The Month in Reviews: June 2015

Hands down, I think I read some of the best books I’ve read in 2015 during June. From a Pulitzer Prize winner that lived up to its reputation to a David McCullough biography of two heroes from my own state to a classic of environmental writing to a significant book on spiritual friendship, I read some great books! In addition, I just finished a book on leisure and spirituality and an older book on the academic vocation that is still quite relevant in upholding the worth of teaching. So with that preview, here’s the list (all links are to the full reviews on this blog):

Preaching with AccuracyLet Creation Rejoice1. Preaching with AccuracyRandal E. Pelton. This book contends that to preach with accuracy, one needs to find the big idea in the text, but not only that, to understand that idea in the context of the book, and ultimately all of scripture, which means connecting it to the person and work of Christ.

2. Let Creation RejoiceJonathan Moo and Robert S. White. A scientist and a theologian get together to assess both environmental trends and biblical teaching and contend that there are reasons for serious concern, concerted action, and because of the gospel, for hope.

Spiritual FriendshipAll the Light We Cannot See3. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr. Two teenagers, a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan, Werner Pfennig, with a gift for radio electronics, are brought together at the end of World War 2 through underground radio broadcasts by her great-uncle of recordings by her grandfather while a dying German Sergeant Major seeks a treasure in the girl’s possession. This won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

4. Spiritual FriendshipWesley Hill. This is an exploration of the place of friendship in the life of the Christian, particularly its importance for those who chose, either because of sexual orientation, or other reasons to live celibate, chaste lives.

Silent SpringGrassroots5. Silent SpringRachel Carson. This classic of environmental writing made the case that pesticides were rendering harm to just about everything in the American landscape, including human beings, except for the pests targeted by these chemical poisons.

6. Grassroots Asian Theology, Simon Chan. In contrast to the growing list of “contextual” Asian theologies out of academic “elitist” settings, Chan explores the Asian theologies implicit in the popular church movements and writers in the Asian context, and particularly the significance of Pentecostal theology.

Words of LifeThe Wright Brothers7. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. The author traces the Wright brothers successful efforts to develop the first powered aircraft to successfully, fly from their home town bicycle shop in Dayton, to their trials at Kitty Hawk, to their global success. The book also highlights the importance of their sister Katherine throughout their efforts.

8. Words of LifeTimothy Ward. A Reformed treatment of the doctrine of scripture that begins from a study of scripture’s teaching about itself, moves to a Trinitarian theology of scripture and finally explores the classical affirmations about scripture. Another significant aspect of this book is its incorporation of “speech-act” theory which Ward uses to delineate the relationship of God and the Bible.

ExilesPrivate Doubt, Public Dilemma9. Exiles From Eden, Mark R. Schwehn. Chronicles a shift in the academic vocation from one of formation of the mind and character of students to one of making knowledge, reflecting a change from religiously shaped values to a valuing of formal and procedural rationality, and from an integral sense of self to a multiplicity of “selves.”

10. Private Doubt, Public DilemmaKeith Thomson. This book, drawn from Thomson’s 2012 Terry Lectures, explores the conflict between religion and science through a look at two men who struggled with this conflict, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Darwin, considering how they handled scientific findings that conflicted with their beliefs and the public aftermath and expresses hope for a different engagement in the future.

Leisure and Spirituality11. Leisure and SpiritualityPaul Heintzman. An exploration of the connection between leisure and spirituality from a Christian perspective, considering contemporary and classical concepts of leisure, the perspective on leisure we may gain from the Bible, and the author’s own synthesis and critique of leisure concepts, biblical material and contemporary research.

Best of the Month: I had several choices but will say Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Can See. In my review I wrote, “Doerr is a master painter with words, with all the strokes falling just as they should.”

Quote of the Month:  The Buckeye in me can’t resist this one from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough:

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” –Wilbur Wright

Right now, I am reading an Agatha Christie mystery, some historical fiction by Sharon Kay Penman, a book on C.S. Lewis’s writing on the spiritual life, and one on walking the labyrinth. A reading group I’m in is going through a collection of Spurgeon sermons that I will finish in late July-early August. Also look for a review of Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday in July.

Summer is a time to relax and replenish the well. Books are just one of the things that help with that, but what fun it can be to lose oneself in a good one! I’ve been fortunate to find several.

All “The Month in Reviews” posts may be accessed from “The Month in Reviews” link on the menu bar of my blog. And if you don’t want to wait a month to see my reviews, consider following the blog for reviews as well as thoughts on reading, the world of books, and life.

Review: The Wright Brothers

Wright BrothersThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Summary: McCullough traces the Wright brothers successful efforts to develop the first powered aircraft to successfully, fly from their home town bicycle shop in Dayton, to their trials at Kitty Hawk, to their global success. The book also highlights the importance of their sister Katherine throughout their efforts.

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” –Wilbur Wright

The story is a famous one and yet masterfully told by biographer and historian David McCullough, who once again has turned archival work into a vivid narrative of the beginnings of powered flight. He traces the Wright brothers from their childhood, including Wilbur’s facial injuries, which led to a period of voracious reading, and Orville’s nearly fatal brush with typhoid fever to the beginnings of their bicycle shop, Wilbur’s letter to the Smithsonian to collect information about attempts at flight, to their tests at Kitty Hawk, first of gliders to learn wing design and lateral stabilizers, to their first powered plane flights. What is remarkable is that the brothers spent less than $1000, and all of it their own money, to accomplish this. By contrast, Samuel Langley spent $70,000, much of it government money, in an attempt that ended in the Potomac River.

The second half of the book details their attempts to convince governments of the success of their efforts, while continuing to refine their machines. One of the most interesting aspects of this narrative were the efforts of Katherine, their Oberlin-educated school teacher sister, on their behalf. From managing the bicycle shop with its fractious but gifted mechanic Charles Taylor to nursing Orville after a crash during a demonstration flight at Fort Myers to caring for an aging father and consulting on the business, Katherine played a key role in the success of the Wrights.

There was what seemed a bittersweet end to all this, as Wilbur dies of typhoid shortly after returning from Europe in 1912, exhausted from training flyers and fighting patent suits. Orville manages better, eventually selling the company and living with Katherine and the Bishop in a mansion in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood. But he witnessed the plane he helped invent used as a new weapon of devastation, as well as in commercial flight.

Several things seemed to contribute to the Wright’s success beyond their parentage and being born in Ohio.

1. They developed skills in making and improving machines in printing and cycling business, learning how to machine parts and work with materials.

2. They knew how to work hard, and yet they rigorously observed the sabbath. At Kitty Hawk, they first built (and re-built after storms) their own hanger, then assembled the plane, sewing the wing fabric, and then conducted the tests. Then they returned to Dayton to manufacture their next season’s supply of bicycles in their own machine shop.

3. They were rigorous experimentalists. In contrast to others like Octave Chanute, they did not simply theorize about flight. They rigorously tested designs, first as kites, then in a homemade wind tunnel, and finally through lots of time in the air learning about the issues of keeping equilibrium in the air and developing proper control mechanisms to do that. Wilbur Wright once said, “No bird soars in a calm.”

4. They had an integrity that didn’t make claims that couldn’t be substantiated by demonstrations. They worked out of the limelight, and with their own funds, and avoided publicity until they had both designed a plane that anyone could be trained to fly, and that flew reliably. At times this meant facing the skepticism of even hometown folks and the U.S government as to what they actually had accomplished.

What is fascinating is that they accomplished all of this with only a high school education, and mostly on the basis of their own resources. McCullough, who has written biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams, and narratives of the Johnstown Flood, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, has once again given us a vivid portrait both of these two brothers, and their extraordinary sister, from Dayton, and a monumental human accomplishment. This is a great summer read!

What I’m Reading — June 2015

I’m in kind of a crunch right now between back to back trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. So this post will be briefer, and perhaps not so carefully crafted as some. Just thought I’d catch you up on what i’m reading right now and my reactions as I’m in the midst of several books.

Private Doubt, Public DilemmaJust started Keith Thomson’s Private Doubt, Public Dilemma, which I downloaded from Netgalley. Looks like an interesting exploration on the religion and science front, exploring cutting edge issues in the biosciences. This is taken from a Yale lecture series. A bit curious why his primary inspirations are Jefferson and Darwin and where that will go. I actually think one of the more interesting American figures to deal with religion-science issues was B.B. Warfield.

GrassrootsGrassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up by Simon Chan is trying to do just what the title suggests. He wants to explore Asian contributions to Christian theology, not by listening to academics, Asian or otherwise, but rather the people who make up Asian churches, Christians on the ground in these cultures. What a novel idea. Just getting into it. Chan is a bit of a dense read, but I’m intrigued!

The Wright BrothersI’ve loved everything David McCullough has written and am finding The Wright Brothers no exception. Interesting fact that I discovered was that the Wright’s spent less than $1000, and all of that their own money, to get the point of putting a plane in the sky at Kitty Hawk. A government project costing $70,000 ended up a terrible failure in the Potomac! I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but McCullough tells a riveting tale!

Words of LifeTimothy Ward’s Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God gives a contemporary, yet reformed perspective on the doctrine of the scripture. The novel thing is that he doesn’t start from systematics but from the Bible itself. He also draws on “speech-act” theory, which understands scripture as a type of divine speech act. I’ve seen caricatures of reformed thinking about scripture set up as straw men and destroyed. It would be better for critics to take on thoughtful writers like Ward.

An All Around MinistryFinally, our Dead Theologians reading group is discussing a collection of Charles Spurgeon sermons under the title An All-Around Ministry. These were given at a series of pastors conferences Spurgeon helped host. They sparkle with wit and contain much wise counsel for any in ministry.

That’s what’s on my book stand at present. Stay tuned for reviews at a blog near you!