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.

Review: A Mentor’s Wisdom

A Mentor's Wisdom

A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned From Haddon Robinson R. Larry Moyer. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018.

Summary: Forty-five sayings of Haddon Robinson with reflections by one of the men he mentored.

Haddon Robinson spent much of his life in one theological seminary or another, as a professor of homiletics (preaching), as President of Denver Seminary, and later as Interim President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. A hallmark of his work was a commitment to expository preaching of the Bible, careful application that arose from the text, and clarity of communication without distracting with stories and illustration. Many of us have used his book Biblical Preaching as a guide to expository preaching that honors Christ. He was also a senior editor of Christianity Today.

Haddon Robinson died in 2017 at the age of 86. One of those for whom he was not only professor but also mentor was R. Layer Moyer, the founder and CEO of EvanTell. Robinson helped Moyer get his start, commending him to seminary alumni and serving on his board. This year, EvanTell celebrates its 45th anniversary, and Moyer had the idea of collecting 45 quotes from his mentor, both as a tribute and to commemorate the anniversary. This book is the result, consisting of 45 quotes under the headings of “Life Lessons,” “Work Counsel,” “Spiritual Advice,” “Public Speaking and Preaching,” “Leadership,” and “Evangelism.” Following each quote is a relevant scripture text and a brief reflection, averaging two pages, often giving the context in which the author first heard this statement from Robinson.

There is a wealth of wisdom in this little book, worthy of the reflection of any Christian leader or minister. The collection begins with a profound statement worth taking a retreat day to consider: “Decide now what you want people to carve on your tombstone, and then live your life backwards from there.” A number reflected Robinson’s generous and humble character: “I want to be on your team, not on your back,” “I know what that is what I suggested; that was a bad decision,” and, when Parkinson was in an assisted care situation for advancing Parkinson’s disease, “This Parkinson’s is rough. But the people hear are great and the food is good.”

Without giving away too much of the book, the section of quotes on “Public Speaking and Preaching” summarize a life of teaching in this area:

  • 25. “Learning how to speak is like learning how to think. If you think clearly, you will speak clearly.”
  • 26. “God has not promised to bless your words; he has only promised to bless his.”
  • 27. “The biggest problem I have had while training preachers has been, strangely enough, getting them to preach the word.”
  • 28. The stance of a preacher is the stance of a persuader. You are not there to simply teach; you are there to persuade.”
  • 29. When people come to church on Sunday, they want to know what you can tell them that will help them get through the following week.”
  • 30. “The art of preaching isn’t hinged upon knowing what to put into your message but rather what to take out.”
  • 31. “The passage has to hit you before it hits the audience.”
  • 32. “When you say, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ you better be right. That is an awesome claim.”
  • 33. “The problem is that too many preachers tear the passage apart in their studies and then don’t put it back together before they step into the pulpit.”

Haddon Robinson primarily left his mark through those he trained directly or influenced indirectly through his books. For that reason, his name may not be widely known. Perhaps this was because of his conviction, framed in another quote not found in this book, “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.”

This book, useful for devotional reflection, acquaints us with a scholar and teacher whose life was shared by that conviction. We get the chance to overhear wisdom about life and ministry and to see how that wisdom, under the grace of God formed a Christ-shaped, yet one-of-a-kind life.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Month in Reviews: May 2018

Water at the Roots

Eighteen books. Apart from the last, which encompassed one hundred stories, none were particularly long.  They span quite a breadth from texts on Exodus and the Wisdom books, to discussions of neuroscience and how we think about the body. I read about prayer and wonder, as well as the earthier concerns of Kerouac and Boccaccio. I read about Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India, and a Bruderhof community in Paraguay. Toward the end of the month, I threw in a couple of mysteries, one involving bookselling.   And there is a lesser know work of C. S. Lewis! Don’t know how else to introduce this list except to note that as always, the link in the title takes you to the publisher’s page for the book. The link that says “Review” at the end will take you to my full review, in case you missed it or want to know more about the book.

interpreting the wisdom books

Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An Exegetical HandbookEdward M. Curtis. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017.A handbook offering step by step help in moving from text to sermon exegeting and expositing the Wisdom books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Review

demanding liberty

Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious FreedomBrandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Looks at the history of the struggle for religious freedom in America through a study of the efforts of Reverend Isaac Backus to secure a religious freedom that negotiated a third way between established religion and secularism. Review.

blessings from beijing

Blessings from BeijingGreg C. Bruno. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge (UPNE), 2018. An exploration of how China is using “soft power” to undermine the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee community he represents. Review

winsome persuasion

Winsome PersuasionTim Muelhoff and Richard Langer (Foreword by Quentin J. Schultze). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores how Christians might effectively engage a dominant public culture by understanding the nature of counterpublics and the elements that go into effective communication and engagement. Review

Queen of Glen Eyrie

Queen of Glen EyrieCeleste Black. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008. (Book link is to ABEBooks since book appears to be out of print and not available at publisher’s site). The story of “Queen” Palmer, her love affair with General William Palmer, the castle home she inspired, life in frontier Colorado Springs and her later life in England. Review

neurotheology

NeurotheologyAndrew Newberg. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. A survey of the field of neurotheology, arguing for its viability as a field of inquiry, exploring the various research studies on religious and spiritual experience and practice and correlates of activity and changes in various brain structures, and what might be learned at the intersection of religion and neuroscience that may help us understand the most profound questions of our existence. Review.

Water at the Roots

Water at the Roots, Philip Britts (edited by Jennifer Harries, foreword by David Kline). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. The collected poems and essays of Philip Britts, a farmer and pastoral leader of a Bruderhof community in Paraguay, where he died in 1949 at the age of 31. Review

On the Road

On the RoadJack Kerouac. New York: Penguin, 2016 (originally published 1957). Kerouac’s classic account of Sal and Dean’s travels across America, laced with jazz, elicit drugs, sexual encounters, and jazz clubs, and the searching for “IT” that defined the “Beat Generation.” Review

love thy body

Love Thy BodyNancy R. Pearcey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Traces how a two story view of reality has led to a dualistic way of viewing human beings, splitting body and person, and traces the working out of this around our understanding of human life, sexuality, orientation, gender, and marriage. Review

teach us to pray

Teach Us To PrayGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A concise guide to prayer based on the Lord’s prayer, with a central focus on the coming of the kingdom and a dependence upon the Spirit expressed in thanksgiving, confession, and discernment. Review

iron Valley

Iron ValleyClayton J. Ruminski. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press), 2017. A history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century from the earliest blast furnace to the advances in furnaces and other technology, leading to the transition to steel-making. Review

The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known (New Studies in Biblical Theology), W. Ross Blackburn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. A study of the theology of the book of Exodus contending that it reflects God’s missionary purpose to make himself known to the nations through Israel. Review

the personal heresy

The Personal HeresyC. S. Lewis, E. M. W. Tillyard. New York: Harper One, 2017 (originally published 1939). A discussion of whether the personality of the author should enter into the criticism of a work of poetry. Review

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s TaleCharlie Lovett. New York: Viking, 2013. Peter Byerly, a recently bereaved bookseller living in a small English village, comes across a hundred year old watercolor that is a striking image of his deceased wife, a find that sets him on a trail leading to what could be a major literary discovery,  but also to danger and murder. Review

BAM Global Movement

BAM Global MovementGea Gort & Mats Tunehag, Foreword by Albert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. A compendium of short chapters on the theology and theory of the Business as Mission movement combined with thirty stories of practitioners. Review

Gods of Gotham

The Gods of GothamLindsay Faye. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. The first in the author’s Timothy Wilde series, in which Wilde, a newly installed New York Policeman in 1845, encounters a blood-covered girl, whose story leads to the discovery of twenty dead children and an assignment to find the killer before anti-Irish rage consumes the city. Review

Recapturing the Wonder

Recapturing the WonderMike Cosper. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Explores the disenchantment many Christians experience living in a modern secular age and the practices that may “re-enchant” our world with the supernatural presence of God. Review

Decameron

The DecameronGiovanni Boccaccio (translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn). New York: W. W. Norton, 2013 (originally published 1353). A classic collection of one hundred stories told for amusement over ten days by seven women and three men escaping the plague of 1348 in Florence. Review

Best Book of the Month: I have to go with Water at the Roots. The life, poetry, and essays of Philip Britts form an integral whole in which his pursuit of pacifism, his life as a farmer, and his life of faith weave together in a beautiful, seamless garment.

Best Quote of the Month: Gordon T. Smith has recently published a wonderful, slim but rich guidebook to prayer, Teach Us to Pray. He writes:

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ. (p.11)

Current Reads: I have long, since hearing John R. W. Stott preach as a student, had a commitment to expository preaching. Right now I happen to be reading a couple books on the subject: R. Scott Pace’s Preaching by the Book and John Piper’s Expository Exultation. I don’t always agree with Piper but this book is spot on. I’m reading A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath, which from the first 60 pages may be the best Christian book I’ve read of sabbath, reserving pride of place for Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book. John Walton’s latest book on the flood explores the flood narrative, and how it might be understood in its ancient Near East context. And for fun, I’m reading Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman–the true story of how one of the most significant contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary lived in an insane asylum!

Hope there is something here that you will find an enjoyable and edifying read this summer. And I always like to hear suggestions of books you’ve enjoyed!

The Month in Reviews: December 2017

a book for hearts and minds

It has been fun to welcome a number of new followers to the blog in the last month. If that is the case for you, this is your first time to see a “month in reviews” post. Just a few words of orientation. One is that you can see all my reviews by month by going to “The Month in Reviews” on the menu. The idea of “The Month in Reviews” is to give you a quick summary of my reviews, particularly any you might have missed. The link embedded in the book title takes you to the publisher’s site for the book. At the end of the summary is another link that will take you to my full review of the book. I also choose a best book and best quote of the month, and give you a preview of what I will be reviewing soon. So with that, here’s what I reviewed in December.

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Mark Through Old Testament EyesAndrew T. LePeau. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017. The first in a series of commentaries looking at the Old Testament background of the New Testament text, with attention to the meaning of structural elements in the text, and the practical implications of the text for Christians and churches. (Review)

shadow country

Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen. New York: Modern Library, 2008. A condensation of the Watson trilogy, giving three different renderings of the life and death of Edgar J. Watson, a planter, and notorious alleged murderer, of the Ten Thousand Islands area of southwest Florida. (Review)

Musk

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic FutureAshlee Vance. New York: Ecco (HarperCollins), 2015. A biography of the brilliant and flawed tech entrepreneur involved with SpaceX, Tesla, and his visions for the future of humanity. (Review)

The American Spirit

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand ForDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. A collection of addresses given by the author articulating some of the defining and distinctive qualities that define America at its best. (Review)

Created and Creating

Created & Creating, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Explores the idea of “culture” from secular and Christians perspectives, explores the biblical basis for the culture mandate and continued cultural engagement, and the arguments raised against this idea. (Review)

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers

Living Wisely with the Church FathersChristopher A. Hall. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exploration of what we might learn from the church fathers about lives well lived, touching on everything from martyrdom to entertainment. (Review)

Transforming Grace

Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017 (book originally published in 1991, study guide, 2008). A comprehensive study of the nature of grace and the experience of grace throughout the life of the believer accompanied by a study guide for group use. (Review)

the book of esther

The Book of EstherEmily Barton. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. An alternative historical fiction in which a Jewish daughter of the Kagan of Khazaria breaks with her father and convention to lead her people in battle against the invading German army in 1942. (Review)

becoming a pastor theologian

Becoming a Pastor TheologianTodd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (eds.). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A collection of papers from the first Center for Pastor Theologians conference in 2015 focusing on the identities, historical examples, and biblical engagement of pastoral theologians. (Review)

A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive GenerosityMac Pier. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Thirty-one stories of entrepreneurial business leaders whose strategic stewardship of their lives and their money have resulted in transformed lives and cities across the globe. (Review)

History of the World

A Little History of the WorldE. H. Gombrich, translated by Caroline Mustill, illustrated by Clifford Harper. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. A history of the world, written for children, by a famous art historian and illustrated with woodcut drawings. (Review)

Choosing Donald Trump

Choosing Donald Trump, Stephen Mansfield. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Written just after the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this book explores his character and formative influences, what his appeal was to the voters who elected him, and a call for the church to exercise “prophetic distance” in its relationship with this and all presidents. (Review)

McKinley

President McKinley: Architect of the American CenturyRobert W. Merry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. A biography of McKinley’s life, from Civil War hero to Canton attorney, congressman, governor,  and to a presidency ended by an assassin’s bullet, arguing he was a far more consequential president than usually credited. (Review)

a book for hearts and minds

A Book for Hearts and MindsNed Bustard (ed.). Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2017. A collection of essays on different academic disciplines and topics, honoring the work of Hearts and Minds Bookstore on over three decades of connecting thoughtful readers with serious books. (Review)

Best Book: This is a tough call. I really appreciated Andrew T. LePeau’s new commentary, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes which opened up new dimensions of Mark to me and is a great resource for anyone studying and/or teaching this book.  Living Wisely with the Church Fathers lived up to the promise of its title in introducing some of the best insights of the church fathers into what constitutes a well-lived life. Robert Merry’s President McKinley gave me a greater appreciation for the president who was born and grew up within fifteen miles of my home. I could easily choose any of them but will go with A Book for Hearts and Minds, edited by Ned Bustard. The essays of thinking Christianly on a number of topics were concise examples of the good work that needs to be done, I loved the book recommendations, and most of all, the celebration of the work of Byron (and Beth) Borger, of whom the former publisher of InterVarsity Press said, “We think that Byron Borger is the best bookseller in America.” Seems fitting that my “best book” for December should be about the best bookseller! May his tribe increase!

Best Quote: Since my best book was on books and reading, I decided to choose this quote from David McCullough’s The American Spirit on his advice to Boston College grads:

“Read. Read, read! Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history? Read into the history of Greece and Rome. Read about the great turning points in the history of science and medicine and ideas.

Read for pleasure to be sure. I adore a good thriller or a first rate murder mystery. But take seriously–read closely–books that have stood the test of time. Study a masterpiece, take it apart, study its architecture, its vocabulary, its intent. Underline, make notes in the margins, and after a few years, go back and read it again (pp. 147-148).”

What I’m Reading: I just finished up several books for review. One is Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, which is a wonderful study by Pope Benedict XVI. John Stackhouse, Jr’s Partners in Christ, is a thought-provoking case for an egalitarian view of gender roles that seeks to address the concerns complementarians raise in a proposal he argues best explains all the relevant texts in this discussion. An Introduction to Worldview is designed to serve as a college textbook on worldview thinking. I’m sinking my teeth into a more academic treatment of the discourses of Jesus in Mark titled The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark by Strickland and Young. I’m savoring Edith M. Humphrey’s book, Further Up and Further In. Humphrey is brings an Eastern Orthodox perspective to this study of Lewis.  I enjoy the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman and have been reading Falls the Shadow over Christmas vacation, on the conflict between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. I reviewed one book on the theology of creation this past month and am starting another by Sean McDonough titled Creation and New Creation. A couple other fun things on the “to be read” pile is a book on the recent “Ice Bucket Challenge” and a Christmas gift, Candace Millard’s Hero of the Empire, on the young Winston Churchill. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Millard and Churchill is one of my “heroes,” so I’m looking forward to this!

Happy new reading year!

Borrowing and Lending Books

gregoryIf you haven’t been feeling guilty lately, one way to invoke that guilt is to peruse the shelves of your library for books that belong to others. Recently, for example, I came across a catechism of the Catholic Church I had “borrowed” thirty-five years ago! There is no way I can return it. I have another book, an early history of college student movements. It turns out the lender died ten years ago. And those are just ones I’ve “happened” upon. For this, there is this quote of Anatole France:

Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other people have lent me.”

Feel better? Those folks should have expected that the books would not be returned. Actually, the truth is, I often lend (really give away) books that I have no expectation of getting back. In some cases, I don’t really want them back. And the truth is, with over-flowing bookshelves I need to pass along books in any way I can. Lending (giving) a book to someone who will find some help or enjoyment in it just makes sense. Another quote, attributed to Joe Queenen:

“Lending books to other people is merely a shrewd form of housecleaning.”

Of course, there is that awkward situation of someone wanting to borrow a book that you really treasure. We can try things like bookplates signifying whose book this is, or from whose library (ex libris) this comes. Some use embossed stamps, some just inked stamps. Some even go to the trouble of library cards. Most of us just lend the book, bidding it “good bye” in our hearts, sometimes wistfully eyeing it on our friend’s shelves when we visit. Only on rare occasions have I said, “this book is kind of a family treasure that we don’t lend.” And then I feel terrible. This sentiment, uttered by an unknown booklover captures the feeling:

“No books are lost by loaning except those you particularly wanted to keep.”

Likewise, there is this saying attributed to Anatole Boyard:

“I feel about lending a book the way most fathers feel about their daughters living with a man out of wedlock.”

I’m not sure I want to take it that far (but then I’ve never had daughters!). Most of the time, I feel, at least with a good book, that what is in its pages is too good to be kept to oneself, to collect dust on my shelves if it can be of benefit to another. Lending books can be a way to give what is most precious about our experience with that book to another so that the experience is multiplied in the sharing. Laura Bush once said,

“The power of a book lies in its power to turn a solitary act into a shared vision.” 

Perhaps it is good to get over this thing of personal ownership of our books. As I get older, I realize that if I don’t pass along my books, particularly making sure those that matter get to those who matter to me, it will be left to someone else who probably won’t do this nearly as lovingly. The words of C. S. Lewis are a particular comfort to me:

My friend said, “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.” “Which?” I asked. “The ones you gave away or lent.” “I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,” said I. “Oh yes they will,” said he. “But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.*

*C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216.

Did He Really Say That?

200px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1987-074-16,_Dietrich_Bonhoeffer“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”

For some time, I have used this quote in the “signature” for my emails. I attributed the quote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think I must have picked it up off a quotes site when I did a profile of Bonhoeffer for a book group.

A friend contacted me recently after I used the quote in a post about the encyclical “Laudato Si’ ” by Pope Francis. Others have used this quote in connection with matters related to the environment and my friend was interested in the context in which Bonhoeffer was using the quote and where it could be found.

I thought this might be easy, so I googled the quote to see if anyone had cited the source as well as attributing it to Bonhoeffer. The quote turned up on a number of websites, all attributing it to Bonhoeffer but none giving the source. So I did two other things.

One was that I left a message at the website of Eric Metaxas, who has written a biography on Bonhoeffer. One of his staff responded but could not give the source of this quote either but suggested works in which I might find it.

A search in Google Books turned up nothing so I turned to trusty Facebook and asked my friends. None of those who responded could find it either. One friend, Nancy, talked to Charles Marsh at the Bonhoeffer House who said Bonhoeffer wouldn’t have used these words but mentioned that in Letters and Papers From Prison Bonhoeffer said, “The question of ultimate responsibility is not how I might extricate myself heroically from the situation but how the coming generation is to live.” Looking “inside the book” on Amazon, I found this in the front matter toward the bottom of page 7. The discussion was on the question of our responsibility toward history, which ultimately was not to be heroic or “successful” (the section is titled “on success”) but to consider our responsibility to the rising generation.

This is certainly a related idea, but focused on the life of an individual rather than a moral society, and speaks not of ultimate tests, but ultimate responsibility. It still leaves me with questions. Foremost is the question of “how responsible can I be for how the coming generation will live?” We may be responsible for the conditions the coming generation will face, but can I really be responsible for how another generation will live?

Back to the quote that I thought was Bonhoeffer’s (and may still be although no source for this has been found so far). This all seems a big deal over a quote that most people I know like and give at least intellectual assent to. Most, apart from Charles Marsh, would think it sounds like something Bonhoeffer would say. And it is often quoted. So why not?

I think the issue is truthfulness. It seems this has become a slippery slope, particularly in our public discourse. The problem then becomes the credibility of anything anyone says. Do we ever really want people to trust us, to take us at our word. That can only be so if we tell the truth to the best of our ability. And so from now on, I will have to say of this quote, “source unknown, commonly attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

If someone reading this actually knows where the quote that begins this post comes from, whether by Bonhoeffer or not, drop me a note in the comments.