The Month in Reviews: October 2016


I didn’t do as much reading as some months, partly due to travel, and then to a five day stint in my local hospital related to foot-surgery. Thankfully, I’m healing up well, and the time off my feet has afforded some extra reading time, although I’m digging into some longer books. Nevertheless, this month’s collection of books is a pretty diverse haul, ranging from controversies among librarians (!) to surviving the apocalypse. Mixed in there is a Dorothy Sayers mystery, a review of Shusaku Endo’s Silence (soon to come out as a motion picture), a biography of G. F. Handel, reflections from Luci Shaw, and Jamie Smith’s new You Are What You Love and Kenneth Bailey’s last book, The Good Shepherd, both tremendous books! So, here is the month in review:


Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (originally published 1926). Lord Peter is summoned to find out the truth concerning the death of Denis Cathcart, for which his brother Gerald is facing a murder trial before the peers of the realm. (Review)


The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the theme of the good shepherd beginning with Psalm 23 and considering consecutively eight other passages in which this theme is found. (Review)


How to Survive the ApocalypseRobert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2016. Explores the fascination of the apocalyptic in contemporary film, television, and gaming through the lens of Charles Taylor’s work on secularism and the self. (Review)


Handel: The Man & His MusicJonathan Keates. New York: Random House, 2009.  A biography of George Frideric Handel, tracing his life through his music, from his training in Halle, his time in Italy, and his long career in England, following George I’s ascent to the English throne, through the formation of three opera companies, and the composition of the oratorios for which he is most famous. (Review)


In Search of Moral KnowledgeR. Scott Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.  Surveying the history of ethical thought, it argues for the possibility of universal moral knowledge contrary to contemporary theories consigning moral propositions to the realm of subjective, relative values. (Review)


Thumbprint in the Clay, Luci Shaw. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  A series of reflections, including some of the author’s poetry, on the “marks of the Maker” evident both in creation and in our lives. (Review)


Which Side Are You On?Elaine Harger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. An account of seven debates in the American Library Association Council over matters of social responsibility and how this body exerts its influence in broader social debates. (Review)


You Are What You LoveJames K. A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Smith contends that our hearts and the ways we live our lives are shaped by what we love and worship, and that “liturgies” historically have shaped the loves of our hearts and the ways of our lives. (Review)


SilenceShusaku Endo. New York: Taplinger, 1999 (Link is to an in-print edition from a different publisher). Endo’s classic novel set in seventeenth century Japan during the persecution of Christian missionaries and converts. (Review)

Best of the Month: I’ve been thinking all month about The Good Shepherd by Kenneth Bailey and the great need for such shepherds in both our churches and civic life. It also made me profoundly grateful for the Great Shepherd and for the life and scholarship of Kenneth Bailey.

Best Quote of the Month:  James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is a profoundly insightful book concerning how transformation takes place in our lives and could equally have been my “best of the month.” So I will share a passage that captures some of this book’s important ideas:

“If worship is formative, not merely expressive, then we need to be conscious and intentional about the form of worship that is forming us. This has one more important implication: When you unhook worship from mere expression, it also completely retools your understanding of repetition. If you think of worship as a bottom-up, expressive endeavor, repetition will seem insincere and inauthentic. But when you see worship as an invitation to a top-down encounter in which God is refashioning your deepest habits, then repetition looks very different: it’s how God rehabituates us. In a formational paradigm, repetition isn’t insincere, because you are not showing, you’re submitting. This is crucial because there is no formation without repetition. Virtue formation takes practice, and there is no practice that isn’t repetitive. We willingly embrace repetition as good in all kinds of other sectors of life–to hone our golf swing, our piano prowess, and our mathematical abilities, for example. If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth” (p. 80).

Coming Soon: Right now I am reading two very different books written by two brothers, Cameron and Garwood Anderson, both good friends. Cam’s book sets out a vision for Christian engagement in the arts. Garwood seeks to move the debate about Pauline biblical theology beyond the conflict between traditionalists and what is known as “the New Perspective on Paul” by proposing that they are both right, but at different times in Paul’s life as his perspective developed. An intriguing thesis! I’ve just started Marilynne Robinson’s Lila as well as a book on Roger Williams and the ideas of church and state and religious freedom that have shaped our country. And I have a review coming tomorrow of a collection of essays by Cornelius Van Til on the idea of “common grace.”

Until next month, unless you follow me more regularly!

Review: The Good Shepherd


The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A study of the theme of the good shepherd beginning with Psalm 23 and considering consecutively eight other passages in which this theme is found.

We lost a giant of biblical scholarship this spring (2016) with the passing of Kenneth E. Bailey. Raised in the Middle East, he taught New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. He brought to his scholarship an intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern culture, Arabic works, and the scriptures that shed fresh light on everything from the Nativity to the dearly loved Psalm that many of us memorized as children and have clung to in our darkest hours, Psalm 23.

Beginning with Psalm 23, Bailey considers eight other passages in the Old and New Testaments in which the theme is f0und of the shepherd and the sheep. These include Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10:2-12, Luke 15:1-10, Mark 6:7-52 (the feeding of the 5,000), Matthew 18:10-14,  John 10:1-18, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Bailey contends that in these ten dramatic elements recur in most of these passages:

  1. The good shepherd.
  2. The lost sheep (or lost flock)
  3. The opponents of the shepherd
  4. The good host(ess?)
  5. The incarnation (promised or realized)
  6. The high cost the shepherd sustains to find and restore the lost
  7. The theme of repentance/return
  8. Bad sheep
  9. A celebration
  10. The end of the story (in a house, in the land, or with God)

Bailey then exegetes each passage. Over and over he finds a “ring” or chiasmus structure in these passages and draws out the meaning of the passage cameo by cameo. Along the way, his background knowledge of the Middle Eastern setting of these passages comes in as he describes the skittishness of sheep, who will only drink at still pools of water, the mace-like rod of the shepherd with which he fights off wolves and other predators, repentance as a willingness to be found, and the supreme risk of the shepherd in John 10, who of his own volition lays down his life for his sheep. I loved this description of the good shepherd:

     “The good shepherd ‘leads me’; he does not ‘drive me.’ There is a marked difference. In Egypt where this is no open pasture land I have often seen shepherds driving sheep from behind with sticks. But in the open wilderness of the Holy Land the shepherd walks slowly ahead of his sheep and either plays his own ten-second tune on a pipe or (more often) sings his own unique ‘call.’ The sheep appear to be attracted primarily by the voice of the shepherd, which they know and are eager to follow” (p. 41).

One often doesn’t think of the shepherd theme in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Bailey draws out both the contrast with the evil banquet of Herod at which John the Baptist was beheaded, which precedes this miracle, and the counter-cultural statement of the feeding of the 5,000, in the green grass, by the Sea of Galilee, where the people eat their fill and are led in paths of righteousness. In contrast to decadent Herod, Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd of Israel.

Likewise, I and many others have puzzled over the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep. Yes, sheep are valuable. Yet so are the ninety-nine. But what would it mean to the ninety-nine, Bailey asks, that the shepherd went after the lost one? It meant that should they get lost, the shepherd would search for them as well. Every sheep mattered.

This is both good scholarship and good devotional reading that leads one to praise the Great Shepherd and to aspire to be a good shepherd to the extent that God gives that opportunity. I do not know if there are further works of Bailey’s that will be published posthumously. But in this final major publication Bailey sums up a life of devotion and fine scholarship in a book that is a gift to the church and her shepherds.