The Month in Reviews: July 2022

Summertime, and the reading is easy. Well, not all of it. I tackled a long compendium of articles from an egalitarian stance on gender roles and a Paul Tillich classic. Other thought-provoking books this month were on the loneliness epidemic, the spirituality in John’s writings, a book that wrestled with how we do Christian history and a book on academic freedom. I actually read two Ngaio Marsh books this month as well as a lesser known (to me) train mystery by Agatha Christie. Then there were a couple books by “proto-Inklings”–a children’s fantasy by George MacDonald and a reflection on the life of St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton. I finally pulled Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft off the TBR–a work that challenges our notions of knowledge work. And I delighted in the full-length biography of Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan who fought slavery and was an exemplar of public service.

Death in a White Tie (Alleyn #7), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012. At a premiere debutante ball, Lord Robert Gospell’s call to Alleyn about a blackmail conspiracy is interrupted. A few hours later, Gospell turns up at Scotland Yard in the back of a taxi–dead! Review

Spirituality According to JohnRodney Reeves. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Through an imaginative study of the gospel, letters, and Revelation of John, considers what it means to abide in Christ, coming to faith, living communally in Christ, and facing the tribulations of the end of the world. Review

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionErnest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2010 (Original edition published in 1964). Based on the manuscript submitted by Hemingway for publication rather than the posthumously edited version originally published, a memoir of his time in the 1920’s in Paris, his beginnings as a writer, his first marriage, and the circle of writers he worked among, including the previously unpublished “Paris Sketches.“ Review

The Courage to BePaul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952 (Link is to the third edition, published in 2014). A philosophical discussion of being or ontology, the crisis of anxiety, and the nature of the courage to be, the affirmation of our being in the face of nonbeing, accepting our acceptance by the God above God despite our unacceptability. Review

At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald. New York: Open Road Media, 2022. Summary: Diamond becomes friend with the North Wind, who takes him on many adventures, even while he is a help to everyone he meets and known for his rhymes. Review

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives (Third Edition), Editors: Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, Associate editor: Christa L. McKirland. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A compendium of scholarly essays addressing gender differences in marriage and the church supporting an egalitarian perspective. Review

Saint Francis of Assisi (Paraclete Heritage Edition), G. K. Chesterton. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013 (Originally published in 1923). Less a biography than a reflection on the meaning of the life of St. Francis. Review

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6), Agatha Christie. New York: William Morrow, 2005 (originally published in 1928). A rich heiress carrying a rare ruby is murdered on the fashionable overnight train to the French Riviera on which retired detective Hercule Poirot happens to be riding. Review

The Shape of Christian HistoryScott W. Sunquist. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. An exploration of how Christian history is written and read in an era of “Christianities” proposing three framing concepts that give coherence to the whole arc of Christian history while respecting the diversity of its expressions. Review

The Loneliness EpidemicSusan Mettes (Foreword by David Kinnaman). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of the prevalence of loneliness in America, misconceptions about loneliness, and steps leaders and individuals in the church can take to address loneliness. Review

Versions of Academic FreedomStanley Fish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Summary: An analysis of the idea of academic freedom, identifying five schools of thought, arguing for limiting this to the core professional duties of an academic in one’s institution and disciplinary field. Review

With or Without MeEsther Marie Magnis (Translated by Alta L. Price). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2022. A memoir of losing a father to cancer and the loss of faith that came when earnest, believing prayers went unanswered, and the slow journey back. Review

Now and Not Yet (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Dean R. Ulrich. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021 (Apollos-UK publisher webpage). Summary: A study of the biblical theology of Ezra-Nehemiah that situates the books within an account of redemptive history, emphasizing both what already had been fulfilled and what yet remained. Review

Shop Class as SoulcraftMatthew B. Crawford. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. A philosopher turned motorcycle mechanic explores the nature of satisfying work and the intellectual dignity of the manual trades. Review

Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital RivalWalter Stahr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. A biography tracing the life of this public figure who was a contender along with Lincoln for the presidency and who played a vital role in his cabinet, and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Review

Tied Up in Tinsel (Roderick Alleyn #27), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (Originally published in 1972). Hilary Bill-Talsman is the subject of a Troy portrait and host of a Christmas house party that includes a Druid Pageant, marred when the chief Druid disappears. Alleyn arrives from overseas just in time to solve the mystery. Review

O Pioneers!Willa Cather. New York: Penguin Classics, 1994 (Originally published in 1913). The first of the Great Plains Trilogy, the story of Alexandra Bergson’s love of the Nebraska hills, the costly choices she made, and the ill-fated love of her brother Emil. Review

Indigenous Theology and the Western WorldviewRandy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022. A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus. Review

Book of the Month: It was a toss-up for me between the Chase biography and Esther Marie Magnis’s With or Without Me. I chose the latter because it is a powerful, unvarnished memoir of suffering loss, not only of a loved one, but of one’s faith and her slow journey back as she discovered the inconsistencies and emptiness for her of the alternatives on offer.

Quote of the Month: This month, you get two! I’m just discovering the writing of American plains writer, Willa Cather. I’m not sure how I overlooked her for so long. Here is a passage I really liked from O Pioneers!:

For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman (Cather, p. 44).

Rodney Reeves in Spirituality According to John concluded with a question worthy of consideration of a church seemingly infatuated with almost anything but Jesus:

“The Apocalypse is not only a revelation at the end of the world; it is a revelation of the church at the end of the world. God knew that, as we watched the world fall apart around us, we would need to see our place in a crumbling world. When the earth quakes at the weight of glory, when heaven shakes earth to its core, when idols are destroyed and the kingdoms of men fall, when pandemics threaten humanity, when all creation is purified of evil and all that is left is what God has made, where will the church abide?” (p. 257).

What I’m Reading: I’ve finished three books that I’ll be reviewing this week. One is James V. Schall’s A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, a delightful little book making the classic argument for a liberal education as well as building one’s own library of significant works, including his own recommendations. Beale and Kim’s God Dwells Among Us is on the theme of the temple, a theme the authors trace through scripture, offering practical application throughout. Jason Cusack’s The Anxiety Field Guide consists of thirty short chapters intended to be practiced over a month, based on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and illustrated liberally by Cusack’s personal experiences of anxiety. A Short History of Christian Zionism is a descriptive history rather than a work of advocacy, tracing the development of Christian Zionism both in Great Britain and in the U.S., the key figures, and they way it has adapted to different theological streams. Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s classic on writing, full of her earthy wit that makes you laugh even as it encourages the heart of any writer. I’ve come across various recommendations of the work of Vaclav Smil. His latest, How the World Really Works, explores the reality of energy use and how hard it will be to get to a carbon-zero energy economy. This is not a piece of advocacy but rather a realistic look at present day realities and the alternatives open to us. I’m just starting in on The Power of Us, on the role others play in the shaping of identity. The Psychology of Christian Nationalism is also one I’m just starting and focuses on the roots of Christian Nationalism and how we address both our divides as a nation and our pursuit of justice for all.

In our area, it looks like we might have some hot weather coming–a great excuse to find a cool place, a comfortable chair, a cold drink, and a good book. As always, I’d love to hear what you are reading!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.

The Month in Reviews: July 2021

If it isn’t obvious by now, I love reading a wide variety of books. Science fiction, mysteries, history, literary fiction, regional authors, biblical, historical, and practical theology, sociology, business and economics. My work and my interests touch on all of these and all of these are here. Mayday reminded me of an international crisis of my childhood when we were sheltering under our school desks and school basement in fear of nuclear attack. Octavia Butler’s imaginative scenarios of what happens when different species meet. I’ve mused about why men treat women so badly across cultures. David Buss’s answers weren’t satisfying to me but provoked my thinking. I had good fun revisiting The Scarlet Pimpernel, a great story! I won’t go through all the books here so that you can get on and skim the reviews!

Imago (Xenogenesis #3), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1989 (Link is to a current, in-print edition). The concluding volume of this trilogy explores what happens when human-Oankali breeding results in a construct child that is not supposed to occur. Review

The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic & Theological ApproachesDuane A. Garrett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An exploration of how and whether Christians ought read the Old Testament, contending that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and that its material still has authority and edifying value for the Christian. Review

Final Curtain (Inspector Alleyn #14), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1947. While Inspector Alleyn is returning from wartime service in New Zealand, Troy Alleyn, his artist wife is commissioned on short notice to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, a noteworthy stage actor, meeting his dramatic family, encountering a number of practical jokes including one that infuriates Sir Henry at his birthday dinner, after which he is found dead the next morning. Inspector Alleyn arrives home to investigate a possible murder in which his wife is an interested party. Review

A War Like No OtherVictor Davis Hanson. New York: Random House, 2006. An account of the Peloponnesian War tracing the history, the politics, the strategies, key figures, battles, and how the war was fought. Review

An Impossible MarriageLaurie Krieg and Matt Krieg. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Matt and Laurie Krieg are in a mixed orientation marriage and narrate both the challenges they have faced and what they have learned about God and love as they remained together. Review

Who Created Christianity?Craig A. Evans and Aaron W. White, editors. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A festschrift in honor of David Wenham focused around the centerpiece of Wenham’s theology, the relationship between Jesus and Paul and Wenham’s insistence that Paul was not the founder of Christianity but a disciple of Jesus. Review

Mayday: Eisenhower, Krushchev, and the U-2 Affair, Michael Beschloss. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1986). A detailed accounting of the shoot-down of a U-2 CIA reconnaissance flight over the USSR and the consequences that increased Cold War tensions between Eisenhower and Kruschchev and their respective countries. Review

Science and the Doctrine of Creation, Edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp, afterword by Alister E. McGrath. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of ten modern theologians and how each engaged science in light of the doctrine of creation. Review

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 (originally published in 1905). An adventure set in Revolutionary France as a secret league led by the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues prisoners headed to the guillotine as a French agent ruthlessly seeks to track him down. Review

40 PatchtownDamian Dressick. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2020. Set during a coal strike in Windber, Pennsylvania in 1922, captures the hardship striking miners faced in their resistance to mine owners, their efforts to form unions and gain better wages for dangerous work. Review

Evil & Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian DogmaticsEdited by David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. An essay collection considering the doctrine of creation and how theologians and others have grappled with the emergence of evil. Review

The End of the AffairGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1951). A writer struggles to understand why the woman he has had an affair with broke it off, discovering who ultimately came between them. Review

The 30-Minute BibleCraig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, with illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An overview of the big story of the Bible, broken into 30 readings of roughly 30 minutes in length, accompanied by charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Review

When Men Behave BadlyDavid M. Buss. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021. A discussion of sexual violence, deception, harassment and abuse, largely on the part of men, grounded in evolutionary sexual conflict theory that helps explain why so many relationships between men and women go bad. Review

PillarsRachel Pieh Jones, Foreword by Abdi Nor Iftin. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021. An account about how the author’s attitudes both toward Islam and her Christian faith changed as she and her husband lived among Muslims in Somalia and Djibouti. Review

Post-Capitalist SocietyPeter F. Drucker. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Describes the transformation of a society based on capital to one based on knowledge whose key structure is the responsibility-based organization. Review

Best Book of the Month. This is often a tough one to answer, and no less this month. It is rare that I give the nod to a collection of essays around a theme but Science and the Doctrine of Creation was one of the best. Ten outstanding theologians summarized the thinking of ten of the leading theologians of the last two centuries on the doctrine of creation and how they related that doctrine to science.

Best Quote of the Month: I’ve worked with Muslim students in collegiate ministry and in Pillars, Rachel Pieh Jones put into words what an incarnational ministry among Muslims is like. Here, she talks about the shift that took place in her life:

“I had a lot to learn about how to love my neighbors and practice my faith cross-culturally. I don’t identify with the label ‘missionary,’ with its attendant cultural, theological, and historical baggage, though I understand this is how many view me. I do love to talk about spirituality–and what fascinates me is that the more I discuss faith with Muslims, the more we both return to our roots and dig deeper. As we explore our own faith, in relationship with someone who thinks differently, each of us comes to experience God in richer, more intimate ways. In this manner, Muslims have helped me become a better Christian, though things didn’t start out that way” (p. 49).

What I’m Reading: Louise Penny just keeps getting better. I just finished the ninth in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, How The Light Gets In. Look for my review tomorrow. I’ve also been savoring a Ray Bradbury classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes, a dark exploration of the nothingness of evil and our power to say no to it. Conspicuous in His Absence explores the significance of the two books in the Bible in which God is not mentioned, Song of Songs and Esther. Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is a book about just that–how we might read well and discriminately. I love books about books and reading. Hand in Glove is another Roderick Alleyn mystery by the great Ngaio Marsh. I just had the chance to interview Roger Wiens, one of the NASA scientists involved in the Mars Rover Perseverance mission and have been reading his Red Rover to glimpse the inside story of his work. And in a similar vein, Test Gods is an account of the test pilots who have been involved in Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s space company.

We have one more full month of summer (in the northern hemisphere). I hope you have some days in a hammock or lounge chair with a cold drink and a good book. One of the joys of reading are the good things that go along with our good books!