Archives For Books and Culture


Slow Church

In just about 2 months, the SLOW CHURCH book that I have co-written with John Pattison will be released!

(I’m told that the book is going to the printer today…)

Slow Church:
Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

Paperback: IVP / Praxis, 2014

PRE-ORDER your copy now from Amazon or IVPress

(If you haven’t already… Thanks to those of you who have pre-ordered copies!)

Two important developments this week:

1) The Slow Church conference is two weeks away!
Continue Reading…


The BIG news of this week was that John Wilson, of Books and Culture magazine (part of the Christianity Today family of publications), surprised us by making the first issue of our print edition the subject of his weekly podcast.  John was extraordinarily kind and generous, demonstrating a keen sense of who we are and what we are about.  So… Many thanks, John!

If you haven’t heard the podcast, you can listen to it here…  (it’s about 5 minutes long, and well worth your time!)

For the next few weeks, we are running a contest with over $400 in prizes (books and subscriptions to our print edition).
CLICK HERE to enter, if you haven’t already.

And finally, if you are a writer and might be interested in doing an occasional review for us, be sure to check out our call for reviewers.


Rodney Clapp Reviews Rick Bass’s Novel

Who, in a world now so thoroughly constituted as a consumer culture, is not susceptible to the allures of fame? As Rick Bass’s new novel palpably demonstrates, certainly not Maxine Brown. Maxine was (and remains) the oldest of the three siblings that made up the Brown Family, a country music singing group successful in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The Browns pumped out a burst of hits that included “The Three Bells,” “I Take the Chance,” and “Money,” and for awhile kept pace with the brightly blazing production of a close friend of the family, one Elvis Presley.

Bass’ novelization of the Browns’ experiences is not a chronologically ordered, exhaustive retelling of their lives and career as a singing group. Instead, he gives us a series of set pieces that poignantly show the Browns (especially Maxine) in the ascent from poverty in the Arkansas woods to Nashville stardom, and then their abrupt retreat back into comparative obscurity. The book is also a fictional meditation on fame and its cruel vagaries.

Read the full review:

Rick Bass.
Hardback:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  ,2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The NY TIMES review of
AMERICAN GRACE:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us
by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

At first glance, the authors of “American Grace” would seem to suffer from very bad timing. Between the completion of their manuscript and its publication, the dispute over the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan erupted, followed by the ­Koran-burning controversy, and somewhere along the way a New York cabdriver was stabbed, apparently for being a Muslim. All this gives a quaint air to their declaration, in the book’s first chapter, that “America peacefully combines a high degree of religious devotion with tremendous religious diversity.” And it seems to render moot one of their main goals: to illuminate the source of this inter­faith ­tolerance.

Actually, though, the story told in this book, by the social scientists Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and David E. Campbell of Notre Dame, is urgently relevant to the recent surge in interfaith tension.

True, America’s tradition of peaceful religious coexistence is largely about harmony among Christian denominations, and so doesn’t speak directly to the question of Islam’s place in America. But it’s also true that there was a time when many American Protestants viewed Roman Catholics no more charitably than a certain Pentecostal preacher in Florida views Muslims. In the 19th century, a Massachusetts convent was destroyed by anti-Catholic rioters, and civil unrest in Philadelphia — set off by rumors that Catholics wanted to rid the public schools of Bibles — led to some two dozen deaths and the destruction of two churches.

Read the full review:

How Religion Divides and Unites Us
By Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell.
Hardback: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]


James K.A. Smith Summarizes and Critiques
James Davison Hunter’s TO CHANGE THE WORLD

Many of us are more indebted to James Davison Hunter than we might realize. His 1991 book, Culture Wars, has been a lens through which many have understood the dynamics of American politics, even if they have never read it. An astute and influential observer of American culture, particularly the role of (and transformation of) religion in the public sphere, Hunter is a sociologist without the usual allergy to normative language. And while he’s never taken sides in the culture wars (indeed, despite the way it is cited by both friends and detractors, Culture Wars was pointing out the futility of conducting such battles), Hunter has not shied away from prescription rooted in description and analysis. Thus, his later book The Death of Character unapologetically laments the loss of a unified moral ethos in American culture that undercuts the possibility of true character formation. Although Hunter’s writing can sometimes tend toward the curmudgeonly end of the jeremiad spectrum, he’s nonetheless an important cultural critic.

His latest offering is a logical trajectory from this earlier work. To Change the World is explicitly addressed to Christians in the United States and is his most unabashedly prescriptive and theological work to date. It is also one of the most important works on Christianity and culture since Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Until Justice and Peace Embrace. One could hope that To Change the World might finally displace the lazy hegemony of Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, even if I think Hunter’s book might have a couple of similar faults.

Read the full piece:

To Change the World:
The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

James Davison Hunter.
Hardback: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Lauren Winner reviews Ernesto Cardenal’s

In the 1960s and 1970s, Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal lived and worked among the campesinos of Solentiname, a 36-island archipelago in Lake Nicaragua. On Sundays, the community gathered for worship. In lieu of a sermon, Cardenal led the men and women in a conversation about the gospel passage. Cardenal recorded many of those conversations and published them as The Gospel in Solentiname. In a 1998 essay, Timothy Gorringe points to these dialogues as a good example of a more widespread phenomenon: “Cardenal’s Bible studies are the products of a community,” writes Gorringe, “which believes that Jesus is the incarnate, risen and ascended Lord, who encounters us both in the Eucharist and in the struggle for justice. Whilst recognizing that everything is political, the members of the community do not think politics is everything.”

Read the full piece:

The Gospel in Solentiname.
Ernesto Cardenal
Paperback (Reissue Edition): Orbis Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


FLOURISH Magazine Reviews
Ragan Sutterfield’s New Book

Last week, I was listening to a scientist on public radio describe the mating calls of the amphibians she was studying. She said, only half-jokingly, that these frogs had been around for thousands of years and would still be around long after humans were gone.

This idea that humans are at best a trivial part of the natural world, and at worst “some sort of colossal mistake on the landscape,” is one of two “heresies of human alienation in creation” that Ragan Sutterfield describes in his small book of essays, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline. The other heresy, one of which many Christians have been guilty, is that humans are masters of creation, and that nature is utterly submissive to the needs of humanity.

Sutterfield describes what should be our correct relationship with nature: that of creatures of a loving God who, by extension and Imago Dei, should love creation. Practically speaking, Sutterfield says that farming is a route to reconnecting with the ways of loving creation that we have forgotten.

Read the full review:

Ragan Sutterfield.
Paperback: Doulos Christou Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Press ]

Poems by Robert Hass

Some might consider Robert Hass to be the Dominating Golden General of contemporary American poetry, although any hint or taint of the tyrannous will seem remote from him. Hass is winsome, widely respected in the literary world, and his poems (and the voices speaking in them) are vastly appealing. These should be reasons enough to obtain and take pleasure in The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems. In some volumes sharing this format, the new work is thin, serving mainly to garnish the literary buffet of several previous books. Hass’ existing readers will be pleased to know that the “new” section here is substantive—forty pages of elegies, a ballad, and notebook meditations. Also generous are the inclusions from Hass’ five prior books, including the seminal Praise and his last collection, the critically lauded Time and Materials. One of Hass’ best known poems appears in the former book, “Meditation at Lagunitas,” with its distinctive mix of discursiveness and poststructuralism (“The idea, for example, that each particular erases / the luminous clarity of a general idea”) and love-making and bread and a clown-faced woodpecker and an assertion that, while paradoxical, still outlasted high theory: “There are moments when the body is as numinous / as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.”

Read the full review:

The Apple Trees at Olema:
New and Selected Poems
Robert Hass.
Hardback: Ecco, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Favorite Books of 2009

David Fitch Reflects on
Soong-Chan Rah’s

For my money, J Kameron Carter’s (Professor of Theology and Black Studies at Duke Divinity School) Race: A Theological Account is the best book on the issue of race and the development of Western White Christianity. To grotesquely oversimplify, Kameron helps us see (through Foucault and others) how “race” was constituted by the West once the Roman church separated itself from the Jews (and the nation of Israel) in the first three centuries. In other words, once the church’s identity was no longer seen as an extension of the ONE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, chosen for Mission to the world, and became in essence separated from the church of Jerusalem, race became a constituting factor in the church and it was an invention of the Western church to create all sorts of fleshly power relationships. If we would escape the cycle of race, we must escape the Western culture that shapes us by this concept of race. Rah is right about this. It is encoded in our language, our culture and the ways we relate in the Western church. It is part of democracy and part of capitalism. This is how deep Rah’s White Cultural Captivity goes. The question is, to what extent have the various ethnic churches now coalescing in America and indeed around the world, by their buying into capitalism and the great United States, become grafted into this same racist account of the world? And how do we all get out of it. We must deconstruct race as a constituting encoding of our very language and the way we think. Has Rah accomplished this in his book? Or moved us deeper into the ways race defines us? I seriously don’t know.

To my knowledge, the only ethnic group in N America able to call the church into diversity and out of white cultural captivity with a critical distance to prosperity-driven-capitalism-endorsing-Christianity, ARE THE NATIVE AMERICAN CHRISTIAN indigenous groups and their leaders that Rah talks about in his book (see here for instance). I know some of the leaders as friends, and frankly they have a reserve for buying into the American economic system (for obvious reasons) and yet have a love for Jesus Christ. For my money, these are the ones we should be looking to for leadership on this issue … but will we all listen?


Or our review of Kameron Carter’s RACE

The Next Evangelicalism:
Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity

Soong-Chan Rah.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ ]


Halden Doerge reflects on
Slavoj Zizek’s new book Violence 


“I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek’s latest book, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. The book it vintage Žižek, going off on somewhat related tangents frequently that are always thought-provoking and often entertaining. What is helpful about the book is the way in which it rightly complexifies talk of violence and peace. Žižek delineates three forms that violence takes, one which we are familiar with, and two which tend to happen below the surface of our perceptions about society. The first form of violence that Žižek describes is what we commonly think of as violence: the event of one person perpetrating harm on another. This Žižek calls “subjective violence.” It is clear and visible and it is always perpetrated by a guilty subject. The central thing to note about how we perceive this form of violence is that it is always an interruption into a prior background of tranquility and peace. First things are in a state of peace and then that peace is disrupted by an act of violence.  … ”


Read the full review: 

Slavoj Žižek.

Paperback. Picador. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $11 ] [ Amazon ]

Books and Culture reviews
Kathleen Norris’s newest book
Acedia and Me.

If Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett had waited a few years to perform their chart-topping hit so that they could first read Kathleen Norris’ new book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, they might have described more insightfully the “half-past twelve” tedium they were escaping for a “five-o’clock somewhere” drink. And country music aficionados like me might have understood better why we seek diversions from the daily tasks that seem so mind-numbingly routine.

Ever since Norris first encountered the word acedia in early monastic writings twenty years ago, she has been mulling it over, wiping the dust off this forgotten concept. In the book that grew out of that preoccupation, she examines her life—and her marriage in particular—in order to illustrate acedia’s characteristics, dangers, and cures, contemplating the many facets of this vice with the help of monks, psychologists, philosophers, poets, novelists, and pharmacologists.  …”

Read the full review:

Acedia and Me.
Kathleen Norris.
Hardcover. Riverhead. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $21] [ Amazon ]
Neal Stephenson’s newest novel

“A telling moment comes early in Anathem, Neal Stephenson’s latest mind-bogglingly ambitious epic saga. On the planet Arbre, mathematicians and philosophers have been segregated from the rest of humanity for a very, very long time. They live in “concents” — an intentional conflation of the words “concentration camp” and “convent.” As the story begins to unfold, our hero, Fraa Erasmus, is giving an outsider a tour of the concent’s main attraction, a magnificent clock that depends on the sun for daily synchronization.

In practiced tour guide patter, Erasmus casually observes: “But even during a nuclear winter, when it can be cloudy for a hundred years, the clock doesn’t get too far out of whack.”

The concent’s residents organize their lives according to a time scheme in which not just seasons, but nuclear winters, come and go. Outside the concent’s walls, the rest of humanity goes about its business like so many fast-food- and video-game-obsessed mayflies.


Read the full review:

Neal Stephenson.

Hardcover. Wm. Morrow. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ] [ Amazon ]