Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

A Fragrant Offering
 
A Feature Review of 
 

Warlight: A Novel
Michael Ondaatje

Hardback: Knopf, 2018
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Reviewed by Grant Currier
 
 
Certain places are identifiable purely through our noses: bath houses with their mixture of captive humidity and spearmint; tearooms, bright with a sun that warms the bergamot pears and Assams densely collecting in water; libraries, rich with the aromatic vanillin coming off the old tomes and the nestled scent of peach hand cream imbedded in the spines. Even the ancient Hebrew tabernacle and temple were identified by their smell, indicating you had entered a sublime place of worship, reverence, holiness. Those familiar with Michael Ondaatje’s writing know its redolence; the identifiable fragrance of his sentences almost sears the skin with its pellucid brilliance. There is, on a sentence to sentence level, almost nothing out of place, each pomegranate intentionally placed on the dividing curtain. Like a thurifer offering the perfectly blended incense, Warlight is no exception. To shift the metaphor, Ondaatje sets us into the censer of his writing, steeps us in the world of memory that, burning, brings out the bouquet of all our crushed spices.

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Working Together Across Divides

A Feature Review of 

A Flexible Faith:
Rethinking What it Means to Follow Jesus Today
Bonnie Kristian

Paperback: FaithWords, 2018
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Reviewed by Justin Cober-Lake

 

In many ways, it’s not a new story: the church continues to divide, members continue to find problems with their own local church or denominations and switch memberships, Protestantism continues to protest. In some ways, though, the old story has taken a new shape: young Christians see rigid teaching in one church they can’t follow or deem theologically unsound, and they leave church altogether. Bonnie Kristian responds to this moment with A Flexible Faith and its look at the variety of views within Christianity. As she says, “I don’t want to see Christians becoming nones because they’ve been falsely told there’s just one way to follow Jesus. That’s why I think there’s a lot of value to introducing Christians to our siblings and even distant cousins in the faith” (6). With that idea in mind, she discusses doctrines, opinions, people, and traditions that show the various ways that Christians have found to explore their faith.

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Following the Risky, Radical Jesus
 
A Feature Review of 
 

A Gospel of Hope 
Walter Brueggemann

Hardback: WJK Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Carolyn Miller Parr
 
 
 

Although Walter Brueggemann is best known as an Old Testament scholar, his newest book may surprise some readers with its emphasis on Jesus. The author’s comments on biblical texts, while always faithful to the original, are also faithful to the truth they shine on our current life. His insights are original and thoughtful. His own deep, living faith flows through his writing and speaking. He inspires me.

The gospel in the title of this slim volume is the good news Jesus proclaimed and lived: we can trust God’s love. We needn’t be afraid to follow Jesus today into the suffering of the world. God is with us and has our back, even though we can expect resistance from “Pharaoh” (the author’s shorthand for domination systems of society).

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A Dream of Flight
 
A Feature Review of

We’ll Fly Away:
A Novel

Bryan Bliss

Hardback: Greenwillow Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Denise Frame Harlan

 

As a young teenager, I held my scars close to me. I woke in the night remembering the ragged bullet hole in the chest of the monogrammed shirt that I’d given to the German soldier hiding in an outbuilding. I felt the straw stiffness of hair bleached too white in an effort to disguise me when I accidentally shot someone in a gang fight. I learned “nothing gold can stay” from Ponyboy before I learned it from Robert Frost. I carried flowers for Algernon and helped the rats of NIMH make their break with Mrs. Frisby. I kythed with Meg and Ananda as Charles Wallace flew from when to when, between runs with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Alfred Hitchcock mystery series for teens. I knew the world was dangerous.

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To Argue Lovingly 

A Feature Review of 

A House United:
How the Church Can Save the World

Allen Hilton

Paperback: Fortress, 2018
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Reviewed by Justin Cober-Lake

 

As the US has become increasingly divided, some Christians have rightly sought to show the rest of the world a unified group. Some have suggested, however, that that unity should include no public disagreements, that the world should see a church together in mind as well as heart. We’d have a better witness if we didn’t argue on Twitter, the thinking goes. Conversations concerning Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention have sometimes taken this tone, whether about letting those outside the SBC watch the chaos or even about how leadership problems could be handled.

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Birds, Bricklayers, and Baseball
 
A Feature Review of

The Character of Virtue:
Letters to a Godson
Stanley Hauerwas

Hardback: Eerdmans, 2018.
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Reviewed by Sam Edgin

 

As the Boy’s head dipped down into the water I thought about joy. The Boy, my friend’s son, wide-eyed in the midst of sacrament, upside down in baptism, stared at the ceiling with that wild wonder all children have in new experiences. His head came up, rivulets running onto his small, strong shoulders. He did not cry. The sign of the cross was marked on his forehead, invisible and eternal. The sacrament, holy and piercing through time, was put in words. It was our turn. My wife and I, up before the expectant faces of the congregation, were asked if we would do our part, to support and encourage the the Boy in the life of faith. We said yes. It was why we were there, honored and nervous and brimming with love.

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An Embodied and Communal Celebration
 
A Review of 

Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table
J. Todd Billings

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
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Reviewed by Andrew Stout

 

How does your congregation celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Does “celebrate” actually describe your experience of communion? Could you say that your experience of the Supper has significantly shaped your understanding of the gospel? These are some of the questions that J. Todd Billings provokes in his most recent book. In Remembrance, Communion, and Hope Billings argues that the Lord’s Supper is more than simply an addendum to the worship service. The Lord’s Supper is an “icon” of the gospel, “an icon that draws us into a divine drama by the power of the Spirit” (1). By inviting readers to a more robust experience of the Lord’s Supper, Billings is inviting us to a meal that places us in the center of Scripture’s redemptive drama and incorporates us into the life of the Trinity.

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Let Us Hear from
One of Merton’s Students

 
A Review of
 

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere
(40th Anniversary Edition)
James Finley

Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2018
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Reviewed by Win Bassett

 

Do we need another book about Thomas Merton—the man, monk, and writer who inspired many to enter monastic life, some to write spiritual memoirs, and hopefully more than both of those numbers combined to pray? Even before Merton’s death in December of 1968, an industry of texts about him had appeared. Following his perplexing electrocution by a floor fan in Thailand, the field of Merton studies only multiplied (and for good reasons). But after one reads Merton’s primary texts—including his seven-volume journal set—and the works of his closest associates, including Patrick Hart (Merton’s last secretary), there is not much more to explore about the man. I believe Merton himself would tell us to go to prayer rather than to pick up another book about the one time the author met him. I can read Henri Nouwen’s words until the cows come home, but his book about Merton, Encounters with Merton: Spiritual Reflection, takes this very premise.

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Meeting Ourselves in the Mystics
 
A Feature Review of

Mystics and Misfits:
Meeting God through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints

Christiana Peterson

Paperback: Herald Press, 2018.
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Reviewed by Tammy Perlmutter
 
 

“Maybe simplicity, as it turns out,
is both boringly simple and searingly difficult.”

-Christiana Peterson

 

The first time Christiana Peterson encountered a saint or “mystic” was while cleaning out her grandmother’s house after she had been settled into assisted living. She fell in love with a worn, wooden garden statue of St. Francis carved out of a log she had spotted through the patio door.

Paired with the coloring pages of saints her daughter was bringing home from Catholic school, Christiana met other mystics, “devout human beings who lived on the edges, who longed for unity with God.” Little did she know it would bring her into an experience that would have a profound impact on her life and faith.

Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints is not your typical book about saints you can never hope to emulate or otherworldly mystics. Mystics and Misfits feels like an unexpected, personal gift, a friend sitting you down to tell their story with complete openness, trembling but present, offering you their world-weary soul.

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Living, Loving, Dancing, Praying, and Contemplating
 
A Review of 
 

In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir
Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O.

Paperback, Ave Maria Press, 2018.
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Reviewed by Richard Goode

 

If one is looking for a guide to explain contemporary monasticism, Br. Paul Quenon offers the strongest of résumés. He is, for example, the embodiment of Trappist stability, having been a monk at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethesemani for 60 years. As a novice he studied under none other than Thomas Merton. Br. Paul is also well published, receiving such accolades as “Best Spiritual Book of the Year” for his work. Beyond these facts, he is adept at painting a verbal picture. In the pages of this book, for example, we see the darkened Gethsemani church as the monastic choir prays Vigils at 3:15 am, an Office that the community has honored every day since its founding in 1848. Moreover, he portrays a modern Cistercian community respecting its centuries-old practice of “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work).

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