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: 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: 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: April 2018

love big be well

As I review the list of books from this month, I feel like I am coming away from a banquet. For appetizers, there were collections of essays by Madeleine L’Engle and Marilynne Robinson. For a savory, rich soup, you might taste Suzanne Stabile’s newest book on the Enneagram seasoned with Anthony Graves prison memoir. You have a choice of meaty main course items ranging from biblical studies in Isaiah and John and the Ten Commandments, to theological works on God’s providence, and the church as a political assembly, and Matthew Levering’s book on the virtues that the reality of death call forth, that help us live well. For those whose love is history, there is a masterpiece of battlefield history and an exploration of the years between Washington the general and Washington the president. Finally for dessert we have Winn Collier’s delightful fictional collection of letters of a pastor to his congregation, and Celeste Ng’s exquisite novel set in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. You may not think the metaphor works, but I hope this month’s reviews give you a sense of the rich fare that one may find at one’s local bookseller.

The Irrational Season

The Irrational SeasonMadeleine L’Engle. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1976). The third in a four book collection titled The Crosswicks Journals consisting of reflections shaped around the church year, and memories of different season’s in the author’s life. (Review)

Darkness Visible

Darkness Visible (Princeton Theological Monograph Series), Karlo V. Bordjadze (Foreword by R. W. L. Moberly). Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2017. A study of Isaiah 14:3-23, considering textual and interpretive issues, and focusing on how this passage may be read as Christian scripture today. (Review)

What are we doing here

What Are We Doing Here?Marilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. A collection of essays based on talks given, mostly at universities, between 2015 and 2017, questioning what she sees as a surrender of thought to ideology. (Review)

Farewell Discourse

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of JesusD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018. A study of John 14-17, based on expository messages on these texts. (Review)

the uncontrolling love of God

The Uncontrolling Love of GodThomas Jay Oord. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. Proposes a way of addressing God’s goodness and providence in the light of randomness, pointless suffering, and genuine evil by arguing for uncontrolling love as the cardinal attribute of God. (Review)

No Other Gods

No Other GodsAna Levy-Lyons. New York: Center Street, 2018. A liberal, progressive reading of the Ten Commandments, moving beyond personal morality to the social and political implications of the commands. (Review)

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. When Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl rent a duplex apartment from Elena Richardson, the matriarch of a successful Shaker Heights, Ohio family, it sets in motion a series of events, “little fires” that culminate in a fire that burns down the Richardson home, and transforms the lives of both families. (Review)

The Path Between Us

The Path Between UsSuzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Formatio, 2018. Using the tool of the Enneagram, this explores how each “number” interacts with the other numbers, how each number relates in stress, and security, and what is helpful for other “numbers” to understand about relating to a person with this number. (Review)

Dying and the Virtues

Dying and the VirtuesMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. An exploration of scripture, theological resources, and contemporary writing that considers the virtues that help the Christian believer to both live and die well. (Review)

Infinite Hope

Infinite HopeAnthony Graves. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. A first person account of an innocent black man wrongly found guilty of murder, leading to eighteen years in prison and twelve on death row until he was found innocent and released. (Review)

love big be well

Love Big, Be Well, Winn Collier. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017. Letters written through the seasons of the church year by Jonas McAnn to the people of Granby Presbyterian Church on the varying facets of believing and living as a church, the warmth of friendship and the dark nights of doubt, each ending with the words “love big, be well.” (Review)

the return of george washington

The Return of George WashingtonEdward J. Larson. New York: Morrow, 2014. An account of the life of George Washington, between his retirement as General of the Continental Army in 1783 until his inauguration as the first president under the new U.S. Constitution. (Review)

Political Church

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s RuleJonathan Leeman. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Explores the nature of the church, arguing that it is a political institution that serves as an embassy of the kingdom of God, with implications for both its internal life and its engagement with the nations and governments of the world. (Review)

Gettysburg

Gettysburg: The Last InvasionAllen C. Guelzo. New York: Knopf, 2013. An account of the three day battle at Gettysburg, the personalities, key turning points, battlefield topography, and movement by movement narratives that both zoom out and come up close in describing the unfolding of the battle. (Review)

Best Book: I could have chosen almost any book from this list. In the end, I choose Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier. I’ve been blessed on a couple occasions to know pastors like Jonas McAnn and they are a treasure. The letters he (and a few of his congregants) write take us into the nature of pastoral work, the meaning of the church, and the journey of souls with God with all the joys and vicissitudes that life brings.

Best Quote: There are some great quotes in Love Big, Be Well. Go check out my review for a few of them. I’m coming up on forty years of marriage, and I thought Madeleine L’Engle captured something of the essence of what this is like for so many of us who have kept loving for a long time:

“It takes a lifetime to learn another person. After all these years I still do not understand Hugh; and he certainly does not understand me. We’re still in the risky process of offering ourselves to each other, and there continue to be times when this is not easy, when the timing isn’t right, when we hurt each other. It takes a lifetime to learn all the varied ways of love, including intercourse. Love-making is like a Bach fugue; you can’t go to the piano and play a fugue the first time you hold your hands out over the keys.”

Current Reads: Look for reviews later this week on a handbook for exegeting Wisdom literature and a study of the life of Isaac Backus, an eighteenth century Baptist who played a pivotal role in advocating for religious liberty before and after the War of Independence. I’ve been reading a fascinating account of the field of “neurotheology,” which explores the intersection of neuroscience and religion. I’ve appreciated the care shown of not trying to “explain away” religion as nothing more than brain structure and chemistry while noting the interaction of religious experiences and physical processes. I’ve just begun reading a book on how we might engage in a better public discourse–I wonder if that’s possible. Blessings From Beijing explores the tension between China and the Tibetan Buddhism represented by the Dalai Lama. Our reading group continues to work through The Decameron by Boccaccio and we plan to finish later in the month. Glen Eyrie is a retreat center developed around a castle near Colorado Springs. I’ve been there and came across Queen of Glen Eyrie in the discount bin of a local Half Price Books. It’s the story of the woman who inspired the building of the Glen Eyrie. Water at the Roots is a collection of essays by Philip Britts who is touted as a British Wendell Berry. I’ll let you know!

Happy reading, and if you find something you really like, shoot me a line!

The Month in Reviews: January 2018

Karl Barth

The cold weather of January afforded lots of time to curl up with a number of good books including a William F. Buckley, Jr. mystery, a narrative of Winston Churchill’s adventures in the Boer war, including a prison escape and flight to safety, and the story of the ice bucket challenge. It was a treat to receive likes on my review from the Frates family including Pete Frates. One of the things I try to do in theological reading is to read both the best of evangelical scholars and those outside evangelicalism. This month, that included three Catholic writers including Pope Benedict, an Eastern Orthodox scholar, and a biography on Karl Barth. All told, I reviewed seventeen books in January. Here’s the list:

Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy NarrativesPope Benedict XVI (translated by Philip J. Whitmore). New York: Image, 2012. A study of the gospel accounts of the annunciations, the infancy, and boyhood of Jesus of Nazareth. (Review)

partners in Christ

Partners in Christ, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. A case by a convert to egalitarianism for why both complementarians and egalitarians find scriptural foundations for their views with a proposal for what can make the best sense of the diverse testimony of scripture. (Review)

an introduction to christian worldview

An Introduction to Christian WorldviewTawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A work designed for classroom or personal study, defining the idea of worldview and its importance, delineating the Christian worldview and responding to critical objections, and outlining and critiquing other major worldviews according to criteria established in the first part of the book. (Review)

creation and new creation

Creation and New Creation, Sean M. McDonough. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A work on the doctrine of creation with particular attention to the connection between the creation and the new creation in Christ, but also focusing on other aspects of creation including issues of time, space, Platonic ideas and their influence on the doctrine, in each case tracing relevant scripture, and the theological contributions of theologians from the fathers to the present day. (Review)

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes Trilogy Book 2)Sharon Kay Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. [Note: Publisher link to this edition unavailable; link is to another edition.] A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry’s sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English. (Review)

the ice bucket challenge

The Ice Bucket ChallengeCasey Sherman & Dave Wedge. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017. The story behind the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and Pete Frates, who has lived five years with ALS and has led a determined fight to raise funding needed for research to end this disease. (Review)

further up and further in

Further Up and Further InEdith M. Humphrey. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017. A survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus considering the theological themes developed in these works in interaction with Eastern Orthodox theologians. (Review)

called by triune grace

Called by Triune Grace (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Jonathan Hoglund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A monograph exploring the doctrine of effectual calling and how it is that God’s speech brings about our regeneration and conversion. (Review)

rhetoric of jesus mark

The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, David M. Young and Michael Strickland. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A study of the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark analyzing them in the context of first century Greco-Roman rhetoric. (Review)

Karl Barth

Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for EvangelicalsMark Galli. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017. An succinct overview of the life and theological relevance of Karl Barth, particularly for contemporary evangelicals. (Review)

Hero of the Empire

Hero of the EmpireCandice Millard. New York: Doubleday, 2016. The history of Winston Churchill’s involvement in the Boer War as a correspondent, his capture, imprisonment and dangerous escape–events that brought Churchill to national attention. (Review)

Bible Matters

Bible MattersTim Chester. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. An introduction to understanding the Bible, exploring the nature of this collection of books, what Christians believe about it and why, and how God speaks to us today through the Bible. (Review)

to light a fire on the earth

To Light a Fire on the EarthRobert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr. New York: Image Books, 2017. An interview between Barron and Allen that is part biography and part outline of Barron’s approach to the “new evangelization” of which his Word on Fire ministry is a leading exemplar. (Review)

the image of god in an image driven age

The Image of God in an Image Driven AgeBeth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A collection of papers from the 2015 Wheaton Theology Conference focusing on how our understanding of “the image of God” shapes our understanding of what it means to be human, and how we ought perceive the images that pervade our lives. (Review)

saving the queen

Saving the Queen, William F. Buckley, Jr. New York, Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1976). The first of Buckley’s Blackford Oakes espionage novels, covering his recruitment to the CIA and first mission, to ferret out the person high up in British government betraying atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. (Review)

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Ignatian Spirituality A to ZJim Manney. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2017. An introduction to Ignatian spirituality in the form of a glossary of commonly used terms and key people. (Review)

practices of love

Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World, Kyle David Bennett (foreword by James K. A. Smith). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017.  An approach to spiritual disciplines that explores how various spiritual practices not only nurture our relationship with God but shape our habits of being in the world including how we love our neighbors, and the rest of God’s creation. (Review)

Best Book: Always a tough call, but I’ll give the nod to Mark Galli’s biography of Karl Barth. I think Galli’s observation is worth heeding that Barth’s critique of liberal theology bears a warning for an evangelicalism grounded in subjectivism and activism. Read this biography and I dare you not to find your appetite whetted to read Barth!

Best Quote: It is rare that I quote a set of bullet points but this list of boundaries on a “hopeful universalism” in Edith Humphrey’s Further Up and Further In bears repeating:

  • We cannot say that God’s will may ultimately be thwarted.
  • We cannot deny that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
  • We cannot view the salvation accomplished by Christ as automatic in such a way that it violates human integrity or choice, or that it does not require a human response.
  • We cannot say that salvation depends upon us in a foundational sense.
  • We cannot say that human acceptance of God’s loving offer is unnecessary.
  • We cannot claim to know that someone is damned.
  • We cannot say that the effect of Christ’s righteousness on humanity is less powerful than Adam’s sin.
  • We cannot say that the doctrine of hell is only “heuristic” — that it is only a warning. (pp. 239-240)

What I’m Reading. I should note that I posted a review of James K. A. Smith’s new Awaiting the Kingdom on February 1, hence not listed here. Anyone who cares about Christian faith in public life ought to read this! I am in the middle of Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill’s narrative of his life as a celibate gay Christian. I’ve also just begun Peter J. Leithart’s massive Delivered From the Elements of the World, which explores this question: “How can the death and resurrection of a Jewish rabbi of the first century . . . be the decisive event in the history of humanity, the hinge and crux and crossroads for everything?” Still Evangelical? is a collection of responses from a number of evangelical leaders in light of the 2016 election about continuing to identify with the “evangelical tribe,” a question I’ve wrestled with here (I thought I would come up with my own answer to the question before I read those of others).  This past month, I reviewed Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman’s second book in the Welsh Princes series. I am currently finishing the third volume, The Reckoning, a moving story of love and loss and the loves and rivalries within families. Before the month is out, I hope to start Grant by Ron Chernow, though I won’t likely finish it. Look for that review in March!

Stay warm, stay safe, and curl up with a good book this month!

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!

The Month in Reviews: November 2017

engaging the doctrine of creation

I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. Every time I review a book related to the Apostle Paul, my view count goes up. What is it about Paul? At any rate, this was true with a book I reviewed this month, Paul Behaving Badly. As good as this book was, there were several that I would have loved to see more people look at including Dorothy Day’s memoir, The Long Loneliness and Deepening the Colors, a wonderful book about seeing our place in God’s story. Reading Your Life’s Story came at this same idea through the lens of spiritual mentoring. In recent months, I’ve read several narratives of LGBT persons. The most recent was Melissa Fisher’s Way of Hope, which features a church she characterizes as “neither condemning nor condoning.” Intriguing. A couple of the books I was really excited about were A Grander Story, and Matthew Levering’s Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, theological writing at its best. I reviewed a couple of thoughtful books about presence, one of which seems to flow well from the other: Life in God’s Presence leads to Faithful Presence. On other topics, I reviewed a book on public schools, a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Walter Lord’s The Miracle of Dunkirk. 

So here are the books in the order they were reviewed. As always, the title links to the publisher page for the book, and at the end of the summary, you will find a link to the full review.

The Long Loneliness

The Long LonelinessDorothy Day. New York: HarperCollins, 1952.  A memoir of the life of Dorothy Day up to 1952, describing her search for God and a meaningful life, her conversion to Catholicism, her catalytic friendship with Peter Maurin, and the early years of the Catholic Worker movement. (Review)

Deepening the Colors

Deepening the ColorsSyd Hielema. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2014. An exploration of the question of “what is my place in God’s world?” that proposes that as we live into our calling to pursue God’s kingdom, our vision of our lives and the world grows ever deeper and richer. (Review)

Reading Your Life's Story

Reading Your Life’s StoryKeith R. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  An exploration of the work of spiritual mentoring using the idea of attentive listening to the Holy Spirit and a person to “read” one’s life, with practical instruction on the mentoring process from beginning to ending. (Review)

Eleanor of Aquitane

Eleanor of AquitaneAlison Weir. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.  A highly readable account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitane, married to two different kings, mother of ten children, and “a tough, capable, and resourceful woman who travelled widely throughout the known world and was acquainted with most of the great figures of the age.” (Review)

The Miracle of Dunkirk

The Miracle of Dunkirk, Walter Lord. New York: Open Road Media, 2017.  A historical account of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops as the German blitzkrieg shattered Allied defenses and occupied France. (Review)

These schools

These Schools Belong to You and MeDeborah Meier and Emily Gasoi. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.  An argument for public schools where democracy is not simply taught but practiced by including teachers, students, and parents, as well as administrators as active participants in the educational process. (Review)

Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository PreachingJim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, Ryan Fullerton. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2017. An argument for expository preaching as the means by which the people of God encounter the living God through the word of God, and an explication of the practices in preparation that lead to this in experience through the preached word. (Review)

paul behaving badly

Paul Behaving BadlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Takes on the charge that there are many problems with Paul, among which that he is racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, homophobic, and hypocritical, and suggests that while he behaves badly, it may be in different ways than we might think. (Review)

Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of GodKenneth Boa. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.  A contemporary discussion of the idea that a vital Christian life is one increasingly lived on a moment by moment basis in the presence of God. (Review)

the way of hope

The Way of HopeMelissa Fisher. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Through a narrative of her own experiences, the author proposes ways in which the church might offer hope to LGBT persons without condemning or condoning. (Review)

engaging the doctrine of creation

Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.  A systematic theology of the doctrine of creation beginning with the nature of the Creator, the significance of creatures, the meaning of the image of God, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, original sin, and atonement that engages with scripture, contemporary sources, and most significantly, the theology of Thomas Aquinas. (Review)

faithful presence

Faithful PresenceDavid E. Fitch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2016.  Expands upon the idea of “faithful presence,” exploring how this may be practiced by the church in fulfillment of her mission through seven foundational disciplines practiced in three different settings or “circles.” (Review)

A Grander Story

A Grander StoryRick Hove and Heather Holleman. Orlando: Cru Press, 2017.  An invitation to professors and graduate students who are Christians to live for the grand vision of God’s story in their life in higher education, including narratives of six professors, and practical recommendations. (Review)

Best book: I thought Matthew Levering’s Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, as I write in the review,

“a sterling example of excellent theological writing. Levering is not content to engage the writers of the last ten or fifty years, but roots his work in biblical teaching, the work of the church fathers, as well as major teachers of the church like Thomas Aquinas.”

Best quote: I loved the confluence of the idea of story and the metaphor in this passage from Keith R. Anderson’s, Reading Your Life’s Story:

“We live in what we have built. The stories of our life become a house we inhabit with its
limitations, eccentricities, mistakes, hidden meanings, and crafted beauty.”

What I’m reading: I’ve spent most of November reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, a fictionalized rendering, or rather three renderingsof the life of Edgar “Bloody” Watson, a historical figure in South Florida. It is a fascinating exploration of who was Watson, really. I’m about midway through a biography of Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who parlayed buy-out funds from the startup of PayPal to launch both SpaceX and Tesla. Andrew LePeau’s Mark Through Old Testament Eyes not only helps us see the Old Testament background in just about every verse of Mark, but also begin to see how Mark has structured his narrative. Living Wisely with the Church Fathers is a book I’ve just begun and explores the wisdom of the Fathers for how we might both live, and die, well as followers of Christ. Other books I will be starting soon include one of the Ice Bucket Challenge, whose founder died yesterday of ALS, and Choosing Donald Trump by Stephen Mansfield, an exploration of why Christian conservatives supported him.

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The Month in Reviews: October 2017

Our Deepest Desires

I’m not sure there is an easy way to summarize the eighteen books in this list. Most are relatively short works, which made it possible to read so many of them in the month, the exceptions being the Lanny Budd novel and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. I thought Mark Amstutz’s Just Immigration the most thorough work I’d read on the subject. Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending was one of the best illustrations of the “false self.” Christopher Wright’s book on the fruit of the Spirit and Karen Wright Marsh’s book, Vintage Saints and Sinners are both great devotional reading. As always, the links in the titles take you to the publisher’s website, and the link marked “Review” to my full review post.

bring up the bodies

Bring Up the BodiesHilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2013. The second part of Mantel’s historical fiction on the life of Thomas Cromwell, from Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn to her downfall and execution. (Review)

play the man

Play the Man, Mark Batterson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. Discusses seven virtues that distinguishes men from boys, and how Christian fathers can help sons navigate the passage from youth to manhood. (Review)

Our Deepest Desires

Our Deepest DesiresGregory E. Ganssle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Makes the case that Christian faith, truly understood, is most congruent with our deepest human longings. (Review)

weapons of math destruction

Weapons of Math DestructionCathy O’Neil. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. An insider account of the algorithms that affect our lives, from going to college, to the ads we see online, to our chances of getting a job, being arrested, getting credit and insurance. (Review)

Race and Place

Race and PlaceDavid P. Leong (foreword by Soong-Chan Rah). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Looks at how geography and place serve to perpetuate racial divisions and injustice and how the church may begin to address itself to these geographic forces and structures. (Review)

forgiveness and justice

Forgiveness and Justice, Bryan Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017. Interacts with other models of forgiveness from a biblical perspective, proposing that healing through trust in the justice of God precedes forgiveness, which can only occur where there is sincere confession and repentance by the offender. (Review)

bookstore

BookstoreLynne Tillman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999. The story of Jeanette Watson and Books & Co., once one of the premier independent bookstores in New York City, connecting readers with books and their writers until their closing in 1997. (Review)

The Life of the Mind

The Life of the Mind, James V. Schall. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006.  A series of meditations “on the joys and travails of thinking” focused around the central idea that thinking is discovering “what is.” (Review)

cultivating the fruit of the spirit

Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A study elaborating what it means to grow in Christlikeness looking at each of the nine fruit of the Spirit. (Review)

Jesus, Science and Beginnings

Jesus, Beginnings, and Science, David A. Vosburg and Kate Vosburg. Farmville, VA: Pier Press, 2017.  A guide for group discussions on the Bible and beginnings, human origins, and science co-written by a scientist and a campus minister. (Review)

A World to Win

A World to WinUpton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1946). Presidential Agent 103, in the guise of an art dealer, embarks on a series of journeys, planned and unplanned, in which he gathers significant intelligence for the Allied cause in its fight against Nazism. (Review)

the triangle

The Triangle, Nakisanze Segawa. Middletown, DE: Mattville Publishing House, 2016. Set in Buganda, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the novel narrates through the eyes of three figures intra-tribal struggles fed by competing colonial powers, weakening African rule, and ultimately leading to colonial rule under the British. (Review)

Just Immigration

Just ImmigrationMark R. Amstutz. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2017. A carefully researched work on American immigration policy, various Christian responses and why they generally fall short and the necessity of nuanced advocacy that recognizes the competing values of compassion, the rule of law, and the requirements of justice. (Review)

The sense of an ending

The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes. New York: Vintage International, 2011.  A bequest that includes a letter and a diary forces a man in his sixties to examine the way he has remembered and conceived of his life. (Review)

Joni

Joni: The Anthology, Barney Hoskins (ed.). New York: Picador, 2017. A retrospective on the life, music, art, and performances of Joni Mitchell through reviews and articles from the popular music press, chronologically organized. (Review)

Saving Calvinism

Saving CalvinismOliver D. Crisp. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. An exploration of the breadth of theological resources, including alternate theological positions, within what is often thought to be the narrow bounds of Calvinism. (Review)

Vintage Saints and Sinners

Vintage Saints and SinnersKaren Wright Marsh (foreword by Lauren Winner). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Brief vignettes of the lives of twenty-five “saints” and how reflecting on them may inspire and challenge us. (Review)

How to Break Growth Barriers

How to Break Growth Barriers (Updated edition), Carl F. George and Warren Bird. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A work on church growth that focuses on the vision of church leaders, how they conceive their role, and key issues in breaking through specific numerical barriers. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I really liked Gregory Ganssle’s Our Deepest Desires, which makes sense of the fact that while many people do not believe the Christian message, deep down they actually want it to be true. I like this approach rooted in our love of the good, the true and the beautiful (a theme of this blog!) and our deepest human longings.

Best Quote of the Month: This was taken from James Schall’s The Life of the Mind:

“Tell me what you read and I will tell you what you are. In any intellectual life, books and the books we have around us do not just indicate where we started or where we have ended, but how we got there and why we did not go somewhere else or by some other path. They ground and provoke our inclination to know. Books and the intellectual life go together, provided we always remember that it is the books that are for the life of the mind and not the other way around” (p. 20).

What I’m reading: I’ve been savoring Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness with my reading group and should finish it this week. I’m about midway into Alison Weir’s historical biography of Eleanor of Aquitane, a formidable woman who was married in succession to two kings. The recent release of the movie Dunkirk got me interested in Walter Lord’s highly readable account by the same name. I’m thoroughly enjoying Deepening the Colors by Sydney Hielema, which helps us understand our place in God’s story. As the hymn title goes, “I love to tell the story” and I love hearing others tell it as well! Speaking of story, I’m just getting into Reading Your Life’s Story a story-based approach to spiritual mentoring. A few others on my TBR pile include Encountering God Through Expository Preaching, Kenneth Boa’s Life in the Presence of God, and Melissa Fisher’s The Way of Hope proposing some different ways the church might respond to various issues of sexuality.

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The Month in Reviews: September 2017

Kingfishers

I don’t want to take much time discussing the sixteen books you will read here. Evicted and Just Mercy both touch on social justice themes. Two of the books I reviewedDaring Democracy and Forbearance, left me unsettled because I felt the bias of the authors undermined much of what was good in these books. A couple of the shorter books were absolute devotional gems, particularly J.I. Packer’s Finishing our Course with Joy and Charlie Dawes’s Simple Prayer. Renegade, a graphic biography on the life of Martin Luther was a refreshing look at the reformer’s life. I was struck that my last two books, Just Mercy and Unceasing Kindness, although very different books, share a common tie in the character of a God who is all these things. Enough discussion, here are my summaries. I hope you will take some time to read some of the full reviews, and find something useful or enjoyable for your own reading this fall.

The Mission of Worship

The Mission of Worship (Urbana Onward)Sandra Van Opstal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. Worship and mission are integrally related; recognizing the greatness of God propels us into mission and mission involves inviting others across cultural boundaries to join us in worship. (Review)

Paradoxology

ParadoxologyKrish Kandiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Argues that the seeming contradictions that leave many questioning the truth of Christianity are actually the points where Christian faith comes alive and addresses the depths and complexities of our lives. (Review)

evicted

EvictedMatthew Desmond. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. A look at the private rental market in impoverished communities and the dynamics of eviction, why it happens and the impact of evictions on the evicted and the communities in which they live. (Review)

finishing our course with joy

Finishing Our Course with JoyJ. I. Packer. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. A meditation on aging that combines coming to terms with the physical changes in our bodies while pressing on to complete our course of actively serving the Lord. (Review)

learning change

Learning ChangeJim Herrington and Trisha Taylor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2017. A biblically-rooted approach to congregational transformation that centers around personal transformation and that draws research on effective organizations and systems. (Review)

the worm ouroboros

The Worm OuroborosE. R. Eddison. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (originally published 1922). A heroic fantasy of the warfare between Witchland and Demonland, including the quest to rescue Goldry Bluszco, after he is banished by spell to a remote mountain top in revenge for defeating and killing King Gorice XI of the Witches in a wrestling match. (Review)

Simple prayer

Simple PrayerCharlie Dawes (foreword by Mark Batterson). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Helps us understand how the “simple” prayers of scripture and those from our hearts may lead us into deep relationship and communion with God. (Review)

Forbearance

Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable ChurchJames Calvin Davis. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2017. Commends the practice of and virtues related to forbearance, as encouraged by Paul in Ephesians and Colossians as an ethic for dealing with theological differences within the church. (Review)

Thank you for being late

Thank You For Being LateThomas L. Friedman. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2016. Discusses three “accelerations (computer-related technology, globalization, and climate change), how these might re-shape our world for ill or good, and the case for pausing, reflecting, and creating communities of trust working for the common good. (Review)

restoring the soul

Restoring the Soul of the UniversityPerry L. Glanzer, Nathan F. Alleman and Todd C. Ream. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Traces the history of the fragmentation of the modern university including its loss of soul, the impacts that this has on various facets of university of life, and the role theology can have in restoring that soul and healing that fragmentation. (Review)

Daring Democracy

Daring Democracy Frances Moore Lappe’ and Adam Eichen. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017. Responding to the concentration of political power within monied elites, the authors expose their strategy, and advocate a growing Democracy Movement to recover American democratic institutions. (Review)

Renegade

Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic BiographyAndrea Grosso Ciponte (illustrator), Dacia Palmerino (text), Michael G. Parker (translator). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017. A richly illustrated graphic biography of the life of Martin Luther, covering the major events of his life from boyhood to death, and the setting in which that life took place. (Review)

shalom in psalms

Shalom in Psalms, Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. A devotional based on the Tree of Life Version (TLV) of the Bible, a Messianic Jewish translation of scripture. (Review)

Kingfishers

As Kingfishers Catch FireEugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017. A collection of 49 of Peterson’s sermons grouped into seven sections, focused on lives congruent with the teaching of scripture. (Review)

just mercy

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014. A narrative of the author’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative, representing death row inmates and other prisoners–people of color, the indigent, mentally impaired, and children–not always served well by our justice system. (Review)

Unceasing Kindness

Unceasing Kindness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Peter H. W. Lau and Gregory Goswell.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A study of the theological themes that may be discerned in the various placements of Ruth in the canon, and the broader themes of unceasing kindness, famine, redemption, divine and human initiative, and the mission of God connecting Ruth with the rest of scripture. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: This is tough because several of the books here easily deserve this in my mind (especially Evicted and Just Mercy), but I’m going to give the nod to As Kingfishers Catch Fire, by Eugene Peterson. The book is a fitting valedictory for the ministry of Peterson, consisting of forty-nine of his sermons across the span of his ministry grouped by seven key biblical figures. Peterson’s focus is on living the congruent life, and I daresay it may be argued that this thought undergirds all of his writing. Peterson fans will love this, and for others, this is a great way to discover the writing of this skillful shepherd of God’s people.

Quote of the Month: A book I’ve not said much about other than in the review summary is Restoring the Soul of the University. I was impressed with this thoughtful argument for the role of theology in healing the fragmentation of the university, and this quote which addresses the source of virtue that integrates the lives of the professors who serve in the university:

“Although we agree with the importance of practicing virtue in the academic calling, we contend that any approach to integrating virtue must not prioritize teaching over scholarship or service but should instead prioritize the role of the triune God and God’s theological story in defining, directing, and empowering the virtues that sustain excellence in these practices and help promote flourishing academic communities. We doubt broadly defined virtues on which we all agree can sufficiently reorient the academic vocation. After all, professors need a compelling identity and story that will motivate them to acquire certain virtues. Instead, Christians must think about virtues such as faith, hope, and love as well as other fruits of the Spirit, in the light of a theological narrative and realities that usually do not enter standard secular reasoning” (pp. 245-246).

What I’m reading: I’ve just finished Hilary Mantel’s second installment of historical fiction on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister and “fixer,” Mark Batterson’s Play the Man is an exploration of the virtues that describe godly men, including some of his thoughts on the important of rites of passage in helping our boys pass into manhood, something I’ve written on. Weapons of Math Destruction is a fascinating exploration of Big Data’s use of algorithms, and how these may have destructive effects on the real lives of people. Greg Ganssle, in Our Deepest Desires, makes an argument that our deepest human longings are best explained and addressed by Christianity, that Christian faith is most congruent, to use Peterson’s word, with our deepest aspirations. Upton Sinclair is best know for his expose of the meat packing industry in The Jungle. He also wrote a series of eleven novels whose main character is Lanny Budd, son of an American arms maker who mingles with the leaders of both Allied and Axis powers before and during World War II. I’m sampling the seventh in the series, A World to Win. Our Dead Theologians reading group is discussing The Long Loneliness, the autobiographical memoir of Dorothy Day, Catholic social activist. Reading her story, I’m struck once again that often it seems it is not we who seek God so much as God haunts and seeks us until we awaken to the One who in love wants us to be his. She is also a female illustration of C. S. Lewis’s observation:

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” 

That you follow this blog suggests you are one who cares about his or her reading. I hope you will find something here of help in your own journey!