The Month in Reviews: February 2018


Looking over the list of books I reviewed in February, I once again had the sense of “so many good books; so little time.” From James K. A. Smith’s Awaiting the King at the beginning of the month to Ron Chernow’s magnificent Grant at the end, there were a number of works I found myself the better for reading. Washed and Waiting helped me understand what it was like for a Christian young man to come to terms with a gay orientation and choose to live a celibate life. Still Evangelical? explored a painful question many of us who have identified as evangelical wrestle with. Do we continue to do so, and if so, how? Delivered from the Elements of the World explores how Christians can make the audacious claim that the death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. The Myth of Equality is a challenging look at the idea of race in America and white privilege by a white pastor. The Greater Trumps concerns not our first family but a Charles Williams (one of the Inklings) supernatural thriller. Those are just some of the good things I read this month.

awaiting the king

Awaiting the King (Cultural Liturgies, Volume 3), James K. A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. A theology of public (and not just political) life exploring both how public life is “liturgical” and the church “political” and the possibilities and limits on engagement in the life of the “city of Man” for those who identify their hope and citizenship with the “city of God.” (Review)

washed and waiting

Washed and Waiting (revised with new Afterword), Wesley Hill. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 (originally published in 2010). An updated narrative of a celibate, gay Christian man, including thoughts about the recovery of the place of celibacy and the importance of spiritual friendship. (Review)

The Reckoning

The Reckoning (Welsh Princes #3), Sharon K. Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991 (Link is to a different edition). Brings to a close the struggles between Wales and England under Edward I, the complicated relationship between brothers Llewellyn and David ab Gruffyd, and tells the story of the women who loved them–a true tale of love and loss. (Review)


Still Evangelical? Mark Labberton ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Ten ethnically diverse evangelical “insiders” explore whether to still identify as “evangelical” and what that means in light of the 2016 election. (Review)

delivered from the elements of the world

Delivered From the Elements of the World, Peter J. Leithart. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. An exploration of why Christians claim the death and resurrection of Jesus is the decisive event in human history, because it is the “delivering verdict” of God against human systems to control sinful human flesh, hence an act with socio-political significance for all peoples. (Review)

the good retirement guide 2018

The Good Retirement Guide 2018, Allan Esler Smith, ed. London: Kogan Page, 2018. A wide-ranging guide exploring everything from financial planning to housing to health to business and personal pursuits for residents of the UK approaching retirement. (Review)

resurrecting religion

Resurrecting ReligionGreg Paul. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2018. In an era when religion has a bad name, the author proposes that what we need is not “no religion” but the kind of religion that James writes about, and that his church is trying to live out. (Review)

the myth of equality

The Myth of Equality, Ken Wytsma. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A white pastor explores the reality of white privilege from the perspectives of both American history and the gospel of the kingdom and how white Christians might pursue justice. (Review)

Called to create

Called to CreateJordan Raynor. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A view of creative, entrepreneurial work as a good calling from God, and the challenges and opportunities of pursuing entrepreneurial work for the glory of God. (Review)

The Greater Trumps

The Greater TrumpsCharles Williams. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1932). An legacy of a singular pack of tarot cards that correspond to images of the Greater Trumps arranged in a dance on a platform of gold in the retreat of a gypsy master drives his grandson to risk love and life to uncover the powers of the cards. (Review)

Essential Writings of Meredith G Kline

Essential Writings of Meredith G. KlineMeredith D. Kline (Foreword, Tremper Longman II; Biography, Meredith M. Kline; Introduction, Jonathan G. Kline). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A collection of articles by Meredith Kline spanning Genesis to Revelation, and the author’s academic career characterized by biblical insight and theological integrity within a Reformed perspective. (Review)


GrantRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. A biography on the life of Ulysses S. Grant from his Ohio childhood, his years of failure in business, his rise during the Civil War, his presidency, and later years, including the completion of his memoirs as a dying man. (Review)


FavorGreg Gilbert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. An exploration of experiencing God’s favor on our lives, far greater than we can conceive, utterly dependent upon Christ, and leading us into the joyful worship of God. (Review)

Best Book: Hands down the nod goes to Ron Chernow’s Grant. Grant was a person worthy of a big book, which this is. Yet I wish Grant would have lived longer, if for no other reason than Chernow may have needed to write an even longer book. The text itself was 960 pages and yet I felt that it never dragged, that there was never too much. Chernow gives the lie to Grant as a butcher in the Civil War, and a more nuanced perspective on a presidency often associated with corruption. And we learn that perhaps the most heroic thing Grant did was write his Memoirs, winning the battle to finish this work while dying painfully of mouth and throat cancer.

Best Quote: I deeply appreciated this passage from Washed and Waiting as speaking of the journey all of us, and not simply those who are LGBT, are on in the life of faith:

“More and more, I have the sense that what many of us need is a new conception of our perseverance in faith. We need to reimagine ourselves and our struggles. The temptation for me is to look at my bent and broken sexuality and conclude that, with it, I will never be able to please God, to walk in a manner worthy of his calling, to hear his praise. But what if I had a conception of God-glorifying faith, holiness, and righteousness that included within it a profound element of struggle and stumbling? What if I were to view my sexual orientation, temptations, and occasional failures not as damning disqualifications for living a Christian life but rather as part and parcel of what it means to live by faith in a world that is fallen and scarred by sin and death.”

What I’m Reading:  I’m reading several books on science and faith. One is Charles Hummel’s The Galileo Connection, which has sadly fallen out of print but is marvelous both for demonstrating that science and Christian faith are really not at war, and how that is possible. A brand new book that covers similar ground but explores cutting edge issues of cognitive science and technology is Greg Cootsona’s Mere Science and Christian Faith. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Greg through a Fuller Seminary-funded program that seeks to promote a better conversation about science and Christian faith among emerging adults, and I think he is one of the most thoughtful writers and speakers on this subject. Evolution and Holiness also touches on this theme in a novel way, exploring the research on altruism in sociobiology and considering Wesleyan practices that promoted holy living and how these might intersect–a connection I would never have considered. American Academic Cultures surveys the history of higher education in the United States, suggesting it might be understood in terms of seven “cultures” that have succeeded one another. The Kingdom of God Has No Borders is an exploration of evangelical missions over the last seventy or so years. It is always fascinating to see how a researcher narrates a history you’ve been a part of. Later this month I plan to dig into Biblical Leadership (Kregel), a study of leadership throughout scripture to which a number of scholars contribute, including several friends!

Friends of mine once wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I find my life immeasurably enriched and enlarged through books like these, and indeed, that reading is a spiritual practice. I hope some of the books you’ve learned about here will be enriching and enlarging to you as well!


The Month in Reviews: January 2018

Karl Barth

The cold weather of January afforded lots of time to curl up with a number of good books including a William F. Buckley, Jr. mystery, a narrative of Winston Churchill’s adventures in the Boer war, including a prison escape and flight to safety, and the story of the ice bucket challenge. It was a treat to receive likes on my review from the Frates family including Pete Frates. One of the things I try to do in theological reading is to read both the best of evangelical scholars and those outside evangelicalism. This month, that included three Catholic writers including Pope Benedict, an Eastern Orthodox scholar, and a biography on Karl Barth. All told, I reviewed seventeen books in January. Here’s the list:

Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy NarrativesPope Benedict XVI (translated by Philip J. Whitmore). New York: Image, 2012. A study of the gospel accounts of the annunciations, the infancy, and boyhood of Jesus of Nazareth. (Review)

partners in Christ

Partners in Christ, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. A case by a convert to egalitarianism for why both complementarians and egalitarians find scriptural foundations for their views with a proposal for what can make the best sense of the diverse testimony of scripture. (Review)

an introduction to christian worldview

An Introduction to Christian WorldviewTawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A work designed for classroom or personal study, defining the idea of worldview and its importance, delineating the Christian worldview and responding to critical objections, and outlining and critiquing other major worldviews according to criteria established in the first part of the book. (Review)

creation and new creation

Creation and New Creation, Sean M. McDonough. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A work on the doctrine of creation with particular attention to the connection between the creation and the new creation in Christ, but also focusing on other aspects of creation including issues of time, space, Platonic ideas and their influence on the doctrine, in each case tracing relevant scripture, and the theological contributions of theologians from the fathers to the present day. (Review)

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes Trilogy Book 2)Sharon Kay Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. [Note: Publisher link to this edition unavailable; link is to another edition.] A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry’s sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English. (Review)

the ice bucket challenge

The Ice Bucket ChallengeCasey Sherman & Dave Wedge. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017. The story behind the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and Pete Frates, who has lived five years with ALS and has led a determined fight to raise funding needed for research to end this disease. (Review)

further up and further in

Further Up and Further InEdith M. Humphrey. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017. A survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus considering the theological themes developed in these works in interaction with Eastern Orthodox theologians. (Review)

called by triune grace

Called by Triune Grace (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Jonathan Hoglund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A monograph exploring the doctrine of effectual calling and how it is that God’s speech brings about our regeneration and conversion. (Review)

rhetoric of jesus mark

The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, David M. Young and Michael Strickland. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A study of the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark analyzing them in the context of first century Greco-Roman rhetoric. (Review)

Karl Barth

Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for EvangelicalsMark Galli. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017. An succinct overview of the life and theological relevance of Karl Barth, particularly for contemporary evangelicals. (Review)

Hero of the Empire

Hero of the EmpireCandice Millard. New York: Doubleday, 2016. The history of Winston Churchill’s involvement in the Boer War as a correspondent, his capture, imprisonment and dangerous escape–events that brought Churchill to national attention. (Review)

Bible Matters

Bible MattersTim Chester. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. An introduction to understanding the Bible, exploring the nature of this collection of books, what Christians believe about it and why, and how God speaks to us today through the Bible. (Review)

to light a fire on the earth

To Light a Fire on the EarthRobert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr. New York: Image Books, 2017. An interview between Barron and Allen that is part biography and part outline of Barron’s approach to the “new evangelization” of which his Word on Fire ministry is a leading exemplar. (Review)

the image of god in an image driven age

The Image of God in an Image Driven AgeBeth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A collection of papers from the 2015 Wheaton Theology Conference focusing on how our understanding of “the image of God” shapes our understanding of what it means to be human, and how we ought perceive the images that pervade our lives. (Review)

saving the queen

Saving the Queen, William F. Buckley, Jr. New York, Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1976). The first of Buckley’s Blackford Oakes espionage novels, covering his recruitment to the CIA and first mission, to ferret out the person high up in British government betraying atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. (Review)


Ignatian Spirituality A to ZJim Manney. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2017. An introduction to Ignatian spirituality in the form of a glossary of commonly used terms and key people. (Review)

practices of love

Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World, Kyle David Bennett (foreword by James K. A. Smith). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017.  An approach to spiritual disciplines that explores how various spiritual practices not only nurture our relationship with God but shape our habits of being in the world including how we love our neighbors, and the rest of God’s creation. (Review)

Best Book: Always a tough call, but I’ll give the nod to Mark Galli’s biography of Karl Barth. I think Galli’s observation is worth heeding that Barth’s critique of liberal theology bears a warning for an evangelicalism grounded in subjectivism and activism. Read this biography and I dare you not to find your appetite whetted to read Barth!

Best Quote: It is rare that I quote a set of bullet points but this list of boundaries on a “hopeful universalism” in Edith Humphrey’s Further Up and Further In bears repeating:

  • We cannot say that God’s will may ultimately be thwarted.
  • We cannot deny that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
  • We cannot view the salvation accomplished by Christ as automatic in such a way that it violates human integrity or choice, or that it does not require a human response.
  • We cannot say that salvation depends upon us in a foundational sense.
  • We cannot say that human acceptance of God’s loving offer is unnecessary.
  • We cannot claim to know that someone is damned.
  • We cannot say that the effect of Christ’s righteousness on humanity is less powerful than Adam’s sin.
  • We cannot say that the doctrine of hell is only “heuristic” — that it is only a warning. (pp. 239-240)

What I’m Reading. I should note that I posted a review of James K. A. Smith’s new Awaiting the Kingdom on February 1, hence not listed here. Anyone who cares about Christian faith in public life ought to read this! I am in the middle of Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill’s narrative of his life as a celibate gay Christian. I’ve also just begun Peter J. Leithart’s massive Delivered From the Elements of the World, which explores this question: “How can the death and resurrection of a Jewish rabbi of the first century . . . be the decisive event in the history of humanity, the hinge and crux and crossroads for everything?” Still Evangelical? is a collection of responses from a number of evangelical leaders in light of the 2016 election about continuing to identify with the “evangelical tribe,” a question I’ve wrestled with here (I thought I would come up with my own answer to the question before I read those of others).  This past month, I reviewed Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman’s second book in the Welsh Princes series. I am currently finishing the third volume, The Reckoning, a moving story of love and loss and the loves and rivalries within families. Before the month is out, I hope to start Grant by Ron Chernow, though I won’t likely finish it. Look for that review in March!

Stay warm, stay safe, and curl up with a good book this month!

The Month in Reviews: December 2017

a book for hearts and minds

It has been fun to welcome a number of new followers to the blog in the last month. If that is the case for you, this is your first time to see a “month in reviews” post. Just a few words of orientation. One is that you can see all my reviews by month by going to “The Month in Reviews” on the menu. The idea of “The Month in Reviews” is to give you a quick summary of my reviews, particularly any you might have missed. The link embedded in the book title takes you to the publisher’s site for the book. At the end of the summary is another link that will take you to my full review of the book. I also choose a best book and best quote of the month, and give you a preview of what I will be reviewing soon. So with that, here’s what I reviewed in December.


Mark Through Old Testament EyesAndrew T. LePeau. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017. The first in a series of commentaries looking at the Old Testament background of the New Testament text, with attention to the meaning of structural elements in the text, and the practical implications of the text for Christians and churches. (Review)

shadow country

Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen. New York: Modern Library, 2008. A condensation of the Watson trilogy, giving three different renderings of the life and death of Edgar J. Watson, a planter, and notorious alleged murderer, of the Ten Thousand Islands area of southwest Florida. (Review)


Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic FutureAshlee Vance. New York: Ecco (HarperCollins), 2015. A biography of the brilliant and flawed tech entrepreneur involved with SpaceX, Tesla, and his visions for the future of humanity. (Review)

The American Spirit

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand ForDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. A collection of addresses given by the author articulating some of the defining and distinctive qualities that define America at its best. (Review)

Created and Creating

Created & Creating, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Explores the idea of “culture” from secular and Christians perspectives, explores the biblical basis for the culture mandate and continued cultural engagement, and the arguments raised against this idea. (Review)

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers

Living Wisely with the Church FathersChristopher A. Hall. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exploration of what we might learn from the church fathers about lives well lived, touching on everything from martyrdom to entertainment. (Review)

Transforming Grace

Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017 (book originally published in 1991, study guide, 2008). A comprehensive study of the nature of grace and the experience of grace throughout the life of the believer accompanied by a study guide for group use. (Review)

the book of esther

The Book of EstherEmily Barton. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. An alternative historical fiction in which a Jewish daughter of the Kagan of Khazaria breaks with her father and convention to lead her people in battle against the invading German army in 1942. (Review)

becoming a pastor theologian

Becoming a Pastor TheologianTodd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (eds.). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A collection of papers from the first Center for Pastor Theologians conference in 2015 focusing on the identities, historical examples, and biblical engagement of pastoral theologians. (Review)

A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive GenerosityMac Pier. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Thirty-one stories of entrepreneurial business leaders whose strategic stewardship of their lives and their money have resulted in transformed lives and cities across the globe. (Review)

History of the World

A Little History of the WorldE. H. Gombrich, translated by Caroline Mustill, illustrated by Clifford Harper. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. A history of the world, written for children, by a famous art historian and illustrated with woodcut drawings. (Review)

Choosing Donald Trump

Choosing Donald Trump, Stephen Mansfield. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Written just after the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this book explores his character and formative influences, what his appeal was to the voters who elected him, and a call for the church to exercise “prophetic distance” in its relationship with this and all presidents. (Review)


President McKinley: Architect of the American CenturyRobert W. Merry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. A biography of McKinley’s life, from Civil War hero to Canton attorney, congressman, governor,  and to a presidency ended by an assassin’s bullet, arguing he was a far more consequential president than usually credited. (Review)

a book for hearts and minds

A Book for Hearts and MindsNed Bustard (ed.). Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2017. A collection of essays on different academic disciplines and topics, honoring the work of Hearts and Minds Bookstore on over three decades of connecting thoughtful readers with serious books. (Review)

Best Book: This is a tough call. I really appreciated Andrew T. LePeau’s new commentary, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes which opened up new dimensions of Mark to me and is a great resource for anyone studying and/or teaching this book.  Living Wisely with the Church Fathers lived up to the promise of its title in introducing some of the best insights of the church fathers into what constitutes a well-lived life. Robert Merry’s President McKinley gave me a greater appreciation for the president who was born and grew up within fifteen miles of my home. I could easily choose any of them but will go with A Book for Hearts and Minds, edited by Ned Bustard. The essays of thinking Christianly on a number of topics were concise examples of the good work that needs to be done, I loved the book recommendations, and most of all, the celebration of the work of Byron (and Beth) Borger, of whom the former publisher of InterVarsity Press said, “We think that Byron Borger is the best bookseller in America.” Seems fitting that my “best book” for December should be about the best bookseller! May his tribe increase!

Best Quote: Since my best book was on books and reading, I decided to choose this quote from David McCullough’s The American Spirit on his advice to Boston College grads:

“Read. Read, read! Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history? Read into the history of Greece and Rome. Read about the great turning points in the history of science and medicine and ideas.

Read for pleasure to be sure. I adore a good thriller or a first rate murder mystery. But take seriously–read closely–books that have stood the test of time. Study a masterpiece, take it apart, study its architecture, its vocabulary, its intent. Underline, make notes in the margins, and after a few years, go back and read it again (pp. 147-148).”

What I’m Reading: I just finished up several books for review. One is Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, which is a wonderful study by Pope Benedict XVI. John Stackhouse, Jr’s Partners in Christ, is a thought-provoking case for an egalitarian view of gender roles that seeks to address the concerns complementarians raise in a proposal he argues best explains all the relevant texts in this discussion. An Introduction to Worldview is designed to serve as a college textbook on worldview thinking. I’m sinking my teeth into a more academic treatment of the discourses of Jesus in Mark titled The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark by Strickland and Young. I’m savoring Edith M. Humphrey’s book, Further Up and Further In. Humphrey is brings an Eastern Orthodox perspective to this study of Lewis.  I enjoy the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman and have been reading Falls the Shadow over Christmas vacation, on the conflict between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. I reviewed one book on the theology of creation this past month and am starting another by Sean McDonough titled Creation and New Creation. A couple other fun things on the “to be read” pile is a book on the recent “Ice Bucket Challenge” and a Christmas gift, Candace Millard’s Hero of the Empire, on the young Winston Churchill. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Millard and Churchill is one of my “heroes,” so I’m looking forward to this!

Happy new reading year!

The Month in Reviews: November 2017

engaging the doctrine of creation

I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. Every time I review a book related to the Apostle Paul, my view count goes up. What is it about Paul? At any rate, this was true with a book I reviewed this month, Paul Behaving Badly. As good as this book was, there were several that I would have loved to see more people look at including Dorothy Day’s memoir, The Long Loneliness and Deepening the Colors, a wonderful book about seeing our place in God’s story. Reading Your Life’s Story came at this same idea through the lens of spiritual mentoring. In recent months, I’ve read several narratives of LGBT persons. The most recent was Melissa Fisher’s Way of Hope, which features a church she characterizes as “neither condemning nor condoning.” Intriguing. A couple of the books I was really excited about were A Grander Story, and Matthew Levering’s Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, theological writing at its best. I reviewed a couple of thoughtful books about presence, one of which seems to flow well from the other: Life in God’s Presence leads to Faithful Presence. On other topics, I reviewed a book on public schools, a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Walter Lord’s The Miracle of Dunkirk. 

So here are the books in the order they were reviewed. As always, the title links to the publisher page for the book, and at the end of the summary, you will find a link to the full review.

The Long Loneliness

The Long LonelinessDorothy Day. New York: HarperCollins, 1952.  A memoir of the life of Dorothy Day up to 1952, describing her search for God and a meaningful life, her conversion to Catholicism, her catalytic friendship with Peter Maurin, and the early years of the Catholic Worker movement. (Review)

Deepening the Colors

Deepening the ColorsSyd Hielema. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2014. An exploration of the question of “what is my place in God’s world?” that proposes that as we live into our calling to pursue God’s kingdom, our vision of our lives and the world grows ever deeper and richer. (Review)

Reading Your Life's Story

Reading Your Life’s StoryKeith R. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  An exploration of the work of spiritual mentoring using the idea of attentive listening to the Holy Spirit and a person to “read” one’s life, with practical instruction on the mentoring process from beginning to ending. (Review)

Eleanor of Aquitane

Eleanor of AquitaneAlison Weir. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.  A highly readable account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitane, married to two different kings, mother of ten children, and “a tough, capable, and resourceful woman who travelled widely throughout the known world and was acquainted with most of the great figures of the age.” (Review)

The Miracle of Dunkirk

The Miracle of Dunkirk, Walter Lord. New York: Open Road Media, 2017.  A historical account of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops as the German blitzkrieg shattered Allied defenses and occupied France. (Review)

These schools

These Schools Belong to You and MeDeborah Meier and Emily Gasoi. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.  An argument for public schools where democracy is not simply taught but practiced by including teachers, students, and parents, as well as administrators as active participants in the educational process. (Review)

Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository PreachingJim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, Ryan Fullerton. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2017. An argument for expository preaching as the means by which the people of God encounter the living God through the word of God, and an explication of the practices in preparation that lead to this in experience through the preached word. (Review)

paul behaving badly

Paul Behaving BadlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Takes on the charge that there are many problems with Paul, among which that he is racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, homophobic, and hypocritical, and suggests that while he behaves badly, it may be in different ways than we might think. (Review)

Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of GodKenneth Boa. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.  A contemporary discussion of the idea that a vital Christian life is one increasingly lived on a moment by moment basis in the presence of God. (Review)

the way of hope

The Way of HopeMelissa Fisher. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Through a narrative of her own experiences, the author proposes ways in which the church might offer hope to LGBT persons without condemning or condoning. (Review)

engaging the doctrine of creation

Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.  A systematic theology of the doctrine of creation beginning with the nature of the Creator, the significance of creatures, the meaning of the image of God, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, original sin, and atonement that engages with scripture, contemporary sources, and most significantly, the theology of Thomas Aquinas. (Review)

faithful presence

Faithful PresenceDavid E. Fitch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2016.  Expands upon the idea of “faithful presence,” exploring how this may be practiced by the church in fulfillment of her mission through seven foundational disciplines practiced in three different settings or “circles.” (Review)

A Grander Story

A Grander StoryRick Hove and Heather Holleman. Orlando: Cru Press, 2017.  An invitation to professors and graduate students who are Christians to live for the grand vision of God’s story in their life in higher education, including narratives of six professors, and practical recommendations. (Review)

Best book: I thought Matthew Levering’s Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, as I write in the review,

“a sterling example of excellent theological writing. Levering is not content to engage the writers of the last ten or fifty years, but roots his work in biblical teaching, the work of the church fathers, as well as major teachers of the church like Thomas Aquinas.”

Best quote: I loved the confluence of the idea of story and the metaphor in this passage from Keith R. Anderson’s, Reading Your Life’s Story:

“We live in what we have built. The stories of our life become a house we inhabit with its
limitations, eccentricities, mistakes, hidden meanings, and crafted beauty.”

What I’m reading: I’ve spent most of November reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, a fictionalized rendering, or rather three renderingsof the life of Edgar “Bloody” Watson, a historical figure in South Florida. It is a fascinating exploration of who was Watson, really. I’m about midway through a biography of Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who parlayed buy-out funds from the startup of PayPal to launch both SpaceX and Tesla. Andrew LePeau’s Mark Through Old Testament Eyes not only helps us see the Old Testament background in just about every verse of Mark, but also begin to see how Mark has structured his narrative. Living Wisely with the Church Fathers is a book I’ve just begun and explores the wisdom of the Fathers for how we might both live, and die, well as followers of Christ. Other books I will be starting soon include one of the Ice Bucket Challenge, whose founder died yesterday of ALS, and Choosing Donald Trump by Stephen Mansfield, an exploration of why Christian conservatives supported him.

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The Month in Reviews: October 2017

Our Deepest Desires

I’m not sure there is an easy way to summarize the eighteen books in this list. Most are relatively short works, which made it possible to read so many of them in the month, the exceptions being the Lanny Budd novel and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. I thought Mark Amstutz’s Just Immigration the most thorough work I’d read on the subject. Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending was one of the best illustrations of the “false self.” Christopher Wright’s book on the fruit of the Spirit and Karen Wright Marsh’s book, Vintage Saints and Sinners are both great devotional reading. As always, the links in the titles take you to the publisher’s website, and the link marked “Review” to my full review post.

bring up the bodies

Bring Up the BodiesHilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2013. The second part of Mantel’s historical fiction on the life of Thomas Cromwell, from Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn to her downfall and execution. (Review)

play the man

Play the Man, Mark Batterson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Discusses seven virtues that distinguishes men from boys, and how Christian fathers can help sons navigate the passage from youth to manhood. (Review)

Our Deepest Desires

Our Deepest DesiresGregory E. Ganssle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Makes the case that Christian faith, truly understood, is most congruent with our deepest human longings. (Review)

weapons of math destruction

Weapons of Math DestructionCathy O’Neil. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. An insider account of the algorithms that affect our lives, from going to college, to the ads we see online, to our chances of getting a job, being arrested, getting credit and insurance. (Review)

Race and Place

Race and PlaceDavid P. Leong (foreword by Soong-Chan Rah). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Looks at how geography and place serve to perpetuate racial divisions and injustice and how the church may begin to address itself to these geographic forces and structures. (Review)

forgiveness and justice

Forgiveness and Justice, Bryan Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017. Interacts with other models of forgiveness from a biblical perspective, proposing that healing through trust in the justice of God precedes forgiveness, which can only occur where there is sincere confession and repentance by the offender. (Review)


BookstoreLynne Tillman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999. The story of Jeanette Watson and Books & Co., once one of the premier independent bookstores in New York City, connecting readers with books and their writers until their closing in 1997. (Review)

The Life of the Mind

The Life of the Mind, James V. Schall. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006.  A series of meditations “on the joys and travails of thinking” focused around the central idea that thinking is discovering “what is.” (Review)

cultivating the fruit of the spirit

Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A study elaborating what it means to grow in Christlikeness looking at each of the nine fruit of the Spirit. (Review)

Jesus, Science and Beginnings

Jesus, Beginnings, and Science, David A. Vosburg and Kate Vosburg. Farmville, VA: Pier Press, 2017.  A guide for group discussions on the Bible and beginnings, human origins, and science co-written by a scientist and a campus minister. (Review)

A World to Win

A World to WinUpton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1946). Presidential Agent 103, in the guise of an art dealer, embarks on a series of journeys, planned and unplanned, in which he gathers significant intelligence for the Allied cause in its fight against Nazism. (Review)

the triangle

The Triangle, Nakisanze Segawa. Middletown, DE: Mattville Publishing House, 2016. Set in Buganda, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the novel narrates through the eyes of three figures intra-tribal struggles fed by competing colonial powers, weakening African rule, and ultimately leading to colonial rule under the British. (Review)

Just Immigration

Just ImmigrationMark R. Amstutz. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2017. A carefully researched work on American immigration policy, various Christian responses and why they generally fall short and the necessity of nuanced advocacy that recognizes the competing values of compassion, the rule of law, and the requirements of justice. (Review)

The sense of an ending

The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes. New York: Vintage International, 2011.  A bequest that includes a letter and a diary forces a man in his sixties to examine the way he has remembered and conceived of his life. (Review)


Joni: The Anthology, Barney Hoskins (ed.). New York: Picador, 2017. A retrospective on the life, music, art, and performances of Joni Mitchell through reviews and articles from the popular music press, chronologically organized. (Review)

Saving Calvinism

Saving CalvinismOliver D. Crisp. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. An exploration of the breadth of theological resources, including alternate theological positions, within what is often thought to be the narrow bounds of Calvinism. (Review)

Vintage Saints and Sinners

Vintage Saints and SinnersKaren Wright Marsh (foreword by Lauren Winner). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Brief vignettes of the lives of twenty-five “saints” and how reflecting on them may inspire and challenge us. (Review)

How to Break Growth Barriers

How to Break Growth Barriers (Updated edition), Carl F. George and Warren Bird. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A work on church growth that focuses on the vision of church leaders, how they conceive their role, and key issues in breaking through specific numerical barriers. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I really liked Gregory Ganssle’s Our Deepest Desires, which makes sense of the fact that while many people do not believe the Christian message, deep down they actually want it to be true. I like this approach rooted in our love of the good, the true and the beautiful (a theme of this blog!) and our deepest human longings.

Best Quote of the Month: This was taken from James Schall’s The Life of the Mind:

“Tell me what you read and I will tell you what you are. In any intellectual life, books and the books we have around us do not just indicate where we started or where we have ended, but how we got there and why we did not go somewhere else or by some other path. They ground and provoke our inclination to know. Books and the intellectual life go together, provided we always remember that it is the books that are for the life of the mind and not the other way around” (p. 20).

What I’m reading: I’ve been savoring Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness with my reading group and should finish it this week. I’m about midway into Alison Weir’s historical biography of Eleanor of Aquitane, a formidable woman who was married in succession to two kings. The recent release of the movie Dunkirk got me interested in Walter Lord’s highly readable account by the same name. I’m thoroughly enjoying Deepening the Colors by Sydney Hielema, which helps us understand our place in God’s story. As the hymn title goes, “I love to tell the story” and I love hearing others tell it as well! Speaking of story, I’m just getting into Reading Your Life’s Story a story-based approach to spiritual mentoring. A few others on my TBR pile include Encountering God Through Expository Preaching, Kenneth Boa’s Life in the Presence of God, and Melissa Fisher’s The Way of Hope proposing some different ways the church might respond to various issues of sexuality.

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The Month in Reviews: September 2017


I don’t want to take much time discussing the sixteen books you will read here. Evicted and Just Mercy both touch on social justice themes. Two of the books I reviewedDaring Democracy and Forbearance, left me unsettled because I felt the bias of the authors undermined much of what was good in these books. A couple of the shorter books were absolute devotional gems, particularly J.I. Packer’s Finishing our Course with Joy and Charlie Dawes’s Simple Prayer. Renegade, a graphic biography on the life of Martin Luther was a refreshing look at the reformer’s life. I was struck that my last two books, Just Mercy and Unceasing Kindness, although very different books, share a common tie in the character of a God who is all these things. Enough discussion, here are my summaries. I hope you will take some time to read some of the full reviews, and find something useful or enjoyable for your own reading this fall.

The Mission of Worship

The Mission of Worship (Urbana Onward)Sandra Van Opstal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. Worship and mission are integrally related; recognizing the greatness of God propels us into mission and mission involves inviting others across cultural boundaries to join us in worship. (Review)


ParadoxologyKrish Kandiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Argues that the seeming contradictions that leave many questioning the truth of Christianity are actually the points where Christian faith comes alive and addresses the depths and complexities of our lives. (Review)


EvictedMatthew Desmond. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. A look at the private rental market in impoverished communities and the dynamics of eviction, why it happens and the impact of evictions on the evicted and the communities in which they live. (Review)

finishing our course with joy

Finishing Our Course with JoyJ. I. Packer. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. A meditation on aging that combines coming to terms with the physical changes in our bodies while pressing on to complete our course of actively serving the Lord. (Review)

learning change

Learning ChangeJim Herrington and Trisha Taylor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2017. A biblically-rooted approach to congregational transformation that centers around personal transformation and that draws research on effective organizations and systems. (Review)

the worm ouroboros

The Worm OuroborosE. R. Eddison. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (originally published 1922). A heroic fantasy of the warfare between Witchland and Demonland, including the quest to rescue Goldry Bluszco, after he is banished by spell to a remote mountain top in revenge for defeating and killing King Gorice XI of the Witches in a wrestling match. (Review)

Simple prayer

Simple PrayerCharlie Dawes (foreword by Mark Batterson). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Helps us understand how the “simple” prayers of scripture and those from our hearts may lead us into deep relationship and communion with God. (Review)


Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable ChurchJames Calvin Davis. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2017. Commends the practice of and virtues related to forbearance, as encouraged by Paul in Ephesians and Colossians as an ethic for dealing with theological differences within the church. (Review)

Thank you for being late

Thank You For Being LateThomas L. Friedman. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2016. Discusses three “accelerations (computer-related technology, globalization, and climate change), how these might re-shape our world for ill or good, and the case for pausing, reflecting, and creating communities of trust working for the common good. (Review)

restoring the soul

Restoring the Soul of the UniversityPerry L. Glanzer, Nathan F. Alleman and Todd C. Ream. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Traces the history of the fragmentation of the modern university including its loss of soul, the impacts that this has on various facets of university of life, and the role theology can have in restoring that soul and healing that fragmentation. (Review)

Daring Democracy

Daring Democracy Frances Moore Lappe’ and Adam Eichen. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017. Responding to the concentration of political power within monied elites, the authors expose their strategy, and advocate a growing Democracy Movement to recover American democratic institutions. (Review)


Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic BiographyAndrea Grosso Ciponte (illustrator), Dacia Palmerino (text), Michael G. Parker (translator). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017. A richly illustrated graphic biography of the life of Martin Luther, covering the major events of his life from boyhood to death, and the setting in which that life took place. (Review)

shalom in psalms

Shalom in Psalms, Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A devotional based on the Tree of Life Version (TLV) of the Bible, a Messianic Jewish translation of scripture. (Review)


As Kingfishers Catch FireEugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017. A collection of 49 of Peterson’s sermons grouped into seven sections, focused on lives congruent with the teaching of scripture. (Review)

just mercy

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014. A narrative of the author’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative, representing death row inmates and other prisoners–people of color, the indigent, mentally impaired, and children–not always served well by our justice system. (Review)

Unceasing Kindness

Unceasing Kindness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Peter H. W. Lau and Gregory Goswell.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A study of the theological themes that may be discerned in the various placements of Ruth in the canon, and the broader themes of unceasing kindness, famine, redemption, divine and human initiative, and the mission of God connecting Ruth with the rest of scripture. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: This is tough because several of the books here easily deserve this in my mind (especially Evicted and Just Mercy), but I’m going to give the nod to As Kingfishers Catch Fire, by Eugene Peterson. The book is a fitting valedictory for the ministry of Peterson, consisting of forty-nine of his sermons across the span of his ministry grouped by seven key biblical figures. Peterson’s focus is on living the congruent life, and I daresay it may be argued that this thought undergirds all of his writing. Peterson fans will love this, and for others, this is a great way to discover the writing of this skillful shepherd of God’s people.

Quote of the Month: A book I’ve not said much about other than in the review summary is Restoring the Soul of the University. I was impressed with this thoughtful argument for the role of theology in healing the fragmentation of the university, and this quote which addresses the source of virtue that integrates the lives of the professors who serve in the university:

“Although we agree with the importance of practicing virtue in the academic calling, we contend that any approach to integrating virtue must not prioritize teaching over scholarship or service but should instead prioritize the role of the triune God and God’s theological story in defining, directing, and empowering the virtues that sustain excellence in these practices and help promote flourishing academic communities. We doubt broadly defined virtues on which we all agree can sufficiently reorient the academic vocation. After all, professors need a compelling identity and story that will motivate them to acquire certain virtues. Instead, Christians must think about virtues such as faith, hope, and love as well as other fruits of the Spirit, in the light of a theological narrative and realities that usually do not enter standard secular reasoning” (pp. 245-246).

What I’m reading: I’ve just finished Hilary Mantel’s second installment of historical fiction on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister and “fixer,” Mark Batterson’s Play the Man is an exploration of the virtues that describe godly men, including some of his thoughts on the important of rites of passage in helping our boys pass into manhood, something I’ve written on. Weapons of Math Destruction is a fascinating exploration of Big Data’s use of algorithms, and how these may have destructive effects on the real lives of people. Greg Ganssle, in Our Deepest Desires, makes an argument that our deepest human longings are best explained and addressed by Christianity, that Christian faith is most congruent, to use Peterson’s word, with our deepest aspirations. Upton Sinclair is best know for his expose of the meat packing industry in The Jungle. He also wrote a series of eleven novels whose main character is Lanny Budd, son of an American arms maker who mingles with the leaders of both Allied and Axis powers before and during World War II. I’m sampling the seventh in the series, A World to Win. Our Dead Theologians reading group is discussing The Long Loneliness, the autobiographical memoir of Dorothy Day, Catholic social activist. Reading her story, I’m struck once again that often it seems it is not we who seek God so much as God haunts and seeks us until we awaken to the One who in love wants us to be his. She is also a female illustration of C. S. Lewis’s observation:

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” 

That you follow this blog suggests you are one who cares about his or her reading. I hope you will find something here of help in your own journey!

The Month in Reviews: August 2017

single gay christian

I’m not sure I know how to summarize the sixteen books reviewed on Bob on Books during August beyond the summaries below. They range the gamut from biographies of Mickey Mantle, Ben Franklin’s son, and Guinness, both the family and the beer. I reviewed a murder mystery, Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address and last days in office, the story of the original Skunk Works outfit, and nature writing following the steps of several of Wisconsin’s naturalists and nature writers. I discovered that you can summarize all the world’s songs in six categories. There is the usual collection of books on theology and ministry, highlighted for me with a fine book on beauty and truth, and a thought-provoking memoir of a celibate gay Christian.


Have His CarcaseDorothy L. Sayers. New York: Harper, 2012 (originally published 1932). While on a walking tour of the seacoast around Devon, Harriet Vane finds a man whose throat has been slit recently on some rocks. Lord Peter Wimsey eventually joins her and they find clues aplenty and possible suspects, yet none appears to have done it. (Review)

ethics at work

Ethics at WorkTheology of Work Project. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A discussion guide outlining a Christian approach to ethical decision-making in the workplace based on three principles: commands, consequences, and character. (Review)

The Last Boy

The Last BoyJane Leavy. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. A biography of the life of Mickey Mantle, covering his family roots, baseball career, and post-career life, including his injuries, alcoholism, affairs, and something of a redemption at the end of his life. (Review)

the death of adam

The Death of Adam, Marilynne Robinson. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. A collection of eleven essays taking modern intellectual life to task for its cynicism toward its intellectual antecedents. (Review)

single gay christian

Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. An autobiographical narrative of a young Christian who becomes aware of his attraction to other men, his struggles against this within a Christian context, his experiences of “coming out,” and how he has decided to follow Christ through all of this. (Review)

Ministering in Honor-shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesJayson Georges and Mark D. Baker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A text which explains the differences between guilt-innocence and honor-shame cultures, outlines a biblical basis for ministry in honor-shame cultures and discusses practical implications for ministry in these cultures. (Review)

Loyal Son

The Loyal SonDaniel Mark Epstein. New York: Ballantine Books, 2017. The history of relations between Ben and his illegitimate son William Franklin, from filial loyalty to estranged parties as a consequence of the Revolutionary War, and each man’s choices. (Review)

Beauty for Truths Sake

Beauty for Truth’s Sake, Stratford Caldecott, (foreword Ken Myers). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017 (my review is of the 2009 edition). An argument for the unity of faith and reason, beauty and truth, the sciences and the humanities, and for the recovery of education as a lifelong pursuit of wisdom, both rooted in and eventuating in liturgical worship. (Review)

Three Days in January

Three Days in JanuaryBret Baier with Catherine Whitney. New York, William Morrow, 2017. An account of the final three days of the Eisenhower presidency, focused around his farewell speech, highlighting Eisenhower’s principled leadership and contribution to the nation. (Review)

Breaking the Huddle

Breaking the HuddleDon Everts, Val Gordon, Doug Schaupp. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Explores how Christian communities can move from being huddled groups to become witnessing, and even “conversion” communities where growth through people coming to faith becomes the norm. (Review)

the church as movement

The Church as MovementJ.R. Woodward and Dan White Jr., Foreword by Alan Hirsch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2016. An interactive guide for communities wanting to learn how to become “missional-incarnational movements” rather than “Christian-industrial complexes” through growth in eight competencies. (Review)

Skunk Works

Skunk WorksBen R. Rich and Leo Janos. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994. The story of Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” operation that produced innovative planes and other products for the military including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Stealth fighter. (Review)

Walking Home Ground

Walking Home GroundRobert Root. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2017 (forthcoming, October 2017). The author hikes the “home grounds” in Wisconsin of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and August Derleth, and records his reflections on the landscape then and now, and his observations of the Ice Age Trail, and his own home grounds of Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Review)

getting the gospel right

Getting the Gospel RightR. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017 (repackaged edition, originally published 1999). A critical discussion of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement “The Gift of Salvation” (1997) centering on what it sees as an inadequate understanding of justification by faith alone, accompanied by a discussion of “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” a statement by evangelicals in response. (Review)

the world in six songs

The World in Six SongsDaniel J. Levitin. New York: Dutton, 2008. Proposes that all the world’s songs can be grouped into six categories, and explores the evolutionary, cultural, and musical reasons for each category. (Review)

god and guinness

The Search for God and GuinnessStephen Mansfield. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.  A history of beer, of the Guinness family and the history of Guinness from its beginnings, and the faith that that motivated the social goods pursued by many of the family members who led the company, and others in the family line. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I appreciated Greg Cole’s memoir Single, Gay, Christian as an honest and vulnerable book, one marked by conviction without stridency and the hope that we can find a “new side” beyond the two “sides” that have for so long defined, at least in Christian circles, our discussions around LGBT issues.

Best Quote of the Month: It seems in our own time, we do well to hear again Dwight Eisenhower’s warning against the “military-industrial complex” from his farewell address as president:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished and will be reviewing a short piece by Sandra Van Opstal titled The Mission of Worship that explores the integral relation between our worship and our mission in the world. I’ve just started a short piece by J.I. Packer titled Finishing Our Course with Joy, on how Christians might live their later years well. Evicted is a sobering book, and not a fun read, but eye-opening about the problems that many poor people face with substandard housing, landlords, and the cycle of hopelessness that often begins with an eviction, that makes housing even more difficult to find, and often compounds financial woes. Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah explores that it is often within the paradoxes of biblical narrative that we discover the depths and reality of Christian faith beyond platitudes and perplexities. I’m also working my way through a classic piece of fantasy, The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison that first came to light with the popularity of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It’s a story of war and quest written in an Elizabethan style, hence the extra work. Our Dead Theologians group has just began Catholic social activist Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. The links at the end of the summaries will take you to the full reviews. Hope you find something interesting. And if you do, and think of it, tell me something interesting you’ve read recently.

The Month in Reviews: July 2017

becoming curious

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

impossible people

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

becoming curious

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

vanishing american adult

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

abandoned faith

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

when I was a child

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

buying time

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

The Qu'ran in Context

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

god and faithfulness of paul

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

the gatekeepers

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

What Happens After You Die

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

Grieving a Suicide

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

New Christian Zionism

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: June 2017

the last lion

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

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

The Circle

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

A Grief Observed

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

Two views

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


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

To Alter Your World

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

the living temple

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


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

tech wise family

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

book of isaiah and God's kingdom

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


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

the last lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Month in Reviews: May 2017

Uneasy Conscience

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

Uneasy Conscience

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

Wolf Hall

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

Worship in the Way of the Cross

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

God in Captivity

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

Salvation by Allegiance Alone

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

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

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

The Affair at the Bungalow

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

Two Paths

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

An Anomalous Jew

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

The Face of Forgiveness

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

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins

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

Remembering the Reformation

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

Speaking of homosexuality

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

The Post Racial Church

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

Praying for your Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love to hear what you are reading!