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!

The Month In Reviews: December 2019

a prophet with honor

I finished the year with a flurry of reading, including a massive biography of evangelist Billy Graham and a memoir by one of his associates, Leighton Ford, both quite excellent. I read and reflected upon some profound Advent books by N. T. Wright and Fleming Rutledge. I read books on both the religious left and the religious right. Os Guinness challenged me to reflect on how I might best seize the day. I read books asserting that it was scientifically tenable to affirm Adam and Eve as common genealogical ancestors, that Paul was a “new covenant Jew,” that I can become an ordinary mystic, and on the value of narrative apologetics in Christian proclamation. I also returned to two old favorites, Wendell Berry and Agatha Christie. So here is the wrap up of the last of 2019!

a life of listening

A Life of ListeningLeighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A memoir in which Ford sums up his life as one of listening for God’s voice, and the unique voice of his own he discovered as he did so. Review

Divine Impassibility

Divine Impassibility (Spectrum Multiview Books), Edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill. Contributions by Daniel Castelo, James E. Dolezal, Thomas Jay Oord, and John C. Peckham. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A discussion of God’s experience of emotions and the possibility of God suffering with views ranging from one of God not changing or experiencing emotion to God, while not changing in nature, is in relation with his creatures and experiences emotions and suffering in those relationships. Review

genealogical adam and eve

The Genealogical Adam and Eve, S. Joshua Swamidass. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A physician/scientist who studies genomics argues on the basis of genealogical science that the existence of a historic Adam and Eve, specially created by God, who are universal ancestors of us all, is not contradicted by evolutionary science. Review

Santayana

The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic TheoryGeorge Santayana. New York: Dover Publications, 1955 (originally published 1896). A philosophical discussion of the nature of beauty, grounding it in the pleasure of the perceiver with an object and its associations. Review

rise and fall

The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and BeyondL. Benjamin Rolsky. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. A study of the ecumenical movement among the liberal religious catalyzed by television producer Norman Lear and the causes, particularly stemming from the rise of the religious right, both for its rise and waning influence in American society. Review

Becoming an Ordinary Mystic

Becoming an Ordinary MysticAlbert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. Explores what it means to be a friend of God, to walk in an awareness of God’s grace, in the ordinary of life. Review

Advent

Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus ChristFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. A collection of sermons and writings organized according to the lectionary calendar of pre-Advent and Advent Sundays and special days, focusing on preparation for return of Christ. Review

remembering

RememberingWendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008 (originally published 1988). Following the loss of a hand, a grieving Andy Catlett struggles with both his loss and his anger with agribusiness, that he believes is destroying a way of life, and gropes his way toward healing. Review

carpe diem

Carpe Diem RedeemedOs Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A consideration of how, in our present day, we ought make the most of the time, to properly seize the day. Review

Narrative apologetics

Narrative ApologeticsAlister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. An argument for and description of narrative approaches to offering a defense for the faith. Review

Advent for Everyone

Advent for Everyone: MatthewN. T. Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. An Advent devotional with four weeks of daily readings and commentary by a noted New Testament scholar and pastor. Review

Paul

Paul, a New Covenant JewBrant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid (Foreword by Michael J. Gorman). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2019. In answer to the question of “what kind of Jew was Paul?”, three Catholic scholars, focusing on 2 Corinthians 3:2-16, argue that he was a new covenant Jew and then relate this idea to apocalyptic, Christology, atonement, justification, and the Lord’s supper. Review

a prophet with honor

A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham StoryWilliam Martin. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018 (Updated edition, originally published in 1991). An in-depth biography of the life of Billy Graham, chronicling his evangelistic crusades, shaping influence on evangelicalism, his pivotal role in organizing consultations and training to mobilize world evangelism, and his relationships with presidents and international leaders, as well as his associates, and family members. Review

Revolution of Values

Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith For the Common Good, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Argues that the religious right has taught its constituency to misread the Bible, portray those advocating for the marginalized as anti-biblical, and the need to listen to these communities as part of recovering a biblical commitment to the pursuit of justice for all for the common good. Review

elephants can remember

Elephants Can Remember (Hercule Poirot #37), Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1972). Poirot and crime writer Ariadne Oliver team up at the request of a mother and young couple, to learn the truth about an unexplained double suicide many years earlier. Review

Best Book: I spent a good part of the month reading A Prophet with Honor on the life of Billy Graham. William Martin, while showing Graham’s flat spots, including his political involvements, helps us understand Graham’s gifts, his vision, and how he faithfully and energetically pursued these things over a long life. Beyond the crowds of those he evangelized was the crowd of faithful witnesses he trained to go to every part of the world.

Quote of the Month: This was from the memoir of Graham’s associate, Leighton Ford. In the Introduction to the book, he describes his youthful response to the call of Jesus after listening to a retired missionary and a college student speak of Jesus:

   I was five then. Now, eighty plus years later, I can barely recall the voices and face of that missionary lady and that college student, but I know that through them I heard another Voice calling me, a voice I have been listening for ever since. So I write my listening story not because it is a perfect story or one to emulate but as a testament to the power of listening for the voice of my Lord.

I hope, like Ford, to live “a life of listening.

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve read the volumes of the Contours of Christian Theology series as they’ve come out. The Last Things is the final one, and uses the lens of the Lord’s prayer and the theologies of Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann to explore what we believe about the last things. The Last Leonardo concerns a painting that sold for $450 million, reputed to be da Vinci’s last work, a painting of Christ, Salvator Mundi. It is a fascinating account of the challenges of establishing a work like this as a genuine master, rather than a student or later copy, and the unique challenges of restoration of a painting that was literally in pieces when an art dealer acquired it. Bowery Mission is a history of one of the oldest and most distinguished “rescue missions” in lower Manhatten, and the many lives turned around through its ministry. Love and Quasars is a book on an astrophysicists journey away from and back to Christian faith, first as he thought the two incompatible, and then as he saw them as best of friends, and more.

All the best as you take a final glance back at the books you’ve read over the last year, and begin the ones that you will associate with 2020.

The Month in Reviews: November 2019

Frederick Douglass

I finished and reviewed fewer books this month than usual due to work-related responsibilities. But there were some incredible books that more than made up in quality for any lack in quantity. A new edition of Philip Brand’s Fearfully and Wonderfully left me in awe with the wonder and intricacies of both the human body and the body of Christ. The Gospel According to Eve and Participating in Christ were original and insightful theological works. I read Grace Will Lead Us Home to prepare for a panel discussion of the movie Emanuel and was both moved by the wonder and power of forgiveness, and saddened and challenged with the long road that remains to eradicate white supremacism and racism in American society. Starship Troopers was a fun throwback to my late teen years when I was reading a lot of Robert A. Heinlein. Somehow I missed this one. I finished the month with a historical fiction work by an African author on the attendants who carried David Livingstone’s body over 1500 miles, a heroic journey against the backdrop of encroaching western colonialism.

bookmarked

Bookmarked: Reading My Way from Hollywood to BrooklynWendy W. Fairey. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2015. A literature professor who is the daughter of a famous Hollywood columnist writes a memoir interweaving her life with significant books and characters. Review

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt (edited by Wolfgang J. Bittner, translated by Ruth Rhenius, Simeon Zahl, Miriam Mathis, and Christian T. Collins Winn. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. A reflection on the ministry of Johann Christoph Blumhardt by his son, identifying both the continuity, and divergence of their convictions. Review

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A new edition combining two classic works exploring both the wonders of the human anatomy, the value and dignity of every human being, and parallels with the functioning of the body of Christ. Review

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to EveAmanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A history of women who have written on Genesis 1-3 since the fourth century, treating their worth, education, their roles as wives and mothers, whether they may teach and preach, and as advocates of social reforms. Review

Notre Dame

Faith and Science at Notre DameJohn P. Slattery. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2019. A study of the life of Catholic priest and science professor at Notre Dame, and his clash with the Vatican over his writing on evolution. Review

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks. Review

grace will lead us home

Grace Will Lead Us HomeJennifer Berry Hawes. New York: St. Martins Press, 2019. An account of the massacre of nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston by Dylann Roof, and the responses of survivors and surviving families, notably the forgiveness offered, and the impact on the families, the church, and the Charleston community. Review

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. A discussion of what it means to be “in” Christ, or to participate in Christ, drawing from the Pauline letters, and particularly what this means for living a cross-shaped and resurrection-infused life by which one becomes increasingly like Christ and God. Review

forgiving my father

Forgiving My Father, Forgiving MyselfRuth Graham with Cindy Lambert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Through both personal narrative and biblical teaching, explores the power of forgiveness to bring freedom from bitterness, transforming our lives, and in at least some cases, our relationships. Review

Starship Troopers

Starship TroopersRobert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2006 (originally published in 1959). Juan “Johnny” Rico’s narrative of training and fighting in the Mobile Infantry during the Terran Wars with the Pseudo-Arachnids (“Bugs”) set 700 years in the future. Review

mayflower pilgrims

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable, Derek Wilson. London: SPCK Publishing, 2019. A historical account of the movements and political developments that shaped the composition of the 102 who made the voyage on the Mayflower. Review

out of darkness

Out of Darkness, Shining LightPetina Gappah. New York: Scribners, 2019. A historical fiction narrative, told in two voices, of the attendants of Dr. David Livingstone, who with a large company carried the body of Livingstone from Chitambo, where he died, to Zanzibar, a journey of over 1500 miles and 285 days. Review

Best of the Month: The best of many good books this month was David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Blight both helps us hear Douglass’s voice, and takes the measure of his indomitable character–a man who fought for the freedom and rights of blacks until he collapsed on the way out of his home to give a speech.

Quote of the Month: Wendy W. Fairey in Bookmarked: Reading My Way From Hollywood to Brooklyn, takes a novel approach to reflecting on her reading life, exploring the narrative of her life through the narratives of the books she read along the way:

“I want to write of the private stories that lie behind our reading of books, taking my own trajectory through English literature as the history I know best but proposing a way of thinking about literature that I believe is every reader’s process. We bring ourselves with all our aspirations and wounds, affinities and aversions, insights and confusions to the books we read, and our experience shapes our response.”

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I first heard Leighton Ford speak as an evangelist in Youngstown, Ohio in the mid-1970’s. In later years, I saw a shift in focus in his life, particularly after the death of his son, Sandy, to a focus on mentoring young leadets, and writing increasingly on the disciplines of attending to God. In A Life of Listening he offers a memoir that traces the inner journey that was reflected in the changes I had observed–a wonderful book! The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left traces the fascinating career of Norman Lear and his attempts to establish substantive conversations reflecting a progressive religious position, both in his shows like All in the Family and in People for the American Way, and his failure to engage his ideological opposition, the religious right. Divine Impassibility explores four views on the passibility or impassibility of God, that is whether human actions can affect God or whether God is unchanging. My initial impression is that I find myself wondering whether some long-established paradigms constrain all these views from coming to a satisfying explanation of the biblical data. I don’t have a better one, which disposes me to be even more intrigued with the discussion between proponents of each view.

I’ve just begun George Santayana’s classic The Sense of Beauty, an exploration of aesthetics that begins with our perceptions of beauty rather than a grand theory of “why beauty.” I’m also reading a fascinating galley by W. Joshua Swamidass on The Genealogical Adam and Eve, which proposes a way to affirm a scientific understanding of evolution, the creation of Adam and Eve de novo as historic figures, and the mathematical probability of all of us being genealogical, if not genetic, descendants of this Adam and Eve. The book releases this month and has been endorsed by Nathan Lents, a popular biology professor, writer, and atheist

I soon hope to pick up Fleming Rutledge’s Advent. Reading The Crucifixion during Lent was a wonderful experience of writing that was theologically profound and devotionally rich. I look forward to seeing if Advent will have the same effect as I prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus. I hope amid your holiday preparations, whether religious or not, that you are able to curl up with a book that is enriching for you. If you do, I’d love to hear about it!

The Month in Reviews: October 2019

The Library Book

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

into his presence

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

storm

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

OHare

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

the reformation and the irrepressible word of god

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

Discover Joy in Work

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

The Awakening

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

Mr. Penumbra

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

liturgy of creation

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

throw like a girl

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

Kinnaman_FaithforExiles.indd

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

Yale Needs Women

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

The Library Book

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

Trinity without Hierarchy

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

Holy Disunity

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

wolf pack

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

how reason can lead to God

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: September 2019

Working

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

fundamentalist u

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

science and faith

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

a liberated mind

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

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

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

Working

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

placemaking

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

a week in the life of a slave

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

The Soul of an American President

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

Losing Earth

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

The Road to Middle Earth

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

The Winding Path of Transformation

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

I Claudius

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

boundaries

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

What you take with you

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

Tyranny of Virtue

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

Our Only World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: August 2019

religion in the university

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

the church of us vs them

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

desert solitaire

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

the violence of the biblical god

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

campus life

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

midnight at the bright ideas bookstore

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

controversies

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

the impeachers

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

hidden in Christ

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

The Pioneers

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

Ecologies

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

jean vanier

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

Who's on First

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

religion in the university

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

The dearly beloved

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

In search of the common good

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

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

reluctant witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Month in Reviews: July 2019

Write Better

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

scripture and the english poetic imagination

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

priscilla

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

balm in gilead

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

presidents-of-war-cover

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

cultural apologetice

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

fall of a cosmonaut

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

less is more

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

Righteous by Promise

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

the poppy war

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

stones and stories

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

Write Better

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

the second mountain

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

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: June 2019

the hearts necessities

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

The future of academic Freedom

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

Death and the Afterlife

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

i am mulala

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

How the Body of Christ Talks

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

savedbygracealonecover2-416x659

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

Cards on the Table

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

Live the Questions

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

there there

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

Living Gently

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

the power of Christian contentment

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

Don't knock the hustle

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

surprised by paradox

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

the hearts necessities

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

Enriching Our Vision

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

upside down spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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