The Month in Reviews: April 2022

This was a month of several firsts. It was the first time to review 20 books in a month (most were shorter works, around 200 pages). So I won’t talk about all of them in this intro. I read my first book by Margery Allingham, one of the four Queens of Crime (along with Christie, Sayers, and Marsh). I’ve read a number of works of the others, but dipped into Allingham for the first time. What is striking about the “Queens” is how distinctive their styles were from one another. On the suggestion of a colleague, I read Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, my first Cather. I work on college campuses and so enjoy campus fiction. I loved the quirky, tongue-in-cheek style of Katie Schnack, a first-time author writing in The Gap Decade about the transition to adulthood in one’s twenties. Glad I don’t have to do that over! I also read my first account of the Afghanistan War, appropriately titled The Long War. I have a reviews here of Susan Cain’s latest, a thought-provoking history of how slaves built many of the great public buildings in our nation, a classic on the intellectual life by Jacques Barzun, and a delightful book by Alan Jacobs encouraging us to read for the sheer pleasure of it. Lots of good stuff here for almost any taste.

When We StandTerence Lester (Foreword Father Gregory Boyle). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. Makes a motivational case for mobilizing with other to pursue follow Christ in the pursuit of justice. Review

Jesus’s Final WeekWilliam F. Cook III. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2022. A day-by-day discussion of the events in Jesus’s life from the triumphal entry until the empty tomb, using a “harmony of the gospels” approach. Review

Black Hands, White HouseRenee K. Harrison. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of how enslaved peoples played a major role in the building of this country and the need to remember that work in our monuments and by other means. Review

Reformed Public TheologyEdited by Matthew Kaemingk. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A collection of 23 essays by leading Reformed thinkers articulating how Reformed theology bears on various aspects of public life. Review

The Long WarDavid Loyn. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. A history of the war in Afghanistan from 9/11 until nearly the end of the U.S. presence in 2021. Review

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson, foreword by Simon J. Gathercole. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of the use of “Son” in Hebrews proposing that it is a paradox, that Jesus is the divine Son who became the messianic “Son” at the climax of his saving mission. Review

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021. A comparative study of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam that concludes that the two do not worship the same God. Review

The Way of Perfection (Christian Classics), Teresa of Avila, edited and mildly modernized by Henry L. Carrigan Jr. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000 (originally published in 1583). [This edition is out of print. Link is to a newer edition from the same publisher.] Teresa’s instructions to nuns on the spiritual life of prayer and meditations on the Lord’s Prayer as a way to contemplative prayer. Review

The House of the Intellect, Jacques Barzun. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959. A discussion of the decline of the intellect and its causes. Review

More Work for the UndertakerMargery Allingham. London: Vintage, 2007 (originally published in 1948). When two boarding house residents from the same family die, Albert Campion is persuaded to become a boarder to discover what’s afoot. Review

Transfiguration and TransformationHywel R. Jones. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021. “Transfiguration,” referring to Christ and “transformation,” referring to the believer translate the same Greek word, metamorphosis. This work explores both why the difference and what the connection is. Review

The Professor’s HouseWilla Cather. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990 (originally published in 1925). The move to a new home, academic success and his daughter’s marriages, and a deceased former student and son-in-law, precipitate a crisis for Professor Godfrey St. Peter. Review

A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and DesignersEthan Brue, Derek C Schuurman, and Steven M. Vanderleest. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Explores in practical terms the intersection of faith and technology in areas of design norms and ethics and how technology might serve the common good. Review

Following the CallEdited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2021. A collection of 52 weeks of readings working through the Sermon on the Mount, meant to be discussed and lived out in community. Review

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionAlan Jacobs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. An argument that we should read what we delight in rather than what others think is “good” for us. Review

The Gap DecadeKatie Schnack. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A first-person account of navigating the decade of one’s twenties, the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Review

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (first published in 1998). The growth and heartbreaking destruction of Acorn, the Earthseed community founded by Lauren Olamina, and how Earthseed rose from the ashes. Review

Eyes to SeeTim Muehlhoff (Foreword by J. P. Moreland). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An exploration of how God acts in the ordinary elements of everyday life, the idea of common grace, and how we may be encouraged as we recognize these ways of God at work. Review

BittersweetSusan Cain. New York: Crown, 2022. Describes the state of bittersweetness, where sadness and joy, death and life, failure and growth, longing and love intersect and how this deepens our lives and has the power to draw us together. Review

Enter a Murderer (Roderick Alleyn #2), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1935). Invited to see a play with his sidekick Bathgate, Alleyn actually witnesses the murder he will investigate. Review

Book of the Month: I rarely choose edited collections of articles as best books because most are uneven. I thought the collection edited by Matthew Kaemingk, Reformed Public Theology stood out from other collections due to the consistent excellence of articles from a stellar line-up of theologians as well as the nature of the work, articulating how one might think Christianly about one’s work in the public arena.

Quote of the Month: Transfiguration and Transformation is a wonderful, compact discussion of the connection between the transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of the believer. Both terms share in common the same Greek work, metamorphosis. I loved this succinct and theologically rich summary by Hywel R. Jones:

The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth” (p. xvi).

What I’m Reading: I’ve just completed Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience, a survey of important contributors to Catholic moral theology, tracing what he believes is an increasing over-emphasis on conscience in moral theology. I always appreciate Marilyn McEntyre’s thoughtful consideration of the words we use in contemporary discourse, which I’ve found once again in her timely Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Once again, her consistent emphases on clarity, integrity, and civility shine through. I’m about mid-way through Louise Penny’s All The Devils are Here, #16 in her Gamache series. Only one more to go after this. Set in Paris, she once again explores the theme of trust and the secrets those close to us may carry. I’m always torn between reading as fast as possible and savoring her rich psychological plots. Can A Scientist Believe in Miracles? explores this and many other questions on science and Christian faith. The writer, Ian Hutchinson is a plasma physicist at MIT, no intellectual slouch, who argues that faith and science need not be at war. That Distant Land is a collection of Wendell Berry short stories, all centering around Port William–always a delight. Enjoying the Old Testament by Eric A. Seibert addresses the barriers many have to reading three-quarters of the Bible. I’ve just begun this, but have appreciated the awareness of the author of so many of the issues I’ve encountered with friends as we study the Old Testament.

Well, if you have read this far, thank you! On Thursday, I attended the “Celebration of Life” of a friend who was a bookseller and loved connecting both children and adults with books that would enrich their lives. Her example both inspires and humbles me. I hope these reviews serve something of the same purpose and I hope you will feel free to write if you are looking for a recommendation and I’ll try to do my best.

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.

The Month in Reviews: January 2022

January was a cold month here, but it was warm in my reading chair. I’m not sure how to characterize this list, but in addition to the book of the month, there were several other gems. David Wenham’s Paul: Follower Jesus or Founder of Christianity and Raymond E. Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah are both theological classics as is Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in science fiction. Louis Menand’s The Free World is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history in the twenty years following World War II. I continue to work my way through Louise Penny and #13 in the Gamache series continued the string of excellent mysteries in this series. Restless Devices and Stability both approach our distracted and restless lives, albeit in different ways. I hope you enjoy reading through this list as much as I enjoyed reading and reviewing the books!

The Great QuestOs Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An invitation to the examined life in the pursuit of a meaningful existence, a well-lived life. Review

Orient ExpressGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published as Stamboul Train in 1932). Seven people on a train between Ostend and Constantinople intersect in various ways, making choices about the kind of people they will be. Review

Notes from No Man’s LandEula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. A collection of American essays connected to four places the author lived, all exploring the realities of race in which we all are implicated. Review

Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of ChristianityDavid Wenham. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995 (print on demand). A study of the relationship of Pauline thought to the teachings of Jesus by a comprehensive effort to compare them on a number of major themes. Review

The Free WorldLouis Menand. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. An intellectual and cultural history of the forces and figures whose creations contributed to the emergence of the United States as an intellectual and artistic leader in the years between 1945 and 1965. Review

The Moon is a Harsh MistressRobert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2018 (originally published in 1966). In 2076, Luna, a colony of Earth on the Moon, decides to declare independence, to end the one-sided grain export to earth that will deplete lunar ice reservoirs, under the leadership of a sentient computer. Review

Changed Into His Likeness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), J. Gary Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021. (UK publisher link) A biblical study of how personal transformation takes place in the life of a believer. Review

The Birth of the MessiahRaymond E. Brown. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1979 (Link is to 2nd edition, published in 1999 by Yale University Press). An academic commentary on the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Review

Interpreting the God-Breathed WordRobbie F. Castleman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A book for all who want to be students of scripture focusing on how to study and understand the texts employing inductive study, speech-act theory, and canonical interpretation. Review

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache #13), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2017. A mysterious figure robed in black, the murder of a woman found in those robes, a confession, and a trial, during which Gamache has made choices of conscience that could cost lives and save many. Review

Artists in Crime(Roderick Alleyn #6), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1937). A murder occurs at the studio of artist Agatha Troy, who Alleyn had met on his voyage back to England; the beginning in fits and starts of a romance while Alleyn seeks to solve the crime. Review

Stuck in the Present: How History Frees & Forms Christians, David George Moore (Foreword by Carl R. Trueman). Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A discussion of the value of reading history for the Christian, better equipping us not only to understand our past but to engage our present, and how to make the most of what we learn. Review

The Memory of Old JackWendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 1999 (Originally published 1974). Old Jack Beechum, the oldest of the Port William membership, spends a September day remembering his life. Review

Restless DevicesFelicia Wu Song. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An exploration of how our digital devices shape us, our relationships, and our economic life, and how we might establish a “counter” lifestyle shaped by our communion with God and each other. Review

A Little Devil in AmericaHanif Abdurraqib. New York: Random House, 2021. A celebration of Black performance and its significance for Blacks in America. Review

The Holy Spirit in the New TestamentWilliam A. Simmons. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A book by book study of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament from a Pentecostal perspective. Review

StabilityNathan Oates. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. An exploration of the Benedictine commitment to stability, and what it can meet to sink our roots deeply, first into Christ, and then into the people and places to which he invites us. Review

Best of the Month: Maybe it is hometown loyalties, but I’ll go with Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America, a wonderful exploration of Black performance, some known to me and some not, and how they are emblematic of the Black experience in America. His account of Merry Clayton was fascinating. She was an amazing singer who never was able to launch a solo career, but sang a spine-chilling back up in the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter. Give it a listen on YouTube, especially at the 2:46 mark where she sings “Rape, Murder, it’s just a shot away,” especially the third time when her voice cracks on the second syllable of “murder.’ He also tells the story of Janet Baker, who had an amazing career that extends way beyond dancing.

Best Quote of the Month: The Memory of Old Jack is a wonderful book in Wendell Berry’s Port William Membership stories that I had not previously read. “Old Jack” Beechum is at the end of his life, and we spend a lovely September day in the memories of his life. A key passage describes a turning point in his life when he hit rock bottom…and then went on:

That his life was renewed, that he had been driven down to the bedrock of his own place in the world, and his own truth and had stood again, that a profound peace and trust had come to him out of his suffering and his solitude, and that this peace would abide with him to the end of his days–all this he knew in the quiet of his heart and kept to himself.

What I’m Reading: I’m in the middle of Eula Biss’s reflections on capitalism evoked by a move to a nicer home and neighborhood in Having and Being Had. I admire her writing, that combines depth and brevity. I’ve finally gotten around to one of my goals for last year to read a book on food, Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I can understand why he is popular as a writer on our suspect American ways of eating and our relationship with food. His week with an off the grid super-organic farmer is worth the price of admission. Plough Publishing has released a wonderful collection of essays, titled Breaking Ground, from the first year of the pandemic that particularly explores how we find our way out of our divided society. Brad East’s The Doctrine of Scripture is one of the most thought provoking books on this topic I’ve read, exploring what it means to call the Bible the Word of God, how we interpret with some striking critique of authorial intention, insights in terms of apostolic interpretation and focus on Christ, and the importance of interpreting with the church and in light of the rule of faith. Finally, I’ve been unexpectedly delighted by a memoir by Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna’s account of her expanding ministry of empowering women and fighting systemic poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The book is Cradling Abundance.

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

The Month in Reviews: October 2020

With the cooler weather, I think I’m catching up on the books I didn’t read early in the pandemic. In this month’s reads, there are a couple books about relationships and marriage, a senator’s conversion to activism against gun violence, an exciting rescue, Marilynne Robinson’s latest, some good theology, a profound book on suffering, and a wonderful book about political and civic engagement that renewed my hope.

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A story of how the decision to choose “the city of God” transformed love, sexuality, and relationships for the author. Review

The Violence Inside Us, Chris Murphy. New York: Random House, 2020. A Connecticut Senator describes his own awakening to the scourge of gun violence after Newtown, and explores the causes and remedies for this uniquely American problem. Review

Sarah’s Laughter, Vinoth Ramachandra. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020. An exploration of suffering, whether through illness or physical decline, human or natural evil, and the embrace of grief, lament, doubt, questioning and more, and what it means to hope amid our struggle. Review

The Lost Get-Back BoogieJames Lee Burke. New York: Pocket Star, 2006 (first published 1986). On release from prison, Iry Paret leaves Louisiana for Montana for a new start with his prisonmate, Buddy Riordan, only to find he has landed in the midst of new troubles. Review

God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian TheologySteven J. Duby. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of what may be known of God in God’s self rather than in God’s external relations to the world and the role that scripture, metaphysics, natural and supernatural theology, and the use of analogy all play in forming this understanding. Review

Compassion (&) ConvictionJustin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Foreword by Barbara Williams-Skinner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A handbook for better political and civic engagement, overcoming the highly polarized character of our current discourse and the unhealthy assimilation of the church into politics. Review

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer TeamChristina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020. An account of the rescue of the Wild Boars boys soccer team describing the engineering and diving efforts, and how the boys endured this experience. Review

Good ManNathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Goes beyond the stereotypes of what a “real man” is to explore the character of a good man and the journey of discovery this involves. Review

Friends DividedGordon S. Wood. New York: Penguin Books, 2018. An account of the sometimes troubled and unlikely friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Review

JackMarilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020. The story of an inter-racial love affair between Jack Ames Boughton and Della Miles, and Jack’s struggle to find grace. Review

Blessed Are The NonesStina Kielsmeier-Cook. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A memoir of a Christian woman coming to terms, with the help of some Catholic nuns, with her husband’s de-conversion. Review

Tales of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1922). A collection of eleven short stories, the most famous of which is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Review

Leading Lives That Matter (Second Edition), Edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. An anthology on what the well-lived life looks like exploring four important vocabularies and six vital questions through a range of religious and secular readings. Review

Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy, Reid Forgrave. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2020. The account of Zac Easter, who grew up in the football culture of small town Iowa and his family, played hard, until he began to experience the consequences of repeated concussions, when his life began to unravel. Review

Best Book of the Month: Compassion (&) Conviction is a timely primer on practical and effective political and civic engagement built on a biblical framework that moves beyond the binaries that have so deeply divided us. It was so refreshing to read a book taking both a strong pro-life stance and a strong social justice stance.

Best Quote of the Month: Carolyn Weber is a gifted writer whose work I’ve previously enjoyed, but I thought she soared to new heights in Sex and the City of God, a book on singleness, courtship, and marriage as a young Christian. This quote is one of many I could have pulled:

Sex as the template for genealogy is important because sexuality is a reflection of God’s relationship with us. Our relationship to sex speaks of our relationship to God. And because our relationship to God must precede our relationship with everything else, including our own selves, working from this first relationship changes everything. As a result, more often than not in a culture that neglects our dignity as spiritual beings, pursuing this foundational relationship can feel countercultural, though it is God’s norm, for in becoming children of God we become who he intended us to be (p. 63).

What I’m Reading: I have three books ready for review this coming week. Rhythms for Life helps connect spiritual practices to the kind of person you are. Live Not By Lies is Rod Dreher’s sequel to The Benedict Option. Having studied the Communist governments of eastern Europe and talked to Christians who bore faithful witness under totalitarian regimes, he offers a warning of the coming of a soft totalitarianism, and what Christians must be prepared for. Nicholas A Basbanes A Gentle Madness was written in the 1990’s and tells the stories of those obsessed with book collecting, a very different group, I found, from those who love reading.

I’m in the middle of several other books right now. All I Did Was Shoot My Man is my first dip into the crime fiction of Walter Mosley, the dean of Black crime fiction writers. Olive Kittredge is an older work, a collection of stories set in a coastal New England town around the formidable title character. Craig S. Keener’s Between History and Spirit collects a number of journal articles by Keener on the book of Acts. on which Keener wrote a four volume exegetical commentary. Finally, Aida Besancon Spencer’s Commentary on James is just that–a careful exegetical commentary that draws out James on faith and works, money and speech.

Writing from the United States, it appears with the spike in COVID-19 cases that I will be sheltering in place for a good while yet. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, collaborating with colleagues and connecting with friends via video technology. I’m also quite grateful for the literary companions with whom I have the chance to keep company. I hope this time affords you that opportunity as well. Stay safe, my bookish friends!

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

The Month in Reviews: October 2019

The Library Book

I find it is hard to make sense out of this set of books I read in October. There were several theological books on intimacy with God, on scripture, on creation, and on the Trinity. These are all topics worthy of study and coming back to again and again. One theological work outside of my typical reading detailed an exorcism and the subsequent effects it had on a community. A mystery set in a bookstore and a crime thriller by C.J. Box were diverting but in very different ways–one evoking curiosity, and the other keeping me on the edge of my seat and not letting me put the book down. Four books took me cross country from the introduction of coeducation at Yale, to the history of O’Hare Airport, to a library fire in Los Angeles, and finally to the westernmost Aleutian Island. There are other good books in the list below but rather than dream of clever connections, I’ll just let you peruse the list. The link at the end of each summary takes you to the full review.

into his presence

Into His PresenceTim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019. Offers a biblical study of the idea of intimacy with God, and engages with Catholic mystical, Pentecostal experiential, and Evangelical devotional approaches to intimacy with God. Review

storm

The Storm on Our ShoresMark Obmascik. New York: Atria Books, 2019. The story of a forgotten battle in 1943 on Attu in the Aleutians, and two soldiers, “enemies” to each other, one who died, one who survived, and the after story. Review

OHare

A History of Chicago’s O’Hare AirportMichael Branigan, foreword by Christopher Lynch. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011. A history of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from its earliest days through to the post-9/11 environment for air travel. Review

the reformation and the irrepressible word of god

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of Godedited by Scott M. Manetsch. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A collection of eight papers on the vital role of scripture in Reformation thought and practice. Review

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A response to the widespread lack of engagement in work, exploring the changes to our approach to our workplace, our work ethic, and our work life that foster joy in work that is more than a job, more than an occupation, but rather a calling. Review

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000. An account of Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt’s victorious ministry with a demonized woman, Gottlieben Dittus, the awakening in the village that followed, and the miraculous works and the reactions that followed. Review

Mr. Penumbra

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan. New York: Picador, 2012. When Clay Jannon starts clerking in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, he discovers a most unusual bookstore with unusual customers and figures out that the store is part of a far-flung scheme pursuing one of the oldest quests. Review

liturgy of creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre, foreword by C. John Collins. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. An argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 should be understood in light of the calendars in the Pentateuch, particularly as instruction for our work and sabbath, rather than for science. Review

throw like a girl

You Throw Like a Girl, Don McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019. Proposes that unhealthy masculinity arises from raising boys not to be women or gay rather than a positive model of what it means to be a man. Review

Kinnaman_FaithforExiles.indd

Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The results of a Barna study identifying five defining characteristics of resilient young Christians who continue to pursue Christ in our generation. Review

Yale Needs Women

Yale Needs WomenAnne Gardiner Perkins. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2019. The history of Yale’s first women’s class, entering in 1969, and the challenges of transitioning an all-male institution to co-education. Review

The Library Book

The Library BookSusan Orlean. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Centered around the fire that destroyed much of the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, chronicles the history of the library, and why libraries are such important parts of our communities. Review

Trinity without Hierarchy

Trinity Without HierarchyMichael F. Bird and Scott Harrower, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Engaging the American theologians who argue for eternal and functional relationships of authority and subordination in the Trinity, the contributors uphold a traditional, Nicean orthodoxy of recognizing the oneness of God, who is three equal and distinct Persons without hierarchy or subordination. Review

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Proposes that difference ought be viewed as gift rather than problem, that difference, and even disunity, as messy as it is in the church, can be a source of growth. Review

wolf pack

Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. Strong-armed by the F.B.I. from prosecuting illegal drone activity, and confronting a drug cartel’s killers known as the Wolf Pack, Joe Pickett is challenged to protect a community and those he most loves as deaths mount. Review

how reason can lead to God

How Reason Can Lead to GodJoshua Rasmussen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Argues for a “bridge of reason” that leads us to God, based on the foundation of reality. Review

Best of the Month: I honestly didn’t feel there was a standout, but if I have to choose, I would single out Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. It is a combination of history, a celebration of libraries, a crime thriller, and memoir–all things I like, and reminds me of all the libraries I’ve known and loved.

Quote of the Month: I usually choose a quote from a book other than my best of the month, but this argument for the value of our nation’s libraries caught my attention:

Mitnick and I talked about the future of libraries. She is an idealist. She thinks libraries are adapting to the world as it is now, where knowledge streams around us as well as being captured in physical books. . . . Mitnick sees libraries as information and knowledge centers rather than simply as storehouses of material. She is one of a large cohort of library people who believe libraries will remain essential to their communities. By most measures, this optimistic cohort seems to be right. According to a 2010 study, almost three hundred million Americans used one of the country’s 17,078 public libraries and bookmobiles in the course of the year. In another study, over ninety percent of those surveyed said closing their local library would hurt their communities. Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s; they outnumber retail bookstores two to one. In many towns, the library is the only place you can browse through physical books.

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: Right now, I am finishing Bookmarked by Wendy Fairey, a kind of memoir through the lens of books. I am thoroughly delighting in Fearfully and Wonderfully, a revised version of Dr. Paul Brand’s exploration of the wonders of the human body, and by analogy, the body of Christ. I just started reading Make Way for the Spirit by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, the son of the author of The Awakening, reviewed this month. It is a narrative of how the son both went on from and differed with his father. I’m not quite a third of the way through David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. It is a long read but magnificent, capturing the passion and ambition of Douglass for abolition, his oratorical skills, and the deeply embedded racism he faced, that we still face today. Two of my next reads are Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve, looking at how women through history have interpreted Genesis 1-3, and a very different book by a professor I met recently, W. Stephen, The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing. As a very amateur singer, I was intrigued by how he approaches training vocal singers. I look forward to writing about these and more in the next month!

The Month in Reviews: September 2019

Working

Working in collegiate ministry, it seemed a good idea to read some books related to higher education, one on Christian colleges, and one on free speech and speech codes in the academic world. Also apropos were a couple of books on science and faith, one a review on theology after Darwin, contributed by guest reviewer Paul Bruggink. Two books outlined approaches to counseling and personal transformation. A pair of books were set in the Roman world, one from the point of view of slaves, and one from emperors. One was a memoir on the writing methods of biographer Robert Caro and one considers “place” and the arts. Place is always a theme of Wendell Berry’s books and a recent collection of his essays was part of this month’s readings as well as one considering how we lost an opportunity to address greenhouse gases that affect the place for all of us, the earth. Finally, a lifelong Inkling lover can’t go too wrong without reading something about one of them–in this case Tolkien, his methods, and his works. Here are the reviews!

fundamentalist u

Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Traces the ways eight institutions that developed with the rise of fundamentalism in the 1920’s responded to the changing fundamentalist/evangelical movement and wider trends in higher education and American society up to the present time. Review

science and faith

Science & Faith: Student Questions ExploredHannah Eagleson, editor. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2019. A collection of essays addressing various questions on the relationship of science and Christian faith, incorporating groups discussion questions for use with small discussion groups. Review

a liberated mind

A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What MattersSteven C. Hayes, Ph.D. New York: Avery Books, 2019. An introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a psychological counseling approach that develops psychological flexibility through learning acceptance rather than resistance or flight from painful thoughts and reality, and how we may pivot toward commitments rooted in what we value most deeply. Review

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution. Review

Working

Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. Less a full biographical memoir than a description of the author’s methods of researching material for his books, writing them, and the question that has driven his work. Review

placemaking

Placemaking and the ArtsJennifer Allen Craft. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Considers the “place” of the arts in placemaking, particularly in the settings of the home, the church, and the wider society. Review

a week in the life of a slave

A Week in the Life of a Slave (A Week in the Life Series), John Byron. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A creative re-telling of the story of runaway slave Onesimus that casts light on the institution of slavery in Greco-Roman society and the church’s response. Review

The Soul of an American President

The Soul of an American President, Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Traces the spiritual heritage and growing religious faith of Dwight D. Eisenhower, especially through the years of his presidency and later life. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980’s to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day. Review

The Road to Middle Earth

The Road to Middle-EarthTom Shippey. New York: Houghton Mifflin, rev. ed. 2003. A study of Tolkien’s methods in creating the narratives of Middle-Earth, including words, names, maps, poetry, and mythology. Review

The Winding Path of Transformation

The Winding Path of TransformationJeffrey Tacklind, Foreword by Cathleen Falsani. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. The author proposes that spiritual growth means walking in paradoxical tensions of glory and humility lived out in a winding journey toward the transformation of our character and spiritual freedom. Review

I Claudius

I, ClaudiusRobert Graves. New York: Vintage International, 1989 (first published 1934). A fictional autobiography of Claudius, of how a physical handicap and speech impairment enabled him to escape death by intrigue until he rose to emperor. Review

boundaries

Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019. A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life. Review

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2019. Therese Greenwood had minutes to evacuate her home as the Fort McMurray fire approached. The book recounts both her escape, and reflects on what she took, and what this revealed about her life.Review

Tyranny of Virtue

The Tyranny of VirtueRobert Boyers. New York: Scribners, 2019. A distinguished liberal scholar critiques the new academic orthodoxy, one that defines virtue through the excoriating of privilege, identity, safety, microaggression, ableism, and appropriation, creating an academic tyranny in which people fear to speak their minds under threat of denunciation. Review

Our Only World

Our Only World, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015. Eleven essays on various subjects related to our care for our world and its people emphasizing the local and the sustainable. Review

Best Book of the Month: Perhaps it is because I am working on a book, but I especially enjoyed Robert Caro’s Working. I could never see myself spending the time in archives or re-writing as Caro does, but neither will I write the definitive five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. His doggedness in tracking down the facts, his passion for understanding the ways of power, and commitment to excellence was inspiring. Most of all, there is the diligence of showing up and writing every day.

Quote(s) of the Month: One of the more sobering books I read this month was Losing Earth. Nathaniel Rich spoke to why the discussion of climate change is so loaded. The truth is that none of us likes to think of a catastrophic die-off of many of the species on earth, including possibly our own. He writes:

We do not like to think about loss, or death; Americans in particular, do not like to think about death. No matter how obsessively one follows the politics of climate change, it is difficult to contemplate soberly an existential threat to the species. Our queasiness even infects the language we use to describe it: the banalities of “global warming” and “climate change” perform the linguistic equivalent of rolling on sanitary gloves to palpate a hemorrhaging wound.

Even his language of “existential threat” feels a bit sanitary to me, but he puts his finger on the problem: no one wants to admit that we may have signed the death warrant of our children or grand-children’s generation. It is almost too terrible to contemplate or even to admit for most of us. Hence we mock or cast aspersions upon a young, autistic woman who has the temerity to ask the world’s leaders, “How dare you?” Yet I do not wish to end here, because we still must consider how we will live the days given us. Wendell Berry helped me in writing:

In this essay and elsewhere, I have advocated for the 50-Year Farm Bill, another big solution I am doing my best to promote, but not because it will be good in or for the future. I am for it because it is good now, according to present understanding of present needs. I know that it is good now because its principles are now satisfactorily practiced by many (though not nearly enough) farmers. Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good–good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places–by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve just completed Tim L. Anderson’s Into His Presence which explores a theology of intimacy with God. Many of us start with experience or a romanticized idea of relating to God (“Jesus is my boyfriend”). Anderson starts with scripture and the wealth and wonder of intimacy with God on God’s terms. Shundrawn Thomas, a CEO of a financial services company, reflects on what makes work joyful, which has as much to do with our approach to work as the work itself. His book, appropriately is named Discover Joy in Work. I am thoroughly enjoying The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God. The importance of scripture has come under attack for bibliolotry and other shortcomings, but these authors explore the Reformers belief in scripture as the Word of God, and the power of preaching and use of scripture faithful with this conviction to transform lives. The Storm on Our Shores describes a forgotten battle on Attu, an island at the end of the Aleutians briefly occupied by the Japanese during World War II, centered around a Japanese surgeon who had trained in America, and the American soldier who killed him. Finally, I’ve flown to or through O’Hare Airport countless times. With A History of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I’m learning about this place where I’ve spent so much time, including who O’Hare was.

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!