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.

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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)

Musk

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)

McKinley

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)

bookstore

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

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

Kingfishers

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)

Paradoxology

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)

evicted

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

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

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)

Kingfishers

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.

sayers

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)

Embrace

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

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)

niebuhr

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!

The Month in Reviews: April 2017

The Heir Apparent

This month’s reading spanned the gamut from Eastern Orthodoxy to the English Reformation to classic evangelicalism to thinking on the church’s ministry with the rising generation. Along the way there were several biographies including that of Hermann Rorshach, King Edward VII, and Katharina and Martin Luther. Each explored a lesser know figure–Rorshach, the man behind the test, Edward VII, the playboy who ended up a hard-working monarch, and Katharina Von Bora, truly a match for Luther, though often overshadowed in the history. At one point, I reviewed back-to-back a book in hope for politics, and another on resisting tyranny. I read some classic science fiction, and a summary of the cutting edge science of astro-physics. Mixed in were Lewis’s classic on pain, a book on the ten commandments, a wonderful theology of preaching, and a path-breaking book on leading multi-ethnic worship.

Modern Orthodox Thinkers

Modern Orthodox Thinkers, Andrew Louth. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Biographical sketches and theological summaries of some of the leading thinkers in the modern Orthodox Church from Russia to Paris to Mount Athos to England and the US, and the significant role the Philokalia has played in Orthodox thought and piety. (Review)

The Inkblots

The InkblotsDamion Searls. New York: Crown Publishers, 2017. A biography of Hermann Rorschach and the after-history of the test that bears his name. (Review)

Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z, James Emery White. Grand Rapids: Baker 2017. The book profiles the generation born since 1993, describing them as the first “post-Christian” generation, and what the church in the US must do to reach this generation. (Review)

Recovering Classical Evangelicalism

Recovering Classic EvangelicalismGregory Alan Thornbury. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Addressing an evangelical context that seemingly has lost a sense of its identity, core convictions, and model for cultural engagement, the author commends a re-appraisal of the work of Carl F. H. Henry as a source of wisdom for the future. (Review)

The Heir Apparent

The Heir ApparentJane Ridley. New York: Random House, 2013. An award-winning biography of Edward VII, often criticized for his faults of character as heir to the throne under Victoria, whose reign ushered in a critical transition in the British monarchy in the first decade of the twentieth century. (Review)

Preaching in the New Testament

Preaching in the New Testament (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Jonathan L. Griffiths. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exegetical and biblical theology of preaching from the texts of the New Testament. (Review)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., (forthcoming May) 2017. A clear and concise discussion in understandable terms about the current state of our understanding of astrophysics, everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of the elements on the periodic table, and all the space between the galaxies. (Review)

The English Reformation

A Brief History of The English ReformationDerek Wilson. London: Robinson, 2012. A history of the house of Tudor, and how their rule transformed England both religiously and politically, and the influence of the vernacular scriptures on the English people. (Review)

Reclaiming Hope

Reclaiming HopeMichael Wear. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2017. Written by an Obama staffer in his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and faith outreach director in his 2012 campaign, this is not only a narrative of that work, but also an exploration of controversial decisions made by this administration, and how Christians might think of the possibilities and practice of political involvement. (Review)

On Tyranny

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. A Yale historian draws twenty lessons from fascist and communist movements of the twentieth century and applies them to the American context. (Review)

The Decalogue

The DecalogueDavid L. Baker. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. After an exploration of the shape, form, origin, and purpose of these ten “words”, the author takes each in turn, exploring the command in its cultural context, it’s biblical and theological meaning, and contemporary relevance. (Review)

The Next Worship

The Next WorshipSandra Maria Van Opstal (foreword by Mark Labberton). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Using the language of an international table, this book gives both theological basis and practical help in leading Christian communities into multi-cultural and multi-lingual worship led by empowered multi-ethnic worship teams. (Review)

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of PainC. S. Lewis. New York: Harper Collins, 2015 (originally published 1940). Lewis’s classic work exploring the existence of suffering and pain and how this is possible in a world made and sustained by a good and omnipotent God. (Review)

City

City, Clifford D. Simak (Introduction by David W. Wixon). New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1952). A collection of eight connected stories stitched together by “notes” from dog commentators on how human beings died out as a species on earth. (Review)

Katharina and Martin Luther

Katharina & Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2017. An account of the “most unlikely to succeed” scandalous marriage of Katharina Von Bora and Martin Luther, a runaway nun and former monk who marry out of necessity and principle, and grow into love. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent is a fascinating and masterful study of the life of King Edward VII, from his troubled childhood under Albert and Victoria, his playboy life, even while he is cultivating a public life that would make him “the people’s king” and his last years as England’s monarch, including his efforts to avert the conflict that became World War I, which he did not live to see. It made several “best books” lists in 2014.

Best Quote of the Month: In David L. Baker’s The Decalogue he includes some trenchant reflections on how the commandments bear on contemporary life, with this on the bearing of false witness particularly telling:

“The Old Testament affirms the importance of truth in public life, with particular condemnation of religious leaders who use their positions to propagate lies (Jer 6:13-14; 8:10-11; 23:21-32; Ezek 13) and pander to their audiences with smooth talk (cf. Is 30:9-11). Mendacity brings iniquity (Is 5:18) and causes confusion by pretending to be virtue (Is 5:20).

    Another kind of untruth that is pervasive today is the use of moral euphemisms designed to make what is wrong appear right or at least unobjectionable. Instead of committing adultery, people have an affair. Instead of having an abortion, they terminate a pregnancy. Instead of killing innocent citizens, there is collateral damage. Instead of unemployment, there is downsizing. Instead of lying, there are ‘terminological inexactitudes’ (Winston Churchill, 1906).

What about us? Are we habitually truthful. When we speak and write, it is often easier to say what we think people want to hear–or what we want them to hear–than what is actually true. Sometimes it is tempting to keep quiet and not say anything at all rather than speaking up when we ought to. The Bible encourages us to go beyond the rejection of false testimony, to become people who speak the truth from our hearts” (p. 141).

Coming soon: Tomorrow I will be posting a review of Carl F. H. Henry’s classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. I picked this up after reading Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism exploring the life and theology of Henry. I’m in the midst of Salvation By Allegiance Alone which challenges our formulations of “faith alone” in many presentations of the Christian message, and particularly emphasizes the rule of Jesus and our allegiance to him. I’m also reading a work on how worship is meant to form us to be like Christ, Worship in the Way of the Cross. For fun, I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a great historical fiction follow up to the book on the English Reformation, focused on Thomas Cromwell. This weekend, we picked up Dave Eggers, The Circle, and John Kasich’s political memoir Two Paths. I’ve just started a book of narratives of a variety of Christians whose views of evolution changed–ranging from N. T. Wright to Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project and current National Institutes of Health director).

Hope you will stop by frequently to catch the reviews of these books, and tell me what you think!

The Month in Reviews: March 2017

Caring for Words

One theme I saw in this month’s readings concerned the question of how Christians ought engage a society, particularly American society. In the last month or so, two important books have been published with very different perspectives and approaches: Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Philip Gorski’s American Covenant. I reviewed both of these books in March and the “review” links below will take you to the reviews. John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion explored a similar theme, as does, on more of a note of praxis, David Gushee’s A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends. Two books I read took a different approach, both along the theme of “care” and were among the most personally moving books I read this month: Makoto Fujimura’s recently published Culture Care, and an older work by Marilyn McEntyre on Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.

Then there was the eclectic mix of books that reflect my interests and “to be read” pile. Ed Larson’s Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory was my science read for the month–a surprisingly non-polemical work from a secular source. There was science fiction from Robert Silverberg, a novel by Canadian author Robertson Davies, and my re-reading (thanks to the Dead Theologians group) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In presidential biographies, there is A. Scott Berg’s Wilson. On the theological side, I reviewed Kevin Van Hoozer’s important book on biblical authority, a very practical book on conflict resolution by Lou Priolo, a delightful discussion of “Jesus Behaving Badly” by Mark Strauss, and a wonderful set of sermons on the cross by Christopher J. H. Wright, just in time for Good Friday.

So here is the list of sixteen books reviewed in March with links in the titles to publisher’s web pages and a review link at the end of the summary if you want to read the whole review. evolution

Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific TheoryEdward J. Larson. New York: Modern Library Chronicles, 2004. A history of the development of evolutionary theory, including both the antecedents to Darwin and Russell and the extension of this theory, the controversies, both past and present that it provoked, and the genetic discoveries that have further revealed the theory’s mechanisms. (Review)

letter-to-anxious-christian-friends

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, David P. Gushee. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Written as a series of letters, this is an exploration of what it means as a Christian to both love and be anxious for one’s country as people of faith committed to the global kingdom of God. (Review)

culture-care

Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A call for a different kind of engagement with culture, one of care, of becoming generative, rather than engaging in war or battle, to foster beauty in our common life. (Review)

Biblical Authority After Babel

Biblical Authority After BabelKevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. A proposal that the five Solas of “mere Protestant Christianity” provide a framework to check the interpretive anarchy for which Protestant Christianity is criticized. (Review)

Across a Billion Years

Across a Billion Years, Robert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2013 (originally published in 1969). A group of space archaeologists from different planets make a discovery that puts them on the trail of an ancient, highly advanced race that disappeared nearly a billion years ago. (Review)

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism and Civil ReligionJohn D. Wilsey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. Explores the history of American exceptionalism, distinguishing two kinds of exceptionalism and considers them under five theological themes. (Review)

Wilson

Wilson, A. Scott Berg. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013. A definitive biography of Woodrow Wilson, that traces the arc of his life from boyhood to professor to college president to U.S. president in biblical terms fitting for this deeply religious man. (Review)

Resolving Conflict

Resolving ConflictLou Priolo. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2016. A practical guidebook to the biblical prerequisites and principles of resolving conflicts between Christians both in home and church contexts. (Review)

Caring for Words

Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. Explores, in a culture of “spin” and poisoned discourse, practices for caring for our use of words, that they may be used well and true. (Review)

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (with an introduction by James M. McPherson). New York: Vintage Books/Library of America: 1991 (originally published 1852). Stowe’s classic novel depicting the evils of slavery, the complicity of North and South, and the aspirations and faith of slaves themselves. (Review)

American Covenant

American Covenant, Philip Gorski. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. Traces and argues for an American civil religious tradition combining prophetic religion and civic republicanism that avoids the extremes of religious nationalism and radical secularism. (Review)

Theology in the Flesh

Theology in the FleshJohn Sanders. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. A survey of how the field of cognitive linguistics lends insight into how we understand theological matters ranging from morals to the nature of God to understanding the Bible. (Review)

Jesus Behaving Badly

Jesus Behaving BadlyMark L. Strauss. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Explores some of the disturbing acts and statements of Jesus, that actually reveal his counter-cultural message and mission. (Review)

The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinel, 2017. A proposal that in the face of pervasive cultural decline that has led to political, theological, and moral compromise within the church, it is time for Christians to consider a kind of strategic withdrawal patterned on the monastic movement founded by St. Benedict. (Review)

To The Cross

To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ. (Review)

The Lyre of Orpheus

The Lyre of OrpheusRobertson Davies. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. The project of a gifted but difficult graduate student to realize an unfinished opera of  E. T. A. Hoffman uncovers darker and hidden aspects in a number of the central characters who join in undertaking the project. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Without question, it is Marilyn’s McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I appreciate my friend Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books for recommending (and selling) this book to me! In turn, I haven’t stopped telling people about it from the moment I started reading it. The topic of our care for words and for truth is certainly a top priority in our time if we are to preserve a just, free, and open culture. McEntyre addresses this with cogency and grace, and practices the care for words in her writing for which she advocates.

Best Quote of the Month: While reading Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care I came to this personal statement of faith and calling that left me saying, “Yes! Yes! YES!”:

“I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being. Vincent van Gogh was not a Christian artist either, but in Christ he painted the heavens declaring the glory of GodEmily Dickinson was not a Christian poet, and yet through her honest wrestling, given wings in words, her works, like Vincent’s, like Harper Lee’s, like Mahalia Jackson’s–speak to all the world as integrated visions of beauty against injustice.

    “It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church” (pp. 84-85).

Coming Soon: Tomorrow, I will be posting a review of Andrew Louth’s Modern Orthodox Thinkers, a collection of theological biographies of Orthodox thinkers over the last couple centuries. Recovering Classic Evangelicalism is a plea to return to the evangelicalism of Carl F. H. Henry. Not sure yet whether I buy the argument! I’m working my way through a long biography of Edward VII, the playboy son of Victoria as well as a fascinating account of the life of Hermann Rorschach, and the inkblot psychological test he developed. Because of our Dead Theologians group, I am re-reading C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. A few others on the TBR pile include Sandra Van Opstal’s The Next Worship, James Emery White’s Meet Generation Z, Michelle DeRusha’s Katharina and Martin Luther (It is the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle door), and Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope on lessons learned from his experiences in the Obama White House.

Here’s to a good month of reading!