Monthly Archives: September 2013


Eugene Peterson has written many books which have greatly blessed me.  His combination of insight, honesty, prophetic distance from the culture, and humor make him an author who truly brings the goods.

Here is a wonderful interview which will benefit pastors and all those who love their pastors.  I love that he was tired of simply “running the damn church.”  

HT: Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed



Charles Murray has a knack for writing provocative books and this is no exception (no pun intended).  

Lots of food for thought in this very short (about fifty pages) and inexpensive booklet (less than four bucks).  If you want to get a good overview of America’s uniqueness, this is a good place to start.


I was talking with a friend recently on the subject of disappointment with God.  What do you do when your experience makes it clear that your view of God can’t be correct.   It got me thinking about the options people take.  And there seems to be four of them:

Keep dutifully doing the right things when inside you are seething with anger.

Go insane, and yes, I mean literally.  I do know a few who chose this tragic option when God did not act the way(s) they expected.

Chuck the Christian faith.  It seems the best option for the person who wants to stop the charade when they no longer trust God.

And fourth…

Slowly, painfully, but redemptively realize one’s view of God was wrong.  Get to know the true God better and find that He is still trustworthy even amidst all the struggles, pain, and unanswered questions.  

I’m afraid we have too many choosing one of the first three options because option four is simply too messy for our sanitized vision of sanctification.


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Many twenty and thirty something Christians voice valid concerns over mistakes my generation of believers made.  For the record, I am fifty-five.

My generation screwed up in a number of ways.  For example, confusing the gospel with certain political commitments brought much confusion. 

Getting in bed with the Moral Majority and the “Christian” Coalition were disasters.  I put Christian in scare quotes because I was told by one of their officials that you did not have to be a Christian to belong as long as you held to its political platform!  Among other things, this led to gross inconsistencies where the Christian Coalition would invite Newt Gingrich to speak at its conferences even though his religious beliefs at the time (it may have changed) was a hodgepodge ranging from New Age stuff to retrieving his childhood background of being a Baptist.  Devoted followers of Jesus from backgrounds which have serious reservations over America’s eagerness to use military might did not get invited to speak.  Since there was a desire to maintain favor with the Republican party, the Christian Coalition did not want to jeopardize that by inviting a Jesus follower to speak who has serious objections with the Just War tradition.

As is so often the case, it is easy to overreact to a mistake by making other mistakes.  In other words, it is easy to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  And that is just what I see too many twenty and thirty something Christians doing. More on that in upcoming posts…




Dr. Karen Swallow Prior is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.  She teaches at Liberty University and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics.

Moore Engaging: Thanks so much for doing this interview Karen.  Your book was one of my favorite reads of the year.

Prior: Thank you!

Moore Engaging: Why did you pick the title, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me?

Prior: Actually, the publisher picked the title, and we worked on the subtitle together. My working title had been How Literature Helped Save My Soul, which is rather clunky but communicates the theme of the book. The phrase “literature in the soul of  me” captured that same idea in a much more poetic and evocative way. After considering many, many possible titles, I knew this was the one as soon as my publisher suggested it.

Moore Engaging: You dedicate the book to Mrs. Lovejoy.  Who is she?

Prior: Mrs. Lovejoy was my Junior High English teacher. I write about her in the chapter onGreat Expectations, how much I loved and admired her, and how much she encouraged me as a young student, avid reader, and young writer. I hope everyone has at least one teacher who influences their life greatly. Mrs. Lovejoy did that for me.

Moore Engaging: In the very beginning you talk affectionately about a certain library.  In that section, I put this marginal note: Beauty and safe places are powerful places.  How do these kinds of places aid the reading process?

Prior: Reading—by which I mean deep, sustained reading that captures the imagination—requires something we seem to have less and less these days: quietness for both the ears and the eyes. Libraries, like the one of my youth described in Booked, are such places. Libraries can inspire us to cultivate such spaces in our own homes and environments. Reading is such an archaic-seeming activity in these times. Like beauty and safety, reading reconnects us to our essential humanity.

Moore Engaging: What can literature teach that systematic theologies can’t?

Prior: Humans are logical, rational creatures. Systematic theologies allow us to seek and find truth through our intellect. Logic and facts constitute one kind of approach to knowledge. But humans are also imaginative, interpretive creatures. We are driven to create and find meaning through not only the intellect but also through our senses, our emotions, and our imaginations. Literature allows us to find meaning in ways that replicate the way we create meaning through our interactions and activities in real life.

Moore Engaging: One of your friends said, “Because you read so much, you are a better interpreter of life.”  Unpack a bit what she meant.

Prior: By this I’m getting at this interpretive activity I’m talking about above. In everyday life, we have to “read” people and situations (in other words, interpret). This activity is the same kind of interpreting one does when reading literature. Neither real life nor good literature “tell” you their meaning. The interpretive skills used in reading can help in interpreting real life, too.

Moore Engaging: If you could wave a wand and make every American Christian read five books of literature, what would they be?

1.       Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

2.       The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

3.       Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

4.       1984 by George Orwell

5.       Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Moore Engaging: Even some non-Christians say there are certain works of literature that it may be wise to not read.  The writings of Marquis de Sade are an extreme example while the writings of D.H. Lawrence are less clear.  What are your  rules of thumb for your own reading and in recommending books to others?

Prior: Philippians 4:8 is the best guideline here: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Interpreted correctly, this verse does not rule out dark or disturbing works (these are often the most truthful), but it does require that we seek trustworthy critical opinion to learn which works are praiseworthy and admirable—as well as to discern what is fitting for certain readers. The doctrine of common grace, along with the principle that “All truth is God’s truth,” ensures that we can turn to writers and critics outside of Christianity to find out what is “praiseworthy” and truthful. Then we must follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives, for what is edifying for me might not be edifying to the next reader.

Moore Engaging: Some have said that we not only read books, but the great books also read us.  I believe Lewis said that “we read to see we are not alone.”  Would you tell us a book you read (or reread!) recently which spoke powerfully to you?

Prior: The book I read most recently that moved me more than any book in a long time isTenth of December a collection of short stories by George Saunders. It is not a book for everyone (see above), but it embodies many of the characteristics of this postmodern age in a compelling and corrective fashion.

Moore Engaging: Since I want people to buy your very fine work, I will say that there are several chapters, to coin an overused phrase, are “worth the price of the book.”  Each chapter offers a fresh angle on the challenges and hopes of living in a broken world.  If I was doing pre-marital or marital counseling like I used to, I would make your chapter on Madame Bovary required reading.

Prior: You have homed in on the essence of this book: Madame Bovary was the single book that changed my life more than any other and the way it affected my life is what inspired Booked.

Moore Engaging: At the end of your book, you say, “God is nothing if not a poet.”  Would you describe what you mean by that?

Prior: Poetry is the art of making connections. It uses language to do that, but essentially that is all poetry is. God exists as a triune connection of three persons who created us in his image so as to connect with us. Once that connection was ruptured, he sent Christ to repair our relationship with him. Poets use words to connect; God uses the Word.


I watched some of the Emmy Awards tonight. 
It was actually fairly tough for me to watch it. 
I appreciate what it takes to make great art, but the glory of people was on full display. Jesus says it is impossible to believe when we desire glory from human beings (Jn. 5:44).
What the Bible calls sin was celebrated as virtuous (Isa. 5:20).
It convicts me that so many expend great effort for a perishable crown. It makes me take personal inventory of my willingness to give myself for a imperishable crown (I Cor. 9:24-27).
Sadness and a desire for God to show mercy are my prayer for Hollywood. 


All seven billion of us on planet earth are on a level playing field.

We all seek to make sense of life.

The Bible’s story is realistic, comprehensive, and hopeful. 

The Big Story by Justin Buzzard is a good resource to give seekers and young Christians.  Through wonderful illustrations it does a nice job of showcasing the drama of Scripture’s story.

Buzzard quotes Marianne’s Williamson about the “glory of God within us,” but it would have been better to either not quote her or clarify her New Age convictions.  She is talking about something very different than Buzzard!


It is interesting to note how the Bible has been used to not only justify war, but to justify a particular position of a war.  Two books I highly recommend in this regard are The Civil War as Theological Crisis by Mark Noll and Sacred Scripture, Sacred War by James Byrd.  I will be reviewing Byrd’s book in the upcoming weeks for Jesus Creed.


Allen Guelzo is well-known for his many contributions to Lincoln scholarship and related topics.

Fateful Lightning showcases Guelzo’s beautiful writing along with his keen eye for capturing the telling details. I have not read James McPherson’s survey of the Civil War, so I am not able to compare it with Guelzo’s. Allen Guelzo has certainly produced a fine a piece of work which those wanting an authoritative overview will get by reading Fateful Lightning.