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: 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: 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.

34890311

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!

Most Viewed Reviews of 2017

astrophysics-for-people-in-a-hurry

It is fascinating to me each year to see what books I review are the most interesting to others. There were a couple surprises to me that I’ll note along the way. Last week, I posted my “Best of 2017“. You might call this my “viewers choice” awards–the books you were most interested in. So, here is the top ten:

getting-the-gospel-right

10. Getting the Gospel RightR. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017 (repackaged edition, originally published 1999). While my review was mixed, including this review here seems fitting, in light of the author’s passing this past week. (Full Review)

the-road-back-to-you

9. The Road Back to YouIan Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. I thought this one of the most engaging and helpful books I’ve read on the Enneagram. It appears a number of you are interested in this as well. (Full Review)

how-i-changed-my-mind-about-evolution

8. How I Changed My Mind About EvolutionKathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. This book consists of 25 narratives whose views about evolution changed. (Full review)

paul behaving badly

7. Paul Behaving BadlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. To the modern reader the apostle Paul seems to be racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, homophobic, and hypocritical. The authors face these criticisms honestly and offer explanations that suggest that he may indeed behave badly, but not in the ways we think. (Full Review)

Our Deepest Desires

6. Our Deepest DesiresGregory E. Ganssle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Ganssle makes the case that the Christian faith is most congruent with our deepest desires. For me it also posed the challenge of whether as Christians, our lives reflect the goodness, truth, and beauty for which others long. (Full Review)

god-and-faithfulness-of-paul1 (1)

5. God and the Faithfulness of PaulChristoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers responding to N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (Full Review)

speaking-of-homosexuality4. Speaking of HomosexualityJoe Dallas. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A point by point refutation by a former gay activist of the arguments against the church’s traditional view of homosexuality. (Full Review)

two-views

3. Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the ChurchPreston Sprinkle (ed.), William Loader, Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes (contributors). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Two biblical scholars and two theologians discuss the traditional and affirming views, the biblical material and its application, and respond graciously to each other. (Full Review)

single gay christian

2. Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. This was also one of my “best of the year.” An honest account, that I characterized as speaking with “conviction without dogmatism.” I’m glad this book got a good deal of attention! (Full review)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

1. Astrophysics for People in a HurryNeil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.,  2017. The author is a popular figure in the media, and writes with clarity and eloquence about the wonderful and humbling experience of studying the cosmos. (Full Review)

It didn’t surprise me that books about homosexuality and the narratives of LGBT persons would be popular. What did surprise me was how Astrophysics for People in a Hurry made the top spot. Unlike others, it did not receive many views initially, but nearly every day since April it has had between one and five views, I suspect many via online searches about this book which has been a bestseller. This is the kind of post bloggers love–it just keeps earning interest, so to speak!

The other surprise is how many views I get whenever I review anything about the Apostle Paul. Last year, Paul’s New Perspective, by Garwood P. Anderson was my most viewed review. So what is it about the apostle Paul? Perhaps it is that the scholarly discussion, particularly around the so-called “New Perspective” and N.T. Wright, fascinates many. This year’s number five book was an 800 page monster of monographs responding to Wright’s work.

Besides Greg Cole’s book, Single, Gay, Christian, I was perhaps most delighted that many of you noticed Greg Ganssle’s book, Our Deepest Desires, which I thought a wonderful and succinct argument that deserves greater consideration.

 

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!

Arts & Letters Daily

Arts Letters Daily ideas criticism debate (1)

Screen capture of part of Arts & Letters Daily main page, as accessed on September 21, 2017

One of the things I love doing is helping connect people with books that will inform, entertain, and perhaps transform them. One of the ways I do that is through various newsletters and websites that alert me to new books as well as information about the literary world, authors, book selling, and all things related to books. At the same time, I realize that this blog can’t be a “one stop shop,” and so I also like to pass along the resources I’ve found useful in discovering news about books and all things literary.

One of my readers recently commented with regard to a post about one such site, “One more alternative to actually reading books??” His question raises a fair point. I really could spend all my time reading what is on these sites rather than reading books. But I think most of us have figured out how to skim them to discover what catches our attention. Sometimes, they inform me about books I decide I don’t need to read. Sometimes they pique my interest in something I want to read and review. And I think you will admit that I read and review a few books (over 100 so far this year).

That’s a long introduction to a site I discovered recently, Arts & Letters Daily, published by the folks who put out The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the Wall Street Journal of the academic world. That should tip you off that you will find a high standard of writing in the articles aggregated on this website. Unlike The Chronicle, all content is available without subscribing, although there is a link in several places to “Support Arts & Letters Daily”

Like Literary Hubthis site curates articles on books and the literary and publishing world from all over the internet. It does so under three categories:

  • Articles of Note: Currently (September 21, 2017), the top articles on the page are on Hemingway in LA (from the LA Times), hallucinogenic fungi (from hyperallergic.com), and Kingsley Amis at 70 (from The Guardian).
  • New Books: The first three articles in this column currently are a review of a book on what writers wear from The Times Literary Supplement, a review of Why Poetry? from the Washington Post, and a  book on the evolution of beauty reviewed in The New York Times.
  • Essays & Opinions: Currently the first three are an article on Evelyn Waugh’s Catholicism from First Things, an article in The Jacobin on James Burnham’s journey from Trotskyite to conservative editor, and a London Review of Books review article by Pankraj Mishra on a collection of books exploring the future of liberalism in the age of Trump and Brexit.

The site is much less flashy than Literary Hub, being organized around three columns of articles under the three categories listed above. It adds no images to the article summaries and so allows for a great deal of content in a small online space.

The other feature of the site is the column of links on the left hand side of the page. From top to bottom following a box allowing you to subscribe to a weekly email newsletter, these are grouped under “Nota Bene” (a collection of miscellaneous articles), “The ALD Archives,” “Newspapers” (26 newspapers from around the world), “Breaking” (links to breaking news on various media outlets), “Magazines” (a long list), and “Book Reviews” (another long list of links). One fun feature under “Archives” is a “Random” link which randomly selects an article in the archives to show you.

Essentially, this is a portal into the literary world. I like the simple organization without the distraction of visual images that links you to content that appears of interest. The alphabetical lists of links to magazines and literary reviews is handy to have in one place.

As noted above, Arts & Letters Daily also sends a weekly email of its “Top Reads” each Friday. Here is a screen capture of the web-version of the September 15, 2017 newsletter:

Top Reads From Arts Letters Daily

The motto of Arts & Letters Daily is “Veritas odit moras,” a quote from Seneca that translates “truth hates delay.” I don’t know if this is what the editors were thinking, but the format and content of Arts & Letters Daily seems designed to get the truth out without delay, a mission ever more crucial in our day.

The Month in Reviews: August 2017

single gay christian

I’m not sure I know how to summarize the sixteen books reviewed on Bob on Books during August beyond the summaries below. They range the gamut from biographies of Mickey Mantle, Ben Franklin’s son, and Guinness, both the family and the beer. I reviewed a murder mystery, Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address and last days in office, the story of the original Skunk Works outfit, and nature writing following the steps of several of Wisconsin’s naturalists and nature writers. I discovered that you can summarize all the world’s songs in six categories. There is the usual collection of books on theology and ministry, highlighted for me with a fine book on beauty and truth, and a thought-provoking memoir of a celibate gay Christian.

sayers

Have His CarcaseDorothy L. Sayers. New York: Harper, 2012 (originally published 1932). While on a walking tour of the seacoast around Devon, Harriet Vane finds a man whose throat has been slit recently on some rocks. Lord Peter Wimsey eventually joins her and they find clues aplenty and possible suspects, yet none appears to have done it. (Review)

ethics at work

Ethics at WorkTheology of Work Project. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017. A discussion guide outlining a Christian approach to ethical decision-making in the workplace based on three principles: commands, consequences, and character. (Review)

The Last Boy

The Last BoyJane Leavy. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. A biography of the life of Mickey Mantle, covering his family roots, baseball career, and post-career life, including his injuries, alcoholism, affairs, and something of a redemption at the end of his life. (Review)

the death of adam

The Death of Adam, Marilynne Robinson. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. A collection of eleven essays taking modern intellectual life to task for its cynicism toward its intellectual antecedents. (Review)

single gay christian

Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. An autobiographical narrative of a young Christian who becomes aware of his attraction to other men, his struggles against this within a Christian context, his experiences of “coming out,” and how he has decided to follow Christ through all of this. (Review)

Ministering in Honor-shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesJayson Georges and Mark D. Baker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A text which explains the differences between guilt-innocence and honor-shame cultures, outlines a biblical basis for ministry in honor-shame cultures and discusses practical implications for ministry in these cultures. (Review)

Loyal Son

The Loyal SonDaniel Mark Epstein. New York: Ballantine Books, 2017. The history of relations between Ben and his illegitimate son William Franklin, from filial loyalty to estranged parties as a consequence of the Revolutionary War, and each man’s choices. (Review)

Beauty for Truths Sake

Beauty for Truth’s Sake, Stratford Caldecott, (foreword Ken Myers). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017 (my review is of the 2009 edition). An argument for the unity of faith and reason, beauty and truth, the sciences and the humanities, and for the recovery of education as a lifelong pursuit of wisdom, both rooted in and eventuating in liturgical worship. (Review)

Three Days in January

Three Days in JanuaryBret Baier with Catherine Whitney. New York, William Morrow, 2017. An account of the final three days of the Eisenhower presidency, focused around his farewell speech, highlighting Eisenhower’s principled leadership and contribution to the nation. (Review)

Breaking the Huddle

Breaking the HuddleDon Everts, Val Gordon, Doug Schaupp. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Explores how Christian communities can move from being huddled groups to become witnessing, and even “conversion” communities where growth through people coming to faith becomes the norm. (Review)

the church as movement

The Church as MovementJ.R. Woodward and Dan White Jr., Foreword by Alan Hirsch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2016. An interactive guide for communities wanting to learn how to become “missional-incarnational movements” rather than “Christian-industrial complexes” through growth in eight competencies. (Review)

Skunk Works

Skunk WorksBen R. Rich and Leo Janos. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994. The story of Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” operation that produced innovative planes and other products for the military including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Stealth fighter. (Review)

Walking Home Ground

Walking Home GroundRobert Root. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2017 (forthcoming, October 2017). The author hikes the “home grounds” in Wisconsin of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and August Derleth, and records his reflections on the landscape then and now, and his observations of the Ice Age Trail, and his own home grounds of Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Review)

getting the gospel right

Getting the Gospel RightR. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017 (repackaged edition, originally published 1999). A critical discussion of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement “The Gift of Salvation” (1997) centering on what it sees as an inadequate understanding of justification by faith alone, accompanied by a discussion of “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” a statement by evangelicals in response. (Review)

the world in six songs

The World in Six SongsDaniel J. Levitin. New York: Dutton, 2008. Proposes that all the world’s songs can be grouped into six categories, and explores the evolutionary, cultural, and musical reasons for each category. (Review)

god and guinness

The Search for God and GuinnessStephen Mansfield. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.  A history of beer, of the Guinness family and the history of Guinness from its beginnings, and the faith that that motivated the social goods pursued by many of the family members who led the company, and others in the family line. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I appreciated Greg Cole’s memoir Single, Gay, Christian as an honest and vulnerable book, one marked by conviction without stridency and the hope that we can find a “new side” beyond the two “sides” that have for so long defined, at least in Christian circles, our discussions around LGBT issues.

Best Quote of the Month: It seems in our own time, we do well to hear again Dwight Eisenhower’s warning against the “military-industrial complex” from his farewell address as president:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished and will be reviewing a short piece by Sandra Van Opstal titled The Mission of Worship that explores the integral relation between our worship and our mission in the world. I’ve just started a short piece by J.I. Packer titled Finishing Our Course with Joy, on how Christians might live their later years well. Evicted is a sobering book, and not a fun read, but eye-opening about the problems that many poor people face with substandard housing, landlords, and the cycle of hopelessness that often begins with an eviction, that makes housing even more difficult to find, and often compounds financial woes. Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah explores that it is often within the paradoxes of biblical narrative that we discover the depths and reality of Christian faith beyond platitudes and perplexities. I’m also working my way through a classic piece of fantasy, The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison that first came to light with the popularity of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It’s a story of war and quest written in an Elizabethan style, hence the extra work. Our Dead Theologians group has just began Catholic social activist Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. The links at the end of the summaries will take you to the full reviews. Hope you find something interesting. And if you do, and think of it, tell me something interesting you’ve read recently.

Christian Scholars Review

CSR

Cover of the current issue of Christian Scholars Review

The most recent issue of the Christian Scholars Review (CSR) arrived in my mail the other day and it occurred to me that this might be a resource at least some who follow this blog might like to know of. For one thing, it may give you a clue as to where I hear about some of the books I review! The website for CSR describes its objective as follows:

“Established in 1970, Christian Scholar’s Review is a medium for communication among Christians who have been called to an academic vocation. Its primary objective is the publication of peer-reviewed scholarship and research, within and across the disciplines, that advances the integration of faith and learning and contributes to a broader and more unified understanding of the nature of creation, culture, and vocation and the responsibilities of those whom God has created. It also provides a forum for discussion of pedagogical and theoretical issues related to Christian higher education. It invites contributions from Christian scholars of all historic traditions, and from others sympathetic to the task of religiously-informed scholarship, that advance the work of Christian academic communities and enhance mutual understanding with other religious and academic communities. “

The Review does not focus on a particular academic discipline but publishes peer reviewed articles exploring how thoughtful Christian academics connect their faith to whatever it is they are studying. Some issues center around a theme, like the environment or nuclear weapons. Others have several articles on drawn on divergent themes. The current issue includes the following articles:

  • Stephen V. Monsma – What is an Evangelical? And Does It Matter? [Abstract]
  • Judith Anderson – Doers of the Word: Shakespeare, Macbeth, and the Epistle of James [Abstract]
  • Michael Kugler – The Faun Beneath the Lamppost: When Christian Scholars Talk About the Enlightenment [Abstract]

There are a steady stream of articles on Christian higher education because the editorial team and many of the contributors work in this context. In addition, you will find responses to articles in previous issues, kind of an ongoing scholarly conversation similar to many academic journals.

One of my favorite parts of the Review are the reviews! Each issue includes an extended review or two. I write very concise reviews for the blog context. It is always interesting to see reviewers do a more extended review of something I’ve covered more briefly. In the current issue (XLVI:4, Summer 2017), there is a review of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (which I reviewed here on May 24, 2016). Like most people, I read reviews for one of two reasons, either to find books I would like to read, or to learn about books that I won’t have the time or interest to read. This is a good place to find reviews of longer works connecting faith and academic life.

Why do I subscribe to Christian Scholars Review? I work with academics and grad students in a variety of disciplines, and while I can never hope to understand any of those disciplines as well as they can, over the years I’ve come across a number of articles that helped me see how Christian faith might address important questions in their disciplines and pointed me to resources they might explore around those questions.

Who else might find this helpful? First and most obvious would be any faculty or grad student who cares about the connection of faith and their academic work. I would suggest that even the articles concerning disciplines other than their own may well suggest resources for questions they face. Also, the interdisciplinary character of this journal helps in the recovery of a sense of the unity of knowledge in the fragmented multiversity.

I don’t think academics are the only ones who will find value in this journal. Pastors, particularly those in university towns, may benefit in seeing how others connect theological principles and convictions to subjects ranging from history to engineering, from literature to education. Any thoughtful Christian who wants to think both broadly and deeply about the world might find these article length treatments more accessible than lengthy books.

You may find information about subscribing to the Review at the Subscribe/Back Issues page on their website. Students providing an ID can subscribe for $15 a year, others for $24 (four issues). You can also order back issues and the website includes an index with links to a table of contents going back to 1995.

 

The Month in Reviews: May 2017

Uneasy Conscience

I can’t think of a good way to summarize the books I reviewed this past month. They were fifteen distinctive books ranging from an Agatha Christie mystery, historical fiction, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a political memoir (by the sitting governor of my state), a classic manifesto that shaped mid-20th century evangelicalism, an exploration of prison ministries, a theological reflection on forgiveness, and much more. I reviewed another of the recent books commemorating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, posted the first of a series of reviews of books on homosexuality and the Bible, a great survey of scripture on the theme of multi-ethnic reconciliation, and a passionate and practical book on praying for pastors!

Uneasy Conscience

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern FundamentalismCarl F. H. Henry (foreword by Richard J. Mouw). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003 (originally published 1947). Henry’s classic manifesto challenging the heirs of the fundamentalist movement to a recovery of a social and intellectual engagement while maintaining gospel integrity. )(Review)

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2010. Book One of a historical fiction trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, a key figure in the English Reformation, covering the rise of Cromwell to power under Henry VIII, up until 1535. (Review)

Worship in the Way of the Cross

Worship in the Way of the CrossJohn Frederick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Contends that worship should be “cross-shaped,” that communities who do so may be formed in service of God and each other. Addresses flawed assumptions, interpersonal relationships, and liturgical elements as these related to cross-shaped worship. (Review)

God in Captivity

God in Captivity, Tanya Erzen. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017. Explores the role that faith-based, predominantly Evangelical ministries are playing in the U.S. prison system, the hope they offer inmates, and the ways they may reinforce the efforts toward control and maintenance of a retributive justice and prison system. (Review)

Salvation by Allegiance Alone

Salvation by Allegiance AloneMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. Argues that the words we translate as “belief” or “faith” are better translated as “allegiance” and that the focal point of the gospel is not simply being forgiven for sins or obtaining eternal life, but allegiance to King Jesus. (Review)

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

How I Changed My Mind About EvolutionKathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Twenty-five narratives of Christians who accept evolutionary creation and how, in most cases, they changed their minds in reaching this conclusion. (Review)

The Affair at the Bungalow

The Affair at the Bungalow, Agatha Christie. New York: Witness Impulse, 2013 (originally published in the anthology Thirteen Problems in 1932). Actress Jane Helier tells a story of a mysterious burglary at a bungalow in the town where she is acting in a play, involving a woman impersonating her and an unfortunate young playwright. Miss Marple, professing to be baffled, privately hints at a different story. (Review)

Two Paths

Two Paths: America Divided or UnitedJohn Kasich. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017. The presidential candidate’s memoir of his campaign and the choice of the low and high paths of political engagement we face and his vision for that high path. (Review)

An Anomalous Jew

An Anomalous JewMichael F. Bird. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016. A collection of studies on the life and ministry of Paul that explores this unusual Jew who is comfortable moving among Greeks and Romans as he proclaims the Christ he encountered on the way to Damascus. (Review)

The Face of Forgiveness

The Face of ForgivenessPhilip D. Jamieson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Explores the struggle of many in experiencing and granting forgiveness and what the author believes are inadequate understandings of the atonement that fail to deal with our shame as well as our guilt, and how in fact the work of Christ addresses both. (Review)

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins, Margaret R. Ellsberg ed., Foreword by Dana Gioia. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017. An exploration of the life and faith of Gerard Manley Hopkins through commentary and a selection of his poetry, letters, journal entries, and sermons. (Review)

Remembering the Reformation

Remembering the Reformation: Martin Luther and Catholic TheologyDeclan Marmion, Salvador Ryan, Gesa E. Thiessen (eds.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers exploring Martin Luther in historical context and his roots in the medieval tradition and what might be learned by Catholics and Lutherans from him and how that may contribute to rapprochement. (Review)

Speaking of homosexuality

Speaking of HomosexualityJoe Dallas. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A point by point refutation by a former gay activist of the arguments against the church’s traditional view of homosexuality. (Review)

The Post Racial Church

The Post-Racial Church, Kenneth A. Mathews & M. Sydney Park. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2011. A survey of the teaching of the Bible that concludes that racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic Christian communities are integral to the message of the gospel. (Review)

Praying for your Pastor

Praying For Your PastorEddie Byun (foreword by Chip Ingram). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A practical guide both advocating for the importance of prayer for our pastors and offering a practical rubric in the form of the acronym PRAYERS. (Review)

Classic book of the month: I came up with this category so that I could feature Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry is a bit of an unknown these days but he offered an intellectual and theological heft and vision of social engagement to mid-twentieth evangelicalism that is well worth reconsidering.

Best Book of the month: This was especially tough because there is so much good material here, but I found Eddie Byun’s Praying For Your Pastor singular in addressing a great need in an age when pastors are leaving the ministry in droves. It is a model of concision, passion, and practicality. If I might add, I found it striking in tracking review stats that it received less than one-tenth the attention that a book on sexuality reviewed a few days before received, yet I would consider it far more vital, and a better book!

Best quote of the month: This is from another wonderful book, Philip Jamieson’s The Face of Forgiveness:

“In his last act, high and lifted up, Jesus–the man who fully reveals God, now fully revealed–joins sinful humanity in our downward gaze. Jesus dies in the posture of shame, embracing the world’s shame. ‘It is finished.’ The face, once set like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) on his way to Jerusalem, to this very death (Lk 9:51), now stares, unblinkingly downcast, bearing humanity’s shame. He joins all of us: solidarity with the shamed. But again, this face is different. For this face in its downward gaze is not looking away from his neighbors; he is looking at them. The last act of the dying Savior is to fix his gaze upon those who are in need of salvation. Our forgiveness has already been pronounced (Lk 23:34) and now the dying God provides the means to accept it. Karl Barth notes there is no other face like Jesus. Jesus’ is the face that will not look away. Jesus is the face that sees all and still loves all. Jesus’ face alone is the one that has power to forgive and to give us the healing power to accept that forgiveness” (p. 114).

What I am reading right now. I’m just finishing up Dave Eggers The Circle, a dystopian piece (out as a movie recently) that is chilling because all the technology required to make this dystopia happen basically is in place. I just began Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church in which two theologians and two biblical scholars with opposing views (traditional and affirming) engage in respectful dialogue around the relevant scriptures, theological history, and their bearing on how the church responds to gays, lesbians, and bi-sexually oriented persons. Our Dead Theologians group is just completing our reading of A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (written after the death of his wife Joy Davidman). I’m enjoying a biography by Amity Shlaes of Calvin Coolidge who among other things said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job.” And I’ve just begun Michael Frost and Christiana Rice’s To Alter Your World which explores how Christians ought engage their society, using the metaphor found in scripture of being midwives to what God wants to give birth.

I’d love to hear what you are reading!

The Month in Reviews: April 2017

The Heir Apparent

This month’s reading spanned the gamut from Eastern Orthodoxy to the English Reformation to classic evangelicalism to thinking on the church’s ministry with the rising generation. Along the way there were several biographies including that of Hermann Rorshach, King Edward VII, and Katharina and Martin Luther. Each explored a lesser know figure–Rorshach, the man behind the test, Edward VII, the playboy who ended up a hard-working monarch, and Katharina Von Bora, truly a match for Luther, though often overshadowed in the history. At one point, I reviewed back-to-back a book in hope for politics, and another on resisting tyranny. I read some classic science fiction, and a summary of the cutting edge science of astro-physics. Mixed in were Lewis’s classic on pain, a book on the ten commandments, a wonderful theology of preaching, and a path-breaking book on leading multi-ethnic worship.

Modern Orthodox Thinkers

Modern Orthodox Thinkers, Andrew Louth. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Biographical sketches and theological summaries of some of the leading thinkers in the modern Orthodox Church from Russia to Paris to Mount Athos to England and the US, and the significant role the Philokalia has played in Orthodox thought and piety. (Review)

The Inkblots

The InkblotsDamion Searls. New York: Crown Publishers, 2017. A biography of Hermann Rorschach and the after-history of the test that bears his name. (Review)

Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z, James Emery White. Grand Rapids: Baker 2017. The book profiles the generation born since 1993, describing them as the first “post-Christian” generation, and what the church in the US must do to reach this generation. (Review)

Recovering Classical Evangelicalism

Recovering Classic EvangelicalismGregory Alan Thornbury. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Addressing an evangelical context that seemingly has lost a sense of its identity, core convictions, and model for cultural engagement, the author commends a re-appraisal of the work of Carl F. H. Henry as a source of wisdom for the future. (Review)

The Heir Apparent

The Heir ApparentJane Ridley. New York: Random House, 2013. An award-winning biography of Edward VII, often criticized for his faults of character as heir to the throne under Victoria, whose reign ushered in a critical transition in the British monarchy in the first decade of the twentieth century. (Review)

Preaching in the New Testament

Preaching in the New Testament (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Jonathan L. Griffiths. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exegetical and biblical theology of preaching from the texts of the New Testament. (Review)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., (forthcoming May) 2017. A clear and concise discussion in understandable terms about the current state of our understanding of astrophysics, everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of the elements on the periodic table, and all the space between the galaxies. (Review)

The English Reformation

A Brief History of The English ReformationDerek Wilson. London: Robinson, 2012. A history of the house of Tudor, and how their rule transformed England both religiously and politically, and the influence of the vernacular scriptures on the English people. (Review)

Reclaiming Hope

Reclaiming HopeMichael Wear. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2017. Written by an Obama staffer in his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and faith outreach director in his 2012 campaign, this is not only a narrative of that work, but also an exploration of controversial decisions made by this administration, and how Christians might think of the possibilities and practice of political involvement. (Review)

On Tyranny

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. A Yale historian draws twenty lessons from fascist and communist movements of the twentieth century and applies them to the American context. (Review)

The Decalogue

The DecalogueDavid L. Baker. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. After an exploration of the shape, form, origin, and purpose of these ten “words”, the author takes each in turn, exploring the command in its cultural context, it’s biblical and theological meaning, and contemporary relevance. (Review)

The Next Worship

The Next WorshipSandra Maria Van Opstal (foreword by Mark Labberton). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Using the language of an international table, this book gives both theological basis and practical help in leading Christian communities into multi-cultural and multi-lingual worship led by empowered multi-ethnic worship teams. (Review)

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of PainC. S. Lewis. New York: Harper Collins, 2015 (originally published 1940). Lewis’s classic work exploring the existence of suffering and pain and how this is possible in a world made and sustained by a good and omnipotent God. (Review)

City

City, Clifford D. Simak (Introduction by David W. Wixon). New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1952). A collection of eight connected stories stitched together by “notes” from dog commentators on how human beings died out as a species on earth. (Review)

Katharina and Martin Luther

Katharina & Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2017. An account of the “most unlikely to succeed” scandalous marriage of Katharina Von Bora and Martin Luther, a runaway nun and former monk who marry out of necessity and principle, and grow into love. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent is a fascinating and masterful study of the life of King Edward VII, from his troubled childhood under Albert and Victoria, his playboy life, even while he is cultivating a public life that would make him “the people’s king” and his last years as England’s monarch, including his efforts to avert the conflict that became World War I, which he did not live to see. It made several “best books” lists in 2014.

Best Quote of the Month: In David L. Baker’s The Decalogue he includes some trenchant reflections on how the commandments bear on contemporary life, with this on the bearing of false witness particularly telling:

“The Old Testament affirms the importance of truth in public life, with particular condemnation of religious leaders who use their positions to propagate lies (Jer 6:13-14; 8:10-11; 23:21-32; Ezek 13) and pander to their audiences with smooth talk (cf. Is 30:9-11). Mendacity brings iniquity (Is 5:18) and causes confusion by pretending to be virtue (Is 5:20).

    Another kind of untruth that is pervasive today is the use of moral euphemisms designed to make what is wrong appear right or at least unobjectionable. Instead of committing adultery, people have an affair. Instead of having an abortion, they terminate a pregnancy. Instead of killing innocent citizens, there is collateral damage. Instead of unemployment, there is downsizing. Instead of lying, there are ‘terminological inexactitudes’ (Winston Churchill, 1906).

What about us? Are we habitually truthful. When we speak and write, it is often easier to say what we think people want to hear–or what we want them to hear–than what is actually true. Sometimes it is tempting to keep quiet and not say anything at all rather than speaking up when we ought to. The Bible encourages us to go beyond the rejection of false testimony, to become people who speak the truth from our hearts” (p. 141).

Coming soon: Tomorrow I will be posting a review of Carl F. H. Henry’s classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. I picked this up after reading Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism exploring the life and theology of Henry. I’m in the midst of Salvation By Allegiance Alone which challenges our formulations of “faith alone” in many presentations of the Christian message, and particularly emphasizes the rule of Jesus and our allegiance to him. I’m also reading a work on how worship is meant to form us to be like Christ, Worship in the Way of the Cross. For fun, I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a great historical fiction follow up to the book on the English Reformation, focused on Thomas Cromwell. This weekend, we picked up Dave Eggers, The Circle, and John Kasich’s political memoir Two Paths. I’ve just started a book of narratives of a variety of Christians whose views of evolution changed–ranging from N. T. Wright to Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project and current National Institutes of Health director).

Hope you will stop by frequently to catch the reviews of these books, and tell me what you think!