Category Archives: Non-fiction

Reviewing ‘Normal’

As she promised, Mindy Withrow has reviewed Andrée Seu’s Normal Kingdom Business, a collection of essays. I jumped to buy her first collection and am taking my time (putting off with no good reason) buying the second. I need to buy it for myself and maybe a few friends.

Mindy praises this new collection and pull out some quotes: “Story is how we learn theology…Reminding yourself of the real story is good for what ails you. If you’ve gotten too high and mighty, it reminds you that you are ‘dust.’ If you’re feeling like dust, it reminds you of your glorious destiny.”

Teachout on Five Best Playwright Bios

These biographies of theater luminaries outshine the rest,” writes critic Terry Teachout of his Five Best column in today’s WSJournal. He recommends

  1. Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life
  2. Michael Holroyd, Bernard Shaw (the one-volume abridgment)
  3. Simon Callow, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu
  4. Moss Hart, Act One
  5. John Lahr, Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton

In related news, can you guess which movie version of a Broadway production my wife and I saw last night. Here’s a line from it: “_________, that should have been my name, cause you can see right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there.”

Best Contemporary Theology Book Meme

Ok, you Lutherans, here’s a theological book meme from a couple sources:

Name three (or more) theological works from the last 25 years (1981-2006) that you consider important and worthy to be included on a list of the most important works of theology of that last 25 years (in no particular order).

There’s the added caveat that the books should not be works of biblical exegesis, historical studies, etc., unless these are of special theological interest.

The above comes from sacra doctrina who recommends Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Richard B. Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theo-Dramatik, Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics.

Joel H. also throws out some titles.

I don’t know squat about any of these books. What do you, intelligent readers that you are, think about these titles and ones you would recommend?

I Want to Look Fabulous; Then I May Love My Neighbor

On Blogwatch, I noticed this link to what girls write in their diaries:

The author [of The Body Project] examined young girls’ diaries from the 1800’s to the 1900’s and found that “In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, girls’ diaries focused on ‘good works’ and perfecting the character. In the 1900’s, the diaries are fixated on ‘good looks,’ on perfecting the body.”

Living in an MLK Neighborhood

From an article in my hometown internet news site by Michael Locke:

In WE CALL IT HOME: LIVING THE DREAM IN THE M.L. KING NEIGHBORHOOD, Greenfield recounts taking Sunday morning drives through these M.L. King neighborhoods and being fascinated by the desolation that had once been respectable:

“I wanted to photograph the old buildings where once a thriving black middle-class had lived, worked, prayed and been educated. The wrecking ball of time was nearby and I did not think even the powerful hand of God could forestall the inevitable collapse. I was wrong.”

We Call It Home by Stephen Greenfield, photographer, and Barry Parker, author, is a coffee table book for sale in downtown Chattanooga.

Big Bang of Popular Science Books

Are science books back in demand? Bryan Appleyard talks about them and some of their problems. A loathing of religion and dismissal of philosophy . . .

Such crude certainties are, of course, absurd, since good science is predicated on uncertainty, but it was essential to the marketing of these books. Uncertainty, it was thought, doesn’t sell. What sold were big final statements. These books — especially those by Dennett, Hawking and Dawkins — were preaching to the converted, to people who broadly accepted the terms of this impregnable certainty. They sold well because they became the texts of the dominant faith of our time: secular scientism. They were exclusive works: you were either in or out. It’s not stretching a point too far to say that their hard certainties and exclusivity played some part in the decline of interest in science among the young. They lacked the essential ingredient that turns children into scientists — wonder.

I’ll give that a hearty amen!

One of the books Appleyard doesn’t mention is the latest by astrophysicist Hugh Ross, called Creation As Science. Ross attempts to give four viewpoints a fair shake: evolution, theistic evolution, old age creation, and young age creation. This description may tease your interest a bit. Ross’ concludes his book with predictions from each viewpoint on matters he believes will be revealed at least in part within a few years. He argues that good scientific theory should be able to predict what will happen under certain circumstances, and he hopes one of the four viewpoints will have demonstrably more supporting evidence after a few years of research announcements. I hope to see a big bang out of that.

[via Kenyon Review’s blog]

Don’t Want the Must-Read List

Have you read Blue Like Jazz? What did you think about it? Jared gives it high marks for narcissism and thought message was “Look how cool me and my friends are.” He also cannot recommend A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, whose authors apparently want to remake God to appeal to the modern world.

I know I’ve always thought the most culturally appealing things about Christianity were genuine godly character and authentic Christian living, which I suppose is another way to say loving our Lord wholeheartedly and loving each other properly. But that’s the most repelling thing about Christianity too. We can count on being slandered for our good deeds. I wonder if the emergent crowd understands that or if they are working to be appealing only.

Renewing the Mind

Nate Shurden of Reformation21 on James E. White’s A Mind for God:

In a day where more and more Christians prefer humble ignorance to a cultivated mind and where the newest bestseller receives more attention than Christian classics, White’s introduction to Christian thinking is not a moment too soon. In a little over a hundred pages, we’re exposed to the world of the mind and principles by which our minds can be enlisted in the work of God for the glory of God. White understands our time to be filled with great promise and opportunity, like no other time in human history. But, equally so, ours is a time of great peril. We cannot continue to shirk our God-given responsibility to think and live in a consistently Christian manner. At heart, it’s a question of worship. Will we be conformed to this world or transformed by the renewing of our minds? Time will be our biographer; let us choose today what story will be told of us.

I submit that most of us in the modern church do not know what “conforming to the world” means. We may be able to define it adequately, but we can’t apply it to our lives and we don’t know what it looks like. “Taking every thought captive”–what does that mean? Do I have to give up Desperate Housewives?

‘God Delusion’ Helped by Reading the Word

Frank Wilson reviews Richard Dawkins’ complaint about faith in God, entitled The God Delusion. He says Dawkins doesn’t mind teaching the Word of God in classrooms for its cultural value and somehow believes this will undermine faith instead of build it. Frank notes:

As for teaching the Bible as literature, that might be the best way of communicating its spiritual message. If the scriptures were treated with the respect and attention we give to poems and novels and plays, with an appreciation for their often rich ambiguity, they would touch readers – in the way poems and novels and plays do.

I agree, but, Frank, why the complaint about people who take the Bible literally (which can be read at the end of his review)? Are you saying I shouldn’t believe Joshua really fought the Battle of Jericho several centuries ago?

“If a conservative order is to return . . .”

If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.

—Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

SR directed my attention to ISI.org, and I found this quote which opens a pamphlet called, “Ten Books That Shaped America’s Conservative Renaissance.

Philosophy of Science: Evolution

Maxine of Petrona has a couple posts on evolution. The first points to several reviews of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and other evolutionary items. The second post criticizes a librarian who appears to leap the logic to conclude that libraries are biased against intelligent design theories.

Author Marilynne Robinson also reviewed Dawkins’ book in the latest Harper’s. Mark Bertrand summarizes that review here:

In a nutshell, the problem with Dawkins is that he compares the very worst of religion with the very best of science. Nineteenth and early twentieth century race-based eugenics isn’t “real science,” in Dawkins view — in spite of its widespread acceptance by the scientific community worldwide, not just in Nazi Germany — but suicide bombings, the Inquisition, and the murder of abortion clinic doctors are real religion. Historically speaking, science hasn’t always made things better, just as religion hasn’t made them worse. But, as Robinson points out, Dawkins isn’t concerned too much with historical realities.

Perhaps Robinson makes the point on which I always stand with evolution (though I didn’t stand there firmly in our recent blog argument), that being the theory of evolution is only a philosphy of science, a way of viewing the evidence, not the only conclusion for clear-headed scientists.

The Staunch Atheist and Moral Clarity

Columnist Janie Cheaney has a short take on Sam Harris’ new book, Letter To a Christian Nation. She’s says it’s a short book from a “hard-boiled atheist of the kind C.S. Lewis lamented back in the ’40s.” He wants to eliminate faith from our minds. Interestingly enough, he complains in a recent column about radical Islam and the fact that those speaking with the “greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right.”

Sam, what basis does an atheist have for recommending moral judgements to others? Isn’t it just an appeal to individual reason that your way is the way for us all to get along better? That’s what Richard Dawkins seems to argue in his book, The Selfish Gene, but he states our biology works against this idea of everyone’s better good:

The genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives. They are judged according to the success of their programs in copying with all the hazards that life throws at their survival machines, and the judge is the ruthless judge of the court of survival.

Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends. Brought up as we have been on the ‘good of the species’ view of evolution, we naturally think first of liars and deceivers as belonging to different species: predators, prey, parasites, and so on. However, we must expect lies and deceit, and selfish exploitation of communication to arise whenever the interests of the genes of different individuals diverge. This will include individuals of the same species. As we shall see, we must even expect that children will deceive their parents, that husbands will cheat on wives, and that brother will lie to brother.

So he urges us to find morality outside of biology. Why?

Confederacy of cats

I was intrigued by Florence King’s review of Dixie Betrayed by David J. Eicher over at the American Spectator blog today.

My attitudinal history as regards the Confederacy has traced a sine wave profile over the years. As a child I was a Lincoln buff (still am), and a rabid partisan of the Union (I was born just in time to have the Civil War Centennial pretty generally in my face during my early teen years, and I loved it).

Later, as I found myself drawn to federalist politics, I started thinking more highly of the South. I find the argument pretty compelling that the Constitution would never have been ratified if anybody’d been told that secession would be forbidden. Lincoln’s constitutional argument, so far as I could tell (in spite of my reverence for the man himself) seemed to be basically, “We have to preserve the Union because I think it’s a good idea.”

Which is nice, but one might argue whether it was worth 600,000 lives.

But I had no idea what an organizational mess the Confederacy was, if Eicher is correct in his analysis.

Maybe the best thing Lincoln could have done would have been to have told them, “Bye-bye, have a good life,” and then waited for them to go to pieces, then crawl back and ask to be readmitted.

I have a sad feeling that somewhere on one of those battlefields a man died who would have written or preached or sung something that would have made America a better, happier place today.

Then again, maybe Lincoln was right when he said in his second inaugural address.

“Yet, if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Simplistic Literary Biographies

The great Terry Teachout addresses literary biographies:

Far too many new biographies—including a forthcoming book about a famous filmmaker that I read last week and will be reviewing later this year—are rigidly and reductively thesis-driven, an approach that never fails to remind me of what Earl Long, Huey’s brother, said about Henry Luce, the founder of Time and Life: “Mr. Luce is like a man that owns a shoestore and buys all the shoes to fit himself. Then he expects other people to buy them.” I loathe biographers who nudge you in the ribs every few pages, sticking in pointed little reminders that the deeply suppressed sadomasochistic tendencies (or whatever) of Flannery O’Connor (or whoever) permeated her life and thought and insinuated their way into every page she wrote, blah blah blah.

Also, note his list of “first-rate” biographies, none of which he wrote himself.

Buy or Download Piper’s Latest Book

John Piper’s latest book, What Jesus Demands from the World, is available for $12.49 in print through Crossway Books or for free in PDF. In an audio file, Piper explains the need for the book. He says the Lord charges us to teach everyone in the world to observe his commands, not just teach them the commands. We can teach parrots all of Christ’s commands, but they can’t observe them.

So what does it mean to observe the things the Lord instructed us to do? Take up your cross. Always pray without losing heart. Avoid all anxiety. What God has joined together let no man separate. We know the words; do we understand and obey the meaning?

I’m looking forward to it.