Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

The Difficult, Life-Giving Path
 
A Feature Review of 

The Way of Letting Go:
One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness
 

Wilma Derksen

Paperback: Zondervan, 2017
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Reviewed by Tamara Hill Murphy
 
 

I collect radical forgiveness stories.

As I continue to come to terms with my own experiences of trauma, I search out forgiveness mentors through stories – real life or mythologized. Through reading a wide array of stories, I’ve discovered what is probably logical: No act of forgiveness happens without, first, an incident of suffering. In this way, I guess you could also say that I collect stories of suffering.

It was this habit that led me to Wilma Derksen’s memoir of trauma and forgiveness, The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness, released in February. Derksen, now an international speaker on victimization and criminal justice issues, was on November 30, 1984, a mother and struggling journalist. When her 13-year-old daughter, Candace, called to ask for a ride home from school. Derksen was busy with a writing deadline, and asked her daughter to walk home from school instead.  After that phone conversation, she never spoke to her daughter again.

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Whose Christianity?
Which Narrative?

 
A Feature Review of

The Benedict Option:
A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
Rod Dreher

Hardback: Sentinel Books, 2017
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith

 

For over a decade, Rod Dreher has been observing and commenting on the demise of Western culture, and sketching the basic ideas that he presents in his new book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (which releases today).  His account of the deep fragmentation and crumbling of Western culture, and especially the devastation that flows from our uncritical submission to the economic forces of market capitalism, is one that many social critics across the ideological spectrum have explored over the last century, from Russell Kirk to Wendell Berry to Robert Putnam to Noam Chomsky. The title of Dreher’s book is appropriated from the final pages of Alasdair MacIntyre’s prescient book After Virtue (originally published in 1981), in which MacIntyre suggests that the inevitable end of the crumbling of Western culture will be a sort of “dark age,” in which civilization would only be preserved by communities that function in a similar way to those of the Benedictine monasteries that preserved much of Western culture through the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire. I agree with MacIntyre and Dreher that in our age of prevailing individualism, we need to find ways of cultivating community that stand in sharp contrast to the manifold fragmentation of the dominant culture.

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“We all want to go Home”
 
A Feature Review of 

Universal Harvester:
A Novel
John Darnielle

Hardback: FSG Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Josh Thomas
 
 

Steal home before sunset, cover up my tracks
Drive home with old dreams at play in my mind and the wind at my back
Break the lock on my own garden gate when I get home after dark
Sit looking up at the stars outside like teeth in the mouth of a shark

I used to live here
I used to live here

-Genesis 3:23 by The Mountain Goats


 
Nostalgia as a concept is inherently fragile as it’s an abstract desire and longing for a time already passed. Perhaps the most nostalgic era in recent history is the 1990s; this was, of course, the last decade before ‘The Internet Age’ completely established itself. Information wasn’t yet accessible through smart phones and you could easily get lost relying solely on a physical map rather than a voice through your phone telling you exactly when to turn. This turn of the century—when video stores to rent VHS tapes weren’t of a bygone era—is the backdrop of John Darnielle’s second novel, Universal Harvester.
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A Patient Attendance to Beauty
 
A Feature Review of 

God of Earth: Discovering a Radically Ecological Christianity.
Kristin Swenson

Paperback: WJK Books, 2016.
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Reviewed by Alan Van Wyk
 
 

In her brief and stunningly beautiful meditation God of Earth: Discovering a Radically Ecological Christianity, Kristen Swenson proposes a rather simple theological experiment: to take seriously the Incarnation. Of course, it is never a simple thing to take a theological claim seriously; doing so does often lead to quite radical ends. Nevertheless, Swenson begins with that most basic of Christian claims: “the one eternal Creator God chose out of love to become incarnate in order to reconcile wayward human beings to God.” So no, it is not really a simple claim, but even here, in this opening, Swenson suggests a subtle shift. Taken seriously, the incarnation is no longer about The Incarnation, full stop, but about the incarnation of God; no longer about Jesus as the Incarnate, but about Jesus as the incarnation of God. And this shift opens, for Swenson, a series of questions:

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Story and Experience 

A Feature Review of 

Why I Left / Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son

Bart Campolo / Tony Campolo

Hardback: HarperOne, 2017
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Reviewed by Jeff Nelson.
 

Early in this book, Bart Campolo shares the story of what led to his leaving the Christian faith. During a ride on his bike, he crashed head-first into a tree that led to weeks of recovering his memory followed by fresh realizations related to identity and belief. Among such realizations came one of the biggest: he, the son of a nationally renowned evangelical leader and speaker and with his own long career as a pastor, speaker, and missionary himself, no longer believed in God.

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You are More…
 
 
A Feature Review of 
 

Ruined: A Memoir
Ruth Everhart

Paperback: Tyndale House, 2016
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Reviewed by Jasmine Smart
 
 
What I love most about this memoir is that it is a gift, primarily for her daughters, but by extension to other young women and ultimately Christian culture in general.  Purity-culture theology has real-world, damaging  consequences, and Ruth Everhart has an insightful lens in which she explores those consequences: through her personal journey wrestling with the traumatic events that happened to her,  and the way her theology held up to those events and community responded.

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Speculative Autobiography?

 
A Feature Review of 
 

Moonglow: A Novel
Michael Chabon

Hardback: Harper Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Cynthia Beach

 

A shadowy horse lopes in a long pasture at night, sliding in and out of the full moon’s bright glow. This image captures well the new book by Pulitzer prize-winner Michael Chabon.

The protagonist, Chabon’s grandfather—a fictionalized grandfather—strides large and complex and strangely sympathetic, a man who moves with riveting power, yet a man whose dreams don’t ever come true.

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A Heart in Darkness

 
A Feature Review of
 
The Underground Railroad:
A Novel
Colson Whitehead

Hardback: Doubleday, 2016
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Reviewed by Alex Joyner

 

*** This review orginally appeared on the reviewer’s blog,
and is reprinted here with his permission.

 

South Carolina seemed enlightened, until you realized that, beneath the comforts and opportunities, the plan was to sterilize the black race out of existence.  North Carolina used less subterfuge, resorting to a grisly ‘Freedom Trail’ of hanging black bodies as a way of dealing with its ‘race problem.’  Tennessee was a burnt-over, cursed place and Indiana had its own terrors.

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Excoriating Christendom
—and Suffering for it

 
A Feature Review of
 

Kierkegaard: A Single Life 
Stephen Backhouse

Hardback: Zondervan, 2016.
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Reviewed by James Dekker
 
 

In an entry of less than 300 words, the then peerless Encylopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, calls young Søren Aaby[e] Kierkegaard “delicate, precocious and morbid in temperament” (vol. 15, 788). One hundred five years later, I am sure that Kiekegaard maven Stephen Backhouse would agree, probably extending Britannica’s estimation to the maverick philosopher’s entire life.

Dying after a series of seizures in 1855 at age 42, Søren—as Backhouse calls him throughout this concise, yet full biography—was not merely precocious, but enormously productive and often acerbic in in his writing. As well, he was beset with intractable paradoxes that both attracted and repelled friends, family and colleagues. During his life he reaped few accolades and much scorn for his relentless, often slashing criticism of leading Danish literati (among them Denmark’s hitherto untouchable Hans Christian Andersen) academics, political theorists and state church leaders. After being ignored by his family pastor and erstwhile mentor, Bishop Jakob Peter Mynster, Kierkegaard added him to his phalanxes of targets. Calling Mynster a “poisonous plant . . . a colossus,” he concluded, “Great strength was required to topple him, and the person who did it also had to pay for it” (148).

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Switching Our Religion.
 
 
A Feature Review of 
 

The Market As God
Harvey Cox

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2016
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Reviewed by Philip Christman
 
 
 
I teach first-year English at an elite public university, which gives me a window into the hopes and anxieties of America’s luckier youth. Mostly, they’re anxious about getting into the business school. Some of them actually want to study business, which is fine, but every semester, usually several times, I talk to someone with a demonstrable gift for thinking, writing, doing good, or making art, who has convinced her- or himself that any other major would be irresponsible. They have heard from every corner that the Market will punish them if they—who by their mere presence at University of Michigan have already found their way into a social network so privileged it beggars the human imagination—do the work they want to do. They continue to feel this way even though, from several of my course readings, they have learned that the “skills gap” doesn’t really exist (it’s largely a PR move by corporations that want to offload new-hire training to our public universities), that our future is not threatened by a deluge of art history majors, and that majors have less impact on hireability than many other factors—personal connections, school prestige, work experience. Knowing all this, and in some cases dreading the boredom and enforced club-ability for which business programs are notorious, these students still choose to reroute their hopes and dreams in deference to an abstraction: the Market.

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