Category Archives: Book Review

CURIOSITY

There are bad types of curiosity. Roger Shattuck wrote about that type in Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography. Ironically, for all its brilliance, Shattuck’s book should be read selectively, if at all, as it contains things that are defiling and so not worthy of one’s full attention.

As a Christian, I believe there is a godly form of curiosity. I wrote about its importance in my latest book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. I’m afraid too many Christians don’t see the need for developing a godly curiosity about the world, themselves, or even the God who created them. It is the curiosity that wants to engage the world, better understand history, stops to wonder why there are so many colors when no real pragmatic benefit comes from such variety, and much more.

F.H. Buckley has written a marvelous book, Curiosity and its Twelve Rules for Life. Buckley teaches at George Mason’s law school. He has wide-ranging interests, so he models what he is writing about. Buckley also has some wise warnings about dangerous forms of curiosity, but most of the book is dedicated to unpacking what healthy forms of curiosity look like.

I highly recommend this well-written and insightful book!

ENJOYING THE BIBLE

Matthew Mullins has written a terrific book. Mullins teaches English and the history of ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

The subtitle offers a better feel for what Mullins is seeking to do: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures. Mullins deftly shows how the ability to read and appreciate poetry makes one a better reader of Scripture. After all, the Bible is not all prose. There is much poetry. 

Enjoying the Bible is an extremely well-written and motivating account of how to better read the Bible. 

Those who have little understanding of how genre functions may be stretched a bit but carefully working through Enjoying the Bible will be well worth the effort.

MICHEL FOUCAULT

This is a terrific introduction to the thought of Michel Foucault. When I say “introduction” that certainly does not mean this is an easy read. Watkin does make his extensive learning more accessible, but Foucault is not the easiest person in the world to comprehend.

I knew a bit about Foucault from other books but had not read him directly. Watkin does a good job of laying out several of the critical ideas to Foucault’s thought.

In the second half of the book the author does a stellar job of showing how the Christian faith best responds to Foucault.

THE MAKING OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD

Along with the book, Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, these books raise a number of concerns about the biblical basis for the so-called complementarian position of men and women.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood does a good job of raising questions about how the social mores of one’s time influence the way one reads the Bible. Barr provides some interesting examples, especially from her area of expertise: the Medieval period.

All of us must wrestle honestly with how much our views are influenced by the socio-historic context (our own and previous periods) in assessing whether our views are consistent with the biblical record. This is a life-long process and one all of us will receive plenty of correction on in the next life! If Paul saw through a “mirror dimly” then we ought to be more circumspect about how clearly we see, especially with respect to the issues that thoughtful Christians disagree on.

This book does not purport to be a work of exegesis. As the good scholar that she is, Barr knows well that her main lane is history. That certainly does not mean that she has nothing of value to offer about the Scriptures. That is patently not the case.

I am in that small group of “left-leaning” complementarians (though I do not like the baggage that comes with the word complementarian). By that descriptor you will know that I didn’t find all of Barr’s arguments persuasive, but I am glad for the things that did make me think afresh about this issue. My own position is that women can teach both men and women as long as it is clear that they are under the authority of the church…something I wish was taken more seriously for men as well! Having heard many men who had no business preaching and teaching, I wish churches would be careful in vetting everyone.

WE THE FALLEN PEOPLE: THE FOUNDERS AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

I just finished We the Fallen People. Truly amazing. If I could wave a wand every American would have to read it as part of their citizenship.

Years ago, I developed “Moore’s Law of Worthwhile Reading.” I take the number of pages in a book and divide it by two. If my marginalia exceeds that number it was a worthwhile read. Some books that make the cut are ones I disagree with, but not this one. For this one, I made 321 marginal notes. These can be anything from an exclamation point to a few sentences. I never put one question mark in the margins which is rare.

In any case, I am going to be recommending this book far and wide!

My interview with Tracy will be coming soon…

THE IDEAS THAT MADE AMERICA

Our oldest son and his wife will many times choose a few hors d’oeuvres and then split a meal. They get more variety, and many times find out that the appetizers are better than the main offerings.

I thought of our son and daughter-in-law’s culinary sensibilities as I read Ratner-Rosenhagen’s terrific book. The author does a wonderful job of laying out the seminal ideas that have bubbled up over our country’s history. There are some ideas I wished she unpacked in more detail, but it is a satisfying sampler.

The author is a lucid writer, so any thoughtful person will find much to chew on in The Ideas that Made America.

 

LOST IN THOUGHT…

Our American culture is full of people with a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance.

Lost in Thought is an antidote to both of these.

Hitz’s subtitle is The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. She has done a terrific job of showing us where the gems are to be found.

I am glad Hitz felt free to use “intellectual” and to show that all of us, irrespective of brain power or giftedness, are called to pursue a life of learning.

This book is part memoir as the author shares a bit about her own journey. I found this not only interesting, but it lent credibility to the things she promotes in her book.

Hitz does a good job demonstrating that deep learning is a way to show love to others.

Education and high culture do not automatically lead to virtue. You can be both learned and lacking in virtue. The Germany of WWII is the example usually given, but sadly there are many more.

Hitz’s book contains many fascinating insights like how the solitary confinement of prison resulted in some people doing brilliant work. She did not mention John Bunyan, but I will try to forgive the author for that omission!

Highly recommended!

 

THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ITS WORLD

The New Testament in its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird

I typically read 4-6 books at the same time. Being a person of many interests, it fits my personality, and dare I say, my calling.

When one of the books I am reading is long (500 pages plus) and/or technical, I tend to read no more than 5-20 pages at a sitting. It gives me ample time to ponder and scribble my many marginal notes.

One large book (almost 900 pages) I am now finishing is The New Testament in its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird. I saw it highly recommended by many I respect so I decided to read it. I am glad that I did. It would fit in the long, but not technical category.

Instead of a traditional book review, let me mention (in no particular order) five things I appreciated about this book:

*Even though this a dual authored book, it is clear and smooth in its presentation.

*It is amply supplied with graphs, timelines, maps, and other visuals that wonderfully augment the text.

*The authors do a terrific job of modeling how history is crucial for the best understanding of the New Testament. My own book, Stuck in the Present, highlights this need.

*Various positions on the different books of the New Testament are offered. The authors are fair and balanced in telling the reader why they hold, or at least lean in one direction.

*There is a good use of both ancient and modern scholarship. This regularly reminds the reader that the Christian faith has a rich history.

Highly recommended!

 

 

A MASTER HISTORIAN ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

I have read a couple of Robert Wilken’s other books. His books never disappoint. He is an elegant writer along with being an eminent historian of the early Christian and medieval eras.

He is fair and balanced and that is certainly true of this book. You will find that Wilken had his book scrutinized by both Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars.

I do not know if Wilken meant for there to be any apologetic aim with this book, but his terrific sketch of history certainly corrects a faulty view that many have about the origins of religious liberty.

Kudos to Yale University Press that consistently makes beautiful books!