The Month in Reviews: December 2021

It’s been a busy month at Bob on Books! I reviewed 18 books this month from T. S. Eliot to Louise Penny. Reviews ranging from children’s to crime fiction, from devotionals to memoirs, a couple books for Christians in higher ed, Revolutionary war history, evolutionary neurophysiology, natural ecology, and more!

Also, it was the time of the year to pick my Best Books of 2021 as well as the Top Viewed Reviews of 2021 (no overlap, by the way!). It was a great way to look back on my year of reading reviewing, 198 reviews in all! So here are the books I read as 2021 came to a conclusion.

The Idea of a Christian Society, T. S. Eliot. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 (First published in 1939). Three lectures given in 1939 putting forth Eliot’s ideas for a Christian society in the light of rising pagan, totalitarian governments in the pre-World War 2 world. Review

Beyond the White FenceEdith M. Humphrey. Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021. A group of cousins visiting “Gramgon” and a neighbor boy have a series of adventures in which they meet their patron saints, passing through a portal just beyond the garden gate. Review

From Pentecost to Patmos, Second EditionCraig L. Blomberg and Darlene M. Seal with Alicia S. Dupree. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2021. A New Testament Introduction covering Acts through Revelation, with introductory material and commentary, review questions and bibliography for each book, useful as a textbook or reference. Review

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache #12), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. Gamache returns to the Sûreté as Commander of its Academy, and finds himself at the center of a murder investigation of one of its corrupt professors. Review

Struggling with EvangelicalismDan Stringer, Foreword by Richard J. Mouw. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. Traces both the author’s personal struggles with evangelicalism and a four step process of healthy struggle involving awareness, appreciation, repentance, and renewal. Review

The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive SpeechDouglas D. Webster. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A study of the parables of Jesus, why he used them, how they conveyed his message and what that message was, and what they mean for our preaching. Review

The Haygoods of Columbus: A Family MemoirWil Haygood. New York: Peter Davison Books/Houghton Mifflin, 1997 (The link is to a different, currently in-print edition). A memoir of Haygood’s growing up years in Columbus, his extended family, the glory and decline of Mt. Vernon Avenue, and finding his calling as a writer. Review

Thriving With Stone Age MindsJustin L. Barrett with Pamela Ebstyne King. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An examination of the ways evolutionary psychology and Christian faith intersect in understanding what sets us apart as human beings and how human beings may thrive. Review

With Fresh Eyes, Karen Wingate. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2021. Sixty reflections of a woman born legally blind, who gains significant sight in one eye, seeing not only the world, but also the world’s Creator with new eyes. Review

Abundance: Nature in RecoveryKaren Lloyd. New York: Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2021. A collection of essays describing both the loss of and recovery of abundance in the natural world, where people have caused harm and brought renewal. Review

Absence of MindMarilynne Robinson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. The text of Robinson’s 2010 Dwight Harrington Terry Foundation Lectures on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy, challenging “parascientific” explanations reducing the mind to nothing more than the physical brain. Review

A Sacred JourneyPaul Nicholas Wilson. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2021. A practical description the journey toward faithful Christian presence in secular institutions. Review

The British Are Coming (The Revolution Trilogy [Volume 1]), Rick Atkinson. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2019. A history of the first two years (1775-1777) of the American Revolution, discussing the causes, personalities, and key battles. Review

Finding Your YesChristine E. Wagoner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An exploration of what it means to listen for God’s invitations and say “yes” to them. Review

Singing in the Shrouds (Roderick Alleyn #20), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1958). Alleyn joins a ship bound for Cape Town seeking a serial murderer, one of nine passengers. Review

Riding High in April, Jackie Townsend. Phoenix: Sparkpress, 2021. A freelance writer faces some crucial life choices as she joins her software entrepreneur partner of fifteen years in Asia as he tries to launch an innovative open-source platform. Review

Refuge ReimaginedMark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville, Foreword by Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A case for welcoming refugees based on the biblical ethic of kinship, and the responsibility of kin to provide a home for those who have none, with applications to the church, the nation, and the international community. Review

The Vocation of the Christian ScholarRichard T. Hughes, Foreword by Samuel L. Hill. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005. An account of the calling of a Christian scholar, emphasizing drawing deeply on the theology of one’s own and other faith traditions, and living in the paradoxical tension of one’s faith and one’s disciplinary scholarship. Review

Best Book of the Month. I consider Dan Stringer’s book, Struggling with Evangelicalism, an extremely important discussion. So many of those I know who would identify in some way with this religious stream within the American church have wrestled with whether to stay or leave. Dan has as well and shares his process. He distinguishes between “brand” and “space” in a way that is helpful to me. There is so much with the “brand” I cannot embrace, but the core convictions and values have shaped me, and I won’t leave that space, even as I’ve learned to value other streams. This book gave me language for my own struggle.

Best Quote of the Month. Karen Wingate lived most of her life legally blind until eye surgery vastly improved the vision in one eye. I loved how she described in her new book, With Fresh Eyes, the moment she came to grips with the change this would mean for her, which her doctor described as “better than ever”:

“Despite low vision, God had given me all I needed. I could fill pages with stories of how God provided me transportation to travel all over the country even though I don’t drive. A Bible seminary that didn’t have services for disabled students recruited undergrads to read textbooks to me. At every point when work and my poor eyesight collided, computer technology took a leap forward, relieving the strain of seeing. I had an education, a family, a career, and a good ministry. God had answered my childhood prayer to help me live my life despite poor eyesight. I had learned to be content and grateful for the vision I did have.

And now this. Better Than Ever” (pp. 36-37).

She offers sixty reflections on seeing the world better than ever and the spiritual lessons that came with this improved vision.

What I’m Reading. This week I’ll be reviewing Os Guinness’s new The Great Quest (and interviewing him on Wednesday!), as well as a Graham Greene classic Orient Express and an award-winning collection of essays by Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land. Over the holidays, I decided to tackle several longer books that I have long wanted to read: Raymond E. Brown’s magisterial study, The Birth of the Messiah, David Wenham’s Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity, and Louis Menand’s The Free World, a sweeping survey of the intellectual history of the twenty years after the end of World War 2, when I was born and growing up. Finally, I’m taking a dip into a Heinlein novel I never read, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and just starting a book by a good friend and former colleague, Robbie Castleman, Interpreting the God Breathed Word. It is on how to read and study the Bible–something I always hope to grow in even as I teach others.

Well, there you have it! Maybe these offer some ideas for what you might read in 2022. And if you need more suggestions of reading goals, check out my Bob on Books 2022 Reading Challenge. Happy reading!

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

Bob on Books Top Viewed Reviews of 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted my Bob on Books Best Books of 2021. One of the interesting things I noticed as I compiled this post is that none of the books on that list are on this list (although The Lincoln Highway lost out by a whisker to The Four Winds for best literary fiction in my opinion). What this list records are the interests of those who visit this blog. As I look over the list of my most viewed reviews, I see some great books, some well-written works, and important books. Here’s the list:

10. Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land. I think many, like me, eagerly awaited his follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See. It’s a layered story occurring in three different time periods. I thought he pulled it off well.

9. Review: The Western Canon. This one surprises me. I didn’t expect so many to be interested in Harold Bloom’s defense of the Western Canon

8. Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. I had a mixed assessment of this book, appreciating the intellectual tour de force of Carl Trueman’s exploration of the expressive individualism at the heart of the modern view of the self, but not the polemical tone of the work, which I believed would be off-putting to all but those already persuaded of his thesis. Clearly, a number were interested in this book, or at least in what I had to say.

7. Review: A Gentleman in Moscow. I was fascinated with the premise of this novel, a political detainee sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a Moscow hotel. Perhaps it is the feeling that all of us are living this life to some degree that made this such a fascinating book.

6. Review: The Nature of the Beast (second reading). This is the eleventh book in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. It was the first of her books I read, then I realized this was one series it was best to read in order. And so I have, and when I got to this book, I re-read it and reflected on how much richer the re-read was for having read the first ten. I was surprised so many others liked the idea.

5. Review: Bury Your Dead. This was the other Louise Penny book to make this list. It follows a volume in which Gamache and Beauvoir solve murders separately while dealing with the trauma following an ambush in which both nearly died, and several other officers did. I explored the process of healing and growth Penny develops in this book.

4. Review: Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James show how we often misread the Bible which was written in a collectivist society when we approach it individualistically. I appreciated the nuance that saw both the good and the faults in each approach while showing how our reading could be enriched as we see that salvation is about “we” and not just “me.”

3. Review: Jesus and John Wayne. Kristen Kobes Du Mez explores the develop of the rugged masculinity typified by John Wayne, and traces how this shaped evangelical religious and political culture, and created a culture in churches often abusive or at least hurtful to women. This book has been discussed a great deal in circles I work in, perhaps accounting for the interest.

2. Review: The Hidden Wound. This is an extended essay from Wendell Berry written in 1968 on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work. Berry’s analysis of the wound of racism in our national life seems as relevant today as in 1968, because we still are trying to conceal the wound. I hope it wasn’t only Wendell Berry fans who read the review!

1. Review: Lincoln Highway. This is the second Amor Towles book to make the list, representing my discovery of this author (I also read Rules of Civility). I suspect the popularity of the review was that it came out soon after the book. I described this as “one of the best road novels I’ve ever read–leaving Kerouac’s On the Road in the metaphorical dust.”

Even though none of these made my “best books” I like the choices of my blog readers. I was struck that both Louise Penny and Amor Towles had two books on this list. The Louise Penny choice is easier. I’m sure that a number of views are thanks to the Louise Penny group in which I post. Amor Towles is more interesting–the only reason I can think of is that many others are also discovering this author. I will likely buy his next book, as I will Penny’s as well.

I also realized that this list reflects the particular audience of my blog as well as the books I chose to read and review. It’s an interesting snapshot. I’ll leave it to you to analyze the picture, since I’m part of it. What I do want to say above all is how grateful I am for everyone that follows, who reads, and comments, and even buys some of the books. I hope you liked them and I look forward to another year of talking books!

The Month in Reviews: November 2021

Looking through this month’s reviews, I’m struck by how different these books are from one another. A children’s story for Christmas and graphic non-fiction of George Takei’s experiences as a child internee during World War 2. Dark crime fiction, classic mystery, and cozy mystery. A book on “biblical womanhood” and narratives of “power women.” Short stories set in fictional Port William, Kentucky and essays from the streets of New York city. Chicago features in a couple books, one from the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the other inspired by the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. One looks at America’s role in the world while another focuses in on a homeless ministry in the small college town of Athens, Ohio, nestled in the foothills of Appalachia. One considers evangelism through American history, another religion departments in colleges turned universities, and a third on a missional theologian. And to top it off, I traveled the Lincoln Highway with four young men both pursued and pursuing their dreams.

After the ApocalypseAndrew Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. An argument that 2020 represented the final unraveling of the United States’ post-Cold War superpower status and that U.S. policy must change, reflecting its changed status in the world and changing priorities at home. Review

Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful DiscipleshipKeith Wasserman, Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. A profile of the key themes that have shaped the hospitable community of Good Works, Inc., a ministry providing shelter and support to people in rural southeastern Ohio. Review

The Making of Biblical WomanhoodBeth Allison Barr. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of women in church history and the construction of the idea of “biblical womanhood which underwent a series of developments from the Reformation to the present. Review

The End of CollegeRobert Wilson-Black. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of the creation and development of religion departments between 1930 and 1960 as a shift occurred from church affiliated colleges to research universities on the German model, with different aims serving a wider constituency. Review

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache #11), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. A young boy from Three Pines, prone to fantastic tales, reports seeing a big gun with a strange symbol, and then is found dead, setting off a search for a murderer, and an effort to thwart a global threat. Review

T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian (New Explorations in Theology), Joseph H. Sherrard, Foreword by Alan Torrance. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An examination of the contribution Thomas Torrance’s theological work makes to the church’s understanding of missiology, particularly centered around his understanding of the Godhead, the person of Christ, and Christ’s threefold offices and the church’s participation in them. Review

Power WomenEdited by Nancy Wang Yuen and Deshonna Collier-Goubil, Foreword by Shirley Hoogstra. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Fourteen women who are both mothers and academics write about how they navigate these callings as women of faith. Review

They Called Us EnemyGeorge Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott. Illustrator: Harmony Becker. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2019. A graphic non-fiction account of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2, through the experience of George Takei and his family. Review

The Devil’s Star (Harry Hole #5)Jo Nesbø. New York: Harper, 2017 (originally published 2003). Detective Harry Hole, still in turmoil over the unsolved death of his partner, is spiraling downward to termination, until asked to work on the case of a serial killer. Review

God in the Modern Wing (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Edited by Cameron J. Anderson and G. Walter Hansen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Ten Christian artists offer reflections on different pieces of modern art found in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, considering both the faith of the artists and what one might see in their art through the eyes of faith. Review

Watch With Me: And Six Other Stories of the Yet–Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née QuinchWendell Berry. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2018 (originally published 1994). Six short stories and the title novella centered around the Port William resident, Tol Proudfoot and his wife, Miss Minnie and their life on a rural farm, part of the membership of a rural community. Review

In the Shadow of King SaulJerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2018. A collection of eleven essays spanning nearly thirty years of Charyn’s literary career, on the New York in which he grew up, his family, other authors and celebrities. Review

The Lincoln HighwayAmor Towles. New York: Viking, 2021. A westward trip of two bereaved brothers to start a new life is interrupted when two prison friends of the older brother turn up and hi-jack their plans. Review

A History of Evangelism in North America, Thomas P. Johnston, editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. An account of the history of evangelism in North America through a compilation of articles on key figures, movements, and organizations from the colonial period to the present. Review

Died in the Wool (Roderick Alleyn #13), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1945). New Zealand member of Parliament Flossie Rubrick is found dead, concealed in a bale of wool from her farm, and Alleyn, working in counter-espionage during the war, comes to investigate because of secret research on the farm. Review

Saint Nicholas the GiftgiverRetold and Illustrated by Ned Bustard. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2021. A retelling in verse of the story of the life of the real Saint Nicholas and why he is associated with the bearer of gifts that arrive under our trees on Christmas Day. Review

Thirsting For Living WaterMichael J. Mantel (Foreword by Richard Stearns). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. How a young executive left a promising position to pursue the adventure in faith of providing both clean drinking water and the living water of Jesus throughout the world. Review

The Devil in the White CityErik Larson. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. The story of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago juxtaposed with that of a psychopathic murderer, H. H. Holmes, pursuing his sinister seduction of young women within blocks of the fair. Review

Best Book of the Month. Amor Towles The Lincoln Highway was a delight. The relationships, especially of the two Watson brothers and the aspirations of all of the main characters in the story. As different as they were, I came to like them (in contrast to a few less likable characters). In this case, switching from character to character in the narrative just worked, as did the sub-plot of Ulysses. As I commented in the post, sometimes you have to go to New York to get to California!

Quote of the Month. I loved Ned Bustard’s new Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, retelling the story of Saint Nicholas and how he became associated with the gift giver of Christmas eve:

Nick cared for the church,
serving as their bishop:
he shared with God's people
both the Word and the Cup
And in thanks for grace
from God Almighty,
he gave gifts to the weak,
the sick, and the needy.

This is a wonderful story for Christmas eve and I could see the reading of it becoming a family tradition. I loved Bustard’s woodcut artwork as well.

What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished reading T.S. Eliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society. In briefer form, it strikes me as a societal version of John Henry Newmans The Idea of a University. I’m also looking forward to Edith Humphrey’s Beyond the White Fence, a Chronicles of Narnia type story in which a group of children are transported to meet the saints for whom they are named. From Pentecost to Patmos is a New Testament Introduction to the books of Acts through Revelation. This is a BIG book but full of insight as well as the latest biblical scholarship. The Parables is a study of all of Jesus’ parables, grounded in careful exegesis and yet written plainly and applicatively. A Great Reckoning is Book 12 in the Gamache series. We knew Armand would not remain retired. Now we find out what he decided to do next. Rounding out my current reading is Rick Atkinson’s The British are Coming, on the early years of the War for Independence from 1775 to 1777. I hope the holidays ahead bring both rich times with family and quiet times for reading and reflection–and some new books!

Look for posts this month with my choices of Best Books of the Year as well as my 2022 Reading Challenge.

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

The Month in Reviews: October 2021

There were so many kinds of books I delight in reading in this month’s selection, and at least one wonderful find, Patricia Hanlon’s Swimming to the Top of the Tide, is right up there with the best of nature writing. I read a couple of Ngaio Marsh mysteries, always a great diversion and two literary fiction works that have been getting some attention, The Magician and Cloud Cuckoo Land. I enjoyed a marvelous little devotional on my Enneagram type as well as one designed to take one through the Psalms with writings of Christians through history. John M.G. Barclay’s Paul & The Power of Grace is a significant contribution to Pauline studies. Racism and patriarchy are two sins both in the culture and the church explored in three of this month’s books. Book Row was just fun, making me wish I could have visited this mecca for booklovers in its heyday.

The MagicianColm Tóibín. New York: Scribner, 2021. A fictionalized biography of German writer Thomas Mann, his bourgeois beginnings, his lifelong homoeroticism, his rise as a writer, flight from Germany, ambivalence about denouncing Nazism, and alienation from his children. Review

Identity in ActionPerry L. Glanzer. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2021. Addresses the various different identities college students must negotiate and proposes a model of Christian excellence in these various identities. Review

A Man Lay Dead(Roderick Alleyn #1), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2011 (originally published in 1934). Sir Hubert Handesley hosts one of his famous weekend parties and Nigel Bathgate, a young reporter is invited to join his cousin Charles Rankin for the weekend’s entertainment, the Murder Game, which becomes serious when Rankin turns up the corpse–for real! Review

Swimming to the Top of The TidePatricia Hanlon. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2021. A memoir of spending a year swimming the creeks and waters of the tidal estuary near her West Gloucester home, a portion of the Great Salt Marsh, and the critical role played in the Earth’s ecosystem by these places where land and water meet. Review

Forty Days on Being a FiveMorgan Harper Nichols (Suzanne Stabile series editor). Downers Grove: Formatio, 2021. Forty short reflections with prayers and questions for those who are Enneagram Type Fives. Review

Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends (Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics #1), Carmen Joy Imes. Wichita, KS: TUMI Press, 2021. A collection of readings for all the Psalms drawn from the writings of Augustine and other classic spiritual writers from Origen to Calvin. Review

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter, Edited by Timothy Larsen, Introduction by Thomas S. Kidd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A collection of articles in honor of historian of evangelicalism, David Bebbington, exploring expressions of the “biblicism,” in Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism, known as the “Bebbington Quadrilateral.” Review

The Coming Race WarsWilliam Pannell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A new edition of a book first released in 1993 following riots in Lost Angeles, calling the evangelical church to address the issues of racial justice in the country. The new edition shows the prescience of Pannell’s observations and the even greater urgency of coming to grips with our racial transgressions. Review

Getting to the Promised Land Kevin W. Cosby, Foreword by Cornel West. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021. An argument for the use of the Nehemiah narratives rather than Exodus to ground the appeal by American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) for restitution for the centuries of abuse they and their ancestors suffered. Review

Book RowMarvin Mondlin and Roy Meador. New York: Skyhorse, 2019 (originally published in 2003). A history of Book Row, a collection of used and antiquarian bookstores along and around Fourth Avenue in New York City. Review

Paul & the Power of GraceJohn M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. Looks at the theology of Paul through the lens of grace, an unconditioned and incongruous gift for Jew and Gentile alike, personally and socially transformative. Review

Cloud Cuckoo LandAnthony Doerr. New York: Scribner, 2021. A story of five characters living in three time periods, whose lives are tied together by the story of Aethon the shepherd written by Antonius Diogenes. Review

Aging FaithfullyAlice Fryling. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2021. An exploration of the questions that come with the changes of growing older and the invitations of God in those changes. Review

Worshiping with the ReformersKarin Maag. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A survey of the various worship practices of Reformed church bodies, revealing the diversity of practices and the reasons for those differences. Review

Killer Dolphin (Inspector Alleyn #24), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1966). Through an accident, a playwright realizes his dream of a renovated Dolphin Theatre, with packed houses for one of his plays, until a murder occurs and a boy actor is badly injured in a botched theft. Review

Women RisingMeghan Tschanz, Foreword by Carolyn Custis James. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A global mission trip awakens the author both to the injustices women face throughout the world and the patterns of subjection she learned in childhood that held her back and which she learned to name and use her voice to speak against. Review

Best Book of the Month: I found Alice Fryling’s Aging Faithfully to be an honest, spiritually perceptive and practical book that was right on target in exploring the questions I ask as a sixty-something about what Christian faithfulness looks like in the later seasons of life.

Best Quote of the Month: I loved Swimming to the Top of the Tide by Patricia Hanlon. I wrote to introduce a quote from the book:

“The writing at times gave this reader a sense of floating along with them, carried by the tide, taking in the meeting of sea, land, and sky.

We were floating barely forward, watching the flecks of marsh grass and air bubbles on the water’s surface slow down and finally pause. All but the top foot or so of the marsh grass was flooded. The stillness pulsed with life sounds normally too faint to hear; the beating of birds’ wings, the drowsy hum of a jet, the slight tinnitus that has been with me as long as I can remember, a mind event that skates the edge between real and unreal‘ (p. 43).”

What I’m reading. Waiting for review: Andrew Bacevich’s After the Apocalypse, arguing for an end to American exceptionalism, and Good Works, a narrative about a hospitality ministry in nearby Athens, Ohio that I’ve admired for many years. Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood looks at the history of women in the church and the cultural forces that have shaped conservative complementarianism in the last century. The End of College explores the rise of Religious Studies programs in the transitional period from church-related colleges to large secular universities. I’m re-reading Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, number eleven in the series, that I had read out of order. It’s much richer knowing the backstory. In the Shadow of King Saul is an essay collection by the writer of a book on J.D. Salinger earlier this year, Jerome Charyn. T.F. Torrance as a Missional Theologian is a deep dive into Torrance’s theology, influenced by his mentor, Karl Barth, and its contribution to thinking about the mission of God and the church. And if you’ve read my book previews of recent weeks, you can see there are lots more to keep me engaged on the cold winter nights ahead. Happy reading, friends!

The Month in Reviews: August 2021

The last full month of summer was full of good books. I roved the Red planet, went to space with Virgin Galactic, revisited Malabar Farm, remembered the life of one of my spiritual mentors, and witnessed a most wicked carnival! I remembered the past year of the pandemic, learned the rules of civility and retraced the history of the religious order that built the University of Notre Dame. I read about God’s agency, the two books in the Bible where God is not named, seven books at the end of the Bible that ought be read together, the theme of the servant that runs through the whole of scripture, and the emotional life of the ultimate Servant. Of course, I threw in a few mysteries as I continue to read through the Gamache series which just keeps getting better and another Ngaio Marsh mystery. I read about artful reading and hope I engaged in it. I’ll let you be the judge as you read the reviews!

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013. The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head. Review

Conspicuous in His AbsenceChloe T. Sun. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Adopting the approach of theological interpretation, explores through various lenses the significance of the absence of mentions of the name of God in Song of Songs and Esther. Review

Red RoverRoger Wiens. New York: Basic Books, 2013. An insider account of over two decades of space exploration culminating in the Mars Rover Curiosity mission. Review

Recovering the Lost Art of Reading, Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. An invitation to artful reading, considering its decline, different kinds of literature and how we read them, and the art of reading well to discover goodness, truth, and beauty. Review

Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn #22), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1962). An April Fool’s scavenger hunt organized by Lady Bantling ends badly when a body is found under a drainage pipe in a ditch. Review

A Burning in My BonesWinn Collier. New York: WaterBrook, 2021. The authorized biography of pastor-theologian and Bible translator Eugene Peterson. Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2), Ray Bradbury. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (Link is to a currently in print edition). A carnival comes to Green Town out of season and two boys, Jim and Will fight to escape the clutches of the sinister carnival master Mr. Dark. Review

Test GodsNicholas Schmidle. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2021. An account of Virgin Galactic’s effort to become a space tourism company focusing on the intersection of Richard Branson’s vision and the work of test pilots and engineers to make it work. Review

Perhaps, Joshua M. McNall. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Advances the idea of “perhapsing” that allows for the exploration of the space between doubt and dogmatism through close reading of scripture, asking hard questions, exercising imagination, and the practice of holy speculation. Review

Love in the Time of CoronavirusAngela Alaimo O’Donnell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A collection of poems written over the first year of the pandemic exploring the pilgrimage of those confined to their homes, exploring the ways we come to terms with endless days, the small gifts of love, and moment of hope amid the horror. Review

The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People (New Studies in Biblical Theology #54), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the application of the term “servant” to a number of key figures in scripture culminating in Jesus, and the way these were used by God to form a servant people. Review

Rules of CivilityAmor Towles. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. The year that changed the life of a young woman in New York, remembered when photographs trigger a flashback twenty-eight years later. Review

Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter,1-3 John, and Jude as CanonDarian R. Lockett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the catholic epistles, arguing that they ought be read together and exploring their shared themes and particular emphases. Review

The History of the Congregation of Holy CrossJames T. Connelly, C.S.C. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020. A history of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, describing its beginnings, its focus on education and missions, its approval in Rome, the succession of Superiors General, and the growth of the Congregation until Vatican II and decline in more recent years. Review

Passions of the ChristF. Scott Spencer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A study of the emotional life of Jesus in the gospels, drawing upon both classical thought and emotions theory. Review

The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food RevolutionStephen Heyman. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020. A biography of novelist, screenwriter, and sustainable farming pioneer Louis Bromfield. Review

Leadership, God’s Agency, & DisruptionsMark Lau Branson and Alan J. Roxburgh. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. Argues that “modernity’s wager” has shaped the leadership practices of church leadership, leading to a reliance on technique-driven strategies rather than responding to God’s agency. Review

Best Book of the Month: Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson, A Burning in My Bones captures the character and congruency of Peterson’s life, thought, and ministry. He was not a perfect man, and perhaps his growing awareness that he was but a man called to follow in the “long obedience” that made it possible to speak to so many of us.

Best Quote of the Month: Joshua McNall proposes that a stance of “perhaps” is an approach cultivating the imagination of faith that lives between doubt and dogmatism. He cites Luther as an example when he ascended the steps of Santa Scala, to pray for his father in purgatory, troubled by doubts about the steps, the power of relics, and even the reality of purgatory. He observes:

“Luther’s attitude is one of obedience. The question does not lead him to depart for a weeklong bender in the Roman brothels. Nor does it correspond directly to a repudiation of church tradition. This shift would come later through his outrage at indulgences, and by reading Paul. At the moment, Luther simply walks down the stairs. He descends Santa Scala–because a willingness to walk and wait and pray is the best response to doubt” (p. 126).

What I’m reading. Once again I’m thoroughly engaged in a Louise Penny novel, The Long Way Home. Gamache is retired from the Surete’ and living in Three Pines. But his sleuthing days are far from ended. I just finished Raft of Stars by Ohio author Andrew Graff. An edge of the seat story with a satisfying ending. I’m also working my way through a really long book, really six books combined into a single volume, Majority World Theology. It is a delightful dialogue of theologians from throughout the world on the major themes of Christian theology. I’ve just begun Robert Tracy McKenzie’s We The Fallen People. He proposes the thesis that our nation was founded on the premise of human fallenness, but a shift to a belief in the inherent goodness of people actually imperils democracy. I will be interviewing him later in September and look forward to seeing how he develops this thesis. After a long hiatus, I’ve returned to Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series, reading #3 in the series, Dragons Teeth. Not sure where this one is going yet or why it won a Pulitzer. Finally, I’ve at last dipped into a collection of Seamus Heaney’s poetry that has been on my shelves for some time.

I hope you will stay safe as the pandemic rears its ugly head once more. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is still time to enjoy a good book outdoors, or an outdoor gathering with some friends, maybe with conversation about the good books we hope to curl up with as the weather cools toward winter. If you check out one of the books here, I’d love to hear what you think, and tell me about the good books you’ve enjoyed. Blessings!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: May 2021

I just finished a book edited by Marita Golden of interviews with Black writers discussing the transformative power of both reading and writing. That is what sustains reading and writing in my own life–to share what has been good and even transformative, and to hope I might connect you with writing that will have that effect in your life. That was certainly the case with the books I read this month whether it was a comprehensive study of the doctrine (indeed the wonder) of creation, the theme of rest in the Bible or a classic Octavia Butler work that explores the dynamics of colonization at the level of alien life. Reading Mary Wells Lawrence’s memoir of her life in advertising, which began in my home town of Youngstown was a walk down the memory lane of all those ad slogans that will forever be etched in my mind, and finally, I know who to blame! Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker on Jennifer Doudna and CRISPR is essential reading for understanding the coming biotech revolution. Contemporary issues were amply covered in works on sexual abuse in the church, whether we can have a redemptive presence on social media, and how Christians might faithfully engage the news. In the realm of fiction, in addition to the Octavia Butler, I enjoyed a historical fiction account of J.D. Salinger’s war experience and the first volume of a new fantasy series and continued reading my way through the works of golden age mystery by Ngaio Marsh. Take a look through this list and you just might find a few summer reads!

Reimagining ApologeticsJustin Ariel Bailey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A case for an apologetics appealing to beauty and to the imagination that points toward a better picture of what life might be. Full review

Sergeant SalingerJerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2021. A fictional account of J.D. Salinger’s early adult life, centered around his wartime service with the CIC including the landing at Utah Beach, fighting in Normandy’s Hedgerows, the interrogation of German captives, the harrowing fighting of Huertgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, and the discovery of a Nazi death camp. Full review

Prayer in the NightTish Harrison Warren. Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2021. Both an introduction to Compline and a phrase by phrase reflection using one of the loveliest of Compline prayers. Full review

#ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing, Emily Joy Allison. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021. An argument connecting sexual abuse and other sexually dysfunctional teaching to the purity teaching upholding an ideal of abstinence until marriage between a man and a woman. Full review

Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About ItDouglas S. Bursch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A discussion of the nature of online media, why it divides us, and how Christians can have a reconciling and redemptive presence. Full review

Candles in the DarkRowan Williams. London: SPCK, 2020. Weekly meditations by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, written for his parish church from March to September 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full review

A Big Life (in advertising)Mary Wells Lawrence. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003. A memoir of the first woman to head up a Madison Avenue advertising firm, producing some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Full review

Waiting for the Rest That Still RemainsArie C. Leder. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2021. A consideration of the theology of the former prophets, including the Book of Ruth, considered through the lens of rest. Full review

The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1), Mike Brooks. New York: Solaris, 2021. Former enemies seek refuge with the people of Black Keep against a backdrop of political infighting, intrigue around the succession of the God-King, and the rise of a sinister power. Full review

The Code BreakerWalter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. The story of the 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Jennifer Doudna, and the discovery of ways to use CRISPR enzymes to edit genomes, and her subsequent efforts to establish ethical standards for the use of this breakthrough discovery. Full review

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the NewsJeffrey Bilbro. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of what Christian faithfulness looks like as we engage the news, focusing on our practices of attention, our awareness of the time we are in, and the communities of which we are part. Full review

Death in Ecstasy (Roderick Alleyn #4), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1936). Nigel Bathgate happens upon the strange religious rites at the House of the Sacred Flame just in time to witness the death of Cara Quayne, the Chosen Vessel, when she imbibes a chalice of wine laced with cyanide. Full review

Adulthood Rites (Exogenesis #2), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1988. (Out of print. Link is to a different edition) Lilith’s son Akin, a human “construct,” is kidnapped by resisters and raised in one of their settlements, and realizes his own unique and risky calling. Full review

The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach, Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the doctrine of creation, demonstrating how this doctrine is foundational and related to everything else in Christian theology. Full review

The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and WritingEdited by Marita Golden. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011. Interviews with notable Black writers about formative influences on their reading and writing, significant books and their particular writing callings. Full review

Best Book of the Month. I give the nod this month to Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night. She introduces the unfamiliar to the practice of Compline prayers and reflects chapter by chapter on one of the most beautiful of these and how God meets us in the night in every circumstance of our lives from our joys to our dying. This is exquisitely beautiful and vulnerable writing.

Quote of the Month: I love quotes on reading. Edwidge Danticat, in Marita Golden’s The Word made this striking observation about the importance of both reading and writing, one to which I fully subscribe:

“Reading is important–although we can so easily go into platitudes here–because it expands your mind, your life. It extends your world. It’s traveling without a passport. I feel like there are people in my life I will never know as well as the people in the books that I’ve read. I believe that it’s the duty of every truly free citizen to read, especially to read beyond your borders, to read and read extensively. Writing is our footmark in the world. We’re still looking at cave writings of centuries ago and are asking, what are they saying? It’s one of the most important gifts we leave the world” (p. 72)

What I’m Reading. I just finished Notorious RBG, a somewhat light-hearted biographical sketch of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg written while she was still alive. It ranges the gamut from her legal career and cases involving women’s rights and her dissents on the bench to her jabots, who did the cooking in her household, and the love of opera she shared with “Nino” Scalia. Tons of pictures! I’m into a couple other biographies at present, one of Henrietta Mears, whose What the Bible is all About was a guidebook to me in my early Christian life, and one of Siggi Wilzig, a holocaust survivor who arrived here with a grade school education and $240 and became a Wall Street legend. The book is titled Unstoppable and it strikes me as a somewhat tragic tale of a driven and psychologically scarred man. I’ve just begun Chandra Crane’s Mixed Blessing, on embracing a bi- or multi-racial identity, something true of nine million Americans, and which will only grow in the years ahead. And I’ve just opened Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound. I can’t go a year without reading something of his. In my continuing quest to read through all the Chief Inspector Gamache stories, I anticipate reading #8, A Beautiful Mystery, this month. Her books helped me get through the pandemic, so I’m not giving up now!

The Month in Reviews: April 2021

I read two books this months defending the reading of the old books, particularly those associated with the western canon, which has come in for much scorn. Of the two, Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead had the advantage for me of an irenic approach that took the critics seriously while celebrating what is worthy in these works. Both spoke of the “strangeness” of these works and, in Jacobs’ words, their capacity to increase our “personal density.” Books on three different books of scripture (Jeremiah, Romans, and 2 Corinthians) were another part of my reading this month as well as Ben Witherington III’s Torah Old and New. I’ve come to appreciate those who write with great skill with their words and reveled both in the poetry of Mary Oliver and the Lenten devotionals of Marilyn McEntyre, each on a word or phrase. Zuboff’s book on surveillance capitalism raises important questions but in an overly repetitious fashion that I felt “showed all her work.” A couple other books that were an absolute delight were Michael Kibbe’s From Research to Teaching, which sparkled with practical insights, and Alister McGrath’s theological biography of one of my heroes, recently passed, J. I. Packer. A delightful new author for me was Liuan Huska, whose book Hurting Yet Whole offered one of the best explorations of how one lives with chronic pain. So here is the list with links to publishers in the title and a link to the full review at the end of each summary.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. A selection of the poetry of Mary Oliver written between 1963 to 2015. Review

Resurrecting Justice: Reading Romans for the Life of the WorldDouglas Harink. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An invitation to read Romans as a treatise on justice in our relationship with God, in the church, and in society. Review

From Research to Teaching: A Guide to Beginning Your Classroom CareerMichael Kibbe. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A practical guide for those transitioning from graduate research to teaching, focusing on what teachers must do and must know. Review

Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Book One), Dean Koontz. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. A serial murderer is loose in New Orleans, and something far worse that two detectives begin to unravel, helped by a mysterious, tattooed figure by the name of Deucalion. Review

J. I. Packer: His Life and ThoughtAlister McGrath. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An account of the theologian’s faith, life, and theological engagement. Review

Breaking Bread with the DeadAlan Jacobs. New York: Penguin Press, 2020. A case for reading old books as a means of increasing our “personal density” to expand our temporal bandwidth. Review

Where the Eye AlightsMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. A collection of forty Lenten meditations drawn from words or phrases from scripture and poetry, inviting us to pause and attend. Review

Torah Old and NewBen Witherington III. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. A study of the texts from the Pentateuch quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and how they were understood both in their original context and as used in the New Testament context. Review

Hurting Yet WholeLiuan Huska. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. When a vibrant young writer descends into a season of chronic pain, she discovers the disembodied character of much Christian theology, that she could be whole as a person yet hurting, and that pain and physical vulnerability can be a place where we are met by God. Review

The Age of Surveillance CapitalismShoshana Zuboff. New York: Public Affairs, 2019. An extended treatise on the idea of surveillance capitalism, in which we are the “raw materials” for others economic gain and the object of instrumentarian control. Review

The Theology of JeremiahJohn Goldingay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A survey of the life of Jeremiah, the composition of the book, and the theological themes running through it. Review

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and LiturgyMatthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson (Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. Proposes that a theology of work is not enough. In scripture, people were formed in their work through worship rather than simply an intellectual engagement. Review

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache #7), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2012. The vernissage for Clara’s art show is a stunning success with glowing reviews only to be spoiled when the body of her estranged childhood friend is found in her flowerbed. Review

The Western CanonHarold Bloom. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 1994, this edition 2014. A spirited defense of the traditional Western Canon of literature against what Bloom calls the “School of Resentment” and a discussion of 26 representative works Bloom would include. Review

Strength in Weakness: An Introduction to 2 CorinthiansJonathan Lamb. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Preaching Resources, 2020. A concise exposition of 2 Corinthians designed as a resource for pastors, and for personal and small group study. Review

The Battle of HastingsJim Bradbury. New York: Pegasus Books, 2021. A historical account of Anglo-Saxon England, the rise of Normandy and the precipitating events leading up to the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the aftermath. Review

Best Book of the Month: Work and Worship by Kaemingk and Willson gets the nod. They address a crucial missing link in the “theology of work” discussion in making the connection between our worship on Sunday and our work through the week, and do so with theological clarity and practical examples.

Quote of the Month: I appreciated the insight of Marilyn McEntyre into the connection between repentance and rest. I’ve never thought of repentance as very restful. She persuaded me otherwise:

“And repentance, to return to Isaiah [30:15], allows you to rest. I think of the many times I’ve heard–and said–some version of ‘I’m wrestling with…” “I’m struggling with…” “I’m working on…” changing a habit, coming to terms with self defeating patterns, releasing resentments or guilt or old confusions. Repentance allows us to rest in forgiveness, regroup, and rather than wrestling, float for a while, upheld while we learn to swim in the current, or walk unburdened, or do a dance of deliverance, day by day releasing the past and entering fully, with an open heart, into the present where an open heart is waiting to receive us.” (p.11).

What I’m Reading: At present, I’m soaking in Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night, a reflection upon one of my favorite compline prayers. I’ve just finished Justin Ariel Bailey’s Reimagining Apologetics which argues for an apologetics of beauty using the works of George MacDonald and Marilynne Robinson. I came across Mary Wells Lawrence in my Youngstown blog (she also grew up there), and learned she had written a memoir, A Big Life. She was the first women to head a Madison Avenue ad agency and she offers an insider look at this whirlwind life. Purity culture and abuse in the church has been much in the news and #ChurchToo is an exploration of this theme by one of the originators of the #ChurchToo hashtag. Sergeant Salinger is a biographical fiction account of J.D. Salinger’s World War 2 service. Pretty interesting read! Finally The Black Coast is the first installment of a fantasy series replete with dragons, raiding clans, demonic figures and a kingdom in danger from without and within. Still trying to figure out if I like this, which is probably a bad sign.

Much good reading and more on the review pile including Winn Collier’s new biography of Eugene Peterson that just came in and I can’t wait to get to read! Hope you have some books like that on your “to read” pile as summer approaches.

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: March 2021

Some great novels and historical fiction. A celebration of the wonders of the world and a hard look at what it will take to keep it habitable. Some delightful mysteries. Institutions at their best and worst. Spirituality in the cell of an anchoress, and in the city. Helps in understanding scripture, global Christian history, and our modern concept of the self. Books addressing abuse in the church and discipleship in the workplace. Books addressing the trauma of the pandemic and the experience of racism. Yes, I read, and enjoy a wide variety of books. So hopefully there is something here you will like. Scroll down, and click the review link to see the full reviews.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern SelfCarl R. Trueman. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020. Traces the intellectual history of what Charles Taylor calls expressive individualism and Philip Rieff calls the psychological man that the author argues explains the modern understanding of self contributing to a revolution in human sexuality. Review

Maigret and the Old PeopleGeorges Simenon. New York: Penguin Books, 2019 (originally published in 1960). Maigret investigates the shooting death of a retired diplomat, struggling to figure out who among all the old people in his circle would have the motive and opportunity to kill him. Review

Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the ChurchDiane Langberg. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. A psychologist looks at the dynamics of power behind various forms of abuse and trauma in which church figures are either perpetrators or complicit. Review

God and the PandemicN. T. Wright. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2020. Reflects both upon our quest to know “why the pandemic?” and how we should then live. Review

Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective OrganizationGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Believing that institutions are essential to human flourishing, unpacks the intelligence necessary to work effectively within organizations, and the different elements of organizational life that must be navigated wisely. Review

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache #6), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010. Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave after an attempt to rescue an agent goes terribly wrong. As each faces their own traumas they get caught up in murder investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines. Review

Bad BloodJohn Carreyrou. New York: Vintage, 2020. The account of Elizabeth Holmes, the blood testing company Theranos, and the ambition that led to lies upon lies deceiving famous investors, pharmaceutical companies, and business publications until an investigative reporter on a tip discovered the house of cards on which it was all built. Review

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. An assessment of what it will take to get to “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, and the technological breakthroughs we will need to achieve that. Review

Healing Racial TraumaSheila Wise Rowe (Foreword by Soong-Chan Rah). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A counseling psychologist describes the experience of racial trauma in story, drawing upon her own and other clinical experiences, and explores the resources for resilience to face continuing racial struggle. Review

Workplace Discipleship 101David W. Gill. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A practical guide to living as a follower in one’s workplace focused on how we get ready for our work, impact our workplace, and beyond our workplace. Review

The Four WindsKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. Set in the Dust Bowl depression era, Elsa Martinelli grows from a timid girl to a mother whose fight for her children fulfills her grandfather’s exhortation to “be brave.” Review

A Gentleman in MoscowAmor Towles. New York: Penguin, 2019. Count Rostov has been sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol for life during Stalin’s regime and must find purpose for life within its confines. Review

Misreading Scripture with Individualist EyesE. Randolph Richards and Richard James. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Shows how we may misread scripture if we do not reckon with the collectivist context in which it is written, and in which many cultures still live. Review

World of WondersAimee Nezhukumatathil. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2020. A combination of memoir and nature writing describing the variety of living creatures encountered by the author in the different places where she lived and her own lived experience in these places. Review

The City is My MonasteryRichard Carter. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2020. A monk moves to the heart of London and forms a community sharing a rule of life and offers a reflective account organized around that rule. Review

A Survey of the History of Global Christianity, Second EditionMark Nickens. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020. A study of Christianity from its beginnings to the present, tracing its global diffusion, and the resulting diversity within the big “tent” of Christianity. Review

The Burning Land (Saxon Chronicles #5), Bernard Cornwell. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Uhtred, Alfred’s warrior is torn between his oaths to Alfred and his daughter, his longing to recover his stolen home of Bebbanburg, his Viking friend Ragnar, and the threat of a dangerous woman, a knife edge on which the fate of Alfred’s kingdom balances. Review

The Way of Julian Norwich: A Prayer Journey Through LentSheila Upjohn. London: SPCK, 2020. Six meditations on the writings of Julian of Norwich that redirect our focus from sin and judgement to the greatness of God’s love revealed in Christ’s incarnation and death. Review

Best Book of the Month. So many candidates for this one. It came down to A Gentleman in Moscow and The Four Winds. I’ll go with Kristin Hannah. The story covers similar ground to The Grapes of Wrath. I thought Elsa Martinelli holds her own against Tom Joad and Hannah captures the desperate conditions of the dust bowl and California migrations as profoundly as Steinbeck–apologies if that is a heresy to someone! Warning, though. Not an easy read.

Quote of the Month. I found The Way of Julian delightful for the chance to discover the vision of the love of God that captivated Julian’s life. This short quote on prayer turns prayer from duty to joy:

“Our prayer makes God glad and happy. He wants it and waits for it so that, by his grace, he can make us as like him in condition as we are by creation. This is his blessed will. . . He is avid for our prayers continually.”

What I’m Reading. I just finished Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, a compilation of her poetry throughout her writing career. How amazing the insights this woman captured within miles of her home. I’ve just began Alister McGrath’s new biography on the life and thought of J.I. Packer. Resurrecting Justice offers a study on the theme of justice in Romans. Both Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs and Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon challenge the trend in academia to shun what were once the standard texts of western literature. Yes, they have their problems, but both authors think they have abiding worth as well. At the suggestion of a blogging friend who pointed out one of the deficits in my reading, I’ve picked up Dean Koontz Prodigal Son, the first in his Frankenstein trilogy. Definitely a page-turner. And to get ready for an interview with Michael Kibbe for my work, I’m reading From Research to Teaching, a guide to teaching effectiveness. And we haven’t even gotten to the others on my TBR pile. We’ll see how many of those I get to beyond the above in the next month. Until then, happy reading!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month In Reviews: February 2021

We had a lot of snowy days and cold nights this February. Time to read a lot of great books. A couple of novels on their way to becoming dystopian fiction classics. Another Louise Penny Gamache novel. A book on the science of life. A couple books edited by the same team on Christian scholarship. A history of civil rights efforts in the north and one on the distinctive contribution of the Black church’s reading of the Bible. A biography of “muckraker” Ida Tarbell and a study of Abraham’s Lincoln’s anti-slavery interpretation and implementation of the Constitution. Books on politics, ecology, and exile and the Bible. Other good theology and biblical studies. A memoir by the creator of Rubik’s cube and a collection of the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Here are summaries and links to all the reviews. Visit the full review for anything that looks interesting!

Christ and the Kingdoms of MenDavid C. Innes, foreword by Carl R. Trueman. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2020. Explores the civic and political responsibilities of Christians and the proper purposes of government. Review

The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986. One woman’s account of life as a “handmaid” in the dystopian society of the Republic of Gilead, an authoritarian religious society organized around the urgent problem of declining birthrates. Review

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache #5), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009. The body of an unknown man is found in the bistro of Gabri and Olivier, and Olivier is the chief suspect! Review

Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All, Ernö Rubik. New York: Flatiron Books, 2020. A memoir that explores both the role of puzzles in our life, and the creation and afterlife of the eponymous cube that bears the author’s name. Review

Voices and Views on Paul: Exploring Scholarly TrendsBen Witherington III and Jason A. Myers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A discussion and analysis of recent Pauline scholarship focusing on E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, Stephen Chester, and Louis Martyn. Review

Reading While BlackEsau McCaulley. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of biblical interpretation in the traditional Black church that emphasizes the conversation between the biblical text and the Black experience and how this sustains hope in the face of despair. Review

Sinless Flesh: A Critique of Karl Barth’s Fallen ChristRafael Nogueira Bello. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. Drawing upon the doctrines of inseparable operations, grace of union and habitual grace, and original sin, argues against the contention of Barth and Torrance that the Son of God assumed fallen human flesh in the Incarnation. Review

Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be AliveCarl Zimmer. New York: Dutton, (forthcoming) 3/9/2021. An exploration of how scientists attempt (and have failed) to define what life is and the quest to understand how life arose. Review

Public Intellectuals and the Common, Edited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A collection of presentations defining, articulating the need for and practice of Christian public intellectual work that pursues the wider good. Review

Ecology and the BibleFrédéric Baudin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A study of the biblical material on ecology, and how it bears on our current crises. Review

Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the NorthThomas J. Sugrue. New York: Random House, 2009. A history of the fight for civil rights in the North from 1920 to roughly 2000, focusing on movements, leaders, issues, and their expression in northern cities. Review

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — And Won!Emily Arnold McCully. New York: Clarion Books, 2014. A biography for young adults highlighting Tarbell’s journalistic career including her series of articles and books taking on Standard Oil, her relationship with Sam McClure, her views on women’s suffrage, and her lifelong labor to support her family. Review

The State of the Evangelical MindEdited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A collection of essays surveying the state of evangelical thought twenty five years after Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Review

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. A dystopian story of a father and son helping each other survive in a post-nuclear America, scavenging for food and avoiding murderous mobs. Review

Rebels and Exiles (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the theme of exile throughout the Bible, from the garden, to the warnings and reality of Israel’s exile, the return from exile accomplished by Christ, realized in part even while his people remain exiles awaiting the new creation. Review

Thunder in the Soul (Plough Spiritual Guides), Abraham Joshua Heschel. (Edited by Robert Erlwine). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A collection of the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concerning the life of knowing and being known by God. Review

The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery ConstitutionJames Oakes. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2021. A historical account of how Abraham Lincoln, although not a traditional abolitionist, strongly supported and implemented the antislavery portions of the Constitution to pursue the end of slavery. Review

Best Book of the Month. If you have never read any Abraham Joshua Heschel, pick up a copy of Thunder in the Soul, a collection of the thought of Heschel. I found myself stopping to think and ponder after almost every sentence. Here’s one taste, as he writes about God: “His is the call, ours the paraphrase; His is the creation, ours a reflection. He is not an object to be comprehended, a thesis to be endorsed, neither the sum of all that is (facts) nor a digest of all that ought to be (ideals). He is the ultimate subject.”

Best Quote of the Month. Beside the above, I liked this statement about the role of puzzles in our lives”

“Puzzles bring out important qualities in each of us: concentration, curiosity, a sense of play, the eagerness to discover a solution. These are the versame qualities that form the bedrock for all human creativity. Puzzles are not just entertainment or devices for killing time. For us, as for our ancestors, they help point the way to our creative potential. If you are curious, you will find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

What I’m Reading. I have a couple mysteries going right now–the next Louise Penny for me, Bury Your Dead and Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Old People. John Carreyrou’s account of the rise and fall of Theranos and its young executive Elizabeth Holmes, Bad Blood, is a riveting account of the pursuit of money and power when ethics become optional. Redeeming Power by Diane Langberg is an eloquent and theologically grounded study of power and sexual abuse in the church. Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is a tour de force of intellectual history showing the development that has transformed our idea of the self, and its implications for our life in society and our understanding of sexuality. I also have Bill Gates new book on climate change and the latest Kristen Hannah book on my TBR pile. Later this month I will be interviewing Gordon T. Smith about his book, Institutional Intelligence, so I will be reading that as well. I look forward to our continuing conversation about good books!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: January 2021

Can you believe we are a month into 2021? It has been a month that is the epitome of the old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I feel like my readings certainly have fit the times, whether a commentary on wisdom, learning to think and write with the clarity of Shakespeare, or learning to seek God in prayer and grow in knowledge of the holy God and holiness of character and thought. Then sometimes, there have been those delightful diversions, whether a Ngaio Marsh mystery, a story about a rescue of stranded flyers of a Greenland glacier, the biography of a theologian from a hundred years ago whose work is just coming into English translation, or C.S. Lewis’s early narrative poem Dymer. Here are the books I was reading this month to navigate interesting times.

The Message of Wisdom(Bible Speaks Today). Daniel J. Estes. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2020. A study of the theme of wisdom, primarily in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament but also incorporating other passages in scripture including those in the New Testament focusing on the culmination of wisdom in Christ. Review

Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial ReconciliationJennifer Harvey. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. Argues that a reparations rather than reconciliation paradigm is what is necessary to heal the racial divides in the United States. Review

The Columbus Anthologyedited and with an Introduction by Amanda Page. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press) co-published with Rust Belt Publishing, 2020. An anthology of non-fiction prose and poetry by Columbus authors, mostly relating to Columbus. Review

Frozen in Time, Mitchell Zuckoff. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. An account of rescue efforts in 1942-43 and a retrieval effort in 2012 to recover several lost heroes, all occurring on the Greenland icecap. Review

Charitable WritingRichard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III, Foreword by Anne Ruggles Gere, Afterword by Alan Jacobs. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Two writing professors explore how Christian faith ought shape both how one writes and how one teaches students to write, shaped by the virtues of humility, love, and hope. Review

Prayer RevolutionJohn Smed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020. A call to kingdom prayer movements based in houses of prayer through which Christ comes, the Holy Spirit advances, and renewal spreads in cities, nations, and globally. Review

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the MonarchyA. N. Wilson. New York: Harper Collins, 2019. A full length biography, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, stressing his contributions to cultural and political life in Victorian England, published on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. Review

How to Think Like ShakespeareScott Newstok. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. A concise and engaging guide to the habits and practices of mind that enable clarity of thought, expression, and learning. Review

Bavinck: A Critical BiographyJames Eglinton. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. A biography tracing the origins, significant life events and theological scholarship of Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck. Review

Death of a Peer (Surfeit of Lampreys), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Harper Collins: New York, 2009. A New Zealander’s visit to a happy-go-lucky English family is interrupted by the gruesome murder of Lord Charles’ brother in the elevator serving their flat, making the family prime suspects for Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn. Review

Perspectives on Paul: Five ViewsEdited by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. Presents five perspectives on the ministry and message of Paul: the Catholic, traditional Protestant, the “New Perspective” pioneered by E.P. Sanders, the Paul within Judaism perspective, and the Gift perspective. Review

Splendour in the DarkJerry Root, annotations of Dymer by David C. Downing. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An annotated edition of C. S. Lewis’s Dymer and three presentations with responses given as part of the Hansen Lectureship series at Wheaton’s Marion E. Wade Center. Review

Finding the Dragon LadyMonique Brinson Demery. New York: Public Affair, 2013. A biography of Madame Nhu, part of the ruling family in Vietnam (1954-1963) based on the author’s personal interactions with Madame Nhu before her death, allowing her to obtain memoirs and a diary of her life. Review

Reading Scripture as the Church (New Explorations in Theology), Derek W. Taylor. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Brings Dietrich Bonhoeffer into conversation with three theologians concerning how the church reads and interprets scripture. Review

HolinessJohn Webster. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003. A theology of holiness, beginning with holiness in the theological enterprise and then thinking about the holiness of God, the church, and the individual. Review

Best book of the Month: I have to give the nod to James Eglinton’s illuminating biography, Bavinck. Herman Bavinck was a Dutch theologian of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century relatively little known outside of Reformed circles. With the translation of his theological works into English and his association with Abraham Kuyper, theologian and politician, interest is growing in Bavinck. Eglinton’s biography illuminates both the times and Bavinck’s efforts to navigate the tensions of doing theology that is both orthodox and engages modernity.

Best quote of the Month: Daniel J. Estes study on The Message of Wisdom is a gem. He offers this trenchant observation on truthtelling:

“Why is it so hard for us to be truthful? Truthfulness can fail for many reasons, but oftentimes it surrenders to fear. We fail to be truthful because we fear criticism, but then we end up looking like cowards when the truth eventually comes out. We fail to be truthful because we fear responsibility, but we end up trapped in a web of our deceptions. We fail to be truthful because we fear the personal cost of getting hurt, but we end up enslaved to the guilty conscience pricked by our dishonesty. We fail to be truthful because we fear upsetting others, but we end up missing the chance to provide constructive reproof that would actually help them” (pp. 121-122).

What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished Christ and the Kingdoms of Men on political theology. I found much that I believe is helpful, and one significant area to which I object. Watch for my review! I’ve almost finished Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Gamache series. These just keep getting better! I finally broke down and am reading The Handmaid’s Tale. This is not a happy story, but raises profound questions about how women might fare under a religiously authoritarian regime, and what happens when we unjustly constrain human freedom. Reading While Black by Esau McCauley has received a good deal of notice. McCauley argues for the unique contribution that blacks offer the rest of the Christian community as they read scripture. Ben Witherington III was one of my seminary professors, so I try to read whatever he writes (unfortunately he writes so much I can’t keep up!). His Voices and Views on Paul is a great overview and critique of recent Pauline scholarship. Finally, Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All is a fascinating memoir by the eponymous creator of Rubik’s cube.

Reading can help us both make sense of our times and how we might live in them, and take a break from thinking about them when we need to. I hope you find some time for some of each!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.