The Month in Reviews: June 2020

the great alone

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

Paul and the Language of faith

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

The Myth of the American Dream

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

sacred liberty

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

when narcissism

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

The Basic Bible Atlas

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

In the Hands of the people

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

good white racist

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

Crowmwell the Lord Protector

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

brown church

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

Longing for Revival

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

the murder on the links

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

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

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

the metoo reckoning

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

becoming sage

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: May 2020

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

Kent State Four Dead in Ohio

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

A Multitude

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

shaped by suffering

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

learning cycle

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

The Jesus Creed

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

From Adam and Israel

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

the sacred change

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

Maigret

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

the servicemaster story

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

materiality as existence

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

A worldview approach to science and scripture

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

the mirror and the light

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

to think Christianly

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: April 2020

the seamless life

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

still life

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

Parable of the Sower

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

When Books Went to War

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

Philippians

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

9781532690143

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

This is Ohio

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

the last unicorn

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

the seamless life

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

bloody, brutal and barbaric

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

experiencing God

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

i still believe

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

Life in the Cleveland Zoo

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

john jay

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

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

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

“You’re looking at the problem.”

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

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

The Month in Reviews: March 2020

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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

paul's idea of community

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

Loving Your Community

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

living in bonus time

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

unsettling truths

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

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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

our man in havana

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

Running for our Lives

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

Three pieces of glass

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

including the stranger

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

the big fella

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

From Nature to Experience

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

the possibility of prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: February 2020

City on a Hill

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

the nature of the beast

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

40 questions small

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

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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.