Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

Humor, Transparency, Truth, and Vulnerability

 
A Feature Review of 

Of Mess and Moxie, Wrangling Delight Out of this Wild and Glorious Life
Jen Hatmaker

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2017
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Reviewed by Carolyn Miller Parr

 
Jen Hatmaker’s Of Mess and Moxie is the perfect book to pick up when your best friend is unavailable, your husband is buried in his den, and your kids are making you rethink that whole parenting thing. Funny, poignant, and smart, Jen Hatmaker is fully engaged. She likes sex. She is a woman who takes life, but not herself, seriously. The Washington Post calls her “relatable.” (Oct. 31, 2016). She reminds me of a G-rated Anne Lamott. (That’s a high compliment.)

Hatmaker is a pastor’s wife, mother of five children, and a speaker in high demand, especially among Christian women’s groups. She and her family starred in an HGTV series, “My Big Family Renovation” for six months as they remodeled their home.

Oh, yeah. She also writes books. Of Mess and Moxie is her twelfth.
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Our Absurd and Grotesque
and Beautiful World

A Feature Review of 

A Political Companion
to Flannery O’Connor
Edited by Henry T. Edmondson III

Hardback. UPress of Kentucky, 2017
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Reviewed by Todd Edmondson

 

Upon hearing of Flannery O’Connor’s death in 1964, Thomas Merton famously wrote that when he reflected on her life and work, “I don’t think of Hemingway, or Katherine Ann Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles.” It is perhaps unsurprising that Merton was compelled to draw connections between the mid-twentieth-century fiction writer from Milledgeville, Georgia and the most-decorated playwright of Greece’s Classical period. Both wrote works that occupied the threshold between violence and the sacred. Both depicted dysfunctional family dynamics and the perennial struggle between parents and children. Both confront and unsettle their audience with the oracular wisdom and obscure utterances of blind prophets, and both, in Merton’s words, show us “man’s fall and dishonor.”

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Forming Character
 
A Review of 

The Tech-Wise Family:
Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place
Andy Crouch

Hardback: Baker Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Marci Rae Johnson

 

As parents, we all struggle with setting appropriate limits on technology use for our children, and there’s no scarcity of related advice; it seems that hardly a day goes by without an article on the topic showing up in my Facebook or Twitter feed. With this little book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch, the good advice appears in one handy volume. I like the size of this book: not only does it feel good in the hand, the small pages lead me to believe that the subject is not as overwhelming as it often seems.

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The World As a Waiting Room

A Review of

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness
Gordon Stewart

Paperback: Wipf & Stock, 2017
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Reviewed by Madeline Cramer

“For a split second, I imagine the world
as a waiting room.”

 

“Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world…” the Presbyterian minister and social commentator Gordon Stewart says in “Creating Hell in the Name of Heaven”—one of a collection of brief essays in his book Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness. And, considering the timeless popularity of John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” don’t we all long for something more than what we see in front of us? Don’t we all envision a better world? If not, what would motivate us? Who would want to raise children in a world doomed to fail? Who would go to church believing that God’s kingdom would never come? But, of course, as his essay notes, that’s the Catch-22. As humans, we continue to imagine because we want a better world, but our desire for “better” also breeds anxiety. Why aren’t things already better? Who stands against us? Against our children? Is it ISIS? Is it the Republicans? Is it you?

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What Does it Take
to Sustain Community?

 
A Feature Review of 
 

When the English Fall: A Novel
David Williams

Hardback: Algonquin Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Andrew Stout
 
 
There is nothing intuitive about the notion of a dystopian story delivered in the form of a meditative, epistolary novel. However, David Williams has taken this strange notion and executed it in a way that feels perfectly natural. There is something oddly fitting about observing a widespread cultural and technological collapse through the journal entries of an Amish farmer. From the outset, Williams strikes a balance between a sense of disease and tranquility. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he effectively holds in tension a foreboding atmosphere with a sense of quiet stability.

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The Lenses of Other Worlds
 
A review of

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television
Mark Boone, Kevin Neece, Eds.

Paperback: Pickwick Publications, 2017
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Reviewed by Sam Edgin

 

My homework was simply unable to win out against worn copies of The Fellowship of the Ring, Brave New World and Perelandra that I kept beside my desk as a kid. I read them on my lap in secret, with my hand clutching a forgotten pencil that absently scrawled black across my textbook. There are times when I feel my memories have been written by Lewis and Tolkien, I spent so much time in their worlds. I didn’t expect the affect those worlds would have.

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Turning to
Contemporary Christian Poetry

A Review of

The Turning Aside:
The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry
D. S. Martin, Ed.

Paperback: Cascade, 2016.
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Reviewed by Brent Newsom

 

Since 2010, poet and editor D. S. Martin has curated Kingdom Poets, a weekly blog introducing readers to “poets of the Christian faith, regardless of background.” The range of poets presented in that span is vast and impressive, from the Anglo-Saxon poet Caedmon to numerous living writers from across the globe. In addition, since 2012 Martin has done readers and writers of Christian poetry a great service by developing the Poiema Poetry Series, an imprint from Wipf and Stock Publishers that champions contemporary poets of Christian faith.

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An Obsession With Gaining
and Keeping Power

A Review of 

The Beginning of Politics:
Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel.
Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes.

Hardback: Princeton UP, 2017.
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Reviewed by James Honig

 

My Sunday School memories of the David stories are full of heroics. David, the cheeky adolescent who slew a giant.  David, the brilliant warrior who pillaged the pagan Philistines. David, the great King who made God’s people into a great power. David the poet who wrote so many of the psalms, giving testimony to his strong and reliable faith.

In seminary, while David was still an icon of godly leadership, his dalliance with Bathsheba was also used as a cautionary tale for would-be pastors “not to get yourselves in trouble.” I still remember the lessons from David’s life and leadership that Eugene Peterson extracted from the pages of First and Second Samuel in Leap Over a Wall. In all of it, David was lifted up as a godly man after whom one could model one’s life.

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A story that will challenge your life
and how you live it.

 
A Feature Review of
 

 Blythe: A Novel
John E. Kramer

Paperback: Freedom Forge Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Michael Jahr
 
 

In the spirit of Pilgrim’s Progress or Till We Have FacesBlythe draws readers into an unfolding human drama while gradually revealing broader insights into the human condition. It is an allegory that serves as a warning and a message of hope.

Blythe, the eponymous protagonist, is beautiful, winsome and an accomplished artist. Beneath this facade, however, is an inexplicable, gnawing emptiness she suppresses through painting, nightly parties and the affection she receives from others, particularly her handsome beau, Aaron.

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Singing The Lord’s Song
in Our Homeland

 
A Feature Review of

Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America
Craig M. Watts

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2017
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Reviewed by James Matichuk
 

This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog.
Reprinted with permission. 
*** Visit his blog for many other insightful reviews!

 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is living water for our dry, thirsty souls. Nationalism poisons the well.  For citizens of the Kingdom of God, our political, national affiliation is not the most significant thing about ourselves. And yet, America has a long history of co-opting Christian language and worship for nationalistic, political ends.  Craig Watts, the pastor at Royal Palms Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, FL,  probes the reality of American Civil Religion that has permeated our churches in Bowing Toward Babylon.

Several practices of American civil religion have permeated Christian worship in US churches: The placement and honoring of American flags in the sanctuary, celebration of national holidays, the singing of patriotic songs, etc. Watts makes the case that, “rather than being innocuous practices, expressions of nationalism in worship constitute manifestations of misdirected worship that lead to the spiritual malformation of worshippers” (11). In other words, the symbols and story of America (or any nation) is at odds with the Christian story, where Christ calls a new humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Drawing a long prophetic tradition, Watts calls America, Babylon— a metaphor for an empire or nation where God’s people are tempted to succumb to majority practices and the worship of national gods.

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