The Month in Reviews: March 2019

for the life of the world

Leadership was a theme of many of the books I read this month. Several considered factors making leaders effective, ranging from their grit, whether they are givers or takers, their originality, and their relationships. One book offered an unvarnished overview of the earliest leaders in the church. Two others considered key figures in the early history of the United States. Several, as usual, were on theological themes: the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in both Christ and us, and one (a guest review from Paul Bruggink) making the case that creation did not fall when the first couple did. One argued more generally that the theological enterprise, in its quest to be a respectable academic discipline, has lost a critical focus on theology for the church and the world. A devotional book used the analogy of pruning to explore why God wants to “cut back” the false self that we might grow “true.” There are a couple fun reads in here, some classic and contemporary crime fiction, and a unique book on travel. So here are summaries along with links to the full reviews.

sinners and saints

Sinners and Saints, Derek Cooper. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2018. An unvarnished summary of the first five hundred years of church history, looking unflinchingly at the flaws, as well as the favorable qualities of early Christians. Review

Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth. Scribner: New York, 2016. Contends that those who achieve outstanding success combine purposeful passion with perseverance–in other words, they have grit. Review

Basil

Basil (Oxford World Classics), Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 (originally published in 1852). The account of a secret marriage between an aristocrat’s son and the daughter of a shopkeeper and all the ways things went terribly wrong. Review

reciprocal church

Reciprocal Church, Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Addressing the loss of young people from the church, makes an argument for a theology of the church as vital in our Christian life, and for mutuality and reciprocal engagement between youth and other generations in a flourishing community where all contribute. Review

Give and take

Give and Take, Adam Grant. New York: Viking, 2013. Proposes that many of the most successful people are givers who have learned how to give without being doormats and without expectation of return and explores why such giving is so powerful. Review

true you

True You, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the analogy of pruning, explores how our true selves, our true callings can emerge when we remove the clutter of business, of false selves, and idolatries that obscure the true shape of our lives. Review

for the life of the world

For the Life of the World, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Contends that for theology to make a difference it must address what it means for human beings to flourish in the world “in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Review

originals

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, Adam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016. A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life. Review

God's Good Earth

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019. A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature. Review

rush

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. Stephen Fried. New York: Crown, 2018. A full-length biography of this doctor-founder of the American republic covering his personal life and beliefs, advocacy, war service, and friendships with the Founders, and estrangement from Washington. Review

Madison's gift

Madison’s Gift, David O. Stewart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. A biography of our fourth president, through the lens of five key partnerships he formed that helped establish a new nation. Review

Travel

Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Peter Grier. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2018. A travelogue with a difference, exploring travel from a Christian perspective and how God may work in and through our lives as we travel. Review

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Sculptor Spirit, Leopoldo A. Sanchez M. (Foreword by Oscar Garcia-Johnson). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Starting from a “Spirit Christology,” explores five models by which the Spirit shapes our lives in the likeness of Christ. Review

electric mist

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, James Lee Burke. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011 (my Avon edition, 1994). Investigation of multiple rapes and murders, and a murder from 1957 confront Robicheaux with dark figures from his past, and pose a threat to all he holds dear. Review

relationomics

Relationomics, Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity. Review

Best of the Month. I think Volf and Croasmun’s For the Life of the World is a ringing challenge to the theological establishment to consider their calling, who their audience ought be, and what might be the focus of their work: on questions of human flourishing in relationship to Christ. I would hope it might provoke a vigorous conversation among theologians, pastors, and other thoughtful Christians who are concerned for a renewal of public theology that engages the church and the world.

Quote of the Month. Derek Cooper’s Sinners and Saints does a great job of rescuing the early leaders of the church from the musty and reverential mists of time. This quote offers a sense of his approach:

“Unlike countless other church history books that dance around the distasteful details of our Christian past, let’s humanize our history. Counterintuitively, perhaps, let’s emphasize as much grit as glory, let’s feature as much flesh as faith, and let’s showcase as many sinners as saints. It’s important for you to know at the onset, however, that we are not going to do this because we think mudslinging is a spiritual discipline, but only because we believe truth-telling is. I, personally, have no desire to sully the reputation of saints, nor do I find any pleasure in wallowing in the faults of our most faithful. When I air the dirty laundry of our most hallowed heroes and heroines, I am fully aware of all the clean clothes they have neatly pressed and attractively arrayed in their dresser drawers. Because of the nature of this book, I will not usually refer to that clean laundry; but make no mistake: I know it is there” (p. 11).

Current reads and Upcoming Reviews. I just finished a chronicle of a year or so on Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay. Subsidence, rising water levels and erosion endanger the way of life of this small community, the character of which is captured well in Tangier Requiem. I also just finished a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays that include an interview between her and former president Barack Obama. I have been reveling in the rich theological writing of Fleming Rutledge in The Crucifixion, a big book that accounts for a few less reviews than normal in the latter part of March. It is worth it! Justin Whitmel Early’s The Common Rule offers eight practices for a rule of life in our tech-oriented, device driven age. David Wallace-Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, is a bleak account of the drastic changes that could come with a warming planet. Finally, I just moved Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls onto my reading pile. The title squares with reports I’ve been hearing in recent years from those working in university counselling services so I’m interested in what this will say about causes and possible remedies for this trend.

I hope you will follow Bob on Books to catch all these reviews, and others that will appear later next month. And thanks to all of you who do follow, read, and comment!

The Month in Reviews: February 2019

InexpressibleMy favorite book this month was on a single Hebrew word. Another word that a couple books had in common was peace–in our churches and in the world. Perhaps apropos of Black history month, a couple of my books explored the minority experience, and a couple others, what it means to pursue justice in our neighborhoods and communities. I always enjoy a good biography and this month I enjoyed two–on George Washington and Bobby Kennedy. I read my usual dose of theology with a book on the philosophy of revelation, a wonderful exposition of Philippians, and a delightful book on what our hope of the new creation means for how we live in this one. On the science and technology front, there is a guest review on four views of evolution, and a book on our perspective on technology. Finally, I read an interesting book exploring what we mean by the term “democracy.” Just a typical month at Bob on Books!

thepeacemakingchurch

The Peacemaking ChurchCurtis Heffelfinger, (Foreword by Ken Sande). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Outlines a pro-active approach to peacemaking in the church consisting of eight principles that enable us to do our very best to pursue the peace and unity that is ours in Christ. Review

How Our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick

How Neighborhoods Make Us SickVeronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A case study showing how social determinants impacting health outcomes work in different zip codes and how these manifest in an urban neighborhood in southwest Atlanta. Review

Kennedy Justice

Kennedy JusticeVictor S. Navasky. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1971). A study of Robert F. Kennedy’s tenure as Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice during the John F. Kennedy and Johnson presidencies. Review

four views

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent DesignJ.B. Stump ed., Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, Stephen C. Meyer, contributors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017. A snapshot of the current origins debate in America. Review

Inexpressible

InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live. Review

Philosophy of Revelation

Philosophy of Revelation, Herman Bavinck (edited by Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, foreword by James P. Eglinton). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018 (Originally given and expanded from Stone Lectures in 1908). A new annotated edition of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s 1908 Stone Lectures at Princeton, arguing that revelation is a warranted basic belief. Review

The Minority Experience

The Minority ExperienceAdrian Pei. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A book that explores the minority experience in organizations and how organizations can meet these challenges redemptively. Review

Washington

Washington: A LifeRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. A one volume biography focusing on the character and emotional life and the qualities that enabled him to lead so effectively as general, in presiding over the Constitutional Convention and serving as first president. Review

Carson_BasicsforBelievers.indd

Basics for Believers, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (Re-packaged edition, originally published in 1996). Expositions of the Letter to the Philippians focusing on the core concerns of Christian faith and life. Review

New Creation

New CreationRodney Clapp. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. An exploration of how the end of the Christian story, or eschatology, ought shape the life of the church in this time between the comings of Christ. Review

The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth

The Rise and Fall of Peace on EarthMichael Mandelbaum. New York: Oxford University Press, (Forthcoming, March 1,) 2019. Develops the thesis that 1989-2014 represented a singular period of widespread peace marked by absence of conflict between major powers, and what might lead to a return to peace in the future. Review

Democracy

Democracy May Not Exist, But We Will Miss It When It’s GoneAstra Taylor. New York: Metropolitan Books, (Forthcoming May 7,) 2019. Explores what we mean when we speak of democracy, argues that real democracy has never existed, and explores the balance of paradoxes or tensions inherent in the idea of democracy. Review

Between the World and Me

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. Coates extended letter to his son following the Michael Brown verdict on the struggle for the dignity of his people against the violence to their bodies by those who “believe they are White” and part of a pursuit of a Dream built “on looting and violence.” Review

welcoming justice

Welcoming Justice (expanded edition), Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018 (original edition 2009). A renewed call for the church to pursue Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of a “beloved community” even in a day of increased white nationalism and polarization. Review

modern tech

Modern Technology and the Human FutureCraig M. Gay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Explores the factors shaping modern technology and how a mechanical view that fails to acknowledge embodiment has diminished human flourishing. Review

Best of the Month: This is a tough one because I could easily give the nod to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. My choice is Michael Card’s Inexpressible, an exploration of perhaps the most wonderful word in scripture, hesed, which Card describes as “When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Quote of the Month: I loved this statement from Rodney Clapp’s New Creation, on how stories, and particularly the end of our Christian story are important in our lives:

“We are storied creatures, and everything happens because we lean toward endings. These endings are the goals, the pursuits, the destinies, the termination points that mark and animate our lives. Without endings we could never begin anything. We would lack plots and our lives would be without purpose, devoid of meaning.”

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I just finished Angela Duckworth’s Grit, which makes the case that beyond skill and smarts, one of the critical factors in success in any field is perseverance. Duckworth uses examples from sports to science to illustrate her research findings. Sinners and Saints is an “unscrubbed” history of the early centuries of Christianity that as much as anything makes the case that the rise and continued existence of Christianity is a sheer work of God’s grace. I’ve just started a fascinating book by Adam Grant, Give and Take that argues that some of the most effective leaders are characterized as giversBasil is the second book Wilkie Collins, a pioneer of the mystery, wrote that features an agreement of the title character to not consummate his marriage for a year. Rush is a biography of one of the Founders of the United States, and a pioneer in medicine in this country, Dr. Benjamin Rush. He comes up in practically every history of the War of Independence so I thought it time to read about this fascinating individual. I enjoyed a biography of Katharina and Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha, and so picked up a very different book by her, True You, a spiritual formation book that likens coming to terms with our false and true selves to a Japanese form of tree pruning! Finally, many are concerned about the exodus of youth from our churches. Reciprocal Church explores how our theology of the church, and an understanding of the vital role of reciprocal, intergenerational relationships is critical to stemming this loss.

Gustave Flaubert has written, “What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright.” I hope as the winds and rains of early spring beat on your windows, that you will have some good hours of being occupied with a good book!

 

The Month in Reviews: January 2019

perfectly humanNineteen reviews for free. That’s what you received in January if you’ve been following Bob on Books. And if not, they are all summed up here with links to the full reviews. They include three memoirs ranging from Tara Westover’s best-selling Educated to Sarah C. Williams exquisite and poignant Perfectly Human.  Part of my sabbatical reading (that’s how I read so many books!) included three books on coaching. In fiction, I reviewed a novel by Ann Patchett, and an old and re-published one by Upton Sinclair. One that kind of defied categories is Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, an exploration of both the life of Coleridge, and his most famous poem, which Guite says parallel each other. There is the usual mix of theology: art and theology, the theology of sexuality, and the application of intersectionality to theology, and a couple on science and faith, including my first guest review. I won’t go into all the others, but one other standout was a biography of Fred Rogers, who was the “good neighbor” in life as well as on screen.

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. A memoir a young women raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, physically abused by an older brother, self-taught until entering Brigham Young, beginning a journey taking her to Cambridge, Harvard, ultimately at the cost of severing family ties. Review

Evolving Certainties

Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and ScienceTerry Defoe. Self-published, 2018. A well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue. Review

leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite PerformanceJonathan Passmore (ed.). London: Kogan Page, 2015 (second edition, review is of first edition). A compendium of articles by experts in the field of leadership coaching describing and assessing different models. Review

jesus revolution

Jesus RevolutionGreg Laurie, Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. An account of the Jesus Movement centered around Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith, who mentored Greg Laurie into ministry, and how such a revival might come once more. Review

a peculiar orthodoxy

A Peculiar OrthodoxyJeremy S. Begbie. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A collection of essays exploring the intersection of theology and the arts. Review

between two worlds

Between Two Worlds (Lanny Budd #2), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1941). Traces Lanny Budd’s life through two love affairs and his marriage to a rich heiress, during the 1920’s war weariness, good times, the rise of fascism, and the crash of the stock market. Review

commonwealth

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. New York: HarperCollins, 2016. Traces the lives of six children and the parents from two families over five decades from the beginnings of an affair at a christening that broke up two marriages and threw the children together. Review

the power of the 72

The Power of the 72John Teter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A description of the theology and practice of equipping ordinary people to join in the mission of calling people to follow Jesus. Review

co-active coaching

Co-Active CoachingHenry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011 (3rd edition–link is to 4th edition published in 2018). A model of coaching in which coach and client actively collaborate to accomplish the clients needs, and the cornerstones, contexts, and core principles to realize those outcomes. Review

mariner

Mariner (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Malcolm Guite. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with an analysis showing how his most famous poem foretold and paralleled the course of his own life–a journey of fall, a need for grace, and redemption. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

is there purpose in biology

Is There Purpose in Biology?Denis Alexander. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2018. An exploration of the idea purpose in biology, the association of purposelessness with the randomness and chance of evolution and whether this is warranted, and how a Christian perspective may both be consistent with what may be observed, and how Christian theology may deal with questions of pain and suffering in evolutionary processes. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. The biography of this pioneer in children’s television, the good neighbor in life as well as on screen. Review

religion and american culture

Religion and American Culture (3rd edition), George M. Marsden. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. A survey of the interaction of religion and American civil culture from the nation’s beginnings up to 2016. Review

mindful silence

Mindful SilencePhileena Heuertz (Foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM; afterword by Kirsten Powers). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. Part narrative, part instruction, this work traces the author’s experience of “deconstruction” and how Christian contemplative practice enabled a deeper relationship with God and knowledge of herself. Review

how to read literature

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. An introduction to the basics of understanding literature–symbols, themes, and contexts–that enrich our reading of literary fiction. Review

beauty, order, and mystery

Beauty, Order, and MysteryGerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of papers given at the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians conference exploring various aspects and contemporary issues concerning human sexuality from the perspective of the church’s historic consensus. Review

intersectional theology

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory GuideGrace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. An introduction to the application of intersectional analysis to theology, understanding how identities and social locations within systems of power might both challenge and shape our theological understanding and praxis. Review

business coaching and mentoring

Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies, 2nd edition, Marie Taylor and Steve Crabb. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017. A detailed overview of the nature of business coaching and mentoring offering resources for assessing potential client opportunities, working with mind-sets, vision and planning processes, and marketing oneself as a coach. Review

Best of the Month. I had a number of good books to choose from this month but the standout for me was Sarah C. Williams beautifully written Perfectly Human. her narrative of learning that she was carrying a child with serious birth defects, who at best would die shortly after birth. She narrates the decision to carry the child, how they coped as a family, and loved their daughter. Here is a taste:

“During the nine months I carried Cerian, [Welsh for “loved”] God had come close to me again unexpectedly, wild and beautiful, good and gracious. I touched his presence as I carried Cerian, and as a result I realized that underneath all my other longings lay an aching desire for God himself and for his love. Cerian shamed my strength and in her weakness she showed me a way of intimacy.”

Quote of the Month. I was tempted to make it the one above, but I also loved this one from The Good Neighbor, showing how it was not only children who loved Fred Rogers:

“One of Fred Rogers’s most loyal fans was Koko, a famously communicative gorilla who appeared on the Neighborhood in 1998. Since Koko had been a faithful viewer of Rogers’s program for years, Fred visited her at the Gorilla Foundation in Redwood City, California, in his sweater and sneakers. When she saw him, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and took off his shoes. Then they conversed in American Sign Language, shared a hug, and took pictures of each other.”

Current Reads. I’m about 400 pages into Ron Chernow’s Washington. This is one of the books on my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list (it will be the second I’ve read since I wrote the post). All I can say is it is just as good as Grant, which I read at this time last year. Tomorrow, I will be reviewing How our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick, exploring how you can have significant differences in life expectancy between two zip code areas in the same city. Michael Card’s Inexpressible is a rich extended meditation on the Hebrew word hesed in scripture, which he defines as “When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” Kennedy Justice explores Robert F. Kennedy’s years as Attorney General–fighting political corruption, organized crime, and advocating for civil rights. Herman Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation is a new, annotated edition of his Stone Lectures from one hundred years ago, meaty material, and surprisingly relevant.

The Month in Reviews: November 2018

The Cloud of Unknowing

Unusual for me, I read three works of fiction this month ranging the gamut from the magical realism of Cloud Atlas to a crime fiction classic, The Law and the Lady, and an espionage thriller from William F. Buckley, Jr. I explored two higher ed books, dealing with the problems of “safetyism” and racism on campus. Two of my reviews span the earliest and the latest century of Christian history. Books on cosmology and faith, and creation care and faith, were my readings in the science and faith category. Two books dealt with unhurrying our lives and finding wholeness (and holiness) in suburban life. There were some other jewels as well–a monograph on priesthood in scripture, a thematic anthology of Dorothy L. Sayers’ writings, and a pithy book on coaching in seven questions. I began the month reading a delightful collection of essays on reading, and ended with a spiritual classic in a fresh, modern translation.

I'd Rather Be Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A collection of essays on the reading life with its unique joys and dilemmas, by a booklover, for booklovers. Review

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. New York: Random House, 2004. Six stories told in a chiastic structure in different genres of writing, in different voices, from the past to a post-apocalyptic future, with characters whose lives and stories are connected. Review

Creation Care

Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural WorldDouglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018. A survey of the relevant scriptures concerning how we might think biblically and theologically about the creation and our role in it, and the relevance of this teaching to current environmental concerns. Review

The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American MindGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. New York: Penguin Press, 2018. Discusses three bad ideas that result in a culture of “safetyism” in higher education, chronicles the consequences of these bad ideas, traces factors that led to the embrace of these ideas, and how we might choose a wiser way. Review

Cosmology in theological Perspective

Cosmology in Theological PerspectiveOlli-Pekka Vainio. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. Explores the place and significance of human beings in the cosmos, how this has been thought of through history, and how Christian theology might address  contemporary questions raised about our place, the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, the size of the cosmos, drawing upon the approach of C.S. Lewis. Review

Finding Holy

Finding Holy in the SuburbsAshley Hales (Foreword by Emily P. Freeman). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Suburbs reflect our longings for the good, that we often fill with gods of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety. Only when we repent and find our longings met in belonging to God, can daily life in the suburbs become a holy endeavor. Review

God's Mediators

God’s Mediators: A Biblical Theology of the Priesthood (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew S. Malone. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A study of the biblical material on priesthood, considering both God’s individual priests, and the corporate priesthoods of Israel and the church, and some implications of this material for our contemporary understanding of priesthood. Review

race on campus

Race on CampusJulie J. Park. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2018. Addresses myths and misconceptions around issues of race on college campus using research data. Review

Christianity in the Roman empire

Christianity in the Roman EmpireRobert E. Winn. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. A survey of Christian history in the post-apostolic era from 100 to 300 A.D., introducing the reader to key figures, events, controversies, and the development of various church practices and structures. Review

An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried LeaderAlan Fadling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Proposes that influential spiritual leadership that bears lasting fruit arises out of unhurried life in God’s presence that results in unhurried presence in the lives of those one leads. Review

The Story of Henri Tod

The Story of Henri Tod (Blackford Oakes #5), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published 1983). As East Germany takes steps to stem the emigration of its people to the west through East Berlin in 1961, Blackford Oakes is tasked to find out what their intentions are and how they and Moscow will respond if NATO and the US intervenes. Review

Sayers

The Gospel in Dorothy L. SayersDorothy L. Sayers with an Appreciation by C. S. Lewis, edited by Carole Vanderhoof. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. An anthology of Sayers’ work organized by theological topics, drawing on her detective fiction, plays, and essays. Review

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016. Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching. Review

The Law and the Lady

The Law and the LadyWilkie Collins (edited with an Introduction and Notes by Jenny Bourne Taylor). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Valeria Woodville discovers her new husband has a past that is under the cloud of a “not proven” murder accusation, and pursues an investigation to fully vindicate his innocence. Review

Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyBrian Stanley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. A thematic account of the development of global Christianity during the twentieth century. Review

The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous (translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). Boulder: Shambala Publications, 2018. A classic on contemplative prayer in a new modern translation. Review

Best of the Month: Carmen Acevedo Butcher’s fresh modern translation of the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing is my best of November. One has the sense as you read that you are sitting with a trusted spiritual counselor who has kept company with God.

Quote of the Month: I have always loved Dorothy L. Sayers ability to cut to the pith of the matter, clearing the clouds of rhetorical fog. In The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers, I came across this statement:

“Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slip-shod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious–others will pass into the Kingdom of Heaven before them.”

Current Reads:  Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times is a wonderful exploration of how four presidents led during turbulent times and what we might learn from them. Mary Lederleitner researched the experience of women in leadership in Christian ministries, the gifts they bring, the challenges they face, and the ways they respond, in her new book, Women in God’s Mission. I’m reading another “Lost Worlds” book by John Walton and his son, this on the Israelite conquest. As with other of his books, this is a close reading of the biblical text that offers a very different way of understanding the conquest and dealing with the issues that arise of God seeming to sanction genocide. Our reading group is wrapping up our reading of Things Fall Apart and the experience of missions and colonialism from an African perspective. I’ve just begun the second of Upton Sinclair’s “Lanny Budd” series, Between Two Worlds. I’ll be mixing in some books from the library on leadership coaching. Finally, I hope to get to a book that has made a number of “best of the year” lists–Educated by Tara Westover.

I hope in the midst of holiday preparations and parties and other gatherings, you are able to steal away for some reading time, and perhaps find a good book or two under the Christmas tree!

The Month in Reviews: August 2018

LeonardoMany book blogs focus on one genre of books. This is not one of them. I enjoy reading literary fiction, biographies, sports writing, history, and science fiction. I read a fair amount of “religious” material, particularly that which connects Christian faith with other aspects of life. My day job involves ministry with graduate students and faculty who are trying to make those connections, and I want to be a good companion with them on their journeys as well as progress on my own. You will find all of this in the books I reviewed in the last month. For those of you who are new to the blog and don’t know me well, I thought it might help to explain the eclectic mix you will find in this list. One other note: each book listed has two links. The title is linked to the publisher’s website and the word “Review” at the end links to my full review. I hope you will take time to visit both if you think the book sounds interesting.

loneliness of the long distance runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerAlan Sillitoe. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1959). A collection of nine short stories set in the pre-and post-World War II British working class, characterized by a strong sense of anger, alienation, and desolation. Review

kingdom collaborators

Kingdom CollaboratorsReggie McNeal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2018. An affirmation of kingdom-centered rather than church-centered leadership and a description of eight signature practices that characterize such leaders. Review

Contemporary Art and the Church

Contemporary Art and the ChurchEdited by W. David O. Taylor and Taylor Worley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017. Essays from artists, theologians, and church leaders participating in the 2015 Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Conference exploring the conversation to be had between the church and contemporary artists. Review

Early Christian Writings

Early Christian WritingsVarious, Translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Revised by Andrew Louth. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987. A collection of early, post-apostolic Christian writings concerned with the organization, leadership, worship, conduct, martyrs, and doctrinal teaching of the nascent church. Review

Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books: New Testament ResourcesJohn Glynn, edited by Michael H. Burer with contributions by Michael H. Burer, Darrell L. Bock, Joseph D. Fantin, and J. William Johnston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2018. A review of commentaries, dictionaries, and other scholarly resources related to the New Testament, singling out those the contributors deem of greatest value. Review

Born to Wander

Born to WanderMichelle Van Loon. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018. An exploration of the theme of our pilgrim identity as followers of Christ, and how this makes sense of the seasons of transition and loss, and struggles for control in our lives. Review

the eye of the world

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1), Robert Jordan. New York: TOR Books, 1990. Following an attack of trollocs and a Myrdraal on Emonds Field, Rand and two friends, joined by several others, flee when they realize that they are the object of the attack, and somehow at the center of a web of destiny that may either thwart or aid the rise of the Dark Power. Review

rethinking incarceration

Rethinking IncarcerationDominique Dubois Gilliard. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A call for Christians to address mass incarceration in the United States that considers its pipelines, its history, and proposes alternatives to prison and a focus not merely on punishment but upon restoration. Review

Tigerland

Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of HealingWil Haygood. New York: Knopf, (Forthcoming September 18), 2018. The story of the 1968-69 East High School Tigers championship basketball and baseball teams at a black high school in segregated Columbus, Ohio during the tumultuous aftermath of the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Review

Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual WarfareWilliam P. Payne (Foreword by Charles H. Kraft). Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018. A narrative of the author’s awakening to the reality of spiritual warfare and personal evil, and the resources and commended practices available to Christians for engaging that warfare. Review

Raise Your Voice

Raise Your VoiceKathy Khang. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Explores both why we stay silent and how we may learn to speak up about the things we most deeply care about, particularly in seeking a more just society for all. Review

Knowing and the Trinity

Knowing and the TrinityVern Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: Puritan and Reformed, 2018. How various triads of perspectives on both God and the world reflect the Triune God. Review

scars across humanity

Scars Across HumanityElaine Storkey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A description of the global crisis of violence against women, possible explanations, and the measures being taken to address different forms of violence. Review

the reckless way of love

The Reckless Way of LoveDorothy Day, edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Introduction by D. L. Mayfield. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017. A collection of Dorothy Day’s writings on following Jesus in the ways of faith, love, prayer, life, and communityReview

Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. A biography of da Vinci, from his illegitimate birth, his life long quest for patrons, his insatiable curiosity, his various artworks, and the notebooks, in which are revealed so much of the genius of da Vinci. Review

Book of the Month: The hands-down choice here is Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. This is a tour de force in every way in its exploration of da Vinci’s genius, surveying the notebooks, which are the particular record of that genius, and the works of art that made that genius visible. The book is printed on quality paper to properly render the works of art and other figures from his notebooks and drawings.

Quote of the Month: Dominique Dubois Gilliard’s Rethinking Incarceration is a thought-provoking challenge to a country, the United States, that leads the world in the number of people it incarcerates. This quote powerfully drove that home to me:

While the United States constitutes only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its incarcerated populace. Statistically, our nation currently has more people locked up—in jails, prisons, and detention centers—than any other country in the history of the world. We currently have more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities. In some areas of the country, there are more people living behind bars than on college campuses.

One out of every twenty-five people sentenced to the death penalty are falsely convicted. In many states, pregnant women are shackled to gurneys during their delivery. Thirteen states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults, such that children as young as eight have been tried and sentenced as adults, left vulnerable to trauma and abuse while living among adults in jails and prisons.

Eighty thousand inmates per day are locked in solitary confinement, where they are quarantined in a twelve by seven foot concrete cell (smaller than a standard horse stall), frequently for twenty-three hours a day, and are only allowed outdoor access and human interaction for one hour. This dehumanizing form of “incarceration” is more accurately defined as torture—a slow assault on the dignity of individuals and a strategic disintegration of their body and psyche.

Current Reads: Edgar Andrews, What is Man? explores the contrast particularly between materialist and Christian worldviews of what it means to be human. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and her Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream uses personal interviews as well as historical narrative to render a portrait of this president who carried out the Kennedy dream in social policy only to have so much of it, and his own reputation, undone by the quagmire of Vietnam. Answering Why is written by a Cleveland area author who explores the skills gap in the workplace and how effective career education can answer the “why” for the rising generation to pursue a particular line of work with passion and excellence. Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton is an insightful guide for anyone going on retreat that not only answers the question of why we all should, but also the practices and questions that help us enter into retreat, encounter God, and return to daily life with the insights of this time. Two other books I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into this month are Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness and Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well. Imagine that–reading about reading!

Here’s hoping that you find something good to read this month.

Five Books

Five Books The best books on everything

Screen capture Of Five Books home page accessed 8/30/18.

No, this isn’t a quiz about the five books you’d want if you were stranded on a desert island, although that would be interesting! Rather it is about a book website I just came across that has apparently been around for a while. Five Books takes its name from the basic idea of the site: to interview authors, publishers, academics and others for their recommendations of five books they think are the best on a topic about which they are knowledgeable.

For example, as I write, the current featured interview is with author Laura Wood on Coming-of-Age novels. Recent interviews were with Mark Sereze on Ice Books, Jane Kamensky on Boston Books, and Georgina Adams on the Art Market. Each interview page has cover images at the top and links to Amazon embedded to allow you to buy the books (they are an Amazon affiliatee, one of their ways of monetizing the site–the other is donations).

The site indicates they have over 1000 interviews and that they publish two new ones each week. That is a treasure trove! There are at least four ways to mine it. If you are looking for a particular topic you can search for it by clicking the search icon in the upper right of any page. Across the top of the home page is a topic or category listing. Or you could just start with their most popular interviews, found by scrolling down the page. The final is the random interview on the top right. Clicking it took me to an interview with Mark Tully, a journalist who has lived in India for most of his life, on the Best Books on India. It most likely will take you somewhere else.

You can also see a list of those books most often recommended. On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill tops the list. Clicking on the link takes you to a page where you can see all the lists (nine in Mill’s case) where the book was recommended

One other feature, labelled “new,” allows readers to submit their own list of five books on any topic.  I was surprised several people posted about books on Belgium! The home page features recent lists. Scott Meadows offers a fascinating list on Classical Education.

One of the strengths of the site is that they get interesting people who are knowledgeable about their subject. Some of the names, in addition to those already named, that I came across include Simon Winchester, Jerry Coyne, Nigel Warburton, Daniel Goleman, Diarmaid Macculloch, and Simon Blackburn.

The website is easy to navigate and rich in resources. With a thousand interviews you won’t soon run out of interviews. You may also sign up to receive emails of the latest list. Enjoy!

 

The Month in Reviews: June 2018

the self-aware leader

The word for June seemed to be “subversive.” A book on sabbath and another on Flannery O’Connor used that word in the title. Hmm. A John Steinbeck book was my sampling of American classics for the month . Jon Meacham’s new book reminded me of the clash between hope and fear that has characterized our national conversation since the beginning. Keith Whittington accentuated the importance of our speech freedoms and how they are under attack on university campuses. I spent much of the month reading and enjoying another big book by Ron Chernow, one of his early works on the Warburg banking family. A shorter account by Simon Winchester recounted the fascinating story behind the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the life of an institutionalized paranoid schizophrenic convicted of murder who made a signal contribution to this work. For the theologically oriented (many of you!) I reviewed another John Walton book, this one on the Genesis flood, a couple of books on preaching, and a book on the hermeneutics of the prophets and apostles. For those engaged in ministry, I reviewed a marvelous book on becoming more self-aware as a leader and one of the best resources I’ve come across on ministering with international students. As book ends, I began the month reading a book on sabbath and finished with a fascinating book on work as parable. Hopefully I’ve piqued your appetite, so here are the books!

The Lost World of the Flood

The Lost World of the FloodTremper Longman III & John H. Walton (with a contribution by Stephen O. Moshier). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. An argument for why Genesis portrays what was a local cataclysmic flood as a global flood, considering both Ancient Near East backgrounds and the theological purpose of the narrative. Review

Subversive Sabbath

Subversive SabbathA. J. Swoboda, Foreword by Matthew Sleeth, MD. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. An extended argument showing how keeping sabbath is a counter-cultural, subversive practice in every area of life. Review

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the MadmanSimon Winchester. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999, 2005. The story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary; James Murray, the editor who gave critical leadership to the project; and Dr. W. C. Minor, the paranoid schizophrenic, whose contribution was vital to the project. Review

Preaching by the Book

Preaching by the Book (Hobbs College Library), R. Scott Pace, (Heath A. Thomas editor). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2018. A step by step guide to preparing and giving messages rooted in biblical texts in a slim volume. Review

Cannery Row

Cannery RowJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1992 (originally published 1945). Steinbeck’s Depression-era narrative of the residents of Cannery Row, eking out an existence on society’s margins, and forming an unlikely community in the process. Review

A Subversive Gospel

A Subversive Gospel (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Michael Mears Bruner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017. Proposes that the grotesque and violent character of Flannery O’Connor’s work reflects her understanding of the subversive character of the gospel and the challenge of awakening people in the Christ-haunted South to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the gospel. Review

Expository Exultation

Expository ExultationJohn Piper. Carol Stream, IL: Crossway Books, 2018. Contends that the purpose of preaching is expository exultation; that preaching is integral to worship in the preacher’s work of making clear and exulting over the text of scripture as it reveals the glories of God. Review

the cross and christian ministry

The Cross and Christian MinistryD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993). In these expositions from 1 Corinthians, Carson sets forth the cruciform character of biblically faithful Christian ministry. Review

Crossing Cultures with Jesus

Crossing Cultures with JesusKatie J. Rawson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.  An introduction to international student ministry that focuses on both entering into the world of international students, led by the Spirit of Jesus, and drawing those students lovingly into Christian community. Review

the self-aware leader

The Self-Aware LeaderTerry Linhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2017. Explores the blind spots of one’s leadership and helps us become aware of the unseen influences that shape and hinder us, so that brought into the open, they can be recognized, addressed, and redeemed. Review

Speak Freely

Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free SpeechKeith E. Whittington. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. A case for the vigorous defense of free speech as essential to fulfilling the mission of the university in the face of both institutional and outside attempts to suppress objectionable speech. Review

the soul of america

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Jon Meacham. New York: Random House, 2018. A review of American presidential leadership and the battle between the politics of fear and the politics of hope for our national soul. Review

The hermeneutics of the biblical writers

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical WritersAbner Chou. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. An argument for interpreting the Bible in the way the prophetic and apostolic writers interpreted prior texts, using careful exegesis to understand authorial intent, working intertextually, discerning the theological meaning, and its significance for the current day. Review

the warburgs

The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish FamilyRon Chernow. New York: Vintage, 1994. The story of a prosperous and sprawling Jewish banking family who eventually established banking and philanthropic efforts in Germany, England, and the U.S., experiencing both great success and influence, and stunning disillusionment with the rise of Nazi Germany. Review

every job a parable

Every Job a Parable John Van Sloten. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017. A theology of work proposing that our different jobs are “parables” that reveal various aspects of the character and ways of God, and therefore that all work matters and that God speaks to the world through our callings. Review

Best Book of the Month: Always hard to choose, but I have to give the nod to Terry Linhart’s The Self-Aware Leader. The longer I’ve worked in leadership, the more I’m convinced that usually the greatest obstacles leaders face are themselves. Linhart has so much wisdom and good practical counsel for discovering our blind spots, understanding our reactions, recognizing our temptations, and so much more.

Best Quote of the Month: I love when a writer can draw you into a work from the very first sentence. John Steinbeck’s first sentence in Cannery Row did that for me:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

I found myself eager to find out what kind of place this was, and Steinbeck did not disappoint.

Current Reads: Look for a review this week on The Lord is Good, a rich theological study of the goodness of God, one where I often had to stop and meditate on a single sentence. I will also be reviewing White Fragility, a discussion written by a white woman on how whites, especially progressive ones, often end up in frustrating conversations about race. Currently, I’m reading, with our Dead Theologians group, a collection of writings of the post-apostolic fathers, first and early second century church leaders like Clement and Ignatius. With all the news on this issue, I’ve picked up Serving God in a Migrant Crisis, exploring not so much public policy but how Christians should think and act toward immigrants and refugees. The recent visit of a skunk to our suburban back yard encouraged me to pull out A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard. Finally, to address a deficit I think many of us from Protestant backgrounds share, I’ve just begun David de Silva’s Introducing the Apocrypha. Some time this month, I hope to get to Walter Isaacson’s new book on Da Vinci, a Father’s Day gift.

I’d love to hear in the comments what you are reading this summer!

Have You Been Hounded By A Book?

Pet Hound Animals Hunting Dog Dog Portrait Pets

CC0 Public Domain via Max Pixel

Have you ever been chased by a book? Maybe it is a book that has been sitting on your shelves for a long time that you have always been meaning to get around to read. Or perhaps it is one of those books you never heard about until a week ago, and suddenly three unrelated people told you about the book and insisted that you needed to read it.

I was reminded of this experience while reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which I recently reviewed. His bookseller, Roger Mifflin is talking to his young protege’, Titania Chapman, when he asks:

“Did you ever notice how books track you down and hunt you out? They follow you like the hound in Francis Thompson’s poem. They know their quarry! Look at that book The Education of Henry Adams! Just watch the way it’s hounding out people this winter. . . . That’s why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven’t read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There’s only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it.”

I did read The Education of Henry Adams but never felt hounded by it. Nor do I feel haunted by ghosts of books I haven’t read. But hounded? Chased? Yes. For example, I never got beyond the first 50 pages or so of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship until a few years ago when I read it with a book group. Yet I quoted Bonhoeffer’s statement in the book, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I could talk about “cheap grace.” But it bothered me that I had never read the whole book, a profound exposition of the sermon on the mount. Later in life, several different friends mentioned Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace until I finally sat down and read this profound account of the “other” and how we might encounter those very different from us.

There are some books that continue to hound me. The Chronicles of Narnia are begging for another reading. Just to my right I see the old, second hand copy of the Modern Library’s edition of Capital by Karl Marx. No, I’m not going to become a communist, but I’ve always been interested in work and workers, and often come across references to this book. Haven’t cracked the book as yet. That equally applies to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the first attempts to define what is distinctive about the American experiment and The Federalist Papers, and their arguments for the Constitution.

One of the books that has hounded me was Boccaccio’s Decameron. I inherited an old edition of the book from my mother, one of the works she loved. A book group I’m in has just started reading this Italian classic from the fourteenth century in modern translation. Witty, ironic, perceptive of human foibles and more than a little bawdy at times, but not boring. I finding myself wondering what stories mom liked most. That goes for the set of Balzac novels she loved as a girl. Other than Pere Goriot, they are still hounding me.

Have you been hounded by a book? What was it like to finally sit down and make friends with the hound and read the book? Did the book become a friend, or did you find yourself wonder, “what do people see in this?” What books have hounded you?

The Month in Reviews: February 2018

Grant

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

awaiting the king

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

washed and waiting

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

The Reckoning

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

4537

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

delivered from the elements of the world

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

the good retirement guide 2018

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

resurrecting religion

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

the myth of equality

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

Called to create

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

The Greater Trumps

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

Essential Writings of Meredith G Kline

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

Grant

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

Favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Book Recommendations

book-recommendationDo you like book recommendations? I do, at least most of the time.  But not always, and I’ve been thinking about the difference between the ones I like and the ones that are not as welcome.

The book recommendations I appreciate the most are personal. They come out of conversations, sometimes about books,sometimes about other things. For example, a ride back from a conference and a discussion about “skunk works” operations led to a recommendation of Skunk Works, the story of the original “skunk works” operation under Lockheed, that developed the X-15 and the first stealth fighters. A conversation with another friend who was a mystery buff put me on to Michael Innes, and his detective, Sir John Appleby.

I’ve often enjoyed, and sometimes invite, a conversation, about “what have you read recently that you enjoyed.” Almost invariably, I’ll hear of a book I want to read. I finally read, and loved, Walter Wangerin’s Book of the Dun Cow, because of one such recommendation after having known of it for years.

I do learn about books through reviews, ads, publisher catalogues, websites, and emails. Just as I suspect you don’t read all my reviews, and you certainly don’t buy everything I review, neither do I. All these formats give me the space to choose, or move on.

One trend I’ve enjoyed among booksellers are cards placed with books they are recommending. I always find intriguing what fascinated someone about a book, even if I decide not to buy it.

I really don’t like impersonal recommendations–you know, the ones based on recent viewing or purchasing history, For example, for a while, all I would see was cookbooks, because we’d ordered a cookbook for a friend.

The other kind of recommendation is kind of an occupational hazard of reviewers. Just because I’ve read a book on a particular subject or in a particular genre, that does not mean I want to hear what I really “should” read. Sometimes this is a vehicle  for authors to promote their book, or another blogger to promote their blog with a link to it. It’s one thing if you have a different take on the book I’ve reviewed and are posting your review to engage with me. But promoting something else is hi-jacking and bad manners.

Sometimes it is more innocent. Someone just likes another book on the subject, often one I’ve not heard of, and messages me on Goodreads or Facebook or on the blog. My challenge comes down to “so many books; so little time.” Often, I have a pile of books I’ve requested for review, and other books I want to read.  I thank them for the suggestion (and secretly hope they won’t be offended when they never see me review the book).

Probably, and I think this is true for all of us, we love the space to choose to read books that pique our interest. On the other hand, nothing repulses me more than the statement or insinuation that I “should” read something. Probably, as a Christian, the only book I should read is the Bible, and even in this case, it is not a question of “should,” because I find it life giving. “Should” never has been a good motivator for me.

I think what it comes down to is that there is a certain serendipity about the best recommendations, similar to coming across a long-searched for book at a second hand store or book sale. They are especially fun when personal, and unanticipated, when your own sense of “I think I’d like that” matches up with your friend’s “I really liked this and here’s why.”

I’d be curious, am I just being cranky, or do others think this way?