Archives For *Brief Reviews*


How to Address the Issues of the Day?
A Review of

Preaching Poilitics:
Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship

Clay Stauffer.

Paperback: Chalice Press, 2016.
Buy now:  [  Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Bob Cornwall
*** This review originally appeared on the writer’s blog,
     and is reprinted here with permission.

I was raised in a politically active household. My father was chair of the Siskiyou County Republican Party and had a regular radio spot. He even made it into Who’s Who in American Politics. I did my part as a child going door to door handing out brochures and buttons for candidates ranging from local to national. I even imagined becoming a politician. I’ve really never been as politically active as I was at age fourteen.

I remain extremely interested in politics, but as a pastor I must temper my political activities. That is, I have to remember that I serve a congregation that isn’t politically homogeneous. While I do engage in community organizing and address prophetically (hopefully) important issues that have political implications, I don’t bring a partisan vision into the pulpit. Preachers often walk fine line when it comes to politics. Many of us believe it is important to speak to controversial issues, but we also must take a pastoral approach. At a time when the body politic is increasingly polarized this becomes incredibly difficult. This especially true when the conversation involves money.

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A Gloriously Impractical Invitation

A Review of

Teaching and Christian Imagination 
David I. Smith and Susan M. Felch

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  
Reviewed by Dan Schmidt


As one who’s been pastoring for a while, and more recently adjuncting at a local college, I’m on the lookout for ways to improve what I bring to the classroom and sanctuary. One of my strategies has been to pay attention to those who are really good at what they do.
So when the opportunity to review Teaching and Christian Imagination, by David Smith and Susan Felch, came along, I jumped. Yes, I saw “Imagination” in the title, and I read the back cover blurb—but I figured that sooner or later, the authors—specialists as classroom teachers and theorists—would get down to bullet points and portable techniques. It only took a few pages of reading, however, to realize that this wasn’t that kind of book. Instead, Smith and Felch (along with several others) want to draw readers into the what if’s more than the how to’s. What impressed me as I read was the sense that by giving attention to the former, one is much better prepared to manage the latter.

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I wrote brief reviews of the following books that were released in the last couple of weeks:

by C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books
Paging Through History

Mark Kurlansky
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)
Essential reading for bibliophiles and those who work in the written word
Kurlansky once again proves himself to be one of our finest popular historians. PAPER is a delightful, global history of paper as a technology. Paper, Kurlansky observes follows from the social practice of written language. Kurlansky deftly weaves social and technological history from ancient times to the modern era, righting a number of crucial misconceptions about how technology works.

PAPER will be of interest to history buffs and to those who are interested in the history of technology, but especially to bibliophiles and those who work in the written word. Kurlansky gives us pause to consider the writers who went before us, and the technologies and costs associated with the recording of their words.


Christian Practical Wisdom:
What It Is, Why It Matters

Dorothy Bass, et al.
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)
Important reading for pastors and theologians
This important book explores the significance of “practical wisdom” — that which Aristotle referred to as phronesis — in the Christian tradition. “Christians blessed with practical wisdom…” the authors write, “are attuned to the concrete and the actual, but they also cherish and yearn for what they know more generally and more abstractly. They can see what is going on, and they respond with good judgment as need in particular situations.” (9-10). The authors present a corrective to theological education that is largely incapable of articulating a way of knowing rooted in practical wisdom, and they succeed in framing a conversation about practical wisdom and the vital role that it plays in our formation and transformation as Christians. They explore how practical wisdom has been erased not only from theology, but from Western culture at large, and offer the hope that in our churches we already cultivate this sort of wisdom, and should be more attentive to this process and learn to articulate from it an epistemology and a theology grounded in practical wisdom.

This is important reading for pastors and theologians, but especially for those afflicted with a growing discomfort for the abstract sorts of theology that they have inherited.

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Dialogue, Appreciation, Understanding, and Shared Life

A Review of

How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America
Joshua Graves

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2015.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by John W. Morehead


One of the greatest contemporary challenges faced by evangelicals and other expressions of Christianity in the West is the understanding of Islam and relationships with Muslims in America and around the world. Joshua Graves provides a helpful contribution to the conversation on navigating these challenges in How Not to Kill a Muslim. Despite the (strategically) provocative title, this volume presents a fair-minded and peace-oriented exploration of its subject matter.


The preface of the volume provides a succinct summary of the book’s focus and approach. The book “is primarily focused on the relationship and responsibility of Christians toward Muslims within the context of North America.” It explores the cultural and religious biases embedded within Protestant evangelical Christianity and demonstrates strategies for dialogue, appreciation, understanding, and shared life between Christians and Muslims living in the United States.

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Love and Care for ALL God’s Creation

A Review of 

Every Living Thing, How Pope Francis, Evangelicals and Other Christian Leaders Are Inspiring All of Us to Care for Animals 
Christine Gutleben, Editor.

Paperback: Front Edge, 2015
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Review by Alexander Steward


As we look across the Christian landscape within the United States there are many denominations with varying degrees of theology which guide their doctrine and practices. It is the hope of many to be able to work on an ecumenical level with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We do not always have the pleasure of doing so as we let our differing opinions get in the way of what is better for our communities.

The collaboration of Every Living Thing brings many denominational statements and beliefs around creation care into one convenient resource. While at times we tend to get into a theological war of words, it is nice to be able to see where our common beliefs align and build a foundation to reach out in common care for all of creation. While there definitely are apparent differences when we discuss the specifics, it does not mean that we end up mostly at the same conclusion.

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I wrote brief reviews of the following books that were released this week:

by C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books
Becoming Wise:
An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

Krista Tippett
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Imagining a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.
Krista Tippett, the host of public radio’s On Being, weaves threads of her own story with sizable clips of interviews from the show to offer us a rich vision of what it might look like for us to become wise in the twenty-first century. This book is especially recommended for those who yearn for something deeper than the daily grind of consumerism in which we are all too often ensnared. Tippett helps us loosen our bonds and imagine a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.

You Are What You Love:
The Spiritual Power of Habit

James K.A. Smith
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Taking a hard look at who and what and how we love.
We are constantly being formed by the choices we make and by our day-to-day relationships. This is the central idea at the heart of You Are What You Love. Given that we are always being formed by the people and things surrounding us, Smith argues that the church community should be at the very heart of our formation as Christians. This important book challenges us to take a hard look at who and what and how we love.

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Persistence is the Key.

A Review of 

The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance
Bethany Hanke Hoang / Kristen Deede Johnson

Hardback: Brazos Press, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]


Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee


Young Latin scholars, René Padilla and Samuel Escobar stood before a sea of evangelical leaders at the first Lausanne International Congress in 1974 and reminded these leaders that while the proclamation of the Gospel continued to be a critical aspect of both local and global mission, it was insufficient without attending to biblical justice in local communities and around the world. By many, they were applauded. By many, they were derided. Today Padilla and Escobar’s message is embraced by many evangelicals, especially passionate youthful ones. The Justice Calling is a simple book that follows in the line of increasing succession to encouraging evangelicals towards justice. Proclamation is no less important now, but justice has claimed its rightful place in integrated tandem, letting the words of the mouth work in conjunction with the deeds of compassion.

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The ‘Medicine of Mercy’

A Review of 

The Name of God Is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli
Pope Francis

Translated from the Italian by Oonagh Stransky
Hardback: Random House, 2016.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle  ]

Reviewed by Roger Dowdy


We need mercy! We need healing! “We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption. Today people try to find salvation wherever they can…..turning to many fallible things, seeking hope and compassion – someone who listens and cares. This is what I call the ‘apostolate of the ear’” – the ‘medicine of mercy’ (16-17).

Though I am not Roman Catholic, as an ordained Deacon I have been spiritually and missionally captivated by Pope Francis – his life story, his teaching and proclamation, and the vital public example of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. This humble ‘activist’, priest, cardinal, now Pope of the Church in Rome, embodies the essence of Jesus, the one who came to extend God’s mercy to all. Pope Francis is a magnification of prophet Micah’s directives for living according to God’s will [Micah 6: 6-8 CEB]: With what should I approach the Lord…God on high? [God] has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

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Going Deeper with C.S. Lewis’ Books
A Review of 

Reading C. S. Lewis: A Commentary
Wesley Kort

Hardback: Oxford U.Press, 2015
Buy now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Leslie Starasta
Many people have extremely positive or negative feelings regarding C.S. Lewis. Wesley A. Kort attempts to take a middle ground in his work Reading C.S. Lewis: A Commentary.  Dr. Kort, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University, emphasizes multiple times throughout the work that he is “neither a devotee nor a detractor” (vii) and indicates his study of Lewis arose from students requesting a class on Lewis.  For this reason before embarking on a journey through this book, it is imperative that readers actually read the preface and other front matter rather than turning immediately to the first chapter.  Doing so prepares the reader for Dr. Kort’s attempted objective attitude and the approach he takes to Lewis.

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We Cannot Wait Till Tomorrow

A Review of

The Great Chasm: How to Stop Our Wealth from Separating Us from the Poor and God.
Derek Engdahl

Servant Partners Press, 2015.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed By Paul D. Gregory

People read books for various reasons. Maybe you read romance novels to be “swept away to a distant land.” Or maybe you enjoy a book that is set in the mountains and is wet with beautiful imagery of mountain peaks, blue skies and crisp clean air. Still others may enjoy stories with happy endings because they like to imagine themselves in the heroine’s role (wouldn’t everyone love to be Tom Cruise at the end of the movie Jerry Maguire). And still others read books hoping to find answers to life’s big questions.

There is a good chance that you will not be fond of the message contained in Derek Engdahl’s The Great Chasm. There’s an even better chance that you will not enjoy some of the imagery he uses to describe the slums of Manila, Haiti or Mexico. And many of you won’t be thrilled to read about servant living and/or the importance of giving up things we don’t need. And many readers will finish Engdahl’s book with a nagging pain in their side, as they acknowledge their own failure to have compassion for those in need.

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