Archives For *Featured Reviews*


Up and to the Right

A Feature Review of 

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
Andy Crouch

Hardback: IVP Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Ryan Johnson
In the heart of every woman and man there is an acute understanding that we were created for flourishing.  Equally present, however, is a devastating realization that we have failed to realize that purpose.  One needs only point to the exploitation of young children by traffickers or the amassing of wealth at the expense of others to prove the point.  The subsequent effect on our neighborhoods and communities is heart-wrenching.  The critic and prophet share the ability to bring these things to light.  The difference, however, is that the critic ends with this illumination while the prophet goes on to offer a message of hope and a vision for change.  This is what Andy Crouch has done so well in each of his previous books, Culture Making and Playing God.  This is what he does again in this important book, Strong and Weak.

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Tackling the Sacred Cow
of Youth Sports

A Review of

Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to the Sanity in the World of Youth Sports
Margot Starbuck and David King

Paperback: Herald Press, 2016
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Reviewed by Adam Metz 
One of the most impressive and respected structures in my hometown of Columbus, OH is Ohio Stadium, nicknamed “The Horseshoe,” and it is where the Ohio State Buckeyes football team plays.  Originally built in 1922 (and now on the National Register of Historic Places) it has been expanded and renovated several times over the years to the point where the seating has nearly doubled its original capacity to over 102,000 seats.  As the largest venue in the entire state of Ohio, Ohio Stadium  illustrates just how powerful sports are in American culture.

What would our communities be without the social cohesion and identity partly forged by our allegiance to professional and collegiate sports teams?  Regional pride and identity are best on display through the distinctive college mascots and corresponding colors emblazoned throughout communities: Gators in Florida, Volunteers in Tennessee, Hoosiers in Indiana, Longhorns in Texas, Ducks in Oregon, and – of course – Buckeyes in Ohio.  These sports allegiances are further nuanced as attention focuses more locally.  At one level, high school athletic programs foster their local community pride, while Saturday morning recreation leagues within those same communities further divide allegiances.

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Learning to Let Go.

A Feature Review of

The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs
Peter Enns

Hardback: Harper One, 2016.
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Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.


The book of Hebrews declares that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The author of Hebrews tells us that our spiritual ancestors received approval for their faith, even though they could not see their hopes come to fruition. To live by faith is to trust your life to a God who remains unseen. Nevertheless, many of us have a need more certainty than this. There is a need on the part of many for a bit more definition of the faith. That leads to a desire for what Peter Enns calls “correct” beliefs. Whether those correct beliefs emerge from Scripture or from tradition, they offer a sense of certainty. Peter Enns learned the hard way that this can be dangerous. Thus, he concluded that the search for certainty is in itself a matter of sin.

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A Captivating Vision
for the Christian Life

A Feature Review of

Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity
Norman Wirzba

Hardback: HarperOne, 2016.
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Reviewed by Andrew Camp

Having celebrated Easter, the church will soon be settling into what she has traditionally called Ordinary Time—the time between Pentecost Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent. Like Peter returning to fishing after the Resurrection, we are called to descend from the mountain top experience of Easter and return to the ordinary, mundane living of our Christian faith.

As we find our bearings in this Ordinary Time, we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, train ourselves to see that the mundane activities we once thought were boring are actually fraught with the love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our hearts are captivated by God’s love and we begin to see the primacy of love in all that we say and do.

Rediscovering the centrality of love in the Christian life is Norman Wirzba’s main point in his new book Way of Love. He writes, “Our way into the fullness of life is the way of love…. Love is the eternal ‘yes’ to life’s possibilities and promise. It is the form of protest that says ‘no’ to all the forces in our world that diminish and degrade life” (page 7). Wirzba longs to see the church take her place as the “training camp for love” (7), where in the context of community we are apprenticed in love, unlearning our false visions of love and relearning God’s grand vision of love, most visibly seen in Jesus Christ.

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The Mysterious Woman
Whom St. Augustine Loved

A Review of

The Confessions of X: A Novel
Suzanne Wolfe

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2016
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Reviewed by Kathleen O’Malley
I generally avoid romances, but this is one I’m glad I read. The Confessions of X is a soulful saga of a woman’s life with those she loved. I admit, though, that after I saw the cover and summary of The Confessions of X, I wondered whether this would be a story with blatant sexual immorality. The fact that the story was about St. Augustine of Hippo’s common-law wife—or concubine, as was the term then—only strengthened this impression. In the modern culture, “concubine” is an uncomfortable word, and I shied from it initially. I eventually learned that in the fifth-century Roman world “concubinage” was a monogamous relationship between a man and woman—often of differing social statuses—who could not be married. It was an accepted arrangement, though perhaps not ideal, for situations when societal reasons forbade marriage.

Author Suzanne Wolfe approached the unnamed woman, X, from the perspective that Augustine’s words about her in his Confessions showed a loving relationship. Augustine wrote that when his mother arranged an advantageous marriage for him, “the woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this blow crushed my heart to bleeding because I loved her dearly.” The Confessions of X is the story of X’s many years with Augustine leading up to this separation and after it.

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Part of Who We Are As Human Beings

A Review of

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus:
Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible
Chester Brown

Hardback: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016.
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Reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney
I can’t imagine how this graphic novel of biblical stories is going to sell a lot of copies. Sex and violence are common in this genre, but not so much serious biblical criticism, and pages 173-270 here are all afterword, notes, and bibliography, in which author/artist Chester Brown recounts (in the same tiny, hand-drawn type of the comics themselves) his indebtedness to scholars like John Dominic Crossan and Yoram Hazony, and makes learned references to works as ideologically divergent as Strong’s Concordance and Lynn Bauman’s translation of The Gospel of Thomas. Chester Brown is what one might call an independent scholar. He says he was led to this subject because of a passion for sex-workers’ rights.

Brown is a Canadian by birth. He grew up in Quebec and now lives in Toronto. He’s 55 years old and has been writing comics since Ed the Happy Clown in the early ‘80s. After that strange work, which garnered him a sort of underground following, he began writing autobiographical comics, and that’s continued to this day. I wrote a bit about this trend (not about Brown, but others) in one of my recent review articles in America magazine.

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Struggling for Identity,
Survival and Love

A Review of 

Miller’s Valley: A Novel
Anna Quindlen

Hardback: Random House, 2016
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Reviewed by Amy Neftzger
Anna Quindlen’s latest novel takes place in a time of cultural change in America, and for the protagonist the change is happening on multiple levels. Miller’s Valley is about a young girl growing into womanhood during the Vietnam war era and how the turmoil in her small town impacts her search for identity. Mimi Miller is one of the Millers from whom the town gets its name, but the tiny rural community may soon be erased. The small town setting and time period is perfect for a story about the struggle for identity, survival and love.

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Seeking Rootedness
A Review of

Why the Future of the Church Is Rootedness
Daniel White, Jr. 

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Jonathan Schindler
Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church Is Rootedness begins in an unexpected place. Author Dan White Jr. was offered “the opportunity of a lifetime to lead a successful megachurch” (p. xiii). White, however, was uneasy with this proposition and began exploring why that might be. He didn’t accept the position, and his loss is the reader’s gain: Subterranean catalogs White’s thoughts on the nature of the church and how to return to its, well, roots.

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Oriented Toward
Justice and Hope

A Feature Review of 

Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2015.
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Reviewed by David Swanson

In Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim writes consciously and unapologetically from her social and historic location: a Korean woman, an immigrant to Canada, familiar with gender and racial prejudice even when enveloped in the subtle model-minority and honorific white myths so prevalent in North American society. In doing theology from such specific ground Kim implicitly, and occasionally directly, undermines the concept of a hyphen-less theology, as though feminist-theology, liberation-theology, and others were different somehow than some sort of neutral, orthodox theology. This particular foundation is not the primary focus of Kim’s book, but it is necessary for the work she does in these pages.

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Pull Up a Seat at the Table

A Feature Review of 

Space at the Table:
Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son

Brad and Drew Harper

Paperback: Zeal Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Tim Otto.


(NOTE: The following outline [A-G] has some mild spoilers. If you wish to avoid them, skip to the first full paragraph.)

If you are evangelical, and married, here is an experiment you can try at home:

A. Make love to your spouse.
B. Give birth to a baby boy.
C. Notice that the boy prefers ballet over baseball. Boys more than girls.
D. When he is age ten go for walks with the boy. Have better theological conversations with the precocious, funny, sensitive boy than you have with most adults. Spend hours consoling him for his rejection by other boys his age.
E. Put the boy in an evangelical school in which baseball for boys, ballet for girls, and rejection by other boys, all get mixed up with God.
F. Wake up in the middle of the night crying. Realize you are crying because you love the boy so much. Spend the rest of the night awake, anxious about the principalities and powers arrayed against him.
G. When the boy is 17, learn that he has discovered sex. Realize that given his sensitivity, he is going to find other beautiful boys like him. Boys who, in some ways, understand his experience better than you. Boys whose caresses will feel like healing for the rejection he has felt. Boys he can hold, boys who will welcome it, boys who will return his affection.

If your results approximate those of father Brad Harper and son Drew, you should write a book (the above is an imaginative remix of the basic setup—that a conservative, evangelical pastor discovers he has a gay son). Space at the Table is a candid, funny, devastating account of the outcome. Brad and Drew take turns telling what happened. A terrific story, it features elements such as divine revelations, a fairy godmother, a recipe on how to cook yourself if you are gay, and a dead person who must ride in the backseat . . . in the middle.

Because it is a true story, you may want to take a couple of heart-hardening pills in advance. That is, unless you think books should saw through your chest bone, rip your ribs apart, and use your heart for a trampoline.

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