Monthly Archives: December 2017

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: 2017

Yes, many do these sorts of things, but I like book lists, so here you go:

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.

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https://www.amazon.com/How-Think-Survival-Guide-World/dp/0451499603

My interview with Alan Jacobs:

HOW TO THINK: INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JACOBS

Image result for Jill Lepore on jane franklin

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 terrific insights in this wonderfully conceived book.

Image result for tony reinke on newton

My interview with the author:
Image result for gordon wood american revolution
 

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

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.

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The modern notion of “politics” is much narrower than the ancient one. The modern idea thinks mainly of things like voting, lobbying for favorite causes, and those who govern.

Levin shows us in his terrific book that there is much more to politics. For example, one’s understanding of human nature and history dramatically affect how one understands political change. So-called progressives and so-called conservatives are given much to think about in this fine work.

Since I am late to the party in reviewing this book, let me close with one massive implication that came to me in reading this book and it deals with Christian theology. For those of us Christians who gladly hold to more conservative or orthodox (small o) theology, there is something terribly important we can learn from Edmund Burke. Burke believed that the best of tradition is true, but to convince more radical types like Paine, it was crucial to also show the beauty of tradition. If I were to grade us conservative Christians on how well we do in showing the beauty of truth, I would give us a very low grade.

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I’ve read several good books about President Jackson. None have been duds. All of them taught me fascinating and important things about Jackson.

Jon Meacham combines some of my favorite features for biography: wonderful wordsmithing, lucid prose, an eye for the salient details, and a nose for smelling out the proper drama.

If you are looking for a terrific biography of Jackson, this is the first place I would recommend.

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Taking a clue from Goldilocks some commentaries are too devotional, some too technical, and a smaller some are “just right.” Johnson has written one in that rarer, last category.

Johnson’s commentary has responsible interaction with the text, he does not dodge the tough issues (an occupational hazard for commentators), and the flow is terrific.

If the title of this book strikes you as odd, you will be convinced of its aptness after reading Johnson’s fine work.

Thanks to our pastor, Peter Coelho, who enthusiastically mentioned this book in some of his sermons!
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The biggest compliment I can give an author is that his or her book will be “part of our final library.” Let me explain.

Our library has about 3,000 volumes. We are constantly culling it, but we are also constantly getting new books due to library sales (good and cheap way to get great books) and publishers sending me books for possible review/interview with the author.

As I get older (I am 59) there is the need to keep culling. Fortunately, both our sons are readers so they will gladly inherit a bunch of books. Even so, there are books that should be parted with before I die. I don’t want our sons to have the burden of determining whether some books are worth keeping.

Mark Edmundson’s book, self and soul: a Defense of Ideals (neither self nor soul are capitalized) is beautifully written, insightful, and full of suggestive ideas.

It is clear that Edmundson has great respect for major religious figures, especially the Buddha and Jesus. It is not clear what Edmundson personally believes.

Regardless of whether one is religious or not, there is much to be gained by a close read of this fine book. There are many things I found fascinating, but since most don’t read lengthy Amazon reviews, I will underscore just one. A whole chapter is devoted to showing that Shakespeare’s writings don’t offer us much direction for how to be virtuous. Sure, you could extrapolate some implications based on the loathsome exploits of various characters, but there is little that goes beyond their own self-interest. Edmundson writes that characters in Shakespeare “generally speak because they are trying to get something. They want to enhance their images, improve their lots, speed their designs.” In this same paragraph Edmundson says, “When we quote them, we import their desires into our speech.” As a Christian, I greatly appreciate a writer who is not afraid to underscore the power of words to form and fashion us.

A gem of a book!

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here. I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians especially are in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

Image result for destroyer of the gods larry hurtado
 

https://www.amazon.com/Destroyer-gods-Early-Christian-Distinctiveness/dp/1481304739

My interview with the author:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/02/18/larry-hurtado-interview/

Image result for making of a racist dew

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Racist-Southerner-Reflects-History/dp/0813938872

I will doing a longer review or perhaps interviewing the author later so will keep this brief.  Dew is a wonderful writer, eminent scholar of the Civil War, and offers us a candid report of how he came to grips with the racism of his boyhood.  A tough read, but sorely needed.

Image result for kidd franklin amazon
My interview with the author:
Image result for marching home by brian jordan
 

 

Brian Matthew Jordan’s new book addresses an issue that others have either missed or been mistaken about: the poor treatment of Union soldiers upon coming home.

Since the war was fought in the South, those civilians experienced the horrors up close and personal. Their soldiers came back to a very appreciative homeland.

Since the war was not fought in the North, those civilians largely wanted to move on to more “positive” realities rather then be reminded of what the so-called Civil War had wrought.

Jordan has done yeoman’s work on the research and writing. It is no wonder this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.

There are some difficult and dark issues to wrestle through when it comes to the horrors of war. It is hard to imagine a better starting point than Jordan’s fine book.

Image result for The message of jeremiah wright

 

Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.

My favorite ones are those that combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day.  Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah is one of those. It is part of “The Bible Speaks Today” series (InterVarsity Press). Here is a taste:

“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence. It was all very impressive. But what was God’s point of view? According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion. It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.”

SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

In my Amazon review of John Lukacs terrific book I wrote:

If all historians wrote like Lukacs, more people would read history. Insightful and full of practical implications.  I enjoyed my reread of this fine book as much as the initial time through.

So here are poignant and penetrating reflections from the author of one of my favorite books, Five Days in London: May 1940

https://www.amazon.com/Five-Days-London-May-1940/dp/0300084668

https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2017/December/41/12/magazine/article/10842995/?utm_content=buffer97f8d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

 

 

SIX TYPES OF READING

Below Ben Myers shares his different types of reading.  His are different than mine, but there is some similarity.  Mine roughly fit under the acrostic GROWTH:

GREATS (CLASSICS)

REVIEW (OR INTERVIEW)

OTHER (CATCHALL FOR THOSE THAT DON’T FIT IN THE OTHER CATEGORIES)

WORD (BOOKS RELATED DIRECTLY TO THE BIBLE LIKE COMMENTARIES)

TEACHING (BOOKS THAT RELATE TO SOMETHING I AM TEACHING)

HISTORY

 

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