The Month in Reviews: November 2022

This Month in Reviews is a cornucopia filled with good books of various sorts. I began the month with a book on foreknowledge and free will. There were a variety of other religious books on transformation, the Herods, orthodoxy, art and new creation, a commentary on Revelation, a book on why women leave the church, and a biography of theologian John Gerstner. Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts topped my fiction reads–a haunting book I’ll be thinking about for awhile. I also read a classic James Baldwin, and another Alleyn and a Rostnikov mystery–for some reason the older I’ve gotten, the more I enjoy a good mystery. My non-fiction reads included a different take on our climate discussion, a history of the Depression contending that Roosevelt’s actions may have prolonged it, a book on math errors in the real world, and how the algorithms of social media engagement have intensified our social divides. And I read a 75 year history of one of my favorite book publishers, a story that includes a number of friends, past and present.

God in Eternity and TimeRobert E. Picirilli. Nashville: B & H Acacdemic, 2022. A case for libertarian freedom without forgoing belief in the foreknowledge of God, rooted in how God acts and reveals himself in creation. Review

When in Rome (Roderick Alleyn #26), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015. Alleyn goes undercover on a Roman holiday tour led by a sketchy tour guide suspected of drug smuggling and other corrupt activities and ends up collaborating in a murder investigation. Review

Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. Expanded edition. Andrew T. LePeau & Linda Doll, edited by Al Hsu. Foreword by Jeff Crosby and Robert A. Fryling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. A narrative history of this evangelical publishing house, a division of a campus ministry, upon the publishing house’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Review

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real WorldMatt Parker. New York: Riverhead Books, 2020. An exploration of all the ways we use (and misuse) math in the real world, and the ways our calculations can go badly wrong. Review

The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes. New York: MJF Books, 2008. An account of the Depression years, focusing on why the Depression lasted so long, and the impact it had on so many different kinds of “forgotten men” and women. Review

Having the Mind of ChristBen Sternke and Matt Tebbe. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2022. Looks at the changed paradigms one must understand to experience deep and lasting change in our lives. Review

The Herods: Murder, Politics, and the Art of SuccessionBruce Chilton. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of this dynasty, tracing its rise from Antipater, the rule of Herod the Great, and his descendants who struggled to recover control over the territories he ruled amid Roman power and rising Jewish discontent. Review

Go Tell It on the MountainJames Baldwin. New York: Vintage Books, 2013 (originally published in 1953). An account of John Grimes fourteenth birthday, centering on his brother Roy’s stabbing, his estrangement from his father, and the Saturday night “tarrying service” at a pentecostal church, revelatory of the lives of those around John and his own “salvation.” Review

The Thrill of OrthodoxyTrevin Wax (Foreword by Kevin Vanhoozer). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Spirited advocacy for orthodox belief as vibrant, broad, crucial in the battle before us, and for the renewal of God’s people. Review

ClimaturityMarc Cortez. Morro Bay, CA: Wise Media Group, 2022. An argument for a more transparent and measured climate discussion, avoiding either scare tactics or denialism. Review

The Chaos MachineMax Fisher. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2022. A deep dive into how social media has rewired our minds and fueled social divisions. Review

The Art of New Creation (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Contributions from a variety of artists and theologians from the 2019 DITA10 Conference at Duke Divinity School, focusing on how the theology of the new creation shapes the work of Christian artists in various fields. Review

A Fine Red Rain (Porfiry Rostnikov #4), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press, 2012 (First published in 1987). When two of three high wire artist die, one by suicide, one by “accident,” Rostnikov suspects more, little realizing the reach of the KGB into this case while his friends Sasha deals with black marketers and Karpo pursues a serial murderer of prostitutes. Review

Our Missing HeartsCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2022. Bird Gardner and his father spend life trying not to be noticed, even as Bird wonders about his mother, the stories she told, why she left them, and where she has gone in a country that turned against her poetry even as one phrase became a rallying cry for all those separated from their children. Review

Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes (A Background and Application Commentary) Tremper Longman III, series editor Andrew T. LePeau. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022. A running commentary of the book of Revelation that focuses on the Old Testament background running through the book, along with material that goes deeper on the Old Testament material relating to different themes and the structure of the book as well as its contemporary application. Review

Reason to ReturnEricka Andersen. Colorado Springs: NavPress. Forthcoming (January 17) 2023. A book directed to believing women who have left the church looking at the reasons why they have left and reasons why they should consider returning, both for what they may gain and what they may give. Review

John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America (Princeton Theological Monograph Series), Jeffrey S. McDonald. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017. A biography of church historian, apologist, and theologian John Gerstner exploring his impact on theological education, the Presbyterian denominations of which he was part, and the wider evangelical and Reformed movement. Review

Best Book of the Month: I chose Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. simply because I’ve personally been deeply impacted by the books published by InterVarsity Press and found the story of the growth of this publisher compelling. And, as I mentioned above, it’s a book that includes a number of friends. This may not have been everyone’s choice, but if you know this publisher and have read books by the likes of John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, J. I. Packer, Susan Stabile, Ruth Haley Barton, Tish Harrison Warren and many others, or have commentaries or reference books from IVP, you will find the stories behind the books of interest.

Best Quote of the Month: Trevin Wax’s The Thrill of Orthodoxy argues that there is great joy to be found in the foundational truths of Christianity. I loved this image of orthodoxy as an ancient castle:

“Orthodoxy is an ancient castle with spacious rooms and vaulted ceilings and mysterious corridors, a vast expanse of practical wisdom handed down from our forefathers and mothers in the faith. Some inhabit the castle but fail to sift through its treasures. Others believe the castle stands in the way of progress and should be torn down. A few believe the castle’s outer shell can remain for aesthetic purposes, so long as the interior is gutted. But in every generation, God raises up those who see the value in the treasure, men and women who maintain a deep and abiding commitment to recognize and accentuate the unique beauty of Christian truth so that future generations can be ushered into its splendor” (p. 9).

I had the privilege of interviewing the author and, if you are interested, you can watch it on YouTube:

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished reading Soonish, a fun read on ten emerging technologies and the challenges we face bringing them to life. I also finished a thought provoking book by Richard Mouw on How to Be a Patriotic Christian. I’m reading F.A. Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom, arguing for the classical idea of liberty, the individual, and the rule of law against state planning, collectivism, and the arbitrary uses of authority that can lead to totalitarian forms of government–fascist or communist. I have another Ngaio Marsh going, Swing, Brother, Swing, a book on the idea of salvation as abundant life in a holistic sense, and the classic work that spawned the inductive Bible study movement, Robert Traina’s Methodical Bible Study. I was a product of this training and came to love the Bible because of it but had never read Traina’s book. Finally, I think Louise Penny’s latest, A World of Curiosities, is supposed to arrive today. I read through her whole series during the pandemic and can’t wait to read her latest!

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: October 2022

The test of a good children’s story is that the adult who reads will love it as well. I had the fun of reviewing three this month that met this test, including one that was my Book of the Month. The rest was an eclectic mix including a Richard Wright classic of Black literature and a memoir of Oliver Sacks boyhood. I zoomed out to consider Asian American histories and zoomed in on the four generational history of one family. I read an account of the problems with the cost of higher education and how it contributes to our cultural divides. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Emily St. John Mandel and reviewed her latest. I learned about four Victorian women writers who resisted “the marriage plot” and how important a curious faith can be. Another book awakened me to the plight of Palestinians and the flawed character of Jewish nationalism and Christian support of it. Steven Bryan’s book on cultural identity sets out a biblical alternative to both nationalism centered around cultural identity and a pluralism of warring identities. And Gordon T. Smith gives us a carefully reasoned, wise book on Christian vocation.

Asian American Histories of the United States, Catherine Ceniza Choy. Boston: Beacon Press, 2022. The multiple, interleaved histories of the diverse Asian American peoples who migrated to, built communities in, contributed to, experienced discriminatory acts in the United States. Review

Resisting the Marriage Plot (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Dalene Joy Fisher. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Contrary to prevailing ideas of Christianity being an oppressive force in women’s lives in Victorian literature, looks at four instances in this literature where women resist cultural expectations around marriage due to the liberating and empowering quality of their faith. Review

A Curious FaithLore Ferguson Wilbert (Foreword by Seth Haines). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022. A book about the questions God asks, we ask, and those we wish we were asked, all with the message of living the questions and not hastily grasping for answers. Review

Agents of FlourishingAmy L. Sherman. Downers Grove: IVP Praxis, 2022. An outline of how Christians may pursue Christ’s redemptive mission in six areas of cultural life, encompassing the whole of life. Review

Native SonRichard Wright. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989 (first published in 1940). The story of Bigger Thomas, whose unpremeditated murder of Mary Dalton and second murder covering up the first, fires rage and fear in Chicago, and in a strange way gives meaning to a young man who felt himself imprisoned in Chicago’s Black Belt. Review

Dawn: A Proton’s Tale of All That Came to Be (Biologos Books on Science and Christianity), Cees Dekker, Corien Oranje, and Gijsbert Van Den Brink, translated by Harry Cook, afterword by Deborah Haarsma. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An imaginative account of cosmology, evolutionary biology, and the creation-fall-redemption story of Christianity, bringing all these together in one grand narrative, recounted by a proton who witnesses it all. Review

Uncle TungstenOliver Sacks. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. A memoir of Sacks boyhood and his explorations of chemistry encouraged by an uncle who used tungsten to manufacture incandescent bulbs. Review

The Lord’s Prayer: For All God’s Children (A FatCat Book), Art by Natasha Kennedy, Text by Harold L. Senkbeil. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2022. A lavishly illustrated book designed for parents to use with children in teaching them the meaning of the Lord’s prayer and praying together in family worship. Review

The King of Christmas (A FatCat Book), Art by Natasha Kennedy, Text by Todd R. Hains. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2022. The search for the King of Christmas by the Magi, and where the King was found…and where he was not. Review

All Will Be WellLacy Linn Borgo, Illustrated by Rebecca Evans. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022. Julian’s Mima is very sick and Julian is worried, sad, and angry and wondering if God hears or cares. Review

After the Ivory Tower FallsWill Bunch. New York: William Morrow, 2022. How the culture wars, costs, and inaccessibility of college have contributed to our political divides and what may be done. Review

Like Birds in a CageDavid M. Crump (Foreword by Gary M. Burge). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022. A book that argues what is wrong with Christian Zionism from a biblical, geo-political, and eyewitness perspective. Review

Your Calling Here and Now, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Looks at calling in our present moment and place, and how we live into our calling in all the turnings and changes of life. Review

Cultural Identity and the Purposes of GodSteven M. Bryan. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022. A biblical study of cultural identity: ethnicity, nationality, and race. Review

Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty, Andrew Meier. New York: Random House, 2022. An account of the 153 year history of four generations of the Morgenthau family and its impact on real estate, politics, diplomacy, and law enforcement. Review

Sea of TranquilityEmily St. John Mandel. New York: Knopf, 2022. Incidents of a strange hiccup in time over several centuries all have elements in common, including the appear of Gaspery-Jacques Roberts in various guises. Review

Book of the Month: All Will Be Well is a sensitively written book about a little girl Julian whose Mima is dying. The story gives expression to all the feelings a child might have in such a situation and draws upon her namesake Julian of Norwich as her Mima seeks to comfort her.

Quote of the Month: Gordon T. Smith’s Your Calling Here and Now observes that the most important question we may ask about vocation is:

“We ask, at this time and at this place, who and what are we called to be and do?”

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished God in Time, a discussion of foreknowledge and human freedom, arguing that we should understand the ways of God through his acts in space and time. Reading Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength., a history of InterVarsity Press is a joyful reminiscence of the people who built this publishing house. Many, both alive or in glory, are personal friends. I’ve also just picked up a new book on personal transformation, Having the Mind of Christ. The Forgotten Man is a history of the Depression, raising questions about Roosevelt’s economic policies. If you like books on math, Humble Pi is a delightful journey through all the varieties of math mistakes even those who should know better make. And as is the case most months, the icing on the cake is a Ngaio Marsh mystery, When in Rome.

Happy reading my bookish friends!

The Month in Reviews: August 2022

Summer’s final full month offered the chance to enjoy books new and old. Among the older books were one on liberal learning in the classic sense, Anne Lamott’s classic on writing, filled with all her wit, a Ngaio Marsh mystery, a great survey of American history between the Civil War and the First World War, John Steinbeck’s delightful Travels with Charley, and what is the definitive work on pioneering mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Then there were the new books: on jazz and faith, on anxiety, on grief, Zionism, Christian nationalism, the power of our social groupings to shape identity, a new work on Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, a study on Jonathan Edward’s approach to deification, and a book on how context shapes calling. Another new book you might check out is Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works, a very clear eyed view of the environmental and technological challenges our global civilization faces. Here’s the list of my reviews:

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning  (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines), James V. Schall, S.J. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2019. (Link is to free e-book download from publisher). A pithy little guide on pursuing the liberty that comes in the pursuit of truth and how one might devote oneself to liberal learning. Review

The Anxiety Field GuideJason Cusick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. A practical guide with daily exercises to help face anxieties and reduce feelings of anxiety integrating clinical practices and biblical insights. Review

God Dwells Among Us (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021 (Originally published in 2014). A study of the theme of the temple from God’s garden temple in Eden to the New Jerusalem of Revelation, and the role of the people of God, his living temple, in extending the reach of God’s kingdom. Review

A Short History of Christian Zionism, Donald M. Lewis. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An account of the understanding of the Jewish people’s claim to their ancient homeland throughout history, and particularly since the Reformation, focusing on Great Britain and the United States. Review

A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A study of the roots and contributing streams of jazz music, proposing that the reason jazz moves from miserable lament to inextinguishable joy is the Christian hope found in the gospel. Review

How the World Really WorksVaclav Smil. New York: Viking, 2022. A scientific, data-based assessment of how our advanced technological global civilization has developed, the challenges we face, and what it realistically will take to address these challenges. Review

The Psychology of Christian NationalismPamela Cooper-White. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022. A discussion of the rise of Christian nationalism in the United States, why people are drawn to it, and how to talk across the divide when one differs from those who embrace some form of Christian nationalism. Review

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Anne Lamott’s advice to her writing students, basically, “almost every single thing I know about writing.” Review

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012 (originally published in 1962). John Steinbeck’s memoir of his 1960 roadtrip in his truck/camper Rocinante with his French poodle Charley. Review

Calvinism for a Secular AgeJessica R. Joustra and Robert J. Joustra, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A collection of contributions considering Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton and both their flaws and relevance for our contemporary context. Review

American Heritage History of the Confident YearsFrancis Russell. New York: New Word City, 2016 (originally published in 1969). A survey of American history during the period between the Civil War and World War 1, 1866-1914. Review

Reading Black BooksClaude Atcho. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022. Theological reflections on ten key pieces of Black literature. Review

Death at the Bar (Roderick Alleyn #9), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2013 (first published in 1940). A holiday at a secluded seaside inn, and a challenge at darts ends up in murder from prussic acid (cyanide). Review

The Power of UsJay J. Van Bavel, PhD, and Dominic J. Packer, PhD. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021. How the groups of which we are a part help shape our identity, how this can lead to personal change, and understanding both how these identities may divide and unite us. Review

The Qur’an and the ChristianMatthew Aaron Bennett. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2022. A scholarly discussion of the origins and place of the Qur’an in Islam with the aim of encouraging Christians to read, and understand how to read and discuss the Qur’an with their Muslim neighbors. Review

Jonathan Edwards and Deification (New Explorations in Theology), James R. Salladin. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. In response to the growing interest in the idea of theosis or deification in Eastern Orthodoxy, this work examines the idea of “special grace” and participation in divine fullness in the thought of Jonathan Edwards as a Reformed counterpart that preserves the Creator-creature distinction while recognizing the saving relational communion between God and humans. Review

Alan Turing: The EnigmaAndrew Hodges. London: Vintage Books, 1983, 2012 (publisher’s link is for an updated edition by Princeton University Press, 2015). Perhaps the definitive account of the brilliant mathematician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for his homosexuality, not long before the end of his life due to cyanide poisoning. Review

Grief: A Philosophical GuideMichael Cholbi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A philosophical discussion of the nature of grief, why we grieve, and its importance in our lives. Review

Calling in ContextSusan L. Maros. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A work on vocational discernment that recognizes that this process is shaped by our context, our social location. Review

Book of the Month: I don’t usually choose more technical works of theology, but James R. Salladin’s Jonathan Edwards and Deification is a carefully and clearly argued case for Edwards’s unique approach to “deification,” in his language, “divine fullness,” that both emphasizes relational communion while preserving the Creator/creature distinction. Reading this was a wonderful experience of thinking great thoughts about the Triune God.

Quote of the Month: William Edgar’s A Supreme Love is a wonderful exploration of the roots of jazz and how these intertwine with Christian hope. This quote captures the gist of the book:

How could the music that grew out of the realities of the enslavement of Black people, forced migration, rape, husbands and wives being separated, and children being ripped from their families not reflect this suffering and pain? If, as I will argue, jazz is the story of deep misery that leads to inextinguishable joy, then we cannot ignore the sources of sorrow that are found at the root of this music, from spirituals to blues to jazz (Edgar, p. 27).

What I’m Reading. I am reveling in Willa Cather’s luminous My Antonia! There is a description of a Christmas celebration that was wondrous reading. I’ve just finished Roger Angell’s Five Seasons, articles on the baseball seasons of 1972 to 1976, including the singularly memorable World Series of 1975 between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. I also have just completed Richard Weaver’s classic Ideas Have Consequences on what he sees as a decline in thought and culture in the West and what a return to right reason entails. I’m just getting into Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness, one of the new books addressing Christian nationalism. Unlike some other works I’ve seen, Miller’s critique of Christian nationalism is one of a classic conservative in the David French tradition (French wrote the Foreword) who worked in the George W. Bush White House, is a military veteran, intelligence analyst, and Georgetown professor. I’m looking forward to an online interview with him September 15! I’ve just begun a Georges Simenon Maigret, Maigret’s Pickpocket, which has already piqued my attention. I’m also reading Four Views of Heaven, which is just that. I think it is possible to be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly or earthly good. I’m enjoying read four scholars in conversation about what we do and don’t know about these things. Finally, I’m just starting Peter Wehner’s The Death of Politics. I’ve appreciated his thoughtful op-eds in the New York Times as well as an interview I heard with him and look forward to more extended reading of his work.

Already, the sun is setting earlier and in another month, we’ll get the first taste of the cooler weather of autumn. I’ll be trading the ice tea for coffee with pumpkin spice, hot cider, and other warmer drinks. The drinks at my side may change, but the pleasures of a good book do not. Happy reading, friends!

Review: A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning  (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines), James V. Schall, S.J. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2019. (Link is to free e-book download from publisher).

Summary: A pithy little guide on pursuing the liberty that comes in the pursuit of truth and how one might devote oneself to liberal learning.

In this pithy booklet, James V. Schall, S.J. makes the case for the classic ideal of liberal learning that he believes lost in the post-modern setting of contemporary higher education. Liberal education believed that the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty freed one (liberated one) to pursue the well-lived life. He writes this booklet to the student who has the sense that there is something more that might be pursued in her education that what is on offer. He also observes, with Augustine and Aristotle, that our actions more than our words reveal what is true, and that our moral failings may prevent us from seeing truth, something rarely, if ever, heard in the classroom.

Where then does one begin. For Schall, he urges two things. One is self-discipline, that is self-control of our passions, fears, dreams, and thoughts, and honesty about our failings in these areas. He writes: “The person who was most free was the one who had the most control over himself.” It is this that allows us to focus on the things of greatest importance.

The second thing is to build a good personal library. Schall doesn’t believe this requires many books–early pioneers often had only Shakespeare and the Bible, and much of what was important in life could be found here. I loved Schall’s commitment to not assigning books that he did not think worth keeping. And this leads to a guiding standard–our libraries should consist of the books we would read again (a standard I use more and more as I cull books from my shelves).

Schall also advocates that we need good guides, holding up Samuel Johnson as an example. A good guide is one who helps the student test ideas by reality. One of the most beautiful lines about teaching is this:

We begin our intellectual lives not with need, nor less with desire, but with wonder and enchantment. A student and teacher read together many books they otherwise might have missed. Both need to make efforts to know the truth of things, the ordinary things and the highest things, that the one and the other might have overlooked had they not had time, serious time, together.

And so Schall concludes by discussing the matter of time, invoking the unusual authority of Louis L’Amour whose The Education of a Wandering Man makes the case for finding the time to read in a busy life. Schall urges students to take time beyond their classes to read, to find great works that aren’t taught in the used bookstores. What books, you may ask? One of the delights of this book are Schall’s recommendations interspersed in the text as well as an Appendix of “Schall’s Unlikely List of Books to Keep Sane By,” a list of twenty titles–only half of which I’ve read. While some are found on “Great Books” lists, many are not.

My only objection is that they are all by white Euro-Americans. I think we may also grow in liberal learning by reading W.E,B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and Langston Hughes as well as African, South American, and Asian writers. One of the most profound works I’ve read is Shusaku Endo’s Silence.

That said, this is a delightful little work. For many students, the idea of “liberal learning” has no room in the curriculum. Schall proposes that, sad as this is, the perceptive student will find the room on his or her own and find good guides and books along the way. And this “Guide” is a good beginning.

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: May 2022

Each month, I choose a book of the month. It is often a tough choice, partly because I try to select noteworthy books to review. Here are some of the others that stood out. I would commend anything Marilyn McEntyre writes and her Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict is not about making “nice” but rather speaking truthfully with civility, even where we differ sharply with others. Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience explores the proper place of conscience in moral reasoning. Work Pray Code by Carolyn Chen discerns a growing trend to import religion as well as other communal structures into the work place, at least in Silicon Valley. Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land is a collection of most of his Port William short stories arranged around the chronology of the longer novels. “Fidelity” is quite wonderful. Nothing is Impossible by Ted Osius is a story of restoring trust between the U.S. and Vietnam. He exemplifies what I think is some of the best in diplomacy and the work of an ambassador, of both faithfully and firmly representing one’s own country and entering deeply into the life of his host country. Finally, Unforgettable by Gregory Floyd spoke deeply as the memoir of a man recounting his spiritual journey and how God speaks in our memories. I found myself remembering along with him.

I had an odd experience this month of people arguing with me about several of the books I reviewed. It wasn’t that they took issue with the review, but with the author’s ideas. Sometimes I wonder if they read beyond the book’s title. I found it odd, because as a reviewer I am trying to represent what the author says, not defend it. In one instance, I even suggested taking up questions with the author, an acquaintance, who I knew would be glad to discuss the person’s questions and objections to his ideas. On the other hand, I was pleased when one author wrote and said I’d gotten what she was trying to say. That’s my goal, to summarize accurately, and offer my own brief appraisal without arguing with the author, so that readers can decide whether they want to acquire the book. So here are the books I reviewed this past month. Can you guess which ones people argued about with me?

Speaking Peace in a Climate of ConflictMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. Engaging with the works of contemporary writers, discusses how our care for words that are clear, gracious, and truthful is vital to the pursuit of peace in a contentious world. Review

The Abuse of ConscienceMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2021. An analysis of the moral theology of twenty-six recent theologians tracing the rise of conscience-centered moral life, considered problematic by the author. Review

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? Ian Hutchinson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Veritas Books, 2018. A collection of responses to questions about God and science asked by students at Veritas Forums on university campuses throughout the country. Review

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache #16), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020. A family visit of the Gamaches to children in Paris suddenly becomes an investigation into the attempted murder of Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather, and the murder of a close associate, and will put the Gamaches in great peril. Review

Enjoying the Old TestamentEric A. Seibert. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Seibert deals with the confusing, troubling, or uninteresting experience of many, suggesting the value of reading the Old Testament, and reading strategies for engagement with the text bring life and interest to the Old Testament scriptures. Review

Heinrich Heine (Everyman’s Poetry #28), Heinrich Heine (Translated and edited by T. J. Reed and David Cram: London: Everyman/J. M. Dent, 1997. A collection of translated poems of Heinrich Heine. Review

Work Pray CodeCarolyn Chen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A sociologist studies how Silicon Valley tech firms bring religion into the workplace, replacing traditional religious institutions, blurring the line of work and religion. Review

Playing FavoritesRodger Woodworth. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021. All of us prefer the company of those like us while the gospel bids us to engage across cultures, with those unlike us, challenging us to stop “playing favorites.” Review

That Distant Land, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2004. A collection of short stories about the Port William membership not part of the longer novels. Review

Beyond Racial DivisionGeorge Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Proposes as an alternative to colorblind or antiracist approaches, one of collaborative conversation and mutual accountability to overcome racial divisions. Review

What Are Christians For?, Jake Meador. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An argument for a Christian politics that recognizes the goodness of all creation including all peoples, that rejects the manipulation of people and places and our own bodies that disregards their nature. Review

The Rule of LawsFernanda Pirie. New York: Basic Books, 2021. A four thousand-year history of the ways different cultures have ordered their societies through various forms of law. Review

From Judgment to HopeWalter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope. Review

Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, Ted Osius, Foreword John Kerry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021. A memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, describing how a former enemy became one of America’s strongest international partners, and the important role diplomacy played to bring that about. Review

The Space Between UsSusan Wise Anderson. [No publisher information], 2020. An argument for a Christ-rooted civility in our politically and culturally polarized climate. Review

The Vicar of WakefieldOliver Goldsmith. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986 (originally published in 1766). The “memoir” of the vicar, who experiences a series of financial and family disasters, ending up in prison, and how matters resolved themselves. Review

UnforgettableGregory Floyd. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2022. Through remembering his life of faith, the author remembers the working of God in all of life’s seasons, giving hope for the future. Review

The Everlasting People (Hansen Lectureship Series). Matthew J. Milliner, Contributions by David Iglesias, David Hooker, and Amy Peeler, Foreword by Casey Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A series of reflections upon the writings and life of G. K. Chesterton and how they fostered an appreciation of the art and history of the First Nations peoples of the Midwest. Review

Book of the Month. This month I gave the nod to Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here. All her novels are exquisite in plotting, characters, and the milieu, including the food they eat! This one had an exceptionally twisty plot and deftly explored the issues of trust, and who one can trust, even between family members and in long-abiding friendships. Personally, if we could nominate a fictional man of the century, I would nominate Armand Gamache.

Quote of the Month. I mentioned Unforgettable above. Floyd’s casting himself into the arms of God reminded me so much of a night on a hillside in West Virginia where I surrendered my life to God:

“…in my senior year of high school, I heard his voice. Not audibly, but an impression on my heart, a word pressed into it: Jump. I woke in the middle of the night to a voice that said: ‘Jump, and trust that I will catch you.’ Somehow, I knew this was God speaking, and I decided to jump. If I was correct, I would find myself in the arms of God” (p. 30).

What I’m Reading. It’s a dangerous thing when friends send you their books but I am thoroughly enjoying David J. Claassen’s Racing the Storm, a fictional account of trailer court residents about to lose their homes when the court owner decides to sell the land. The ensemble of characters is what makes this book–I like them so much I want to see if they manage to keep their homes and stay together.

On a very different note, My Body is Not a Prayer Request, is a hard-hitting account by a disabled Shakespeare scholar of what it is like to be treated as a problem to be fixed instead of accepted for who one is. Amy Kenny writes about the physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent disabled persons from being fully included in the church and in society. I’m doing a live interview with her on Thursday, so message me if the topic is of interest to you.

The Glory of God and Paul is a study of the theme of God’s glory, especially in Paul’s writing. Columbus native Wil Haygood’s book Showdown is on the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the contentious hearing process before his final confirmation. It reminds me of the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson and makes me wonder how far we’ve come on matters of race. I’ve just finished Ngaio Marsh’s Dead Water concerning a spring with reputed healing powers, at least until its leading promoter is found floating dead in it! This had one of the more exciting endings in Marsh’s stories. And I’m just starting Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear. I first encountered Greene in college (The Power and the Glory) and think him one of the under-rated novelists of the 20th century.

Hope I’ve helped you find one or two things for your summer’s reading list! Happy 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: April 2022

This was a month of several firsts. It was the first time to review 20 books in a month (most were shorter works, around 200 pages). So I won’t talk about all of them in this intro. I read my first book by Margery Allingham, one of the four Queens of Crime (along with Christie, Sayers, and Marsh). I’ve read a number of works of the others, but dipped into Allingham for the first time. What is striking about the “Queens” is how distinctive their styles were from one another. On the suggestion of a colleague, I read Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, my first Cather. I work on college campuses and so enjoy campus fiction. I loved the quirky, tongue-in-cheek style of Katie Schnack, a first-time author writing in The Gap Decade about the transition to adulthood in one’s twenties. Glad I don’t have to do that over! I also read my first account of the Afghanistan War, appropriately titled The Long War. I have a reviews here of Susan Cain’s latest, a thought-provoking history of how slaves built many of the great public buildings in our nation, a classic on the intellectual life by Jacques Barzun, and a delightful book by Alan Jacobs encouraging us to read for the sheer pleasure of it. Lots of good stuff here for almost any taste.

When We StandTerence Lester (Foreword Father Gregory Boyle). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. Makes a motivational case for mobilizing with other to pursue follow Christ in the pursuit of justice. Review

Jesus’s Final WeekWilliam F. Cook III. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2022. A day-by-day discussion of the events in Jesus’s life from the triumphal entry until the empty tomb, using a “harmony of the gospels” approach. Review

Black Hands, White HouseRenee K. Harrison. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of how enslaved peoples played a major role in the building of this country and the need to remember that work in our monuments and by other means. Review

Reformed Public TheologyEdited by Matthew Kaemingk. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A collection of 23 essays by leading Reformed thinkers articulating how Reformed theology bears on various aspects of public life. Review

The Long WarDavid Loyn. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. A history of the war in Afghanistan from 9/11 until nearly the end of the U.S. presence in 2021. Review

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson, foreword by Simon J. Gathercole. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of the use of “Son” in Hebrews proposing that it is a paradox, that Jesus is the divine Son who became the messianic “Son” at the climax of his saving mission. Review

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021. A comparative study of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam that concludes that the two do not worship the same God. Review

The Way of Perfection (Christian Classics), Teresa of Avila, edited and mildly modernized by Henry L. Carrigan Jr. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000 (originally published in 1583). [This edition is out of print. Link is to a newer edition from the same publisher.] Teresa’s instructions to nuns on the spiritual life of prayer and meditations on the Lord’s Prayer as a way to contemplative prayer. Review

The House of the Intellect, Jacques Barzun. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959. A discussion of the decline of the intellect and its causes. Review

More Work for the UndertakerMargery Allingham. London: Vintage, 2007 (originally published in 1948). When two boarding house residents from the same family die, Albert Campion is persuaded to become a boarder to discover what’s afoot. Review

Transfiguration and TransformationHywel R. Jones. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021. “Transfiguration,” referring to Christ and “transformation,” referring to the believer translate the same Greek word, metamorphosis. This work explores both why the difference and what the connection is. Review

The Professor’s HouseWilla Cather. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990 (originally published in 1925). The move to a new home, academic success and his daughter’s marriages, and a deceased former student and son-in-law, precipitate a crisis for Professor Godfrey St. Peter. Review

A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and DesignersEthan Brue, Derek C Schuurman, and Steven M. Vanderleest. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Explores in practical terms the intersection of faith and technology in areas of design norms and ethics and how technology might serve the common good. Review

Following the CallEdited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2021. A collection of 52 weeks of readings working through the Sermon on the Mount, meant to be discussed and lived out in community. Review

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionAlan Jacobs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. An argument that we should read what we delight in rather than what others think is “good” for us. Review

The Gap DecadeKatie Schnack. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A first-person account of navigating the decade of one’s twenties, the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Review

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (first published in 1998). The growth and heartbreaking destruction of Acorn, the Earthseed community founded by Lauren Olamina, and how Earthseed rose from the ashes. Review

Eyes to SeeTim Muehlhoff (Foreword by J. P. Moreland). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An exploration of how God acts in the ordinary elements of everyday life, the idea of common grace, and how we may be encouraged as we recognize these ways of God at work. Review

BittersweetSusan Cain. New York: Crown, 2022. Describes the state of bittersweetness, where sadness and joy, death and life, failure and growth, longing and love intersect and how this deepens our lives and has the power to draw us together. Review

Enter a Murderer (Roderick Alleyn #2), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1935). Invited to see a play with his sidekick Bathgate, Alleyn actually witnesses the murder he will investigate. Review

Book of the Month: I rarely choose edited collections of articles as best books because most are uneven. I thought the collection edited by Matthew Kaemingk, Reformed Public Theology stood out from other collections due to the consistent excellence of articles from a stellar line-up of theologians as well as the nature of the work, articulating how one might think Christianly about one’s work in the public arena.

Quote of the Month: Transfiguration and Transformation is a wonderful, compact discussion of the connection between the transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of the believer. Both terms share in common the same Greek work, metamorphosis. I loved this succinct and theologically rich summary by Hywel R. Jones:

The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth” (p. xvi).

What I’m Reading: I’ve just completed Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience, a survey of important contributors to Catholic moral theology, tracing what he believes is an increasing over-emphasis on conscience in moral theology. I always appreciate Marilyn McEntyre’s thoughtful consideration of the words we use in contemporary discourse, which I’ve found once again in her timely Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Once again, her consistent emphases on clarity, integrity, and civility shine through. I’m about mid-way through Louise Penny’s All The Devils are Here, #16 in her Gamache series. Only one more to go after this. Set in Paris, she once again explores the theme of trust and the secrets those close to us may carry. I’m always torn between reading as fast as possible and savoring her rich psychological plots. Can A Scientist Believe in Miracles? explores this and many other questions on science and Christian faith. The writer, Ian Hutchinson is a plasma physicist at MIT, no intellectual slouch, who argues that faith and science need not be at war. That Distant Land is a collection of Wendell Berry short stories, all centering around Port William–always a delight. Enjoying the Old Testament by Eric A. Seibert addresses the barriers many have to reading three-quarters of the Bible. I’ve just begun this, but have appreciated the awareness of the author of so many of the issues I’ve encountered with friends as we study the Old Testament.

Well, if you have read this far, thank you! On Thursday, I attended the “Celebration of Life” of a friend who was a bookseller and loved connecting both children and adults with books that would enrich their lives. Her example both inspires and humbles me. I hope these reviews serve something of the same purpose and I hope you will feel free to write if you are looking for a recommendation and I’ll try to do my best.

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: March 2022

It’s always hard to sum up a month’s reading. One thing I noticed was that I didn’t read all new stuff–a philosophy of walking from 2014, a Ngaio Marsh from 1941, Anne Lamott from 2018, Braiding Sweetgrass was from 2013, a story about a famous mathematician who never was from 2006, a Wes Jackson essay collection from 1996, and a Thornton Wilder classic that goes back to 1924. Not everything that interests me was written in the last year or so, just the books publishers and authors want one to review. In addition to my “book of the month,” a few that stood out were Michelle Van Loon’s Translating Our Past on understanding our lives through our family histories, Rob Dixon’s Together in Ministry on how men and women may collaborate well in ministry, and Korie Little Edwards and Michelle Oyakawa’s , Smart Suits, Tattered Boots on the expressions of civil rights leadership among contemporary Black clergy. A particularly appropriate book for our times was Michael Ignatieff’s On Consolation (although I found Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything, which touches on similar themes, more helpful!).

A Philosophy of WalkingFrédéric Gros, translated by John Howe, illustrated by Clifford Harper. Brooklyn: Verso, 2014. An extended reflection on the significance of walking as part of the human condition, consisting of short chapters interspersed with accounts of walking philosophers. Review

Lead Like It Matters to God, Richard Sterns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. In contrast to many leadership books that outline steps to success, describes what it is like to give value-shaped leadership in both for profit and non-profit settings. Review

To Build a Better WorldPhilip Zelikow and Condoleeza Rice. New York: Twelve, 2019. An account of the period from 1988-1992 and the transition of states, economic systems, and military alliances, reflecting an emerging post-cold war world. Review

The Cross-Shaped LiveJeff Kennon. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A practical exploration of what it means to be made in the image of a God who died on the cross, to have the cross shape and form the way we live. Review

Death and the Dancing Footman (Roderick Alleyn #11), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1941). A staged house-party amid a snowstorm consisting of mutual enemies ends in a death and a suicide that Alleyn must sort out. Review

Translating Your PastMichelle Van Loon. Harrisburg: Herald Press, 2021. A guide to making sense of one’s past and how our family history, traumas in previous generations, our genetic makeup, and for many, how adoption help us understand our lives and place in the world. Review

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles (The Ken and Jean Hansen Lectureship Series), Timothy Larsen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Three lectures on the works of George MacDonald with responses that focus on the miraculous in these works, particularly with regard to the incarnation, faith amid doubt, and the re-enchantment of life. Review

The Samaritan Woman’s StoryCaryn A. Reeder. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Challenges the view of the Samaritan woman as a sexual sinner, considering how this has been read in the church, and the realities of the life of women and marriage that points to a very different reading. Review

The Last ProfessionalEd Davis. Tijeras, NM: Artemesia Publishing, 2022. A young man trying to find the tramp who assaulted him as an adolescent catches a freight and meets an old hobo running from a killer and the two form a friendship around the lure of riding the freights. Review

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAnne Lamott. New York: Riverhead, 2018. A series of “notes” or essays on hope, especially amid disturbing times. Review

Braiding SweetgrassRobin Wall Kimmerer. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013. A collection of essays centered around the culture of sweetgrass, combining indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge. Review

Together in MinistryRob Dixon (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/Missio Alliance, 2021. A field research-based approach to mixed-gender ministry collaboration identifying ten attributes for healthy partnerships. Review

The Artist and the MathematicianAmir D. Aczel. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006. The story of the Bourbaki, named after the greatest mathematician who never existed, who led a revolution in the emergence of the “new math,” introducing a new rigor into the field. Review

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder with Foreword by Russell Banks, Afterword by Tappan Wilder. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015 (originally published in 1927). A friar witnesses the collapse of a woven rope bridge with five people falling to their deaths and tries to discern some reason why, in God’s providence, each of them died. Review

Smart Suits, Tattered BootsKorie Little Edwards and Michelle Oyakawa. New York: New York University Press, 2022. A study, using interviews of Black Ohio religious leaders and research studies of mobilization efforts to explore whether Black religious leaders are still able to mobilize civil rights efforts, and if so, how, when, and why they do. Review

On ConsolationMichael Ignatieff. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. On how significant figures through the ages have found comfort amid tragedy and hard times, enabling them to press on with hope and equanimity. Review

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars KnewHans Boersma (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a theologian outlines five areas for biblical scholars to understand about theology as it bears upon the Bible. Review

Becoming Native To This PlaceWes Jackson. New York: Counterpoint Press, 1996. Six essays advocating agricultural practices that reflect close attention to the character of a particular place. Review

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Gamache #15), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2019. Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste are together again, searching for a missing girl amid rising floods and a flood of social media attacks against Gamache and the art of Clara Morrow. Review

Book of the Month. Books really can change and challenge us. Caryn A. Reeder’s The Samaritan Woman’s Story did that for me. I always thought (and taught about) her as a loose woman. Reeder challenged me to find that in the text. And I discovered that I was finding it in my assumptions, leading to self-examination of why that was and did this reflect a narrative about women that comes from somewhere else than the Bible. The book changed a lot more than my view of the Samaritan woman.

Quote of the Month: It seems that everyone finally discovered Braiding Sweetgrass and the wonderful collection of reflections Robin Wall Kimmerer offers bring science and indigenous wisdom together. I was particular taken by her discussion of the Honorable Harvest and her articulation of the principles that reflect indigenous wisdom:

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
                                        --Kimmerer, p. 183.

What I’m Reading. I just finished Terence Lester’s When We Stand which talks in the most encouraging terms of the multiplication that occurs when we mobilize for some cause with others. I’ve been reading David Loyn’s The Long War, an account of the Afghanistan war, America’s longest war. I’m struck that I really didn’t pay attention, except that we were still in Afghanistan. Loyn explores the reasons, going back to the war’s earliest years why this was such a long war that ended so badly not only for us but for Afghanistan. Reformed Public Theology is a wonderful collection of articles on how Reformed theology helps the writers think through various issues of public concern. The Way of Perfection is Teresa of Avila’s counsel on prayer. William F. Cook III’s Jesus Final Week uses a “harmony of the gospels” approach to look day by day at the week between the Triumphal Entry and the Resurrection. Great reading as I approach that week in the church year. Finally Black Hands, White House is part history, part memorial, and part advocacy for a monument on the Washington Mall that recognizes the slave history that built our capitol city and much of our country. She recounts the skilled work of many enslaved Blacks by name, including the man who played the instrumental role in the Statue of Freedom’s placement atop our capitol building.

Thanks for reading along, and I hope you’ve found something of interest!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

The Month in Reviews: February 2022

I count it a privilege to review so many good books. And there were a lot of them this month. I finally discovered Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and his thoughtful writing about how our food comes to our table. Breaking Ground is a stunning set of essays for anyone thinking about how we come out of the pandemic and deal with the divided state of so many of our nations. Bridget Eileen Rivera’s book, Heavy Burdens, is a must read for anyone who cares about inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church, no matter your theology. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. offers a wonderful overview in The Black Church of its history and importance in sustaining America’s Black community. I found Samantha Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist a riveting and inspiring account of her life so far and, in this Irish immigrant, a reminder of what immigrants have added to American life. If you are tempted to surrender hope that we can do anything meaningful about climate change, Katharine Hayhoe’s Saving Us is a breath of fresh and enlivening air. There’s so much more I can say, but much of it is in the reviews, so I’ll let you get at them!

The Doctrine of ScriptureBrad East (Foreword by Katherine Sonderegger). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. A concise exploration of the doctrine of scripture focusing on the church’s joyful and thankful confession, “this is the word of the Lord.” Review

The Omnivore’s DilemmaMichael Pollen. New York: Penguin, 2007. An examination of the American way of eating, considering our industrial food chain and how it has affected our diet by contrast with organic and hunter-gatherer food chains. Review

Cradling AbundanceMonique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna with Elsie Tshimunyi McKee. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An autobiography of a lay leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, describing her work with women addressing their education, helping them develop usable skills, and addressing the gender violence and health issues they face. Review

Having and Being HadEula Biss. New York: Riverhead Books, 2021. A collection of essays on the occasion of the author and her husband buying their first house, considering the nature of capitalism, consumption, work, and class. Review

Breaking GroundAnne Snyder and Susannah Black. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing 2021. A collection of essays written through four seasons beginning in the summer of 2020 on what it might take to restore common ground for the common good in a society deeply divided by the pandemic, race, economic, and political divisions. Review

Faithful AntiracismChristina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan, foreword by Korie Little Edwards and Michael O. Emerson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Drawing upon the Race, Religion, and Justice Project, offers biblical and practical recommendations to engage racism personally and with one’s faith community. Review

Welcome, Holy SpiritGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Beginning with the metaphors for the Holy Spirit, articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that spans theological traditions and invites readers to be receptive to a deeper experience of the Spirit’s work. Review

Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the ChurchBridget Eileen Rivera. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. Rather than an argument about what the Bible says about LGBTQ persons, a discussion of the ways LGBTQ Christians, regardless of their beliefs, have suffered under heavy, and the author would argue, needless burdens. Review

Ready Player OneErnest Cline. New York: Broadway Press, 2012. A virtual world quest created as the last act of a gaming programmer in which a real prize of $240 billion is at stake pits Wade Watts and a rag tag group of “gunters” against a ruthless corporation. Review

A Grave Mistake (Roderick Alleyn #30), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2016 (originally published in 1978). A wealthy widow in a small English village dies of an apparent suicide at an exclusive spa, but clues point to murder with a circle of suspects with motives. Review

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis OneGregg Davidson & Kenneth J. Turner. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A layered approach to the meaning of Genesis 1, focusing on what this reveals about God and God’s intentions for the flourishing of his creation and the human beings created in God’s image. Review

The Black ChurchHenry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin Press, 2021. A companion to the PBS series on the Black church, surveying the history of the Black church in America focusing on why the church has been central to the life of the Black community. Review

American Diplomacy, Expanded Edition, George Kennan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. (Link is to in-print 60th anniversary edition, 2012). A compilation of Kennan’s six Charles R. Walgreen lectures, two articles on US-Soviet relations originally from Foreign Affairs, and two Grinnell lectures. Review

The Journey Toward WholenessSuzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2021. Draws on the wisdom of the Enneagram to help focus on our responses to stress, both as they reflect our dominant and repressed centers of intelligence intelligence. Review

Piercing Leviathan (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Eric Ortlund. Downers Grove and London: IVP Academic and Apollos, 2021. (Link for UK publisher). A study of the book of Job that focuses on the second of the Lord’s speeches to Job, focused on describing Behemoth and Leviathan. Review

The Education of an IdealistSamantha Power. New York: Dey Street Books, 2021. A memoir on immigrant-American, war correspondent, human rights activist, and diplomat Samantha Power. Review

Centering PrayerBrian D. Russell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. An introduction to the practice of centering prayer with practical helps and theological basis, by a practitioner who found the practice transformative. Review

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache #14), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2018. Gamache, Myrna, and Benedict, a young building maintenance worker who hopes to be a builder are named as liquidators of the estate of a cleaning woman while Amelia Choquet, caught with drugs, is expelled from the Academy to the streets as a powerful and lethal drug is about to hit. Review

Saving UsKatharine Hayhoe. New York: Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2021. A discussion of both the urgent challenge of climate change, and the difference we can make in both action and conversations. Review

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians KnewScot McKnight, Foreword Hans Boersma. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a biblical scholar outlines five areas for theologians to understand about biblical studies. Review

Best Book of the Month: I loved Brad East’s The Doctrine of Scripture. Reading his theology reminded me why I love the Bible, what we mean when we speak of it as “the word of the Lord” in our worship. He speaks of scripture’s source, nature, attributes, ends, interpretation, and authority. I wrote, “This was not a book of same old, same old verities but a thoughtful framing of the doctrine of scripture that avoids the de-supernaturalizing tendencies of modern scholarship and the extremes of bibliolatry while at the same time upholding the wondrous reality of hearing the Word of the Lord together as the people of God.”

Best Quote of the Month: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I thought, summed up well the meaning of the Black Church in this statement:

“It’s that cultural space in which we can bathe freely in the comfort of our cultural heritage, and where everyone knows their part, and where everyone can judge everyone else’s performance of their part, often out loud with amens, with laughter, with clapping, or with silence. It’s the space that we created to find rest in the gathering storm. It’s the place where we made a way out of no way. It’s the place to which, after a long and wearisome journey, we can return and find rest before we cross the river. It’s the place we call, simply, the Black Church” (p. 219).

What I’m Reading: I’m ready to review Frédéric Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking, a series of reflection on this basic human activity that includes profiles of a number of walking philosophers! I’ve been delighting in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and am persuaded that our Native Peoples have more than a few things to teach us about tending the garden and how we may both give to and receive from the other creatures of the earth. To Build a Better World, by Condoleeza Rice and Philip D. Zelikow, looks back to 1989-1990 and the seeming end of Communism and the new order that emerged. I’m curious if it will explain the origins of our current disorders. Lead Like it Matters to God is written by the head of World Vision, the largest Christian aid agency, and explores value driven leadership. I just began reading Jeff Kennon’s The Cross-Shaped Life, one of my Lent books. Drawing on Michael Gorman, he argues for and outlines what a cruciform life looks like, one shaped by Jesus and what he has done. Finally, I’m just starting out another Ngaio Marsh book, Death and the Dancing Footman. Love the title, hope the book is as good! And I hope you find some good books to read in March, whether from this list or not. I’d love to hear about them!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

The Month in Reviews: January 2022

January was a cold month here, but it was warm in my reading chair. I’m not sure how to characterize this list, but in addition to the book of the month, there were several other gems. David Wenham’s Paul: Follower Jesus or Founder of Christianity and Raymond E. Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah are both theological classics as is Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in science fiction. Louis Menand’s The Free World is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history in the twenty years following World War II. I continue to work my way through Louise Penny and #13 in the Gamache series continued the string of excellent mysteries in this series. Restless Devices and Stability both approach our distracted and restless lives, albeit in different ways. I hope you enjoy reading through this list as much as I enjoyed reading and reviewing the books!

The Great QuestOs Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An invitation to the examined life in the pursuit of a meaningful existence, a well-lived life. Review

Orient ExpressGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published as Stamboul Train in 1932). Seven people on a train between Ostend and Constantinople intersect in various ways, making choices about the kind of people they will be. Review

Notes from No Man’s LandEula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. A collection of American essays connected to four places the author lived, all exploring the realities of race in which we all are implicated. Review

Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of ChristianityDavid Wenham. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995 (print on demand). A study of the relationship of Pauline thought to the teachings of Jesus by a comprehensive effort to compare them on a number of major themes. Review

The Free WorldLouis Menand. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. An intellectual and cultural history of the forces and figures whose creations contributed to the emergence of the United States as an intellectual and artistic leader in the years between 1945 and 1965. Review

The Moon is a Harsh MistressRobert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2018 (originally published in 1966). In 2076, Luna, a colony of Earth on the Moon, decides to declare independence, to end the one-sided grain export to earth that will deplete lunar ice reservoirs, under the leadership of a sentient computer. Review

Changed Into His Likeness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), J. Gary Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021. (UK publisher link) A biblical study of how personal transformation takes place in the life of a believer. Review

The Birth of the MessiahRaymond E. Brown. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1979 (Link is to 2nd edition, published in 1999 by Yale University Press). An academic commentary on the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Review

Interpreting the God-Breathed WordRobbie F. Castleman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A book for all who want to be students of scripture focusing on how to study and understand the texts employing inductive study, speech-act theory, and canonical interpretation. Review

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache #13), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2017. A mysterious figure robed in black, the murder of a woman found in those robes, a confession, and a trial, during which Gamache has made choices of conscience that could cost lives and save many. Review

Artists in Crime(Roderick Alleyn #6), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1937). A murder occurs at the studio of artist Agatha Troy, who Alleyn had met on his voyage back to England; the beginning in fits and starts of a romance while Alleyn seeks to solve the crime. Review

Stuck in the Present: How History Frees & Forms Christians, David George Moore (Foreword by Carl R. Trueman). Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A discussion of the value of reading history for the Christian, better equipping us not only to understand our past but to engage our present, and how to make the most of what we learn. Review

The Memory of Old JackWendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 1999 (Originally published 1974). Old Jack Beechum, the oldest of the Port William membership, spends a September day remembering his life. Review

Restless DevicesFelicia Wu Song. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An exploration of how our digital devices shape us, our relationships, and our economic life, and how we might establish a “counter” lifestyle shaped by our communion with God and each other. Review

A Little Devil in AmericaHanif Abdurraqib. New York: Random House, 2021. A celebration of Black performance and its significance for Blacks in America. Review

The Holy Spirit in the New TestamentWilliam A. Simmons. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A book by book study of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament from a Pentecostal perspective. Review

StabilityNathan Oates. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. An exploration of the Benedictine commitment to stability, and what it can meet to sink our roots deeply, first into Christ, and then into the people and places to which he invites us. Review

Best of the Month: Maybe it is hometown loyalties, but I’ll go with Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America, a wonderful exploration of Black performance, some known to me and some not, and how they are emblematic of the Black experience in America. His account of Merry Clayton was fascinating. She was an amazing singer who never was able to launch a solo career, but sang a spine-chilling back up in the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter. Give it a listen on YouTube, especially at the 2:46 mark where she sings “Rape, Murder, it’s just a shot away,” especially the third time when her voice cracks on the second syllable of “murder.’ He also tells the story of Janet Baker, who had an amazing career that extends way beyond dancing.

Best Quote of the Month: The Memory of Old Jack is a wonderful book in Wendell Berry’s Port William Membership stories that I had not previously read. “Old Jack” Beechum is at the end of his life, and we spend a lovely September day in the memories of his life. A key passage describes a turning point in his life when he hit rock bottom…and then went on:

That his life was renewed, that he had been driven down to the bedrock of his own place in the world, and his own truth and had stood again, that a profound peace and trust had come to him out of his suffering and his solitude, and that this peace would abide with him to the end of his days–all this he knew in the quiet of his heart and kept to himself.

What I’m Reading: I’m in the middle of Eula Biss’s reflections on capitalism evoked by a move to a nicer home and neighborhood in Having and Being Had. I admire her writing, that combines depth and brevity. I’ve finally gotten around to one of my goals for last year to read a book on food, Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I can understand why he is popular as a writer on our suspect American ways of eating and our relationship with food. His week with an off the grid super-organic farmer is worth the price of admission. Plough Publishing has released a wonderful collection of essays, titled Breaking Ground, from the first year of the pandemic that particularly explores how we find our way out of our divided society. Brad East’s The Doctrine of Scripture is one of the most thought provoking books on this topic I’ve read, exploring what it means to call the Bible the Word of God, how we interpret with some striking critique of authorial intention, insights in terms of apostolic interpretation and focus on Christ, and the importance of interpreting with the church and in light of the rule of faith. Finally, I’ve been unexpectedly delighted by a memoir by Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna’s account of her expanding ministry of empowering women and fighting systemic poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The book is Cradling Abundance.

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!