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

42111605

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: December 2018

Leadership

I closed out the year reading some wonderful books! Leadership in Turbulent Times is a great study in presidential leadership by a noted historian. Mary Leiderleitner’s Women in God’s Mission is a book I recommend men read to understand both the gift women are to God’s mission, and the challenges they face in serving. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a classic rendering of the confrontation of African tribal culture with the unholy alliance of Christian missions and imperialism. Kurt Schaefer’s study of “household codes” in 1 Peter is a delightful piece of biblical scholarship by an economist!  Stephen Cottrell’s The Sleepy Shepherd is a delightful Christmas story for the whole family. In reading Adam Bede, I concluded that I am finally old enough to appreciate George Eliot. The re-packaged edition of D. A. Carson’s expositions of Matthew 5-10 is a treasure. My final “read” for the year was Alice Fryling’s Mirror for the Soul, a clear and insightful Christian reflection on the Enneagram.  Here’s the full list, and not a loser on it. The titles link to the publisher’s website, and the word “Review” to my full review of the book.

Leadership

Leadership in Turbulent TimesDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. A study of how four presidents led the nation during turbulent times, tracing their awakening leadership ambitions, the adversity that formed their character, and lessons from how they led. Review

Women in Gods Mission

Women in God’s MissionMary T. Lederleitner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.  An account of research into the many ways women are leading in God’s mission around the world, the distinctive traits in their service and leadership, the challenges they experience around gender discrimination, and the conditions under which they do their best work. Review

change your questions

Change Your Questions, Change Your LifeMarilee Adams (Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015. Builds on the insight that the kinds of questions we ask shape our actions, and focuses on learning to ask “learner” rather than “judger” questions. Review

the lost world of the israelite conquest

The Lost World of the Israelite ConquestJohn H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Explores the biblical accounts of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, looking closely at the ancient Near East context and arguing that this was not a divinely commanded genocide or Holy War. Review

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. New York: Penguin, 1994 (originally published 1959). First of a trilogy portraying the confrontation of Igbo tribal culture and Christian missions and British colonialism. Review

Amazing Jewish Heroes

Amazing Jewish Heroes Down Through the AgesDavid Richard Goldberg. Springfield, NJ: Gefen Publishing House, 2017. A collection of brief biographical sketches on eleven Jewish heroes from ancient to modern times. Review

Husband Wife Father Child Master Slave

Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave, Kurt C Schaefer. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018. In contrast to many biblical scholars who argue that the “household codes” of scripture do indeed, for various reasons, affirm cultural role expectations, this work argues that Peter’s version is actually a subtle satire that opposes the cultural norms of Greco-Roman culture. Review

Faith for this Moment

Faith for This MomentRick McKinley. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Explores what it means to live as a Christian in a polarized and secularized society, drawing on the idea of exile in scripture and proposing practices that sustain faithfulness in exile. Review

Finding Favour

Finding Favour in the Sight of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Richard P. Belcher, Jr. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A study of the message and theology of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes concluding with an exploration of Jesus and wisdom. Review

You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed MeKent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Describes the global refugee crisis, the opportunities that the church has to extend welcome, and the fears and misunderstandings that prevent us from doing so. Review

the sleepy shepherd

The Sleepy ShepherdStephen Cottrell, illustrated by Chris Hagan. London, SPCK, 2018. The story of a shepherd boy who constantly fell asleep and slept through the angels’ announcement of the birth of the king in Bethlehem. Review

Adam Bede

Adam BedeGeorge Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 (first published 1859). A tale centering around the love of Adam Bede, a woodworker, for Hetty Sorrel, a dairy maid who is eventually tried for murder of her infant child, conceived in an affair with the local squire, Arthur Donnithorne. Review

Matthew 5-10

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (originally published as two separate works 1978, 1987). An expository study of Matthew 5-10 that focuses on the call to a distinctive life for the disciples of Jesus. Review

Mirror for the Soul

Mirror for the SoulAlice Fryling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2017. An explanation from a Christian perspective of the Enneagram and its use in spiritual formation, helping us to live out of our gifting, recognize our blind spots, and experience the grace of God. Review

Best of the Month: Always a tough choice for me. This month’s goes to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. I think we are in such times, and it seems this is a good book to inform the choices we make at the ballot box for those who lead our communities, states, and nation in the next years. If their were a list of required readings for citizens, I would recommend this book for the list.

Best Quote of the Month: Alice Fryling offers one of the best explanations of the difference between “false self” and “true self” in this statement:

“The false self is the person we think we should be but are not. It is the person we want others to think we are. The false self perpetuates the illusion that we are able to love perfectly, to be wise and all-knowing, and to be in control of life. The false self thrives on success and achievement. The problem is not that the false self is a bad person. The problem is that the false self is a façade. It is an imitation of God that we “use” to impress others. The false self languishes in pretense and in grasping for abilities and gifts that are not ours to have. The true self, on the other hand, truly expresses the gifts God has given us to love well” (p. 25).

Current Reads: I had just begun Upton Sinclair’s Between Two Worlds a month ago. I’m almost finished with it. Sinclair writes stemwinders–long but fascinating. This one chronicles the post World War 1 years–the failures of Versailles, the efforts to forget the war in the roaring 20’s, the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, and the lead up to the stock market crash of 1929–all through the travels and love affairs of Lanny Budd. I just finished Tara Westover’s Educated, a stunning book that has been on a number of best book lists of 2018. Look for my review tomorrow. Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn’s Jesus Revolution took my back to my own Jesus movement roots. Jeremy Begbie’s A Peculiar Orthodoxy is a collection of articles by Begbie on theology and the arts. I’m finally getting around to Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which explores the intergenerational impact of an affair on the two affected families. John Teter’s The Power of the 72 effervesces with the love Teter has for mobilizing people to share their faith. Future reads include George M. Marsden’s Religion and American Culture; Sarah C. William’s Perfectly Human, a book about which I’ve heard rave reviews; and Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw’s Intersectional Theology, a theological exploration of how we think about the intersection of different identities around race, gender, and class.

This list alone suggests that there will be many good books for us to discuss in 2019. I hope you have a happy new year of reading!

By the way, in case you missed them, here are my posts on “best books” of 2018:

Bob on Books Best Books of 2018

Readers Choice: Bob on Books Top Ten Reviews of 2018

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: October 2018

Paul

October was the month I spent nearly the whole month (and the latter part of September) reading The Origins of Totalitarianism. Perhaps it is no wonder I had to read a book on the aging brain! In biographies, my reading spanned from the biblical era (Paul) to current politics (Elizabeth Warren). A couple of books explore the ways we self-deceive and are deceived. I read a couple good books in Christian history, on American Revivalism (1740-1840), and on the history of evangelicalism from 1900 to 1940. There were a few scholarly works in there on the oral tradition behind the New Testament, on the Wisdom literature, and the theology of middle knowledge. Both Quit Church and Healing Our Broken World explored practices that renew the church and make a difference in the world. Finally, I reviewed a recent book by Parker J. Palmer on aging. No fiction this month (although I spent a good part of the month reading Cloud Atlas).

The aging brain

The Aging BrainTimothy R. Jennings, MD. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2018. A discussion of the causes of aging and brain deterioration and the lifestyle measures that can be taken to avert or delay dementia. Review

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth WarrenAntonia Felix. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2018. A biography of the Democrat U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, from the financial struggles of her family, her academic life and the research that changed her life, and her work protecting consumers that led to her Senate run. Review

On the Brink of Everything

On the Brink of EverythingParker J. Palmer. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. A series of reflections on aging, living with grace and vitality as we age, and facing our deaths. Review

interpreting old testament wisdom literature

Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Edited by David G. Firth and Lindsay Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of articles on the wisdom literature of the Bible, discussing each book as well as recent developments in Wisdom literature scholarship. Review

From Good News to Gospels

From Good News to Gospels David Wenham (Foreword by Donald A. Hagner). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. Explores the role of oral tradition as a source for the written gospels. Review

Twelve Lies

Twelve Lies That Hold America CaptiveJonathan Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming January 8, 2019. Discusses twelve cultural myths that form a kind of American folk religion that are in conflict with the hope we find in the gospel and the vision of the kingdom of God. Review

Paul

Paul: A Biography, N. T. Wright. New York: Harper One, 2018. Wright translates his scholarship that gives a “new account” of Paul’s life into a popular biography, tracing the life and thought of the apostle through the letters he wrote and narrative of his journeys. Review

theologies of the american revivalists

Theologies of the American Revivalists, Robert W. Caldwell III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A study, not so much of the history, as the theologies underlying the different revival movements in America from 1740 to 1840. Review

Quit Church

Quit ChurchChris Sonksen (Foreword by Dave Ferguson). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A challenge to quit a half-hearted commitment to church for lives of discipleship in six areas. Review

Democracy Hacked

Democracy HackedMartin Moore. London: Oneworld Publications, 2018. An inquiry into the ways individuals and states have influenced democratic governments, how web-based platforms have made it possible, and some of the alternatives for the future. Review

middle knowledge

Middle KnowledgeJohn D. Laing. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. An exposition and defense of the doctrine of middle knowledge, also known as Molinism, and arguments for why this best addresses other theological issues. Review

Healing our Broken Humanity

Healing Our Broken World, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill (Foreword by Willie James Jennings). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. In a world with deep racial, gender, national, and political divides, the authors propose nine formative practices churches can pursue enabling the church to have a healing presence in the world. Review

the origins of totalitarianism

The Origins of  TotalitarianismHannah Arendt. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968. A work tracing the rise of totalitarian governments in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to their origins in racism and class warfare, reactions to imperialism, and the mechanics that distinguish totalitarian states from other kinds of states. Review

the disruption of evangelicalism

The Disruption of Evangelicalism (History of Evangelicalism Series, Volume 4) Geoffrey R. Treloar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Countering the existing narrative of evangelicalism at its zenith before World War I followed by a great reversal, this work argues a more positive assessment of evangelical response to the disruptions of war. Review

Best of the Month: This month the award goes to N. T. Wright’s Paul. Wright has been studying Paul’s life and work for decades and distilled all this scholarship into a biography that is at once engaging, concise (for Wright), and full of fresh insights about the apostle, his ministry, and his writings.

Quote of the Month: Parker J. Palmer’s wonderful little collection of essays on aging, death, and living generatively had this quote that I have been musing on most of the month:

“What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” 

This has been especially on my mind this past week as we witnessed a spate of mail bombs, the random killing of two blacks in a Kroger’s and the killing of eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It makes me wonder and pray about the pain of those who perpetrated these acts, and how the families of victims will hold and work with the pain they bear.

Current reads: I’ve just finished a delightful book on reading, I’d Rather Be Reading, by Anne Bogel, a kindred spiritI’m nearly through Cloud Atlas, a chiasm of linked stories, and a better read than I expected. I’m reading a couple of science and faith books, Cosmology in Theological Perspective by Olli-Pekka Vanio, and Creation Care by a father and son team, Douglas and Jonathan Moo. I’m just starting in on Ashley Hales’ Finding Holy in the Suburbs and am intrigued to see how she will address the realities of suburban life. Soon to come are The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and Julie J. Park’s new work, Race on Campus. I also will be reading a modern classic, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart with my reading group this month.

If you have read any of the books I mentioned here, or read them as a result of my reviewing them, I’d love to know what you think. Reading is social, as we share the good we find in books with others. I’d love to hear what you are finding.

The Month in Reviews: September 2018

On Reading Well

There are a number of people who have followed Bob on Books either here on the blog or via the Bob on Books Facebook Page in the last month. Welcome to all of you and I hope you are enjoying what you find. One of the recurring features of this page is a monthly “The Month in Reviews” post. Each month, I provide capsule summaries of all my reviews in case you missed the review when first posted. It serves as a listing of all the reviews on this site if you select “The Month in Reviews” category on the menu. I also highlight my “best” book of the month (often a hard choice) and a quote I really liked. I also offer a preview of upcoming reviews. One thing you’ll notice–I enjoy reading widely, as well as more deeply in Christian-related books. There is some method to this–it is one way I make connection between my faith and the rest of life–I think it is all connected. So in this month’s list you have theological books on retreats, the nature of being human, and being like Christ as well as a murder mystery, a debut novel by an Ohio author, a presidential biography, a book on Klan influence in my home town, and the story of a Navy baseball team on which Ted Williams played in World War II. One other note: the hypertext link in the title is to the publisher’s website for the book. The hypertext link at the end of the summary labelled “Review” will take you to my full review. Enjoy

What is man

What is Man?Edgar Andrews. Nashville: Elm Hill, 2018. An exploration of the answers different worldviews come up with to the question of what it means to be human, making the case for a Christian view of humans descended from a historical Adam who was created in God’s image, through whom sin entered the human race in the fall, and for the redemption of all who believe through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Review.

answering why

Answering WhyMark C. Perna. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018. Argues that behind the skills gap between unfilled jobs and Why Generation job-seekers is an awareness gap about possible careers that fails to answer the “why” question. Review.

Invitation to Retreat

Invitation to RetreatRuth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. A guide to retreat as a spiritual practice exploring why retreat, preparing for retreat, helpful practices on retreat, and concluding our retreat and returning from (and to) retreat. Review.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976. A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews. Review.

evangelical sacramental pentecostal

Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An argument for why the church at its best ought to embrace an emphasis on scripture, on baptism and the Lord’s table, and on the empowering work of the Spirit. Review.

Steel Valley Klan

Steel Valley Klan, William D. Jenkins. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990. A study of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Mahoning Valley in the early 1920’s, its composition, and factors contributing to the rise and decline of its influence. Review.

12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful MenCollin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Twelve thumbnail biographies focused on pastoral leaders who served faithfully through suffering. Review.

On Reading Well

On Reading WellKaren Swallow Prior. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so. Review.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyP. D. James. New York: Vintage Books, 2013 P.D. James writes a murder mystery as a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Review.

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His SonHaley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification. Review.

Ohio

Ohio, Stephen Markley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Four characters, acquainted with each other in high school return to their home town in Ohio ten years after graduation on the same night, unbeknownst to each other, driven by various longings reflecting lives that turned out differently than they’d hoped. Review.

Cloudbuster 9

The Cloudbuster Nine, Anne R. Keene. New York: Sports Publishing, 2018. The story of the 1943 Navy training school team on which Ted Williams, Johnny Sain, Johnny Pesky and others played, and the baseball hopes and disappointments of the team’s batboy, the author’s father. Review.

Disruptive Witness

Disruptive WitnessAlan Noble. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Noble explores our longing for fullness in a distracted, secular age of “buffered selves,” and the personal, communal and cultural practices Christians might pursue to disrupt our society’s secular mindset. Review.

Best of the Month: My best of the month is kind of a gateway book to cultivating the reading life. Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well not only whets our appetite for the reading of quality fiction, but also explores how great works may change us. Here is one pithy piece of advice to enrich our reading lives:

“Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it.”

Quote of the Month: Ruth Haley Barton has recently written a wonderful guide to retreats, Invitation to Retreat, that I’ve already used on a personal retreat and plan to return to often. Here is a taste:

“Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.” The emphasis is on the words extended and generous. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it!

But many of us are longing for more—and we have a sense that there is more if we could create more space for quiet to give attention to God at the center of our beings. We sense that a kind of fullness and satisfaction is discovered more in the silence than in the words, more in solitude than in socializing, more in spaciousness than in busyness. “Times come,” Emilie Griffin goes on to say, “when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding, but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.”

Current reads: I’ve actually just finished three books that I will be reviewing this week. Timothy Jennings writes in The Aging Brain, giving practical advice as a doctor, on delaying or preventing dementia and keeping mentally sharp as we age. Elizabeth Warren is a new biography by Antonia Felix, which has impressed me as a striking example of an academic who acted on her research on bankruptcy to protect consumers. On the Brink of Everything is Parker Palmer’s reflections at the end of his eighth decade on aging, and facing the eventual end of his life. My current reads include Paul, a biography of the apostle by N.T. Wright, who has probably written more about Paul than any New Testament scholar. I’m very excited to dip into Jonathan Walton’s Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive, a book coming out early next year. Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature brings together a group of scholars discussing the interpretive challenges of books like Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. And I’ve tackled one of the books on my list of Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die –Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. I’ll be at this one for a while.

As the weather gets cooler, a comfy chair, a warm beverage, and a good book seem an ideal way to spend a quiet evening. Perhaps something on this list may strike your fancy. Or maybe not. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading!

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.

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!

Lit Hub’s “Book Marks”

Book Marks The book review aggregator

Publishers’ Weekly recently featured a new initiative by Lit Hub called Book Marks which is an aggregator of book reviews across the web, primarily from syndicated publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and various review publications across the web.

I had a chance to visit yesterday and thought it was a pretty cool place, particularly to find reviews and ratings of new books. Here are some of the features you will find, from top to bottom.

On the right side of the black bar with Lit Hub on the left is a search box where you may enter the title of a book you want to see reviews for. Only books with three or more syndicated reviews will appear.

A site map across the top of the page takes you to the following pages:

  • Features: Review articles and other book related articles including content from Lit Hub.
  • New books: Recently published books with three or more reviews.
  • Biggest new books: The “hottest” books of the season. I presume this is by sales, because ratings on the books vary (more below)
  • Fiction: Reviews on recent fiction publications
  • Non-fiction: Reviews on recent non-fiction
  • All categories: Books listed by thirty-one categories. For each, four titles are listed by cover image with a “see more” link to the right.

Clicking on “Book Marks” will take you back to the home page. So much for navigation around the site.

On the home page, across the top most part of the page are cover images of the “biggest new books.” When you mouse over the cover image, you will see a summary of reviews ranked from “rave” to “positive” to “mixed” to “pan” and an overall average of these. Currently, for example, David Sedaris’s new book, Calypso has received more than 10 rave reviews, 5 positive, and none in the other two categories for an overall rating of “rave.” Meg Wollitzer’s The Female Persuasion has more than 10 rave reviews, 9 positive, 7 mixed and 3 pan for an overall “positive.” On the other hand, Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President is Missing received 3 raves, 5 positives, 6 mixed, and 4 pans for a “mixed” overall rating. Obviously reviewers don’t agree and you probably won’t either.

Clicking on the book cover image will take you to a page for the book with excerpts of several reviews, links to the full reviews and a link that will take you to all reviews for the book.Each page includes a “Buy From a Local Bookstore” box that will take you to Indie Bound and allow you to buy your book from a local bookstore. Take that, Amazon! The bottom of the page features similar books. Each page also includes a reviews “widget” for that page that may be embedded on a website of an author or publisher or bookseller. It is a great way to see the critical conversation going on about a book.

Below the Biggest New Books are Book Marks Features, then Latest Releases, Best Reviewed (not explained but it suggests that some of the best written reviews may be found here), a Daily Giveaway, More Fiction, More Non-fiction, LGBTQ Stories (I wonder if this selection changes), links to the various fiction and non-fiction categories on Book Marks, and links to the latest stories on Lit Hub. [Lit Hub also cross links their content with Book Marks.]

The three features which make this an extremely valuable site are the aggregated professional reviews (with names on them), the widgets, which help publishers and bookstores promote a book on their websites, and the function that allows you to find a local indie bookseller from whom to purchase books.

What could make this more valuable? I’d love to see them put together a phone app you could use when you are browsing in a book store. Scan the bar code for the book and the app pulls up the book page on Book Marks and allows you to see the ratings and read the reviews and decide if this book is for you. The one down side is that there are many books not yet loaded on the site since this is a new project, but particularly for new books on a variety of topics, and a selection of others, this is a great resource that promises to get better with time.