Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

A Cruciform Movement Toward
Compassion, Communion, and Solidarity
 
A Feature Review of

How Jesus Saves the World from Us:
12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity

Morgan Guyton

Paperback: WJK Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Stephen Milliken
 
 
 
Morgan Guyton’s How Jesus Saves the World from Us charts a course offering a constructive critique that seeks to diagnose twelve infectious attitudes and detoxify Christianity with a corresponding antidote for each. Reflecting on Paul’s transformation experience as an illustration of Jesus saving the world from our severely misguided attempts at piety and righteousness, Guyton invites the reader into the often ignored practice of self-examination in which he poses the question: “How would Christians live differently if we believed that Jesus needs to save the world from us?”(p. 5). As he does throughout the book, Guyton provocatively takes this a step further, “If Jesus’ cross is the heart of Christianity, then maybe Jesus has never stopped being crucified by his own people, and the ones who really get Jesus are crucified along with him” (2).
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St. Catherine and
the Turmoil of the World

A Review of 

Setting the World on Fire:
The Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena
Shelley Emling

Hardback: St. Martins, 2016
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Reviewed by Christiana N. Peterson

 

A few nights ago, before I turned off my lamp to go to sleep, my iPhone screen lit up to the news of another mass killing. In Nice, France, a man used his truck as a weapon to murder over 80 people who were celebrating Bastille Day. The next morning, there was news of a military coup in Turkey.

My heart dropped, my anxiety rose, the tears flowed. I turned to my husband and asked him, “Is this it? Is this the end?”

Many of us who are Christians, even if we aren’t apocalyptic leaning, find ourselves wondering–in the rising grief of the last few months of mass shootings, unarmed black men killed by police, the killing of policemen, and political strife–if the end is nigh. In our terror, we even seem to long for it, calling, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Lately, when I am torn up with grief, when I wonder when God will make all things new, I have been reaching for the Christian mystics, who have been able to offer me a little humility, solace, and perspective.

Shelley Emling’s book Setting the World on Fire: the Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena, is a highly readable introduction to the life and times of the saint and mystic, Catherine of Siena, whose Medieval world was as turbulent (if not more than) ours. Emling carefully weaves together a narrative of this complex patron saint of Italy along with details about the political and social contexts that shaped and moved her.

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How Shall We Then Read the Bible?
 
A Feature Review of 

Saving the Bible from Ourselves:
Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well
Glenn Paauw

Paperback: IVP Books, 2016.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by James Dekker

 

Saving the Bible from Ourselves is one of those rare books that I wish were longer. A longer book might require delving into issues still more sensitive than Glenn Paauw already takes up. Exploring controversial themes might risk challenging unofficial, but strongly accepted Bible reading practices among Paauw’s intended audience. That is, “how to read” could veer onto significant, but bumpy paths of “how to interpret.”

For example, Saving the Bible’s greatest strength is Paauw’s repeated emphasis that readers must respect and learn to read the Bible’s various literary genres as originally intended. Thus he frequently emphasizes that Bible readers—laypersons, teachers, pastors—read the Bible’s histories, stories, poems, letters, gospels and apocalyptic visions first to understand their messages to original readers.  Only after rigorous analysis and wrestling with the texts’ earlier times and cultures is it fair to discern the meaning and application for today.

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The Whole Cacophony
of Human Experience

 
A Review of 

Living with a Dead Language:
My Romance with Latin

Ann Patty

Hardback: Viking, 2016.
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Reviewed by Sam Chamelin
 
 
It seems unlikely that anyone would pick up a book about learning Latin, unless you have already had the pleasure of diving into this dusty corner of academia.  That’s precisely how I came to this book.  Like Ann Patty, I am a Latinist, and her descriptions of small, dark, and somewhat awkward undergraduate Latin students returned me to my own studies at Ursinus College.  I remember that my professor, John Wickersham, once brought an impression made from a ring of Julius Caesar as a “Show and Tell” piece, and he encouraged us to take a look.  We obliged, and yet somehow failed to match his excitement over the piece.  When we had finished our staid examination of his child-like exuberance, he chastised us with surprising fervor, saying that we hadn’t properly paid respect to our proximity to history.  “You are touching something that touched something that touched Julius Caesar,” he bellowed.  “I want you to touch it, get your fingers into it.  LOOK at it.”  With that, we passed it around again, paying more fervid attention to this historic item to the third degree.

While Ann Patty lacks the characteristic eccentricity of professional Latinists, she seems just as eager as Dr. Wickersham to connect the lives of readers to this far-from-dead language.  In this surprising and engaging memoir, Living with a Dead Language:  My Romance with Latin, Patty leads us to put our minds, our fingers, and indeed even our lives into the study of this language.  In doing so, she introduces us to a world where languages aren’t dead; rather, the continue to be a primary means by which we make sense of the world and our own lives.  Patty is happy to allow her life to serve as a template for this journey.

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When We are Ready to Love
Rather Than to Be Loved

 
A Feature Review of 

The Course of Love: A Novel
Alain de Botton

Hardback: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
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Reviewed by Alden Bass
 
 
 
This is not Alain de Botton’s first attempt to write a book about love. Twenty years ago he wrote his debut novel Essays in Love, a story about a boy and a girl who meet on a plane and – you guessed it – fall in love. An essay is an attempt, a beginning, and in this more mature reflection on love de Botton determines to see love through to its end. Along the way, he speculates on what precisely is the end of love in a series of philosophical narratorial asides.

Rather unromantically, The Course of Love is a story about marriage. Specifically, two very average Edinburghers named Rabih and Kirsten who date, get engaged, marry, settle down, have kids, have affairs, and go to counseling. Their marriage is the Everymarriage. Which is precisely the kind of story de Botton needs to develop his thesis. (Yes, this is a novel with a thesis.) Namely, love is a sort of existential rootedness, a sense of security and familiarity which grounds one to love and serve others.

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The Unbearable Absoluteness of Loss
 
A Review of

As Close to Us as Breathing:
A Novel
 

Elizabeth Poliner

Hardback: Little, Brown & Co., 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle

 
 
Reviewed by Roger Dowdy.
 
 
 
How does a book initially capture your attention? By the cover design, or the jacket synopsis, or the opening few pages, or something known about the author? In the case of Elizabeth Poliner’s novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, for me, it was all about the title and the epigraph, of all things! I am endlessly curious about the epigraphs which authors choose for their writing.

Not too long ago Barnes and Noble Book ‘READS’ posted a piece by Hanna McGrath entitled, “15 Epic Epigraphs.” Here is McGrath’s opening blog statement: “Epigraphs are pretty versatile little literary devices. They can be the uncensored mouthpiece of an author…. they can provide insight into the author’s inspiration. The best ones, though, are powerful on their own.”

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Let’s Talk About Sex
(In Its Wholeness)
 
A Feature Review of 

Good Christian Sex:
Why
Chastity Isn’t the Only Option—And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex
Bromleigh McCleneghan

Paperback: HarperOne, 2016
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Reviewed by Heather Caliri

 

Decades ago in my high school youth group, a young married couple spoke at the yearly sex talk. Before their engagement, and despite both previously losing their virginity, they chose to seek a ‘second virginity’ together, committing to chastity and their faith until they married.

What a beautiful lesson for me as a new, rather conservative Christian: that chastity was a practice for both men and women, that losing one’s virginity wasn’t devastating, and that even unmarried couples should have frank, vulnerable conversations about sex.

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Reconciliation Without History?

A Feature Review of 

Us Versus Us:
The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community

Andrew Marin

Paperback: NavPress, 2016
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Reviewed by Caris Adel

 

There is a picture on the cover of the Moral Majority newsletter from July 1983 that prominently features a white heterosexual family with hospital masks over their faces. Above their heads is the word AIDS and below, the statement “Homosexual Diseases Threaten American Families.”

For over 4 decades, the conservative and evangelical church has been telling us that LGBT people pose a threat to the American family. This long history of Christian opposition to and the demonization of LGBT people hung over my head as I began to read Andrew Marin’s new book Us Versus Us.

This book is essentially the results of a survey of over 1700 people taken over 6 years which featured open-ended questions. Not only are we getting fresh statistics on the LGBT community and the church, we are also hearing plenty of stories and opinions from them and how their faith communities affected them. Marin says this book is written for both sides – the LGBT community and the church, and therein lies my main complaint with the book. He puts them on equal ground in the religious culture war.

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God’s Vision for Shalom

 
 A Review of

The Very Good Gospel:
How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right
Lisa Sharon Harper

Hardback: WaterBrook, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Kate Blakely
 
 

This review originally appeared in
our Fall 2016 print magazine

*** Get a FREE digital copy of this issue.

 
Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right is the book for which I have been waiting. In a world desperately in need of some truly good news, the church’s responses are often lacking. The gospel must respond meaningfully to the deadly and debilitating forces that erupt around us. Yet the gospel so often proclaimed is, as Harper terms it, thin. This thin gospel succinctly describes salvation as an individual’s restored relationship with God. The end goal of this salvation is equally simple: to be saved means to secure one’s place in heaven after death. Harper weaves together her experiences with church and life, theological and biblical insights, and current cultural and statistical data in order to thicken our understanding of salvation and gospel. What emerges is a truly holistic depiction of God’s cosmic salvation. Harper enriches the message and work of the gospel by focusing attention on the Hebrew word shalom, roughly translated as “peace.” God’s salvation, in which shalom is the reality, includes all aspects of life. Shalom, Harper reminds us, is inherently relational. True peace, salvation, has to do with the actual and concrete reconciliation of all things with their Creator and each other.

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Get into the Game

 
A Review of 

Reviving Old Scratch:
Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted

Richard Beck

Paperback: Fortress Press, 2016
Buy now: [  Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Josh Morgan.
 
 
Christians view and interpret Christ rather diversely. However, there seem to be even wider discrepancies between understandings of Satan. Is he real or a metaphoric personification? Is he a fallen angel or playing a designated role in God’s court? Does he have real power or not? Do Christians need to worry about Satan, or should we have no fear because we live in Christ? Many modern Christians in developed countries seem to avoid the issue, perhaps reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, but not having much more conscious experience with the Devil beyond that.

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