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!

The Month in Reviews: September 2016

hillbilly-elegy

September’s reading list was certainly a diverse and wide-ranging one that reflects the quirky range of my reading interests. There were two baseball books, as we come to the close of another season of America’s Pastime. There were two Inklings books, both exploring the impact of the Inklings war experiences on their writing. I featured Ohio author J. D. Vance’s best-selling Hillbilly Elegy, and a book on the use of social media in public shaming.  I reviewed a couple of science texts, including Rachel Carson’s classic The Sea Around Us, and a new book on science and faith. There were books on social issues from micro-finance to domestic violence. And I read the usual assortment of theological texts on subjects ranging from evangelicalism’s social justice heritage to dispensational eschatology as well as a fine new book on the transition to post-college life. In all there are thirteen reviews in this list. Enjoy!

After College

After College, Erica Young Reitz. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A faith-oriented guide to navigating the transition from college to early adulthood, exploring issues of faith, relationships, community, work, calling and finances. Review

Banker to the Poor

Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus. New York: Public Affairs, 2003. Yunus’ personal account of developing micro-lending and the Grameen Bank to help lift the rural poor out of poverty by providing the small loans they needed to develop their own small businesses. Review

No Place for Abuse

No Place for Abuse (2nd ed.), Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010. Written for Christian communities, this work chronicles the extent of domestic violence and abuse, the presence and factors that contribute to domestic violence in households in our churches, relevant biblical texts that address domestic violence, and steps church leaders can take to address domestic violence in their midst. Review

bottom-of-the-ninth

Bottom of the NinthMichael Shapiro. New York: Times Books, 2009. The story of how two legendary figures, Branch Rickey and Casey Stengel, attempted but failed in schemes to transform the game of baseball. Review

the-sea-around-us

The Sea Around UsRachel Carson. New York: Open Road Media, 2011 (first published 1951).  A survey of what is known about the oceans– including their beginnings, the dynamics of currents, tides and waves, the topography of the oceans, the life within, and our own relationship with this dominant feature of our planet. Review

eschatology

EschatologyD. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider (eds.). Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. A compendium of essays on the future hope of Christians reflecting a dispensational premillenialist perspective. Review

shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly ShamedJon Ronson. London: Picador, 2015. Explores the use of social media for public shaming of individuals, the dark side of ourselves this reveals, and the ways those shamed deal with this experience. Review

a-hobbit-a-wardrobe-and-a-great-war

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great WarJoseph Loconte. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015. A study of why Lewis and Tolkien, contrary to a disillusioned post-war generation, went deeper into their faith and allowed both war experience and that faith to shape their greatest works. Review

bedeviled

BedeviledColin Duriez. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. An exploration of the conflict of good and evil in the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and how two World Wars influenced their thinking. Review

hillbilly-elegy

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance. New York: Harper, 2016. A memoir of growing up in a troubled family from the hill country of Kentucky in Middletown, Ohio, exploring why so many in the working class are struggling, and what made the difference for the author. Review

rediscovering-an-evangelical-heritage

Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage, 2nd editionDonald W. Dayton with Douglas M. Strong. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. An updated edition of a study of the pre-Civil War nineteenth century roots of evangelicalism in the United States and the combination of piety, preaching, and social reform characteristic of this movement in this period. Review

the-truth-about-science-and-religion

The Truth About Science and Religion, Fraser Fleming, foreword by Gary B. Ferngren. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016. A historical, scientific, and theological survey of the interaction of science and religion around the big questions of purpose, beginnings, the rise of life, the rise of human beings, the nature of mind and consciousness. Review

the-natural

The NaturalBernard Malamud. London: Vintage Classics, 2002 (originally published in 1952). The story of Roy Hobbs, whose promising career in baseball is nearly ended by a strange woman with a silver bullet and his attempt at 35 for one more season of greatness. Review

Best of the Month: I’m going to go with J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. It may not be the best writing represented on the list (I’ll give that nod to Rachel Carson), but I found this a compelling exploration the struggles and realities of life today among many working class Americans, a “forgotten America” whose presence has re-asserted itself in the current presidential campaign.

Quote of the Month: Rachel Carson’s nature writing is among the best there is. Here was one passage that captured my imagination, describing the process of sedimentation on the ocean floors:

“For the sediments are the materials of the most stupendous ‘snowfall’ the earth has ever seen. It began when the first rains fell on the barren rocks and set in motion the forces of erosion. It was accelerated when living creatures developed in the surface waters and the discarded little shells of lime or silica that had encased them in life began to drift downward to the bottom.  Silently, endlessly, with the deliberation of earth processes that can afford to be slow because they have so much time for completion, the accumulation of the sediments has proceeded. So little in a year, or in a human lifetime, but so enormous an amount in the life of earth and sea.”

Coming soon: In the next few days I’ll be posting reviews of a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery classic and the late Kenneth Bailey’s The Good Shepherd. I’m currently finishing up a book on the possibility of moral knowledge. I’m also reading a book by Reformed philosopher Cornelius Van Til on common grace and a fascinating new book with the title of How to Survive the Apocalypse, exploring the current fascination with everything from zombies to dystopian fiction. Later in October, I will be reviewing Shusako Endo’s Silence, hopefully in time for the debut of Martin Scorsese’s film version of this Japanese novelist’s work.

Happy reading!

 

The Month in Reviews: August 2016

Silence and Beauty

I often take advantage of a lighter schedule in summer to read quite a bit. This month was an illustration of that rhythm. I read a couple of books surveying the Bible for what it says about money (quite a bit), and one on what can happen in our lives spiritually when we don’t have it. I read about Jefferson’s explorers whose coming signaled a threat to the way of life of Native Americans, and some fiction by Sherman Alexie on the realities of reservation life. I began the month with Makoto Fujimura’s reading of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and ended with Richard Mouw’s reflections on the scholarly life with a fictional exploration of the inner life of Dmitri Shostakovich and a history of the innovatively prolific Bell Labs and much more in between.

Silence and Beauty

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  A “layered” reflection on Shusaku Endo’s Silence by a Japanese-American artist that explores the Christian experience of persecution in Japan, and the connections between silence, suffering, and beauty, that may draw contemporary Japanese to faith. (Review)

Covenant Economics

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All, Richard A. Horsley. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. A biblical study of how God’s covenant with Israel, including the New Testament appropriation of that covenant was intended to shape economic life and justice for Israel and “assemblies” in the New Testament era, with application to modern economic life and the “covenant” our government has with its people. (Review)

Jeffeerson's America

Jefferson’s AmericaJulie M. Fenster. New York: Crown, 2016. An account of how Jefferson used the efforts of four teams of men comprising less than a hundred total to establish America’s hold on the lands west of the Mississippi River. (Review)

Unparalleled

Unparalleled, Jared C. Wilson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A book that makes the case for Christianity by proposing that the unique elements in Christian faith’s account of God, humanity, Jesus, salvation, history, and the end make it  both worthy and credible. (Review)

Bad Religion - No Religion

The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion, Martin Thielen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. Discusses the characteristics of “bad religion”, contending that the answer is not to reject religion altogether but to embrace “good religion”, the marks of which are discussed. (Review)

the lost world of genesis one

The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn H. Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Walton argues from our knowledge of the ancient cultures in Israel’s context that Genesis 1 is a functional account of how the cosmos is being set up as God’s temple rather than an account of material origins. (Review)

The noise of time

The Noise of TimeJulian Barnes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. A work of fiction, exploring the inner world of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as he seeks both to survive and maintain artistic integrity in the totalitarian milieu of Soviet Russia under Stalin and Khrushchev. (Review)

Embracing the Body

Embracing the BodyTara M. Owens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. An invitation to move beyond guilt and shame around our embodied selves to discover the goodness of our bodies and how God made us, meets us, and works through our bodied lives. (Review)

Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie. New York: Grove Press, 2013 (20th Anniversary edition, first published 1993).  A collection of short stories all relating to growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. (Review)

Broke

Broke, Caryn Rivadeneira. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. The author reflects on the experience of losing nearly all financially, and what she learned by being broke and broken about the provision and abundance of God. (Review)

Called to community

Called to CommunityCharles E. Moore (ed.). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016. A collection of readings on Christian community centered around the Bruderhof Community but also including theologians and writers from throughout church history. (Review)

The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. An account of the history of Bell Labs, the inventions and innovations they produced, and the confluence of people, resources, and the growth of the telecommunications revolution that drove it all. (Review)

Money-and-Possessions

Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed. (Review)

Called to the life of the Mind

Called to the Life of the Mind, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. A collection of reflective essays by one of the deans of evangelical scholarship on the calling and importance of the Christian scholarly task. (Review)

Best of the Month: As is often the case this is a tough one. Julian Barnes The Noise of Time was an intriguing exploration of the inner tensions Shostakovich may have wrestled with holding artistic integrity and survival in tension. But I have to give the nod to Makoto Fujimura’s Beauty and Silence for its thoughtful exploration of Japanese culture, Endo’s novel Silence, and the troubled history of Christianity in Japan.

Quote of the Month: This eloquently articulated statement summed up for me the central message of Caryn Rivendeira’s Broke and suggested to me that this is a Christian writer we may want to watch:

“We survived. I kept breathing. I kept stepping. And somewhere in the cracks, along the ragged edges of my marriage, in the desperate gasps of sudden poverty and all the questions that came with it, there was God. Big and glittering, soft and warm, smiling and beckoning. Somehow in the shimmers of all that, I began to taste and see, and feel and know, and hear and smell that God is good, and he was there in the broke bits. That he was using our time near the poverty line, treading in debt, to draw me near, to make me over, to answer a prayer bigger than my material needs. In this season of spiritual and financial brokenness, in this time of longing to know what God was up to and to experience his goodness and presence, God worked me over by showing me where and how I could find him. Which is all over the place. In every last thing, He satisfied my wonderlust–my unquenchable desire to feel his presence and to experience his glory. And I found him. And I found him good.”

Coming Soon: I just finished reading a book that will be my “go to” resource with graduating students, After College by Erica Young Reitz. Look for a review of it in the next day or so. I’ve also picked up a compendium of articles titled Eschatology, on this endlessly fascinating question of our future hope and how this may unfold. I’m nearly finished with Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor, his engaging account of the beginnings of Grameen Bank, a pioneering effort in micro-lending. I’ve just begun Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, one of her earliest publications about the oceans that occupy so much of our planet’s surface. And I will be reviewing a book soon I’ve already mentioned in a recent post, No Place for Abuse, on the epidemic of physical and sexual violence and what at least churches can do to address the instances of this scourge in our midst. I also have two fun books I hope to read soon from my son and his wife: a baseball book by Michael Shapiro, Bottom of the Ninth and an intriguingly titled book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed on how social media has taken public shaming to a new level.

Oh, and I could add so many more. But I think I will end here and wish you at least a few hours happy reading over the upcoming Labor Day holiday (for those living in the U. S.).

 

 

The Month in Reviews: July 2016

The Nightingale

I noticed a few trends in my reading this month. One was that I read more fiction than in the usual month, including works by Kristin Hannah, Agatha Christie, and Rohinton Mistry. The last author overlaps another trend, and that is reading non-Western authors. Rohinton Mistry is from India, Nabeel Quereshi is American-born of Pakistani descent, and Soong-Chan Rah was born in Korea and now lives in the U.S. I’ve also enjoyed reading a couple women theologians, Michelle Lee-Barnewall and Marva Dawn. All these voices stretch me to see a bigger world than my roots as a white male from the Midwest of the United States. I also had the chance to plunge into David Maraniss’ excellent biography of football icon Vince Lombardi, a social history of the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century and a few other books as well. So, here are my July 2016 reads:

The Nightingale

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. The story of two sisters, estranged from each other and their father, a poet and bookseller, broken by World War I and the loss of his wife, as they face the Nazi occupation of France, how each resists this brutal regime, and how they find reconciliation and a kind of healing in the end. (Review)

Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian

Neither Complementarian nor EgalitarianMichelle Lee-Barnewall. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. Argues on the basis of the biblical texts for a reframing of the discussion of the relationship of men and women from one of power versus equality  to one that focuses on the elements in the biblical texts around reversal, inclusion, unity and service. (Review)

When Pride Still Mattered

When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. The biography of Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi, showing a man striving for excellence in, and caught in the tensions of the three priorities in his life: faith, family, and football. (Review)

In the Beginning GOD

In The Beginning, GOD, Marva J. Dawn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. A series of reflections on the texts of Genesis 1-3 focused not on questions of beginnings and the controversies that surround these chapters but on what they show us of God and how this may lead us into worship. (Review)

Mapping Your Academic Career

Mapping Your Academic Career, Gary M. Burge. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Traces the career trajectory of a college professor, identifying the factors that mark the successful passage from one “cohort” to the next, the risks to be negotiated in each season of work, and key resources for career development. (Review)

Answering Jihad

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Contends that there is a basis in the foundations of Islam for violent, and not merely defensive, jihad, which neither can be ignored, nor assumed of all Muslims, but calls for a proactive response, particularly of Christians, of love and friendship with the hope of breaking the cycle of violence. (Review)

The Big Change

The Big Change, Frederick Lewis Allen. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2016 (forthcoming,  originally published in 1952). A social history of the United States from 1900 to 1950 chronicling the expansion of the middle class, the technological changes that occurred, and the impact of two World Wars and the Depression. (Review)

Prophetic Lament

Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. A commentary and exposition of the book of Lamentations that advocates for the restoration of the practice of lament as part of the worship of American churches, particularly majority culture evangelical churches. (Review)

One nation under God

One Nation Under God, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2015. Explores whether and how it is appropriate for Christians in the American context to engage in politics,  how one brings one’s faith into this, and applies this to seven contemporary issues. (Review)

Breaking the Rules

Breaking the Rules, Fil Anderson (foreward by Brennan Manning). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010.  Anderson traces his own spiritual journey of moving from rules- and performance-based religion to an intimate relationship with God where he was unafraid of revealing his true self. (Review)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger AckroydAgatha Christie. New York: HarperCollins, 2002 (originally published 1926). Poirot comes out of retirement to solve the murder of Roger Ackroyd, who is killed after learning that the woman he loved, who has taken her life, had poisoned her first husband and was being blackmailed to cover up the fact. (Review)

A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Centered around the flat of Dina Dalal, inhabited by two tailors and a student with a larger circle on the periphery, the novel charts the “fine balances” the people of India sought to maintain through the Emergency Rule of Indira Gandhi–balances of both physical and spiritual. (Review)

Best of the Month: This was a tough one. I was torn between Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Hannah’s The Nightingale. Both are well-written books dealing with profound themes. I will give the nod to Hannah’s book as a better read. Both books actually explore “the fine balances” of survival under tyranny and the razor’s edge between hope and despair. Hannah’s book was the one that kept me up at night thinking about what I had read.

Quote of the Month: One of the runners up for best of the month this month was Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament. He made this challenging observation about the imbalance between celebration and lament in most American churches:

“What do we lose as a result of this imbalance? American Christians that flourish under the existing system seek to maintain the existing dynamics of inequality and remain in the theology of celebration over and against the theology of suffering. Promoting one perspective over the other, however, diminishes our theological discourse. To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of a theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand.”

Coming Soon: I will post a review tomorrow of Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura’s wonderful new book, Silence and Beauty, a reflection upon Shusako Endo’s novel, Silence, and the intersection of Christianity and Japanese culture. I’m also currently reading Julie M. Fenster’s Jefferson’s America, an intriguing account of the explorations of the American west commissioned by Jefferson during his presidency, and how he used these to assert America’s hold on these lands. I’m also reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, having read his sequel on Genesis Two and Three, and Richard Horsley’s Covenant Economics, a biblical study of how the covenant shaped (or didn’t) economic relationships in Israel, and in the communities of followers of Jesus. I’m looking forward to reading a gift from my wife, Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, a novel exploring the life of Dmitri Shostakovich under Stalinist Russia.

Hope you are able to squeeze a few more “summer reads” into your life before school or work pick up for you!