Archives For Progress


A Review ofNew Covenant Bound.
T(ony) Crunk.
Paperback: UP of Kentucky, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Thomas Turner.

The young poet T. Crunk’s latest work is a mixture of poetry and prose that tells the epic story of a family adversely affected by progress and the longing for an agrarian past. The words form a tangle of longing and the haunting of an old way of life that peruses the depths of Kentucky’s soul.

Crunk navigates the rising waters of a Tennessee Valley Authority project that displays scores of families with dam building, all for the sake of “progress.” Juxtaposed in the text are the old ways and new ways of living for a family that has lived the same way since they first touched Kentucky soil, and their inability to sail safely through the waters of progress and change are the focus of Crunk’s keen sense of place and time.

The sense of place is Crunk’s most dramatic arc, as the family must move from their old town to New Covenant. Bound for this new town, the family wrestles with the loss of a farm that served as their whole identity: when you are born and buried in the same place you live and work, place and identity have a way of becoming the same thing. The family’s hard life of farming seems cursed, and their curse doubles as their whole existence will soon be placed under billions of gallons of water:

Our only sin was being born where we were. And not giving up on
a land that often spited us.

Our only sin was not having what they thought was enough. And
being forced to take what they call help. (52)

What the government called help was diversion to an internment camp and not much else. What seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start for hundreds of subsistence farmers in Appalachia soon turned into a cynical view of government, progress and the value of life and land. Some move away to cities. Some commit suicide. Others stick around as close to their homeland as possible, hoping that they can re-create their life, but it is all for naught. The narrative of human flourishing and living on the land has been drowned like their farms, and the light of hope which once carried them through hardship and hunger has faded to the point that darkness can now overcome it.

Crunk’s poetry shapes the ethos of an age that is so different but so very much like our own, when progress is supposed to go about unobstructed and unopposed for the sake of the people, for our own good. But Crunk forces us to reflect on our history of unrelenting progress, that under every reservoir there might well be the hopes and dreams of people cast asunder to on our collective journey toward a “brighter” future.

Brief Review: NEW COVENANT BOUND by Tony Crunk [Vol. 3, #42]


“A History of Our Brokenness”

A Review of
Pandora’s Seed:
The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
By Spencer Wells

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Watch two videos of Wells talking about this book… ]

Pandora’s Seed:
The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
By Spencer Wells
Hardback: Random House, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

When we, as the Church, think about the Fall of humanity, our minds tend to jump to the Garden of Eden and the familiar story of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit, and undoubtedly this is an essential part of the biblical narrative.  What we tend to gloss over, however, are the ways in which waves of brokenness surged forth through time and space from the epicenter of Eden toppling and subjugating not only humanity but all creation.  The Fall, of course, brought on the immediate consequences of pain in childbearing and in working the Earth, but it was not long before we encounter murder, lies, and the amassing of people and power in cities, and then Creation forcefully lashing out at itself with a massive flood.  The parallels between this biblical story of the Fall and its aftermath, parallels in a striking way, the scientific account of the development of early civilization presented in Spencer Wells’ new book Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization.  Wells is a heralded geneticist, and “Explorer-in-Residence” at the National Geographic Society.  His previous two books The Journey of Man and Deep Ancestry, probe aspects of our evolution and development as humankind, as well as our genetic history.   I should be clear before I go any further that any theological parallels that I note in conjunction with Wells’ research are my own and not his.

Wells’ thesis is that our development of agriculture about 10,000 years brought with it many “unintended consequences” that have plagued humanity over the intervening millennia, and he narrates a very different story than that put forth by modernist champions of “progress” over the last two centuries.   In his words: “The biggest revolution of the past 50,000 years of human history was not the advent of the Internet, the growth of the industrial age out of the seeds of the Enlightenment, or the development of modern methods of long-distance navigation.  Rather it was when a few people … decided to stop gathering from the land, abiding by the limits set in place by nature, and started growing their food.  This decision has had more far-reaching consequences for our species than any other.”  While I realize that discussions of dates and timelines in relation to the earliest eras of human development are open to some degree of leeway and interpretation, I suspect that most people could accept 10,000 years as a possible length of post-Fall human history, so for the sake of this review let us assume that what we know from the biblical narrative as “the Fall,” occurred essentially simultaneously with the development of agriculture as Wells describes it here and see how the consequences he describes fit with those noted in scripture.  Wells makes his case with chapters that focus on specific consequences, each of which begins with a relevant story from his global travels.

Continue Reading…


ERB Editor Chris Smith
Reviews Warren Cole Smith’s

Warren Cole Smith is an evangelical, but he is one who has deep concerns about the trajectory of American evangelicalism over the last 25 years.  Smith, publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service, has compiled these concerns in the challenging new book, A Lover’s Quarrel with The Evangelical Church.  I picked this book up expecting to find many theological critiques of evangelicalism (individualism, bondage to modernity, etc.) that would be similar to those that I regularly hear from my peers in post-evangelical churches – except, of course, coming from one who has chosen to stay committed to the evangelical church.  Thus, it came as a surprise that Smith’s concerns were not primarily of this sort.  Indeed, Smith is content to accept the basic theological moorings of evangelicalism, and focuses his questions instead on the ethics and praxis of American evangelicalism.

Smith begins with a challenge that will resonate with most post-evangelical readers, a critique of the evangelical attraction to power, both right-wing political power and the power of numbers manifested in the church growth movement, etc.

Read the full review:

Warren Cole Smith.

Paperback: Authentic Media, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ]

THE NY TIMES Review of
FORDLANDIA: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s
Forgotten Jungle City.

The Amazon has always proved fertile soil for extravagant utopian fantasy. Victorian explorers, American industrialists, ideologues and missionaries all projected their dreams and ideas onto this terra incognita, this untamed wilderness of exotic possibility.

For Europe and North America, the vastness of South America was a focus for romance, discovery and potential profit, and also a canvas on which to paint a new world according to individual belief. Elisabeth Nietzsche, the sister of the philosopher, plunged into the jungles of Paraguay in 1886 intent on creating her own vegetarian Aryan republic, spurred on by the anti-Semitic effusions of Richard Wagner. Theodore Roosevelt predicted the great river system could be harnessed to create “populous manufacturing communities.” Nelson Rockefeller thought the 4,000 miles of the Amazon might be cut into canals.

With Fordlandia, Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University, tells a haunting story that falls squarely into this tradition: Henry Ford’s failed endeavor to export Main Street America to the jungles of Brazil. Fordlandia was a commercial enterprise, intended to extract raw material for the production of motor cars, but it was framed as a civilizing mission, an attempt to build the ideal American society within the Amazon. As described in this fascinating account, it was also the reflection of one man’s personality — arrogant, brilliant and very odd.


Read the full review:

The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s
Forgotten Jungle City.
Greg Grandin.

Hardback: Holt, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Byron Borger offers a Sneak Peak
at Rob Bell’s new Coffeetable Book

I want to briefly tell you about a stunningly original book, an example of an unusual and rare commitment ondrops like stars.jpg the part of an evangelical publisher, the new coffee-table sized gift book by Rob Bell, Drops Likes Stars (Zondervan)  I have to tell you that I’m not going to tell you what that title means, but you will know by the end of the 150 + page book.

The book is arranged much like some of his other boyant and interesting titles, but, well, more so.  That is, there is just one sentence on some pages, super-graphics, or tiny print, a second color or typeface, or even a scrawl or two (when he mentions that, after spraining his writing hand, he tried to write with the other for a while but it didn’t work out so well.)  There are full color photos, some rather lovely, a few of stunning art works (including one of the most vivid full shots of The David you’ll see outside of a Michelangelo art book.)  The graphics are half the joy of this moving work, this large-sized bookish equilivalent to a quirky Nooma video, with a lot of white space, which helps the eye really see…

Read the full review:

Rob Bell.

Hardback: Zondervan, 2009.
Pre-order from: [ ]
Ships around August 5th.