Category Archives: Book Review

CONSIDER THIS BEAST OF A BOOK!

Image result for fleming rutledge crucifixion
I am currently reading this amazing piece of work with my good friend, Bill Bridgman.  It comes in at a little over 600 pages, but each page I read makes me wish it was longer!
 
Rutledge is an anomaly.  She is a life-long Episcopalian preacher, but conservative theologically.  Lest you wonder about that, consider that the conservative Gospel Coalition listed ten reasons why you ought to read her book.
 

10 Reasons You Should Read Fleming Rutledge’s ‘The Crucifixion’

Rutledge recently tweeted the following which made me smile:

 

Tweet if you are an “evangelical Reformed Episcopalian” (as differentiated from Anglican)… I may be one of about 5 in the whole USA 

NOT JUST FOR ROMAN CATHOLICS!

Image result for Strangers in a strange land chaput

There are many things to like about this book, no matter which one of the big three traditions (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) you belong to.

Chaput is a lucid writer who has clearly done his homework. His book ranges over many significant thinkers, past and present. His analysis of our cultural moment is sobering, but never gloomy. He well understands the indispensable virtue of Christian hope.

I read Dreher’s The Benedict Option, but find Chaput’s approach much more in keeping with the entire record of Scripture.

HOW TO THINK: INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JACOBS

Image result for HOW TO THINK ALAN JACOBS
Alan Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.  His terrific new book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, frames our conversation.

 

Moore: I regularly say that I had to write my books. And this continues to be true with the two book projects I am currently working on. Gathering from the tenor of your latest book’s content, it seems like you felt a high degree of compulsion to write How to Think. Is that true?

Jacobs: Yes, and true for this one more than for any other. When the Presidential election campaign and the Brexit debate really started heating up, I became more and more concerned by what was passing for debate on the issues and personalities involved. There was (there still is) a lot of shouting, and, above all, many people seemed absolutely determined to mischaracterize their political opponents’ views. It was as though not thinking had become a virtue. The more I reflected on how such an environment might have come to pass, the more clear it became to me that I needed to write this book.

Moore: In David McCullough’s fine biography of John Adams he mentions how the second president believed his son, John Quincy, must go overseas to get a complete education. How critical is it for our own education to interact with people from diverse backgrounds?

Jacobs: In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill stated the case in a way that, in my view, cannot be bettered. I would be foolish to use my own words when his superior ones are available:

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. This is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition, even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess.

Moore: To what degree, if any, is careful thinking made more difficult by the ubiquity of social media?

Jacobs: It is very difficult to overstate how inimical social media are. All the major social networks want to keep us engaged with their site, and that means we need to be emotionally manipulated: to feel delight, triumph, rage, contempt, and to register those feelings instantaneously. And as long as we’re doing all that, we cannot think.

Moore: Does the unity and diversity of the trinity help us better think about important and complex matters?

Jacobs: If so, I’m not sure how! But I think the relational character of the very Godhead itself, the continual interplay-in-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, should remind us that we, made in the image of that God, cannot be monads. In their lesser and limited ways, all healthy human communities, and especially the community called the Church, imitate the endlessly relational unity of the Triune God. This is why I argue in my book that you cannot “think for yourself” and shouldn’t even if you could: thinking is something we always do in response to other people.

Moore: You address the area of emotions and their importance to thinking. Many would not make that kind of connection. Why did you?

Jacobs: There’s a great deal of evidence now — the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has done a lot of it — that demonstrates that people who are unable to have proper and healthy emotional responses to the world make bad decisions. But wise persons have always known this. As C. S. Lewis comments in The Abolition of Man, the importance of training the feelings is central to much ancient thought, pagan and Christian alike: “St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”

Moore: You’ve written a well-regarded book on C.S. Lewis’s imagination. Other than his native brilliance, what are a few things Lewis did that made him a great thinker?

Jacobs: That passage I just cited gives one indication! (His awareness of the need to touch people’s dispositions as well as their rational faculties explains his writing of fiction as well as apologetics.) But I believe the really key thing is this: Lewis, though raised in a Christian home, if not an especially devout one, became an atheist as a teenager and indeed for some years was quite assertive in his atheism, always feeling free to mock the simple beliefs of his friend Arthur Greeves. So when, at around the age of 30, he became a Christian, he was able to do so only after unstitching a garment of conviction that he had stitched up quite determinedly over a period of fifteen years. As a result, he came to know both atheism and Christianity from the inside. He was always in the position that John Stuart Mill, in the passage I quoted above, says that the genuinely thoughtful person must be in: knowing the strongest arguments of all sides in a dispute, and knowing them as though from the inside.

Moore: If you could wave a wand, what three books would you have every American read to equip them to be better thinkers?

Jacobs: I’m reluctant to make a list, in large part because, as I explain at length in my book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, I’m a big believer in reading at whim. But also, what you need to read depends on what you need to understand. So here’s a suggestion: Consider the people whose views you find especially appalling, but also appallingly popular. Find out what they read. Find out what books they believe are the most compelling accounts of their position, the ones about which they say, “This is it. This is what I stand for.” Now, go read all that. At the very least, you’ll sharpen your own thinking by having to articulate your own response to arguments you detest.

But beware: you just might end up changing your mind.

 

OUR DEEPEST DESIRES: INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

 

Image result for Our deepest desires ganssle

 

I met Greg Ganssle thirty-seven years ago. I was a senior in college and Greg was a young Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) staff member. We were on the North Myrtle Beach summer project. Greg was the kind and patient (!) discipler for eight of us guys.

Greg has a long-standing interest in philosophy so he eventually got his PhD from Syracuse. He teaches at Talbot School of Theology. Greg writes both scholarly and popular books. His latest, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations frames this interview.

Moore: Is your goal in this book to demonstrate that the Christian claims are true, or have you staked out different territory?

Ganssle: David, I am not trying to show that Christianity is true. I think most people think something like the following: “I am pretty sure Christianity is false, and I am glad.” I am trying to get at the second part of the claim. I want people to see that, if they think about what they care most about, they will see that they want the Christian story to be true.

Moore: It is all too rare to find Christians who do a good job of shrewdly sneaking up on you with their creative and clever arguments. For me, the writings of Augustine, Pascal, Newbigin, Chesterton, and Lewis are examples worth following. Tim Keller is a good modern-day example, but he is always invoked in this regard, which makes me believe the landscape of the “creative and clever” is far from glutted. Why is there a dearth of this kind of approach to Christian persuasion?

Ganssle: This is a good question. I think many times we speak and write as if the most important thing is convincing someone of the truth of our position. Thus, we tend to focus on arguments and evidence. What we often fail to see is that people are often not persuaded by our presentations. We don’t pay enough attention to identifying the things that constitute a person’s real objections to the gospel.

Moore: I’m sure you know some happy non-Christians. They have meaningful work, good relationships, and are content. My next-door neighbor is like this. How does your book help us address folks like those?

Ganssle: I make the distinction between local meaning and global meaning. On an atheistic view of reality, there is no global meaning. The universe does not care if you are fulfilled. The fact that there is no global meaning, however, does not mean that the atheist cannot find local meaning. Many of our family or friends find real meaning in the people they love, the work they do, and the things they care about. 

Moore: Let’s assume the trinity is the correct view of God. Do Christians have an advantage over Jews and Muslims in articulating the beauty and coherence of what they believe?

Ganssle: I do discuss this in the book. One advantage is that on the distinctly Christian picture of God, relationships are part of God’s very nature. God is his own community, so to speak. The fact that our relationships are so fundamental to our lives, then, makes sense. It reflects one aspect of the deepest reality.

Moore: You have some wonderful things to say about goodness and beauty. Why does it seem that many are not so interested in such things. And to be frank, beauty is not high on the list of many so-called Evangelical Christians in America. Why the lack of interest?

Ganssle: There is a long historical answer to this question. With the rise of the Enlightenment, the discussion about God has centered on truth. Believers have entered this conversation and aimed to articulate a compelling case for the truth of Christianity. In the middle ages, truth was linked to goodness and beauty as the “transcendentals.” These were grounded in the very nature of God. I think believers today are recovering a thicker vision of both goodness and beauty, and this trend will solidify our witness to unbelievers as well as our own delight in God and the world he has made.

Moore: What are a few things you would like your readers to take away from your book?

Ganssle: For those who are not yet believers, I would hope they would be prompted to think deeply on their deepest desires and how the Christian story provides a solid base for these. For those who are believers, I hope they gain a deeper appreciation of their own faith. In addition, I hope they become more adept at holding forth the gospel as a vision of life that is intrinsically attractive.

 

GOSPEL PATRONS

Image result for gospel patrons
My friend Lyle gave me a copy of Gospel Patrons.  I have never seen a book quite like it, though I was already familiar with some of the stories.
The author highlights those who gave generously so others like Tyndale and Whitefield could do the ministry God had called them to.
Being the beneficiary of many “gospel patrons” throughout the years I am thrilled that the author honored these faithful men and women. 

WOMEN SHOULDN’T READ HISTORY!

Image result for jane franklin lepore

I’ve read several books on Benjamin Franklin, but this is the first on his sister.

Lepore brings all the things we have to expect from her writing, especially the telling detail.  

Yes, it’s true.  Women in the eighteenth century were discouraged from reading history.  What’s the point?  History reading is for those who serve in political and educational leadership.  Since women couldn’t do those sorts of things in colonial America, what’s the point in them reading history?  For a Christian this crass utilitarian notion of learning history is at odds with a faith that is historical in nature.  

There are many wonderful insights in this wonderfully conceived book.

GREAT RESOURCE ON AMERICAN HISTORY

My general rule that so far holds up is this: Take the total number of pages of a book and divide by two.  If my marginal notes exceed that number, then the book, though I may have some serious disagreements with it, was worth reading.  

In this case, Wood’s little book on the American Revolution is 166 pages long.  My markings came in at over 150.  This was an extremely worthwhile read.

I read a lot of American history, but am always looking for resources to better connect events and people.  Wood’s book does not disappoint.

If you are looking for a short book to better understand the American Revolution along with a helpful explanation of the immediate years leading up to the Constitution, it is hard to imagine a better book.

https://www.amazon.com/American-Revolution-History-Library-Chronicles/dp/0812970411

Image result for THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION BY WOOD