Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review 105: Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom - Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (J. N. D. Kelly)

Honest (doesn't ignore faults)and pentetrating history of one of the great heroes in Church history; Chrysostom's courage (speaking out against privileged) and perseverance (enduring frequent exile) are humbling. Regaining his power in preaching should be one of the first tasks of the Church.

Review 104: Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

 Some very good paragraphs/lines; a pretty compelling picture of the darkness of the human heart and the heroic struggle for/against truth.

Review 104: Dracula (Bram Stoker)

3 men who love a girl try to save her. An astonishingly Christian theme of heroism and redemption pervades this book. This is Christianity incaranate in the dark, romantic tale. Though, as this great work shows, dialect is always hard to write, and the dialogues of Van Helsing become grating for their attempt to capture dialect. Otherwise, beautiful story; it will leave you on the edge of your seat. I have been to Transylvania (Romania). Apparently the character of dracula was based (in part) on Vlad the impaler from this region. The castle there is amazing, and was inhabited by Romanian royalty (not just Vlad).

Review 103: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (Alfred Lansing)

Riveting telling of Shackleton's adventures in the North Pole. Essential reading for any man who wants to be a man. Shackleton is one of the great leaders of history -- especially when it comes to leading men through adversity, and having a knack for inspiring confidence. This man could lead people anywhere... to the North Pole. No really, he led men to the North Pole, and amazingly, he got them back.

Review 102: The Letters of C.H. Spurgeon (Charles Spurgeon)

My first intro to Spurgeon was not his sermons, but his letters, and it was a breathtaking intro. At a very young age he demonstrates wisdom and humility. No doubt, this is why he was/and is the prince of preachers.

Charles Spurgeon, soon after conversion:

I can get good religious conversations with Mr. Swindell, which is what I most need. Oh, how unprofitable has my past life been! Oh, that I should have been so long time blind to those celestial wonders, which now I can in a measure behold! Who can refrain from speaking of the marvellous love of Jesus which, I hope, has opened mine eyeslNow I see Him, I can firmly trust to Him for my eternal salvation. Yet soon I doubt again; then I am sorrowful; again faith appears, and I become confident of my interest in Him. I feel now as if I could do everything, and give up everything for Christ, and then I know it would be nothing in comparison with His love. I am hopeless of ever making anything like a return. How sweet is prayer! I would be always engaged in it. How beautiful is the Bible! I never loved it so before; it seems to me as necessary food. I feel that I have not one particle of spiritual life in me but what the Spirit placed there. I feel that I cannot live if He depart; I tremble and fear lest I should grieve Him. I dread lest sloth or pride should overcome me, and I should dishonor the gospel by neglect of prayer, or the Scriptures, or by sinning against God.

On sanctification,

But so long as I am encaged within this house of clay, I know they will lurk about, and I must have hard fighting though the victory by grace is sure. Praying is the best fighting; nothing else will keep them down.

Review 102: The Expulsive Power Of A New Affection (Thomas Chalmers)

I rate this one of the most important sermons ever preached. The title alone is sanctifying. You can't replace a bad affection without putting into its place a holy affection, Chalmers argues.

Review 103: The Character of Paul an Example for Christians (Jonathan Edwards)

One of the sermons I can say truly changed my life. This is not just a different kind of writing, approach -- this is a different religion. Edwards is not afraid to challenge/warn Christians. And we are better for hearing these challenges -- safer for feeling unsafe.

Review 102: Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God (Jonathan Edwards)

The world would find a lot more advantage in facing, rather than ignoring, the wrath of God. Proof is in this sermon. The themes of eternity/heaven/hell are far too overlooked in our day. Edwards 'wakes the slumbering children' and calls sinners on the brink of eterntiy to consider the great salvation. Edwards is not cold, but alive with joyful adoration of God.

Review 101: The Religious Affections (Jonathan Edwards)

I once heard this described as THE MOST IMPORTANT book ever written outside the Bible. Wow! This book will take decades to master, but it is worth the effort. Edwards rightly asserts the simple and revolutionary truth: our affections are important in true religion, but evaluating right affections is a tricky thing.

Review 100: The Jesus I Never Knew (Philip Yancey)

This was the first book I read that encouraged me engage with the person of Christ, while still a new Christian. While it aims to surprise, perhaps it doesn't startle enough. Also, wieghed down in places with a pop-culture approach to the Lord Jesus. Thus, this work lacks appropriate reverence and intimacy at the same time. While trying to be untame, still too tame. I don't recommend this book as a means to 'growing in the knowledge of Christ.' Instead, I'd recommend reading the gospel of John with DA Carson's commentary in hand.

Review 99: Amusing Ourselves To Death (Neil Postman)

Postman's book is loved by Christians, but his critiques are hollow in the first part of the book (too tied to rationalism) -- he seemingly would be content to return to another era, before technology. The last part of the book, where he applies his critiques, is much better. He displays the carnage that has come from a culture inundated with images -- a culture which has lost the ability to read and think. I can't recommend the first part of this book because it is not self-critical enough of modernism/rationalism. The second part of this book deserves our careful consideration, especially the part dealing with TV religion.

Review 97: The Mind Of The Maker (Dorothy Sayers)

Sayers outlines a trinitarian theology of writing, shows how it can't be escaped (by believers and unbelievers), and gives some cues on how to be a better writer by being a better practical theologian.

Review 96: His Excellency: George Washington

This book covers some neglected landscape in Washington Bio's. Thus, it has freshness. Still, helpful points are overshadowed by mocking/critical/self-righteous tone. I can't recommend it. Instead, for a rousing intro to Washington's life/times, see the book 1776 by David McCullough.

Review 95: Fidelity (Douglas Wilson)

Preface to all Doug Wilson reviews follows.I am grieved over the content (Federal Vision) and tone (mocking disdain) of Wilson's latest work. All the same, when it comes to the family, I know of no one better. He writes consicely and convincingly. His books are good introductions to just about anything having to do with the family -- coming from the historically Christian perspective, with the leaven of reformed theology. Now, about this book. Very good for young men, and soon to be married folks. This book is forthright in discussing sensitive things dealing with intimacy/lust, etc. If you ever asked, "Why doesn't anyone address this...," this is the book for you

Review 95: A Memoir of the Rev. Edward Payson

Payson's practical piety and preaching are a model for me. He deals with the harder themes in scripture hoping they will 'do some good.' And they do!

Review 94: Stepping Heavenward (Elizabeth Prentiss)

One woman's journey to godliness." That says it all. This was my first intro to puritan piety and I was ravished. I give this book to all my sisters/mothers in Christ for gift occasions. This book exudes wisdom and experiential Christianity which can thrive in and through suffering. Also, very honest portrayal of the path of sanctification.

Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love To Thee (Sharon James)

After reading Stepping Heavenward, I was eager to read this. This is a very real biography. It doesn't gloss faults, but is still aims to be encouraging. I was disappointed with the direction Prentiss' husband took toward the end of his life; he layed the groundwork for the greater victory of liberalism a generation later. I was also disappointed to see how the family started to take a backseat in this era of Church history; where is Prentiss' husband during most of her trials? Prentiss' trials are gut-wrenching, especially the death of her child. The section on Payson (Prentiss' father) at the beginning is worth the price of the book.

Review 92: God In The Dock (C.S. Lewis)

Intro to C.S. Lewis reviews.Evangelicals have more and more come to grips with the fact that 1) Lewis was not the clearest theologian (his views on other religions are an example), 2) His view of scripture is wanting (he relies too much on 'the experts'). Still, for what he is good at (Apologetics, literary criticism), he is without peer. Now, to this book. This is a collection of essays and lectures. Many of them are concerned with how to communicate the gospel. Several others are responses to specific objections to Christianity. Lewis' engagement with the community of science is especially helpful. There is also an interesting essay "Priestesses in the Church" which addresses the issue of women's ordination in an insightful and different way. This essay stands outside the normal ways this debate is usually carried on; Lewis, especially as a literary man, has something important to say on this.

Review 91: A Preface To Paradise Lost (C.S. Lewis)

Lewis explains how form and content are interwoven in a work of art. In this case, he shows how the epic was the appropriate vehichle to communicate Milton's vision of The Fall. 

Milton apparently held heretical views concerning the deity of Christ; and 'Paradise Lost' is up for criticism in that 'the devil is the hero.'

His views on the Fall are also troubling; he seems to attribute sinfulness to intimacy. As a poem it is great work, as to some of the content, 'there is death in Milton.' But then, as Lewis says, we can't separate form and content

Review 90: The Education of Little Tree (Forrest Carter)

This is the journey of a little boy to come to grips with his adoption, life with his loving grandparents, cruel and invasive government, and eventual loneliness in his identity as an Native American. 

This book left me bitter in a bad way (if there is a good way). Since my ancestry is mostly Native American, I imagine it had the same effect on me that "Roots" is likely to have on African Americans.

The redeeming element of this book is the relationship with grandparents: their willingness to sacrifice; their adherence to an older code of integrity.

Review 89: The Picture of Dorian Grey (Oscar Wilde)

 Great book; great concept; great story-telling. You reap what you sow ... eventually.

Review 88: A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean)

Tale of how an older brother cannot, despite his best efforts and intentions, save his younger brother. All he can do is admire his beauty while it crumbles to dust, and lives on only in memory. The saddest story I have ever read. It left me reeling for a week. This is a picture of hopelessness, when there is nothing outside us to save (in this case: those we love). As a picture of hopelessness it is quite poignant and effective, utterly genuine and sincere. If there was no God this book would be beautiful resignation; since there is a God who can save, this book is a tradedy beautifully written. I can't think of a better example of effective communication of pathos. You feel loss when you read this.

Review 87: Spiritual Depression (Martin Lloyd Jones)

Applies the gospel gracefully to depression. Shows how the key themes of the gospel are really what we need to hear again and again. However, too little recogniton of the fall and its abiding conseqences, ie. Lloyd-Jones sees no legitimate place for depression. This book is shallow in places as a result, and might leave some feeling guilty. Also, this doesn't have the same practical power of Spurgeon on this subject. In terms of pastorally dealing with the depressed, Timothy Rogers "Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy" is far superior. Still, this is a good intro to spiritual depression, and would be very profitable if read alongside Rogers and Spurgeon. (Note: if you want to read what Spurgeon has to say here you'll have to look through his sermons). Note: when referring to Christians I think we should abandon the word 'depression' for a more biblical word like 'downcast.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review 85: The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy (The Millionaire Next Door The Surprising Secrets of Americas Wealthy (Thomas J Stanley/William D Danko)

Proverbs (in the Bible) is right. Being diligent and loving what you do are more important than being wealthy, while paradoxically, as this book shows, those are the two things that often lead to wealth.

Review 85: The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

The practical wisdom in this book applies to much more than war. A lot to be learned here on leadership, planning, strategy, integrity. This is a perfect example of how all truth is God's truth. And, all truth pervades all of the wise life (ie. the good general would also make a good pastor, and for many of the same reasons). Also, there is something to learn here about spiritual warfare.

Review 84: The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock (T.S. Eliot)

This is a haunting poem which displays Eliot's sense of powerlessness and vapidity. This sense crescendos in 'The Wasteland.' Eliot's skill with words is remarkable. You will be repeating this poem to yourself long after you have read it, and feasting on its words. Shall we go then you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...

Review 83: The Wasteland (T.S. Eliot)

The definitive poem of the modern era by the greatest modern american poet. This provides a vivid picture of Eliot's life before his conversion. He sees the modern world, and his own life in it, with bracing clarity: drudgery, atutomatism, hopelessness, and a fragmented existence; the form of this poem reflects modernism. Perhaps Eliot's seeing the world of modernism so clearly led to his seeing the need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you compare this to "The Four Quartets" you would think they were by a different author. The "Quartets" presents a world of order and hope. The writer is the same, but his his heart is changed. He is a new man; a new poet.

Review 82: The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)

 How to foil the tempters power by a careful examination of his stragegies in the life of one man. One of the first 3 Christian books I read. I have re-read it many times. Interestingly, we learn more about human nature from seeing it against the contrast of evil tempters. I was most impressed by what I learned about myself and my own inclinations, motives, mis-motives. We have seen the enemy in this book; the enemey outside, and the enemy within.

Review 81: Heaven (Randy Alcorn)

A general intro to all things having to do with heaven. Very good at unmasking the fact that we know next to nothing about Heaven as American evangelicals. Perhaps because, as John Piper says, "It is hard to go to Heaven in (super-wealthy) America." At times the speculation goes far beyond scripture, too far. Also, Alcorn reaches some dubious conclusions because of his presuppositions. And, he uncomfortable letting Jesus speak for himself at times. However, Alcorn is not shy about the fact that rewards are clearly a proper motivation; he also does a good job describing the nature of these rewards.

Review 80: The Scarlett Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

A book that attempts to condemn puritan self-rigtheousness. However, it would be hard to find a more self-righteous and moralizing work. In this case, the morals are different than the puritan era, (the latter being viewed with disdain), but there is a morality here. Even legalism. This book is neither a faithful intro to puritanism (except as propoganda), nor an especially beautiful morality. What is its place then? It has merit as a notable misfire, and as an example of how the most self-righteous people are the best at masking it, and most blind to it: Hawthorne included.

Review 73: Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy (Timothy Rogers)

This is the best book for those struggling with melancholy/despair/gloom. It is also the best book to read if you want to help someone in this state. Rogers speaks about what he knows, from experience. He shows us how 'mercy' is critical in dealing with those in despair. He applies the beatitude 'blessed are the merciful' to those ministering to the downcast. This book is soaked in mercy.

Review 72: Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)

This book saved my life. At a time when I was being skewered by skeptics in the university, Lewis stepped in with his clear genius, took my hand with one hand, and with the other, fought off the lions.The best part of this book is how Lewis, as an intellectual, takes on the critics. His method and intellectual gifts were and are, for me, the real gift of this book.

Lewis convinces; he makes us firm in the faith.

Review 79: Manalive (G.K. Chesterton)

This is the tale of a man who comes alive, then makes it his mission to bring others alive. This book is pure joy: joy purified. It is the intersection between Chesterton's theology of mirth and literary skill. It is the incarnation of Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" in Novel form. You will love life more, and come more alive, after reading this book.

Review 78: Mornings On Horseback (David McCullough)

An encouraging, riveting, well-written survey of Roosevelt's life. Was Theo Roosevelt the greatest man's man, the greatest president, the greatest natural leader, that post civil war America has ever produced? I think so. This is all more encouraging against the backdrop of his personal (sickliness, death of first wife) and political (he faced the NY political machine with bravado) challenges.

Review 77: Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

The first children's book that was ever read to me (in first grade). It was my favorite then; it is my favorite today. It occurs to me now, in adulthood, that being wild is part of being a boy. One of the best parts. I think that is the real meaning of this story. It makes me think -- why have we tried to tame boys so much in the 21st century?

Exposition of Leviticus (Master's Commentary) (Andrew A. Bonar)

Shows how the book of Leviticus exalts the person and work of Christ when read in light of the NT. Also, some passages of poignant application. A great tool for seeing and savoring Christ in the much neglected book of Leviticus.

Review 76: Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

The wonder-full story of an orphan girl and the man/woman (a sister and brother) who adopt her. Anne is the picture of excellence and virtue, though she has her faults (temper, and tongue). Even her faults have a certain virtue -- as she is honest about them. I want to give this to my daughters -- should I ever have any. There is something so hopeful and encouraging about these stories; I am at a loss for words. You'll have to read them for yourself (by the way, keep reading the whole series. It gets better. I would actually rate Anne of Avonlea right alongside Anne of Green Gables).

Review 75: Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness (Debbie Maken)

This book challenges modern singles who aren't that serious about getting married; it shows that men especially bear the burden. This book is practical and challenging. Very helpful for men and women alike.

Review 74: Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology (Frederick S. Leahy)

If you are interested in demonology and spiritual warfare read this. This book is biblical in emphasis, reformed in theology, and helpful in every way.

Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (Billy Graham)

The mammoth history of Graham's life and times is well told here. We may critique Graham's theology and alliances (justly so), and Ian Murray's Evangelicalism Divided is helpful in this sense.

However,  we can learn from Graham's integrity, and we can marvel at the work of God in and through his life.

It is impossible to read this book without exclaiming, "God is at work." Graham details some of his struggles here in an encouraging way. He knows the God who hears prayer; he influenced numerous presidents; he traveled all over the world preaching to untold billions. This is quite a life. Perhaps the most important section of this book comes right near the end when he talks about his regrets. Two that stuck with me, 1) He wished he had spent more time studying the word and growing closer to God, 2) He wished he had spent more time with his family. This is a good reminder for all of us -- the most successful ministry (and Graham can claim that title like no other modern man) must be measured against the backdrop of intimacy with God/one's own family. 

Sidenote: I heard Graham preach in person on two occasions (St. Louis and Charlotte).

Review 72: Education of A Coach (David Halberstam)

This book details not only Belichic's rise to greatness, but also his coaching genius. There are many valuable lessons here on being a leader of men. In fact, if I was teaching a class on leadership this would be on the reading list. This book is also helpful for young pastors. Why? It shows common obstacles in leading, and how one man successfully overcame them.

Review 71: State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (Bob Woodward)

Woodward documents how, in his view, things went from promising to bad, and then bad to worse in the Iraq War. He actually starts before the War with key events that would later be critical blunders. The heroes of this story are the few figures who were willing to sound an alarm, especially those on the ground in Iraq. The villain is Sec. Def. Donald Rumsfeld. Woodward portrays him as power-hungry, unwilling to listen to counsel, and willful. A recipe for disaster. President Bush was at the disadvantage of having few people who would give him earnest counsel. Also, he was surrounded by a couple of key weak advisers who couldn't stand up to the domineering figures in his cabinet. This tale is a reminder that power corrupts more than individuals. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how we got to where we are in Iraq.

Review 70: The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

This book is a study of how character shapes circumstances. It is an excellent read -- a page turner that will keep you guessing right up to the end. Based on Collins depiction of Christians it is clear that he had disdain for hypocrites, maybe 'the faith' itself. You can see why Eliot would say that this was the greatest detective novel ever.

Review 69: Holes (Louis Sachar)

A modern classic. A tale of forbidden love, broken promises, and reaping consequences throughout generations. Ultimately, this story shows how friendship redeems the life and family of a social outcast. My only two critiques, 1)This story borders on propoganda vis a vis modern minded ethics, 2) Sometimes the events/coincidences strain the realm of probability, and require extreme forbearance.

Review 68: Michel De Montainge: Selected Essays (Classics Club)( Michel de Montaigne)

Montaigne is so self-focused he is almost humble. He can't stop talking about himself in his essays, but it is the kind of self-reflection that dwells mostly on faults, and begs the reader for patience. C.S. Lewis' counsel is better: it is wisest not to think about ourselves too much, either for good or ill. Montaingne's main value lies in: 1) His reflections on repentance and glory, 2) His thorough digestion of classical authors (Seneca, Horace,etc), 3) His counsel that the first order of all of our lives is to know enough about ourselves to get our own house in order.

Review 67: The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (G.K. Chesterton)

This is the story of ultimate paradox: how our most feared enemy proves to be our best friend. Much of this story is just 'fun' as Chesterton himself commented. Thus, this is worth reading for the pure enjoyment of it. This story has a breathless pace and you are left spinning in the end: what does this all mean? The poem in the introduction is worth the price of the book: it is a poem affirming life with the certainty of joy.

The Review 66: Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)

Edmund Morris deserved whatever awards he received for writing this book. He makes history thrilling; though in the case of TR, it would be hard to write a boring biography. I am convinced it was TR's moral vision that made him great. That moral vision , as this work shows, came from his father. One father is worth a thousand teachers.

Review 65: Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life (Kathleen Dalton)

For my money, the best one volume work on TR. One wonders if the choice of subject is the most important task of biographers. Choosing TR is always a safe bet. This work is even-handed. I found the section on TR's college years insightful; Dalton reveals a side of TR in his college years that doesn't shine through in Morris' more detailed work. The most important chapter, and the chapter I believe is most crucial in understanding TR, is near the middle of the book: "Saving the National Soul." This chapter is a survey of TR's moral vision for America, and it details this theme better than any source I've found so far.

Review 64: The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis ( Alan Jacobs)

Michael Jose said it best, though writing about A.N. Wilson's biography of Lewis:

I am strongly reminded of the position in which John Betjeman's biographer, Bevis Hillier found himself. He tells us that he decided to avoid producing a 'critical biography', which is an illegitimate art-form, as it 'yokes together historical narrative and literary criticism'. This is Wilson's error, and he compounds it with his own repetitious and subjective brand of psychoanalysis. It is as if he cannot restrict himself to any one role, or even a coherent set of roles. He wants to be an honest broker, iconoclast, Devil's Advocate, psychoanalyst, literary critic, and historian by turns. He fails.

Review 63: The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Brian Cummings)

Cummings is indebted to Derrida's deconstructionism, and he tries to cast the reformation as a 'word game' with much 'distance.' I suspect that he misquotes his sources to advance his thesis(see his section on Montaigne's 'war of words'). His emphasis on the reformation as a literary and grammatical event is beneficial. Otherwise, his work is subject to the usual critiques of decontruction (see Van Hoozer's "Is There a Meaning...").

Review 62: The Greatest Communicator: What Ronald Reagan Taught Me About Politics, Leadership, and Life (Dick Wirthlin)

Light and entertaining retelling of RR's rhetorical/political strategy, ie. how he won landslides in 1980, 1984. Wirthlin was the architect of these victories and he perfected scientific politics, even down to calibrating how certain words affected audiences. The reader will be interested to learn that the political strategy continued long after RR won elections. His strategist (Wirthlin) continued to conduct polls/ focus groups, and RR was as much a campaigner in office as he was in the election cycle. The best part of this book: Wirthlin provides his analysis of what made RR a great communicator. Much can be learned here for any budding writer/speaker. So, what did make RR such a great communicator? Values! How did he craft such value rich messges? "Persuade through reason. Motivate through emotion."

Review 61: Irresistible Revolution (Shane Clairborne)

This book is to be commended for resisting materialism and for taking Jesus' most challenging words seriously; beyond that, it is awfully self-indulgent-- a surprise, perhaps, for a book espousing asceticism, and new monasticism. This book proves it is possible to be self-indulgent while being a monk (ie. to be overly focused on self). This is why we must always remember the reformation principle that righteousness from God is the only hope for righteousness in life. When we seek to establish our own righteousness the result is pretty much what we have here, a monasticism that cleaves life into the sacred/secular. Furthermore, it is a mistake to turn absolute pacifism into a Christian value, as Claiborne does (see Carson's Love In Hard Places for a more biblical view on War). There is such a thing as a just war. I hope readers resist the revolution espoused in these pages because it represents a liberal Christianity (ala Tony Campolo), and the spirit of the age (environmentalism). The last, and most disturbing point: This book is not specifically Christian, though it uses Christian lingo. This is the danger of elevating extra-biblical values (environmentalism, pacifism) above the priority of scripture (Faith in Jesus Christ).

Review 60: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)

Well written: clear and compact. This book is so simple a child could follow its development and argument; though, the evil is so grotesque, this is not reading for children. Many of the themes in this book are frighteningly similar to the USA in 2008: moral corruption in Germany, the Nazis; the willingness to trade freedom for financial security (we just saw the gov't take over the financial industry this week with a 700 bill. bail out). The pressing question: could what happened to Germany happen to us? Shirer argues that one of the main faults of the Allies leading up to WWII was the failure to take Hitler seriously, even when he was very clear about his intentions. I fear we are similarly sluggish in reading political developments. The greatest lesson for us at present: resist compromises with incremental evil because indepedence lost cannot be regained: "In making common cause with the lawlessness... the generals were putting themselves in a position in which they could never oppose future acts of Nazi terrorism not only at home but even when they were aimed across the frontiers, even when they were committed against their own members (226)."

Review 59: Bush At War (Bob Woodward)

Woodward is clearly biased; his tone is cynical. This detracts from any sense of objectivity. In the foreward he claims all his sources are documented, but I would have like to seen that documentation. Much of the first half of this book reads like gossip. Most of the details in the beginning of the book are not revelations; in fact, they are brief to a fault. However, as the book goes on it does contain several revelations: the most disturbing being Colin Powell's (the only true moderate) ostracization; the most surprising: how bad things were going at first in Afghanistan. The biggest alarm for me: how, almost at the instant of the 9/11 attacks, Bush and his aides were bent on war. War is the key term of this book. This strikes me as reckless, a lust for blood and revenge.

Review 58: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (Edmund Morris)

A re-imagining of the genre of biography applied skillfully to the 'film' of RR. This genre is not so new really: it fits into the class of historical fiction. Often this is frustrating, sometimes entertaining, and occasionally brilliant. In this case the genre (historical fiction) suits the man, and C.S. Lewis would approve, believing as he did that form and content are inseparable. At times Morris condemns bitterly and visciously; often he admires begrudgingly (enviously? see character of Paul Rae). The mild perversion in his earlier classic 'The Rise of TR' is in full view here. He suspects Reagan of being a hollow man, but his work on Reagan is open to the same criticism; it is hollow in parts, lacking insight, lacking real engagament; Morris skimps on enormous sections of RR's presidency.

Review 57: The Morality of Laughter (F. H. Buckley)

A fairly serious book about laughing. This is a philosophical, at times theological, enquiry into laughter. A helpful book in that it encourages us all to give laughter its proper place in our lives. The reasoning is usually sound and convincing; Buckley rejects postmodernism (40-42) and defends Christianity as true joy (64, 66-70). His discussion of joy is excellent (68-69). Two critiques: 1) I am not sure the main thesis of the book (laughter comes from superiority) is sound, relevant, or consistently held (cf. p 70), 2) Imprecise use of terms gets confusing. For example, is 'laughter' the same as 'amusement' (p. 65)? Sports are 'amusing,' but don't illicit laughter.

Review 56: Everything They Had (David Halberstam)

At times the writing is pedestrian; also, this book is surprisingly short of engagaging insights; however, the essay on "Men w/o Women" is a pretty good defintion of what 'fellowship' truly means. The essay "Sports Can Distract" is a breath of fresh air, showing that Sports can't really heal us if our lives are already empty. An excerpt: "I am made uneasy by those who seem to need sports too much, these crazed superfans who bring such obsessive behavior to games where complete strangers compete. There is an equation at work here: The more obsessive they are as fans, the emptier I suspect their real lives are...after 9/11...let me suggest that we will do well in the current difficult crises not because the 49ers do well...but rather if we as a nation are strong, wise, and patient." Halberstam shows the best sports can do is distract -- but that is no small thing, and actually a good thing in its place.Also, I can't understand why Halberstam argued against Jordan coming out of retirment ("Say it Ain't So, Mike"). Is 'you will ruin your legacy' really a reason? Perhaps Jordan added to his legacy a rather unflattering chapter, but not becaue of his play, but because of his selfishness. Still, Halberstam's prediction that the Wizards would be dreadful was right on the money, and a much more substantive reason for Jordan to either a) stay retired, or b) go to another team (preferably a contender).

Review 56: The War Within (Bob Woodward)

This is Woodwards chronicle of the last two years of "Bush at War." Each book in this series gets better. Woodward seems to have mastered the War biography in process. Notwithstanding the weakness of the first book, the last is a tour de force. Insightful, enthralling, and tragic. In the end he lays most of the blame for missteps on Pres. Bush. According to Woodward, things went wrong because Bush was arrogant, a bully, and obstinate. Thus, unwilling to listen to counsel. Bush just 'felt' he was right and was not open to any other interpretation. One lesson: leaders need to cultivate open forums of debate, without making subordinates feel disloyal.

Review 55: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why (Amanda Ripley)

This is a scientific/experiential examination of who survives disaster, and why; beautifully delivered with a poetic prose style. Many of the themes are almost Biblical(the need for a grand narrative, hope, community, etc. in times of crises). Some of the research conclusions are dubious, subject as all such conclusions are to interpretation. However, the wisdom in this book is concrete and illuminating, and the human interest stories are riveting. This book is now in my top 10 of most important/helpful/influential books I have ever read.

Review 54: A Biblical Approach to Personal Suffering (Walter C. Kaiser)

Partly commentary, partly application of the book of Lamentations. This is short enough to read in a couple of hours, and would form a good intro to the much neglected book of Lamentations. The book itself is organized around a program for recovering from suffering, following the outline of the book of Lamentations. Especially good is Kaiser's discussion of God's anger (59-62), and his description of various kinds of suffering, "Suffering in the OT (121ff)": 1) retributive (ie. punish. for sin), 2)educational (Pr. 3:11), 3)vicarious (Is. 42-53), 4)empathetic (weep with those who weep, and of God: Is. 63:9), 5)doxological (cf. John 9:3), testimonial (God, not Job was on trial: Job 1), 6)revelational (Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), 7) eschatological (period of intense suffering that fxn as birth pangs). I don't know if suffering can be divided up into neat categories, and sometimes the categories overlap; also, there may be a few categories Kaiser misses. Still, I think such categories are helpful knowledge in times of affliction.

Review 53: How to Read Slowly (James W. Sire)

A classic. Not only great counsel on how to read (note: pronouncing words is not the same as reading), but also a primer on how to read with worldviews in mind, ie. training in discernment.

Review 52: A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash (Sylvia Nasar)

Nash is a disturbing figure in person. His egomania, not highlighted in the movie, is seen here is stark detail. His domineering relationship toward his wife is troubling.

Review 51: Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)

Those who think socialism is 'compassionate' should read this. It is written by a man who, for a time, wholeheartedly embraced socialism. Orwell shows what the final result of socialism is: slavery, and (as Churchill also warned) a police state.

Review 50: The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton (Chesterton)

Interesting as a background to Chesterton's works "The Man Who Was Thursday" and "Father Brown." Also, Chesterton is incredibly relevant for the present Imperialism of America; he confronted the same thing in England in the Boer Wars. The section about his insanity is scary, exposing the dangers of 'spiritualism.'

Review 49: Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both (Laura Sessions Stepp)

A startling look into the culture of 'hooking up' that honestly grapples with the fallout of such a lifestyle. So, what is the fallout? 'Hooking up' leaves a wake of emotional devastation which ultimately leaves one passionless, 'unhooked,' i.e. unable to connect with others in meaningfull relationships.

This book is a subtle critique of feminism. The power feminists clamoring to be free sexually, and found themselves led gently to slavery. And, make no mistake, the game of 'hooking up' is all about control, and domination of another. This book shows how women use their sexuality to try and enslave men only to find themselves in an ever deeper, darker slavery. The drama of Genesis 3 is played out again and again in this book, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you."

To her credit, Stepp is critical without being judgmental. She interacts graciously with a number of students, and one gets the feeling that these interactions were made possible because she really cared about the girls she was interviewing. Also, this book is not in the vein of Tom Wolfe's "shocked but impressed," "Hooking Up," which romanticizes the unhooked culture. The tone is scientific, with touches of melancholy.

So, what is Stepp's solution to the epidemic of 'hooking up'?

1)The author longs for the days of good old fashioned dating, when relationships took time to develop, and their were restraints in place (from Parent's, Colleges, etc). However, this seems like putting a band aid on a bullet wound. Is dating really the answer? Dating was the pitstop on the way to 'hooking up.' I prefer courtship.

2) Parents/School authorities having meaningful, non-judgmental dialogue with their children about sexuality. However, this is still not enough. We have to go farther and challenge parents to take responsibility for guiding their children not only through infancy, but then the teenage years, and into marriage.

Review 48: The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever (John Feinstein)

The best sports book I have ever read from the best sports writer I have ever read. This is the chilling account of how one act of violence can alter the trajectory of many, many lives, mostly for ill -- though the ending of this saga conveys hope; see the line, "We are brothers."

One is moved to consider the consequences of Kermit Washington's 'punch.' You do reap what you sow, and that is nowhere better illustrated than in Washington's life after the 'punch.'

Saddest of all is the fact that it appears Washington never came right out and said he was sorry. He never confessed his sin fully, openly. That may be the harshest sowing of all, with the worst reaping.

Review 47: An Unquiet Mind (Kay Redfield Jamison)

This is the personal story of a manic-depressive who has given her life to studying and treating manic-depressives. Interestingly, the book itself seems an incarnation of the life of the writer. The first few chapters are manic, but, gradually, the book slows down and becomes more even-keiled.

Jamison is poetic, at times mystical, but in the strange way. The insanity she lives with is communicated, unawares, not so much in the content as in the style and pathos. You get the feeling, occasionally, that the writer is mad.

Jamison’s crash into mania and depression was the result of several factors:
1) Genes (her Father’s especially)
2) A restrictive military upbringing (she comes back to this again and again)
3) Moving to a new, unfamiliar place

I have to wonder if her wild romantic life didn’t play a more important role than she realizes in bringing on her mania. At some point this romantic life proved stabilizing and healing (through 2 love affairs with Englishman, and a marriage to a stable, kind man), but the first part of the book hints at irresponsible and dangerous immorality. No wonder we are warned in the scriptures to “guard our heart,” and be careful about “awakening love before it pleases.” Have we seriously considered the destructive consequences of teen-age love affairs? Jamison remarks jokingly upon her “excessive involvement in pleasurable activities (181).” Too much honey is not good.

I also have to wonder what role the demonic element played in her life (see especially pg. 120).

My favorite quotes:

It took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to onseself and others cannot always be put right again, and that freedom from the control imposed by medication loses it meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity (6).

These warrings had cost me dearly in time lost, and, feeling myself again, I was unwilling to risk losing any more time than I already had. Life had become worth not losing (163).

Not having children of my own is the single most intolerable regret of my life (192).

Review 46: Life of Johnson (James Boswell)

A masterpiece on a master. Those who struggle with melancholy will benefit reading about Boswell's struggles. Here is the life of a man with extraordinary trials, and the gifts to match. I wonder if you ever find the one without the other; or at least if you ever find that a person used extraordinary gifts profitably without the disciplining benefit of trials.

Review 45: President Nixon: Alone in the White House (Richard Reeves)

A chronological (chapters are marked by dates, not titles) retelling of Nixon's time as president. The chronological format is frustrating at times, but this is a good resource for serious students of Nixon. 

This book highlights the madness of the Nixon administration (suspicision, arrogance, loneliness, injustice) that led up to Watergate. Nixon's own lonely bitterness is really the theme that holds the book together, and this serves as a warning to all leaders: accountability and community are necessary for us all. The interconnection of Watergate, Nixon's bitterness, and the Vietnam War are a fascinating study of how character faults are exacerbated by circumstances; final verdict: no Vietnam, likely no Watergate.

On the madness of Nixon: 

For the riddle of sin is the same as the essence of sin, with its antinormative character and illegality. It is the same as the senselessness of sin. Therefore, since every “unriddling” of sin implies a discovery of “sense” where no sense can possibly be found, the very notion of “unriddling” is impossible. One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless (Berkouwer, Sin, Studies in Dogmatics, 1971, pg. 134).

Review 44: Eisenhower (Great Generals) (John Wukovits)

Excellent brief intro to Eisenhower. Compact, lucidly written, with a focus on inspiring insights from Eisenhower's leadership style. After reading this I am convinced that Eisenhower was one of the greatest leaders of men that America ever produced: discipline-oriented, fair, respectful, and full of integrity. One thing that makes this book especially valuable is its reflections on contemporary military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Review 43: Einstein: His Life and Universe (Walter Isaacson)

I pay this book greatest compliment I can pay to any biography: I felt like I met, and really got to know, Albert Einstein.

Isaacson is not incumbered by the fad of skepticism which leads men to debunk and attack great historical figures. His presentation is honest, but not judgmental; admiring, but not a hagiography. However, his appreciation of Einstein leads him, toward the end of the book, to downplay and excuse Einstein’s faults. To excuse these faults (especially communist sympathies) he portrays Einstein as naive and absentminded. Yes, Einstein is the embodiment of the absent-minded professor, but Isaacson represents him as being so absentminded that his earlier acheivements seem almost impossible.

In getting to know Einstein I got a glimpse of the greatness of his piercing intellect; I felt I was in the presence of a rare and elevated mind, with exceptional powers. Apparently, these powers were fueld by one particular trait: curiosity. This is an important lesson for educators. How often do we value curiosity in our present system? Not much, in my experience.

There is much to admire in Einstein’s personal qualities. He was not beholden to authority. Thus, he had the courage to disagree with prevailing opinion, and go against the grain (I was reminded of Luther). He also had an innate nobility. He was imbued with a humility that arose from a sense of wonder and awe at something in universe which was greater than him; something which revealed his own finiteness.

I am in debt to Einstein, via this biography, for teaching me what it means that God is personal, i.e. God is involved, and active in the world he created. Einstein, of course, believed exactly the opposite, in a God who ‘did not meddle.’ Still, it was in seeing Einstein’s picture of an impersonal God that my own understanding of the ‘personality’ of God came into focus. I know, better than ever, what I don’t believe; I don’t believe God is impersonal. Einstein’s view was like a black cloth against my diamond.

Review 42: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash the Power of Authentic Life in Christ (Peter Scazzero)

There is much to commend about this book, which is the latest ‘revolutionary’ book in Christian stores. The taglines on the cover promise a ‘revolution’ in our spirituality. However, we should be skeptical whenever a new book is put out there as ‘the secret to the Christian life.’ This sounds like gnosticism. Christ, in all his fullness, is what we really need, and no amount of ‘emotionally healthy spirituality’ will take us to a new level, apart from the work of Christ.

My impression is that this book came as a shock for many people. They never figured that spirituality and emotionality had anything to do with each other. Scazzero certainly argues persuasively against such a misunderstanding. Even more, he shows that emotional health is part of spiritual health, and that you can’t have one without the other. So, his sections on learning to ‘feel’ real emotions (instead of supressing them), and facing conflict (instead of avoiding it) are golden.

However, the one major problem with this book is that the emotional health commended is not that healthy, or spiritually sound. The book provides guidance without the power of the gospel dynamic. Afterall, how can we have the strength to pursue health? Who gives it? Is it merely acheived by trying harder? "Feeling" more, more often? Such counsel makes a self-righteousness out of being able to "feel."

The latter half of the book devolved into techniques which smacked of a legalistic program. Judging from the quotes and references, a lot of the inspiration for this ‘program’ came from the monastics. The monastics do have things to teach us (for example, the importance of solitude), but the reformers were right to be suspicious of the monastic movement as a whole. As I read on, I got the feeling that I was being constrained, that the air was stuffy – that this book was not the ‘secret’ to emotional health. I got the feeling that the real secret was in the book's title, not in it's content. That secret? This book is not what it claims to be.

The book acknowledges, though not sufficiently, that the monastic lifestyle is not possible for everyone. Still, it glorifies that lifestyle, and I fear that many people will leave with a sense of guilt because they cannot be monks.

Finally, I'm wary of the terminology of 'emotional/emotionally.' This orbits outside the Biblical world into Freud's alternate galaxy. Such an approach breaks man down into constituent parts (emotions, intellect, will, etc) in an unnatural way. Such an approach ignores the unity of a person. 

Finally, if this topic interests you, the right, and much more healthy approach, can be found in Jonathan Edward's Religious Affections.

Review 41: Coldest Winter, The: America and the Korean War (David Halberstam)

Awesome and awe-full. Awesome in scope, style, and clear vision of history. Awe-full, in that, this work is successful in producing fear. Fear, though, of the good kind.

Character sketches of all the major players (Truman, MaCarthur, etc) are interwoven with personal stories from the war and a brief history of the war. This book is not really a historical sketch of the Korean War, but rather an exploration of the men who shaped and fought the war. The most tragic figure of the book is MaCarthur; the consequences of his megalomania should serve as a warning to all leaders.

Let me quote an excellent review from Roger Miller, from The Star Tribune:

David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter" is not so much about the Korean War as it is about everything behind the war. Chiefly it is about the American who was behind it for its first nine months, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and the tale is not a pretty one... Not that Halberstam is the first to make a case against MacArthur. Historian Stanley Weintraub did a tightly focused job of that seven years ago in "MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero." And not that he ignores MacArthur's positive qualities and accomplishments, both before and after North Korea invaded South Korea June 25, 1950, most notably his decision to make an amphibious landing at Inchon three months into the war. Perceived by his military advisers as completely unworkable, it turned out to be a masterstroke. The list of indictments against MacArthur, however, is seemingly endless, all stemming from his megalomaniac desire to carry the war into China and his overweening arrogance and sense of destiny. Perhaps wickedest of all is that his intelligence people, deliberately and with MacArthur's knowledge, falsified intelligence reports to reflect what they knew their boss wanted to hear.

Review 40: Feminism and the Future of Women (Estelle B. Freedman)

A mild presentation (i.e. fitting for a relativistic, politically correct, dis-passioned age) of feminism with extraordinary claims. The lectures begin by assailing the 'supernaturalist essentialist origin' view. In other words, Genesis 2.

Review 39: Wired - The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi (Bob Woodward)

Tragic portrait of how a gifted man destroyed himself through drugs. 

Gifts without grace are, ultimately, a curse

Review 38: The Great Crash 1929 (John Kenneth Galbraith)

Sharply written with penetrating -- almost cutting -- insight. 

What caused the crash of '29? Galbraith believes it was as much a moral as economic downfall. He especially shows how 'vested interest in euphoria' played a role. We all get a little too 'high up' now and then. When we do, a crash is coming.

Review 37: The Letters to Timothy And Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Philip H. Towner)

Some decent exegetical notes, but otherwise not very useful. Too ideologically driven, and too focused on affecting a 'scholarly' tone -- apparently, for the NICNT series, scholarly means being very opinionated.

Review 36: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Gordon Fee)

The treatment of chapter 11, and 14.33-35 is irreverent and strange. I can't recommend this commentary on any level. Being scholarly does not mean -- as Fee seems to think -- advancing bizarre opinions and expecting people to believe them because you are the scholar. At one point Fee says "...seems certain," and such a tentative -- albeit authoritarian -- approach is indicative of this commentary.

"Seems certain." This is an oxymoron for the ages. Seems? or certain? It can't be both. Where there are a lot of seems, there are a lot of seams. The speculative tone of this work is troubling.

Review 36: Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Patrick Fairbairn)

For combined devotional and apologetic value this is THE BEST commentary ever written on the pastorals.

The text is approached with reverence, and wisdom upon the foundation of biblical theology.

On the apologetic front, Fairbairn takes on those who deny Pauline authorship, and he takes them to task. His reasoning cannot, and never will, be answered.

Fairbairn stands uniquely in Christian history among those intellectuals who also were able to shed devotional light.

Review 35: John Adams (David McCullough)

 Inspirational and insightful look into the life of a Christian statesman. Adams encourages me because he had clear and marked gifts, while at the same time being honest about his faults. His faults are indeed in view here, but not in the cynical critical mode of most contemporary biographies. Adams should stand taller among the founding fathers. Abigail Adams is also a grand figure, and deserves a place on the Mount Rushmore of Christian Femininity.

Review 34: Resolute Determination: Napoleon and the French Empire (Donald M. G. Sutherland)

Good as a general introduction to the life of Napoleon, and the expansion and then Fall of the French Empire. However, not much depth, nor is there much detail to the portrait of the man.

The lecturer takes a balanced and wise approach to history. He doesn't buy into fad-ish views, or over-subtle interpretations. In this way, he is a model for other historians.

Review 34: Hannibal (Bradford Ernle)

An overview of the military life of Hannibal in beautiful and simple prose. This is not an in depth study of his military strategy or his character, but a summary of how the two intertwined. I found I wanted more detail, but that is not the purpose of this book -- it provides an excellent introduction.

Review 33: The Medieval World I: Kingdoms, Empires, and War (Thomas F. Madden)

Helpful in surveying what made the medieval world what it was: the external pressures (Muslims, Magyars, etc), the rise of nationalism, the power of the popes, and the desire to revive Rome. 

Most sad is the infighting of Europeans while Constantinople toppled. This work also presents a better view of the crusades as defensive wars, though the heroism of the crusades is not sufficiently covered.

Review 32: Plato and Aristotle: The Genesis of Western Thought (Louis Aryeh Kosman)

Excellent. A great study of how Plato and Aristotle shaped all intellectual history. Some fascinating connections with the scriptures as well, especially on points of the soul, and being v. doing.

Review 31: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Stephen J. Dubner)

To understand this book you have to read, not just between the lines, but behind the lines. You have to read the worldview that informs the book.

Freakonomics was sensational when it came out. It transgressed moral boundaries in the field of economics. It pretended like there were no moral boundaries. Yet, the approach represents no new idea, but an old idea (postmodernism) applied to a new field (economics). The author simply applies Nietchze's 'beyond good and evil' to economics, i.e. author tries to apply a non-moral (aka immoral) worldview to an aspect of the world.

This has been done before in most other areas (see Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity; the work of Alfred Kinsey, etc.). But see Schaeffer's response to Skinner, Back to Freedom and Dignity. Also see Van Til's response to everything, The Defense Of The Faith.

In the end, Freakonomics once again proves that it is impossible to get 'beyond' morality -- it constantly moralizes, and takes strong moral stands. Talking about any issue without implying a morality is like saying, "Let's breathe for a moment without oxygen." It's impossible. A presuppositional apologetic would have a field day here, and could use this book for illustrations almost endlessly.

Finally, if you read this book, read this first:

Schaeffer, The Christian At This Moment In History:
“The Bible starts with the question of reality. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The whole reality... When I say Christianity is true I am sure that I mean something different than most people mean, even Christians... people think of individual truths, as truths... the truth of this, the truth of that. When I say Christiainity is true, I mean it is true to the totality of reality. That is something else different and further... What Christianity deals with is the truth of total reality.”

“People are not caught in a closed cause and effect machine... we are creative in the most amazing way... by choice we can change history... that is the most creative thing you can think of... we are not caught in a deterministic system. This is related to God creating because he wished, not because he had to create. Each member of Trinity had others to love and interact with. He created because he wished and willed to. We can create... we can cause bad ripples and good ripples... this is wonderful. Skinner, Freud... only present us with an illusion of significance. Christianity teaches us we have real significance. We have the responsibility of that significance because we can created bad or good ripples in history... the world is abnormal because (Adam and Eve’s) significance was used badly. When I look at history there are many things that should not be there.”
 Van Til, Reason and Revelation:

“...we should not try to prove that God exists without defining God in terms of the doctrine of scripture... (the apologist) must not tone down any Biblical distinctives in order to make the faith credible (Revelation and Reason, 119).”

“... the deep problems of apologetics are not finally intellectual, but ethical (Reason and Revelation, 145).”

Frederick Buechner, The Two Loves:

“... the Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. (the scriptures) present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe. When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is (The Two Loves, 85-86).”