Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

Against Nostalgia

 
A Feature Review of
 

The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism
Yuval Levin

Hardback: Basic Books, 2016.
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Reviewed by Ben Brazil

 

“Make America Great Again” is Donald Trump’s slogan, but it conveys a sentiment that reaches far beyond his supporters: that our nation is diminished. The Right laments moral decline, while the Left bemoans rising economic inequality.  Everyone agrees that we have, somehow, lost what is essential.

Such pervasive nostalgia, however, is actually near the root of our problems, argues conservative intellectual Yuval Levin in The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism. Moving forward, he contends, requires that we focus on the achievements, the problems, and the possibilities of our current, fractured society.

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Faith Working Through Love
 
A Feature Review of 

God Unbound:
Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church

Elaine Heath

Paperback: Upper Room Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Daniel Ogle.
 
 
 
The church is anxious.

A large part of that, of course, is that the church is in the world, and the world in which we live is anxious – anxious about power and who will have it, anxious about identity and how we deal with difference, and anxious about how exactly we are going to live into a future that we can’t predict.

One of the most important parts of God Unbound, Elaine Heath’s new book, is that she doesn’t hide from that anxiety.  It is right there in the title, and one of the book’s gifts is naming the anxiety and then setting out to help us think through how we can faithfully live in the midst of it.

The particularity of the church’s anxiety often centers on institutional survival. A generation ago we built buildings and created organizations and made assumptions out of strength and confidence.  But the world has changed – and those assumptions and those buildings and those structures that once seemed to serve us so well now look more like obstacles than pathways to faithfulness.
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Still Miles to Go

 
A Feature Review of 

The Fire This Time:
A New Generation Speaks about Race

Jesmyn Ward, Ed.

Hardback: Scribner, 2016.
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Reviewed by Amy Neftzger
 
 
The Fire This Time is a collection of essays compiled by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, who received that award in 2011 for her novel Salvage the Bones.  Both the contents and title of The Fire This Time are a response to James Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time, but this response is one that has been a long time coming. One need only turn on the evening news to see that not much has changed since Baldwin published his book in 1962. This new collection of literary work has taken up the baton in the relay marathon for racial equality. It seems that each generation has hoped for progress, and perhaps sometimes it feels as if we’re getting somewhere, but as soon as we turn around we see that we’ve taken very few steps from the starting line and there are still miles to go.

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Incarnating the Kingdom 
Within Your Neighborhood

 
A Review of

Next Door As It Is in Heaven:
Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood
Lance Ford and Brad Brisco

Paperback: NavPress, 2016
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Reviewed by Ashley Hales

 

A year ago, a moving truck pulled up just ten miles from where my husband and I grew up. In the heat of summer, we moved boxes and unpacked: we were moving “home” to plant a church. A few months later, we invited neighbors and new friends to a huge Christmas party with food, good wine, and a hip jazz band. One of our neighbors, a bit incredulous about a church throwing a party with no strings attached, asked what our plan was to start a church. My husband floored him, saying, “I think we’re going to start by throwing good parties.” As we’ve met over small dining room tables and in local parks, hired a taco truck for a nearby neighborhood, and opened up our lives and homes, our little church has begun to grow into a generous and vulnerable community that is learning how to live out the Kingdom of God, even in the mecca of materialism in suburban, southern California. So it was with much excitement that I agreed to review Next Door As It Is in Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco.

We all care deeply about where we are placed, and we all long for home to feel like a firm foundational place of belonging. The problem is that we elevate the nuclear family and our physical houses instead of concomitantly seeking the good of our neighborhoods, cities, and world. Authors Ford and Brisco are desperate to recover a sense of the neighborhood as the space of connection, where the gospel takes on flesh.

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The Urgency of the Unremarkable
 
A Feature Review of
 

The Noise of Time: A Novel
Julian Barnes

Hardback: Knopf, 2016
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Reviewed by Andrew Stout

 

In addition to being one of Britain’s most esteemed contemporary novelists, Julian Barnes has distinguished himself as an eloquent and knowledgeable commentator on art. His most recent book of essays, Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art (2015), is a series of reflections on the works of (mostly) French painters. In The Noise of Time Barnes is again reflecting on art – though this time it is the music of the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and the commentary comes in the form of a novel.

From one perspective, the entire narrative is a meditation on the role of the artist. It is a meditation rooted in the specific circumstances of Shostakovich’s life and his conflicts with Soviet authorities. It asks questions about destiny, time, cowardice, courage, and the artist’s use of irony. Shostakovich ran afoul of the party for the themes of his early opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was denounced as “Muddle Instead of Music,” in the party paper Pravda, conceivably written by Stalin himself. This incident is the catalyst for the story’s drama, and the review’s final line sets an ominous tone: “It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly” (27).

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A Life Made of Prayer

 
A Review of 

Short Trip to the Edge:
A Pilgrimage to Prayer

Scott Cairns

(New ed.) Paperback:
Paraclete Press, 2016.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Galbraith

 

In Short Trip to the Edge: A Pilgrimage to Prayer, poet and literature professor Scott Cairns recounts a series of trips to Mount Athos, a peninsula in northern Greece that has been home to a number of Eastern Orthodox monastic communities since the Byzantine era. The original edition of the book, published in 2006, described the first three trips that Cairns made to the Holy Mount. This new edition, which includes helpful photographs, maps, and an epilogue, confirms that the initial account was not just a travel narrative in disguise or a temporary solution to a mid-life crisis. As the epilogue reveals, these trips have become regular events in the last decade. A self-confessed “slow pilgrim,” Cairns has developed a good amount of momentum by this point, having now made eighteen trips in his ongoing “pilgrimage to prayer.”

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Mommy Guilt, Work,
and The Role of Women

A Review of

A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World
Katelyn Beaty

Hardback: Howard Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Ashley Hales

 

I didn’t actually expect to love Katelyn Beaty’s book, A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, The Home, and the World. You see, my own relationship to work is complicated. I’m a stay-at-home mom (at least from the outside) living in the middle of suburbia, helping my husband plant a church in a neighborhood miles from where we each grew up. It doesn’t look like I’ve done much with my life. Sure, I can point to my Ph.D. from a prestigious university in Scotland, my few years lived overseas, our years of ministry in Salt Lake City, as things that make me interesting — evidence that I’ve worked, I’ve made my mark on the world. I squeeze writing a book into the wee hours. But since my weekly routine involves grocery shopping, caring for four little children, and managing homework, I thought I’d find more mommy guilt. I was expecting to either feel shame for the form my mothering takes (“Why aren’t you using your Ph.D.? We need more women in the academy!”) or feel that the portfolio life I’m living (balancing life as a writer, pastor’s wife, mother, volunteer) was somehow less consequential than a 9-5 job.

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Imagining a Better Form of Justice

 
A Review of

Executing Grace:
How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us
Shane Claiborne

Paperback: HarperOne, 2016
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Reviewed by Douglas Graves

 

Over the years, Shane Claiborne’s work and voice for social justice issues have challenged many in the church to reconsider the role of faith in their everyday lives. His latest book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, is written in the same vein and certainly has the power to change many Christians’ perspectives on capital punishment. Surprisingly, the book has quite an optimistic ending, encouraging readers that the death penalty is on the run. But Claiborne does much more than simply dismiss any legitimacy still given to the death penalty. By telling stories of individuals behind the numbers and offering a refreshing view of God’s character and his expression of grace, Claiborne invites his readers to imagine a more fulfilling form of justice.

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A Prophet in His Hometown

 
A Review of

Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians
Mark Tietjen

Paperback: IVP Academic, 2016
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Reviewed by Michial Farmer

 

If it’s true that we become like what we worship, readers of Søren Kierkegaard must always keep in mind that his God was inscrutable, labyrinthine-minded, confounding, terrifying—but ultimately loving. So, too, is Kierkegaard’s jungle of writings. Producing two or three treatises simultaneously, under different (though equally ridiculous) pseudonyms, he was not afraid of self-contradiction and sought controversy more than agreement. If he could find no one else to disagree with him, he’d do it himself. It’s the rare reader indeed who can open the puzzle box of his thought without an instruction manual. And yet, as Mark Tietjen shows in his latest book, Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians, Kierkegaard wrote what he wrote (and wrote it the way he wrote it) as an act of service.

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“Do all the good you can.”

A Review of 

Organic Wesley:
A Christian Perspective on Food, Farming, and Faith
William Guerrant, Jr.

Paperback: Seedbed, 2015
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Reviewed by Michelle Wilbert

 

Over the last thirty years, from roughly 1990-2016, the world has seen a veritable explosion of new—or renewed—social, political and spiritual movements that have sought to reclaim and rejuvenate ideas about the intersection of health, fitness, environmental sustainability and spirituality. Most of them are centered on centuries old models that have been resurrected and updated with new information and research combined with technological advances that have allowed us to share information on a mass scale—we can communicate across the globe in a matter of seconds and what a contrast from the18th century of John Wesley and his ministry as recounted in William Guerrant, Jr.’s delightful book, Organic Wesley: A Christian Perspective on Food, Farming and Faith.  One can only wonder at John Wesley–the Anglican cleric who founded the Methodist movement—on foot or on horseback, traversing the far corners of England promoting his message of personal holiness that included a powerful belief that a Christian had an obligation to preserve and maintain their physical health and well being through a healthy and simple diet, ample exercise, appropriate rest and recreation “in the open air” and all the better to be fit to serve and minister to others.

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