Most Viewed Reviews of 2017

astrophysics-for-people-in-a-hurry

It is fascinating to me each year to see what books I review are the most interesting to others. There were a couple surprises to me that I’ll note along the way. Last week, I posted my “Best of 2017“. You might call this my “viewers choice” awards–the books you were most interested in. So, here is the top ten:

getting-the-gospel-right

10. Getting the Gospel RightR. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017 (repackaged edition, originally published 1999). While my review was mixed, including this review here seems fitting, in light of the author’s passing this past week. (Full Review)

the-road-back-to-you

9. The Road Back to YouIan Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. I thought this one of the most engaging and helpful books I’ve read on the Enneagram. It appears a number of you are interested in this as well. (Full Review)

how-i-changed-my-mind-about-evolution

8. How I Changed My Mind About EvolutionKathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. This book consists of 25 narratives whose views about evolution changed. (Full review)

paul behaving badly

7. Paul Behaving BadlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. To the modern reader the apostle Paul seems to be racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, homophobic, and hypocritical. The authors face these criticisms honestly and offer explanations that suggest that he may indeed behave badly, but not in the ways we think. (Full Review)

Our Deepest Desires

6. Our Deepest DesiresGregory E. Ganssle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Ganssle makes the case that the Christian faith is most congruent with our deepest desires. For me it also posed the challenge of whether as Christians, our lives reflect the goodness, truth, and beauty for which others long. (Full Review)

god-and-faithfulness-of-paul1 (1)

5. God and the Faithfulness of PaulChristoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers responding to N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (Full Review)

speaking-of-homosexuality4. 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. (Full Review)

two-views

3. 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. Two biblical scholars and two theologians discuss the traditional and affirming views, the biblical material and its application, and respond graciously to each other. (Full Review)

single gay christian

2. Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. This was also one of my “best of the year.” An honest account, that I characterized as speaking with “conviction without dogmatism.” I’m glad this book got a good deal of attention! (Full review)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

1. Astrophysics for People in a HurryNeil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.,  2017. The author is a popular figure in the media, and writes with clarity and eloquence about the wonderful and humbling experience of studying the cosmos. (Full Review)

It didn’t surprise me that books about homosexuality and the narratives of LGBT persons would be popular. What did surprise me was how Astrophysics for People in a Hurry made the top spot. Unlike others, it did not receive many views initially, but nearly every day since April it has had between one and five views, I suspect many via online searches about this book which has been a bestseller. This is the kind of post bloggers love–it just keeps earning interest, so to speak!

The other surprise is how many views I get whenever I review anything about the Apostle Paul. Last year, Paul’s New Perspective, by Garwood P. Anderson was my most viewed review. So what is it about the apostle Paul? Perhaps it is that the scholarly discussion, particularly around the so-called “New Perspective” and N.T. Wright, fascinates many. This year’s number five book was an 800 page monster of monographs responding to Wright’s work.

Besides Greg Cole’s book, Single, Gay, Christian, I was perhaps most delighted that many of you noticed Greg Ganssle’s book, Our Deepest Desires, which I thought a wonderful and succinct argument that deserves greater consideration.

 

Bob on Books Best of 2017

culture-care

If you follow book and publishing sites, this is the time where they post their best books of 2017. I suspect part of the idea is to aid those shopping for their bibliophile friends in choosing just the right gift. Here are my own “best books.” A few caveats. I read some fiction but not a great deal. My selection is an older work many of you have already heard of or perhaps read, but which I enjoyed. Many but not all of the books listed were indeed published in 2017, but some earlier, and I’ve just gotten around to reading them and considered them among my “best” of the year. So without further ado, here is the list:

culture-care

Best of the Year: Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Here’s what I wrote in my review of the book:

“To read this book was a moving experience for me, one about which I wrote (“Culture Care Instead of Culture War“) while reading the book. I found a voice that resonated deeply with my longing for alternatives to the banal, rancorous and ugly expressions of culture around us. Fujimura invites us to care for our culture rather than engage in war over it, to give our selves to a common pursuit of beauty to sustain and renew our common life.”  (Full Review)

caring-for-words

Best book not published in 2017: Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. I found this an eloquent book by an author who cares for words and truth, and utterly relevant to our present time. (Full Review)

temple-and-tabernacle

Best book in Biblical Studies: The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A rich, and richly illustrated, study of how God encountered and dwelled among his people and how this anticipated the coming of Christ. (Full Review)

engaging-the-doctrine-of-creation

Best Theological Work: Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. The doctrine of creation is foundational to so much else in Christian theology and anthropology and I thought Levering engaged this well. I wrote, “I would consider this 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.” (Full Review)

kingfishers

Best Sermon Collection: As Kingfishers Catch FireEugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017. Peterson’s valedictory work that captures so many of the themes of his writing and serves as an example of skillful pastoral work. (Full Review)

single-gay-christian

Best Christian Memoir: Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. I easily could have chosen this as my overall best book. I’ve read several narratives this year of LGBT persons coming to terms with their faith and sexual identity. I appreciated the combination of conviction and modesty in this narrative and his longing for a better conversation that moves beyond the binary “side A/side B” discussion. (Full Review)

evicted

Best Book on a Contemporary Issue: EvictedMatthew Desmond. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. Matthew Desmond’s powerful book studying the impact of eviction, how it perpetuates poverty, and his incarnational research approach merit the Pulitzer Prize awarded this book. (Full Review)

the-last-lion

Best History or Biography: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965William Manchester and Paul Reid. New York: Bantam Publishing, 2013. I had long awaited the final installment of this three volume biography by Manchester completed posthumously by Paul Reid. Flawed as all humans are, we nevertheless see the incomparable greatness of Churchill. (Full Review)

astrophysics-for-people-in-a-hurry

Best Science and Technology:  Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2017. Tyson explains complex phenomena in understandable terms, and also explores the wonder and haunting questions that face all of us as we consider the cosmos of which we are a part. (Full Review)

wolf-hall

Best Fiction WorkWolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2010. This historical fiction account of Thomas Cromwell explores what it was like to be this powerful and competent figure, serving at the pleasure of Henry VIII. (Full Review)

No two best books lists are alike. All I can say for this one is that it reflects what I have read (at least so far) in 2017. Had I more time, I suspect Ron Chernow’s new book on Grant would probably be on the list, and no doubt some others. Many others just missed my very arbitrary “cut.” I’d love to hear about some of your best books of this year!

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.

Want to see these reviews when they come out rather than all at once? You can follow Bob on Books on WordPress directly if you have a WordPress account, use the “follow” button in the upper right to get a email whenever there is a new post, or take your chances with the algorithms on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. I sure appreciate all of you who do follow, read and comment!

 

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: 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: February 2017

temple-and-tabernacle

There were books I read this month that fascinated me, like Hit Makers and others that scared the living daylights out of me, like Lights Out. Temple and Tabernacle warmed my heart while Confident Pluralism challenged me. I felt that several of the books I read challenged me in engaging with those who differ, whether in differing understandings of life’s meaning, differing faiths, or simply in reconciling across differences within our own faith. I delighted in the pithy essays in Richard Mouw’s Praying at Burger King and waded through a couple of books on higher education. One thing I discovered in looking over the list was that there was no fiction on it! Look for that to change next month. So here is what I read in February:

confident-pluralism

Confident PluralismJohn D. Inazu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Recognizing the deep fissures in American society and the necessity of maintaining some kind of civil union in the face of the scary alternatives, this book explores the constitutional commitments and civic practices that make that possible. (Review)

the-future-of-evangelicalism

The Future of Evangelical TheologyAmos Yong. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.  An exploration of the contribution that has been made and could be made from
Asian-Americans to evangelical theology, with particular attention to context and the author’s Pentecostal perspective. (Review)

the-power-of-meaning

The Power of MeaningEmily Esfahani Smith. New York: Crown Publishing, 2017. Explores the importance of meaning in one’s life, four pillars upon which meaning rests, and how we might cultivate cultures of meaning. (Review)

outlaw-christian

Outlaw ChristianJacqueline A. Bussie. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. Challenges the “unwritten rules” of Christianity that respond with denial or cliches when faced with the hardest challenges of evil, pain, suffering, doubt, and death and invites both honest responses and offers reality-based hope. (Review)

from-bubble-to-bridge

From Bubble to Bridge, Marion H. Larson and Sara L.H. Shady. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores how to equip Christians for engagement in our religiously diverse multifaith environment, moving out of our Christian “bubbles” and building bridges of understanding without compromising the convictions of one’s own faith. (Review)

awakenings

AwakeningsOliver Sacks. London: Picador, 1991. Chronicles the experience of post-encephalitis patients existing as prisoners in their own bodies in a trance-like state, who, when treated with L-DOPA, experienced dramatic “awakenings” nearly always followed by debilitating side effects, often resulting with withdrawal of the drug, and a return to their former state. (Review)

pietist-vision

The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationChristopher Gehrz, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. The contributors to this volume consider the “usable past” in Pietist thought and practice that might serve in the “forming of whole and holy persons” in Christian colleges with a Pietist heritage. (Review)

the-faculty-factor

The Faculty FactorMartin J. Finkelstein, Valerie Martin Conley, and Jack H. Schuster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. A data-rich study of the profile, experience, and influence of university faculty in the turbulent and rapidly changing landscape of higher education institutions in the United States. (Review)

lights-out

Lights OutTed Koppel. New York: Broadway Books, 2016. Explores the vulnerabilities of our power grid to attack, the state of our preparedness for such an attack, and what it would take as individuals to survive such an attack. (Review)

temple-and-tabernacle

The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. An exploration of God’s dwelling places as described throughout the Bible from Eden to tabernacle, to the first and second temples, the question of Ezekiel’s temple, and the temple in John’s Revelation. (Review)

praying-at-burger-king

Praying at Burger KingRichard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. Short essays on the life of faith in the world, originally appearing on beliefnet.com, and several other publications. (Review)

roadmap-to-reconciliation

Roadmap to ReconciliationBrenda Salter McNeil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. This veteran of racial reconciliation work shows us not only that reconciliation is necessary but the path individuals and groups must take to pursue that reconciliation. (Review)

hit-makers

Hit Makers, Derek Thompson. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. Explores what makes a hit, and explodes some of the myths around hits such as the idea of something going “viral.” (Review)

Best book of the month: Perhaps because it might not get the notice of others, I would commend The Temple and the Tabernacle. This book was a delight of scholarship, clarity, and devotional richness, well-illustrated on good paper and excellent graphical layout. Hays made what could be a dry subject come to life.

Most significant book: I won’t include this every month but John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is such an important book for our time. Inazu shows us both how to legally protect a robust diversity, and how to foster a civil yet substantive conversation and even collaboration across our differences. Shut the news off during Lent and read this book if you care about civic and political engagement!

Best Quote of the Month: I’m still pondering this observation from Derek Thompson in Hit Makers that captures the tension of artists living between the “feedback loops” of audience and their inner sense of artistic integrity:

  “I’ve come to see that I need the feedback loop, the standing ovation and devastating silences that can greet an online article. But when I circle a pile of books at the Strand, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that perhaps the best writers also knew to just do the work and forget, for a moment, that anyone would ever read their reverie. They mounted a stage production in their minds, but just for them, something palatial and private, like a daydream” (pp. 280-281).

Coming Soon: I’ve already finished up a book by Ed Larson on evolution in the Modern Library series, and another by David Gushee, Letter to My Anxious Friends about what it means to choose faith in a fearful time. I recently began A. Scott Berg’s biography of President Woodrow Wilson and have been surprised to find what a fine scholar Wilson was. Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care provides a fresh alternative to the culture wars we are so wont to fight. I’m waiting to see if Kevin Van Hoozer in After Babel can succeed in his argument for a “mere Protestant Christianity” over against the Roman Catholic criticism of the interpretive pluralism and anarchy of Protestantism. Our Dead Theologians group will soon finish Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which has felt so relevant to our present time. Finally, I just started Robert Silverberg’s Across a Billion Years, a classic science fiction work from 1969. All of these should appear in reviews over the next month. Until then, happy reading!

Best Books of 2016

new-perspective

This is the time of year when a number of literary and review publications are coming out with “best of the year” lists. Mine is reflective of my own particular reading habits, which include reading lots of works published before the current year as well as some that have been, and a heavy dose of works from a more theological perspective, mixed with some fiction, history, and biography. So, here is my list without further ado.

new-perspectiveBest of the Year:

Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood P. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. I choose this work as “best of the year” for a couple reasons. One is that I think it is a great work of scholarship that is a game-changer in the discussions about perspectives on Paul. Also, the review for this book garnered more views than any review post this year, so you might say it is a “blog reader’s choice.” (Review)

The noise of timeBest work of fiction: 

The Noise of TimeJulian Barnes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. I found this fictional exploration of the inner live of composer Dmitri Shostakovich fascinating because of its exploration of the tension between surviving under a totalitarian regime and living with artistic integrity. (Review)

Change of HeartBest biography or memoir:

A Change of Heart, Thomas C. Oden. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Recently deceased theologian Tom Oden narrates his own personal and theological journey through a series of contemporary theologies to a place of stability rooted in the creeds and fathers of the church. (Review)

 

Reading for the Common GoodBest book on books:

Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Reading is often a solitary activity. Smith shows us how reading together can enrich communities, particularly religious communities. (Review)

 

Grapes of WrathBest classic read this year:

The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1939 (original edition), 2002 (this edition). I could also have put Anna Karenina here, but decided to give the nod to Steinbeck’s fictional account of the dust bowl migrations to California and the conditions of grinding poverty the people endured captured in the Joad family. (Review)

the-good-shepherdBest devotional work:

The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. The late Kenneth Bailey’s last work, a scholarly but devoti0nally rich exploration of Psalm 23 and the “shepherd” theme running through scripture. (Review)

 

the-faithful-artistBest books on art and faith:

I’m going to list two here, each profound works in their own way.

The Faithful Artist, Cameron J. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Anderson explores the tensions familiar to readers of My Name is Asher Lev as well as many persons of faith who have sought to work with excellence and integrity in the world of modern art without compromising Silence and Beautytheir faith. (Review)

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Fujimura gives us a “layered reflection” on Shusaku Endo’s Silence and the intertwining of suffering, silence, and beauty that Fujimura finds both in the novel and thinks necessary to the advance of Christian belief in Japan. (Review)

The Warmth of Other SonsBest history:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Vintage, 2011. Reading this helped me discover one of the great migrations, that of African Americans, occurring between 1915 and 1970, and its profound impact on the South, and the cities of the North. (Review)

The NightingaleThe book that kept me up at night:

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Some books have kept me up at night because of their riveting plots. This one kept me awake thinking about “the choices faced by the characters, the brutality they suffered, and the profound grief that comes of love and loss. I’ve read other books with “heavy” content, but rarely have I been touched as I was in reading this book” (from the review)

I realized in compiling this list that six of the ten books here came from one publisher, InterVarsity Press. In the interest of full disclosure, I work with the parent organization of this publisher and do review many of their books. But I will also say that I review quite a number of books (135 so far this year), and many by other publishers and as I surveyed the books that I had rated most highly and whose quality of writing and ideas I most appreciated, I honestly felt these came to the top. I realize that is a personal, and probably very subjective judgment. I’ll let you decide, and you can skim all my reviews by going to “The Month in Reviews” category on my blog.

In closing, I’d love to hear your own choices of “best books” that you read this year. I always love hearing what other book lovers have enjoyed!