Archives For Review


Fresh Subversion

A Subversive Gospel:
Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth
Michael Bruner

Paperback:  IVP Academic, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Peter Surran

The cover of Michael Mears Bruner’s book, A Subversive Gospel:  Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth, features O’Connor in her familiar spectacles and headscarf looking very subversive indeed.  She looks like she’s up to something and, the truth is, scholars have been debating on what that “something” is for decades.

Bruner adds to that debate by presenting a fresh key to unlocking O’Connor’s writing: the work of the theologian Baron Friedrich von Hugel.  The answer to the question of, “Why do we need another book about Flannery O’Connor,” is that von Hugel’s influence on the writer has never been thoroughly explored, at least in Bruner’s estimation. In this regard, Bruner does prove his point.  He points out seemingly obvious points of convergence, pun intended, with a “how-did-they-miss-this” level of certainty.  
Continue Reading…


Motivated by Myth
A Feature Review of

In Search of Ancient Roots:
The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis
Kenneth J. Stewart

Paperback: IVP Academic, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Andrew Stout

Kenneth J. Stewart is in the business of debunking myths that surround Protestant traditions. In his book Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (IVP Academic, 2011), Stewart offered a historical defense of Reformed Protestantism in response to misrepresentations from both adherents to and detractors from that tradition. In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis finds him casting a broader net. Stewart is here concerned to counter the impression that evangelical Protestantism is historically adrift, severed from the legacy and influence of ancient Christianity. This concern is motivated by former evangelicals who have converted to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as those whose journeys have brought them to “post-evangelical” expressions of the faith. According to Stewart, many of these departures are motivated by a myth – the myth that evangelicalism’s roots are located elsewhere than in the early expressions of the Christian faith.

Continue Reading…


Searching for Sacredness

A Review of

For Sabbath’s Sake:
Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community
J. Dana Trent

Paperback: Upper Room, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Alisa Williams

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I’m always excited and intrigued when I come across books by authors from other faith traditions exalting the virtues of the Sabbath. I was born into Adventism, and so the Sabbath has always been a central part of my faith, which is both a beautiful thing and an incredibly easy thing to take for granted. Reading about how others have discovered or rediscovered the Sabbath, what it means to them, and how they are reverently carving out a place for it in their lives is a delightful journey I never tire of walking.

Continue Reading…


Looking to Christ

A Brief Review of

The Spirit of Simplicity
Jean Baptiste Chautard


Translated by Thomas Merton
Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Josh Morgan

The Spirit of Simplicity has a compelling backstory: a 70 year old hidden text written by a famed French Cistercian, Jean-Baptiste Chautard, translated with notes by Trappist (a Cistercian branch) monk, Thomas Merton. In a world of complexity and loudness, simplicity for our lives and souls is compelling and increasingly popular.

The text itself is short: 114 pages of content, including 14 illustrations of monasteries, and 23 pages of notes from Merton. It is broken into two parts: The first being the aforementioned translation of Chautard’s The Spirit of Simplicity and the second excerpts from writings and speeches of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a leader of the Cistercian order, on the topic of interior simplicity, with added commentary by Merton. From a readability standpoint, the reader must remember this text’s place in history: Part 1 was written in 1920s French, translated into 1940s English, both with a target audience of the theologically trained monastic community. Bernard died in 1153. For readers familiar with dense mystical and theological texts, this time will seem familiar and accessible. For those looking for a simplicity self-help book, it will be a grind.

Continue Reading…


A Democratic Experiment

A Review of

Undomesticated Dissent:
Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity
Curtis Freeman

Hardcover: Baylor UP, 2017
Buy Now [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by James Honig

The dissenting movement 17th and 18th century England has been a lacunae in my knowledge and understanding of church history. While I have read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as a young pastor and  Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a teen and again in college, I had little awareness of Bunyan’s association with the dissenting movement and of Defoe’s, nothing.  And while I have read isolated poems of William Blake, never the long and difficult Jerusalem.

That gap has at least been closed by Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity. Curtis Will Freeman, on the faculty of Duke Divinity School, places these three towering figures of literary history firmly into the outline of church history. Freeman tells the story of the works in their historical contexts, and especially their context in the history of the Christian Church, with special attention to the church in North America.

Continue Reading…


“A Vision of Inclusion and Redemption”
A Review of

The War on Kids:
How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way
Cara Drinan

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Trudy Taylor Smith

In The War on Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way, law professor Cara H. Drinan draws on both academic research and first-hand, personal accounts to expose the oppressive system  that funnels our nation’s most vulnerable children and youth into prisons. More than one million kids are arrested every year across the country (4), and nearly 100,000 of them will be incarcerated alongside adults (73).

Continue Reading…


Giving Us Words
A Review of

Four Birds of Noah’s Ark:
A Prayerbook From the Time Of Shakespeare
Thomas Dekker

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]


Reviewed by Colin Chan Redemer
Recently a young mother said she wanted to start praying with her kids but didn’t know how, or what to say. Had I known then about the new edition of Thomas Dekker’s Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayerbook From the Time Of Shakespeare edited by Robert Hudson I perhaps would have been more helpful to her. It is easy for folks who’ve spent roughly a seventh of their life in a church pew to say “well just speak to God.” But prayer isn’t quite the same as chatting with a friend over coffee; it is spiritual food. I can image Jesus looking down at us and, echoing Mark 6:37, saying “you, give them [words to say].” Well this prayer book from the 1600’s offers many such words which, hundreds of years later, are fitting. The day I started reading the book was in my son’s first season of kindergarten. There I read the first prayer titled “For A Child Going to School” and I realized the value of being instructed in prayer even as my son was heading off to class. “Be my Schoolmaster to instruct me,/ that I may repeat the rules of true wisdom.” It is a striking prayer, that God would be the one who instructs us. If he uses the teacher in my son’s public school, so be it. And if that teacher fails in her cosmic duty: have faith, God will make a way. That alone is worth the price on the back.  

Continue Reading…


An Eternal Amen
A Review of

Night Call:
Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World
Robert Wicks

Paperback: Oxford University, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by June Mears Driedger

Popular Catholic writer and psychologist Robert J. Wicks offers a map for persons in healing professions (clergy, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers) to be resilient in their work or ministry. In the prologue Wicks shares an anecdote that sets the book title and the nature of his work:

During a presentation to ministers, a lecturer asked an intended rhetorical question, “What do you think is the core of your work?” But before he could proceed, surprisingly, one of the clerics in the audience yelled out, “Helping people through the night.”

Continue Reading…


The Other Side of  Uncomfortable
A Feature Review of

The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community
Brett McCracken

Paperback: Crossway, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon [ [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Erin F. Wasinger

Last spring, my church was in the middle of a sermon series that did nothing for me. I forget what it was about. In fact, I only remember we had a lackluster sermon series because I remember a postcard that arrived in my mailbox at the same time.  A new church, opening in a hip neighborhood downtown, promised friendship and free-trade coffee on its invitation. Free-trade coffee! I read that as code for “hipster church,” a place where everyone would care about the things I do, would listen to the same music, linger in the same coffee shops.

Continue Reading…


The Possibility for Something Better

A Review of

Future Home of the Living God
Louise Erdrich

Hardback: HarperCollins, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Leslie A. Klingensmith
White liberalism.  Roman Catholic theology.  Native American displacement.  Women’s rights.  Cross cultural adoption.  Government intrusion.  Reproductive choice.  Evolution.  Science vs. Faith. Global warming. Creation spirituality.  Motherhood.  These are some of the  issues that Louise Erdrich addresses – either explicitly or implicitly – in her latest novel Future Home of the Living God.  I loved the book.  Erdrich’s ability to touch on so many important topics without being self-righteous or pedantic should be the envy of all who aspire to write.  She has written a story that somehow manages to be both terrifying and hopeful – and all too possible.  I read the book as those of us who live within the rhythm of the church year were about to start the liturgical season of Advent.  As unlikely as it might seem, this futuristic tale is eerily (and beautifully) perfect for Advent.  Erdrich has created a narrative that confronts us with the hope of the Incarnation (begun with Jesus’ unlikely birth) but also the revelation that every birth, especially ones that take place against the backdrop of a world in turmoil, bears a hint of incarnation.

Continue Reading…