freedom. He has become the slave of a human being. His enslaved conscience will be brought to utter ruin if this mis-leader calls to a freedom that is no freedom. All leaders whose authority is merely human ruin people’s consciences.

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve heard from many about the crime fiction of Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache. I picked up The Nature of the Beast (not the first in the series) and was not disappointed. Look for my review tomorrow. Alan W. Gomes 40 Questions about Heaven and Hell is just that, and offers good arguments for our resurrection hope in the new heaven and new earth (we won’t be ethereal spirits wafted about on clouds), and for a traditional understanding of hell and eternal conscious punishment. I’m really enjoying City on A Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism. The book focuses on John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” with its “city on a hill” reference, which has become the metaphor for American exceptionalism. The book observes that the sermon had little impact when given in 1630, and was buried in archives for 200 years. He traces how historians with a passion for archival work preserved and eventually published this sermon, and how this one phrase became the watchword of American exceptionalism. Our Good Crisis explores how the Beatitudes may overcome the moral chaos (our good crisis) of our times. Finally, I’ve been delightfully surprised by Francis Su’s Mathematics for Human Flourishing. Su writes about how math cultivates deeply human pursuits like exploration, seeking meaning, and beauty. I’m not a math geek, but this one makes me want to pull out old math texts and brush up my math!