Friday, May 15, 2020

Alive to the Purpose, by Ronald A. Horton

Author Ronald Horton wants you to read the Bible.  But the way you have been reading the Bible might not be what he's talking about.  In Alive to the Purpose: The Readerly Reading of Scripture, Horton points out that "the Bible is more often studied and searched and scrutinized and analyzed and theologized and memorized and dipped into and skimmed and scanned--all worthy and important actions--than it is read, that is really read."

Dr. Horton, who taught in the English and philosophy departments of Bob Jones University for more than 50 years, demonstrates his passion for the Bible, especially for the Bible as a great work of literature.  He wants readers to learn not only to approach the Bible for scholarly or devotional purposes, but as readers.  "A readerly approach to Scripture can produce fresh insights, bringing a long stretch of narrative to life."  The bulk of the book consists of Horton telling by showing, providing narrative commentary of several passages of scripture.

Many Christians, myself included, can benefit from this reminder to slow down, paying close attention to the details and setting of the stories of scripture, and to read for full context, not taking little snippets alone.  He certainly has a gift for fleshing out the stories of scripture.  I don't know how helpful this is for the average lay reader who does not have the knowledge of the linguistic and cultural background for these stories, but by paying attention to details in the text, the reader can get at least part way to where Horton leads.

Horton has a storyteller's voice and a deep love for the Bible.  We can all learn to appreciate the Bible more by learning from him.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

For All Who Hunger, by Emily M. D. Scott

Emily M. D. Scott, a Lutheran pastor fresh out of Yale Divinity School who planted an unusual church in Brooklyn, has written a memoir of those years, For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World.  Some of it, I liked.  Some, not so much.  First, the positive.

Scott's church, St. Lydia's Dinner Church, featured some elements of traditional worship, but centered around a full meal.  From the start it was a welcoming place, affirming homosexuals and welcoming people who have been rejected from other churches.  I love the sense of community the church built.  Anyone who has been to church knows how easily one can slip in and out without ever having a conversation or anyone knowing you were there.  But around a dinner table, you can't hide.  Scott has since left the church and is on a mission, in part, to present this model to others.  Besides the dinner/worship model, Scott was deliberate about forming relationships in her economically and racially diverse neighborhood.  I was reminded of the line, If your church disappeared from your neighborhood, would anyone notice?  It doesn't sound like her church ever got very large, but they were active in the neighborhood and committed to reaching beyond the church walls to work for positive change.  The section regarding the travails the neighborhood experiences after Hurricane Sandy are gripping, as she viscerally calls out for justice and relief for her neighbors.  Her work in building community and working for the community is admirable and can provide a model for church planters of all theological stripes.  

Speaking of theological stripes, as you might guess from a Yale educated, gay-affirming, female pastor, Scott is out on the liberal end of the evangelical spectrum.  Her focus seemed to be less on the Holy Trinity and more on the liberal trinity: race, sexuality, and social justice.  In this short book there is not room to develop a whole theology, but the signs are clear on that note.  In terms of her personal ethics, she does us a service by revealing with refreshing honesty her rejection of traditional biblical norms.  She says she likes to "get drunk and make out at parties and on street corners," and then after a fling with a man she met while she was on vacation, she wrote, "Though two thousand years of church teachings imply that what we've done is wrong, I know in the deepest hollow of my gut, the place from which God so often speaks to me, that it is good."  As the song says, "If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right."  Given the choice between our guts and two thousand years of church teaching and a clear biblical message, most Christians would agree that going with the gut is a mistake. . . .

Now, I know there are plenty of social justice, urban ministry, racial reconciliation pastors and leaders who push the traditional church to slough off teachings that have led to injustice and corrupt the gospel, but who are solidly orthodox in their theology and ethics, both social and personal.  I have met them, have read their books, have been in their churches.  Scott is not one of those people.  She revels in her rejection of tradition, embraces the ethics of sexual liberation, and seems to place hope in social justice above hope in Christ.  She writes in the long tradition of social gospel preachers and demonstrates the tendency many in that tradition have of moving away from biblical Christianity toward a social, humanistic vision, neglecting the heart of the Gospel, the work of Christ on the cross.  In spite of her liberalism, I am encouraged and inspired by her work to draw people into community with each other, and hope that they, in turn, are drawn into fellowship with the living Christ.


 Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Devolution, by Max Brooks

Max Brooks, who wrote about humans being overrun by zombies in World War Z, turns his attention to humans being attacked by Bigfoot in Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre.  In the form of a journal and interviews, Brooks tells the story of a remote community that is attacked by a band of Sasquatches. 

Greenloop is tiny community isolated in the mountains a short drive from Seattle.  Remote, yet equipped with lots of high-tech features, residents are able to work remotely, stay in touch with the outside world, and receive deliveries by drone of groceries and other needs.  That is, until Mount Rainier erupts and the lava flow cuts off the roads and communication lines.  As Greenloop residents hope for someone from the outside to come after them, some start making plans for the potential that they might be stuck there for months.  They notice that the eruption and resulting fires are driving displaced wildlife through their area.  But soon they realize the wildlife has another pursuer, another species migrating and looking for food.  A band of Sasquatches discovers Greenloop and decides to stick around for the good eating.

Playing out like a horror movie, the residents of Greenloop get picked off, become dinner one by one.  As the humans fight back, they learn more about their foes, who are smarter and more dangerous than they would have guessed.  Brooks's storytelling style keeps you guessing, even though you sort of know how things are going to turn out.  This is a fun romp in the same way that a good horror movie is.  Yeah, it's a little formulaic, a standard trope of people trapped in the woods with a mysterious killer lurking.  But Brooks keeps it fun and worth reading.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Twelve Mighty Orphans, by Jim Dent

At the height of the Depression, some of the most popular and admired sports figures were not big-time pros.  Capturing the hearts of the nation was a football team at a little orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, the Mighty Mites of the Fort Worth Masonic Home.  When Rusty Russell came to the Masonic Home to coach and teach, most people thought he was crazy.  When he tried to start up a football program, he began to think so, too.  He had a practice field covered with rocks and cacti.  He had no equipment.  He had a flour can covered in a sock for a football.  But from that humble start, he built a football program that dominated a football crazy state for a decade.

Jim Dent tells the stories of the orphans, the Masonic Home, the against-all-odds coach, and these remarkable teams in Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.  It really is hard to believe that these kids competed and won against bigger, better equipped schools with established football traditions.  Dent captures the era and the Home, placing it in the context of Fort Worth in the 1920s and 1930s.  I live a short drive from this site, but there is much about Fort Worth history and the Home that I had never heard.  Football is the focus, but Dent digs into the biographies of the kids who lived in this little piece of east Fort Worth with a sensitive heart for the pains of life that brought them all there and a wink and a nod for all the good times they had in spite of themselves.

The football, though, really tells the story.  Russell knew his little teams, outweighed by their opponents and outnumbered by their opponents' much larger rosters, had to be creative in this physical game.  He developed the spread offense, spreading out the field and passing much more than other teams were used to.  He was a pioneer in this style of play, which is now run-of-the-mill.  Back then, teams had a difficult time defending the unusual offense and frequently went home humiliated by these little orphans.  Besides their style of play, they also became known as being exceptionally tough, even mean, on the playing field.  They were scrappy and rough and took great pride in drawing blood and knocking heads.  

Like many great sports books, Twelve Mighty Orphans is an underdog story full of dramatic comebacks and happy endings, along with lots of bumps along the way.  A movie based on the book is coming out later this year; there is no shortage of cinematic moments and subplots for this to be a great film.  For the love of football, for the love of Fort Worth, and for the love of a bunch of kids who had a chance to be a part of something big, this is a wonderful book.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Prayer Revolution, John Smed

There are plenty of books on church growth, urban ministry, and revival, and I don't think John Smed would dismiss their usefulness and insights. But in his book Prayer Revolution: Rebuilding Church and City Through Prayer, he calls on Christians and the church at large not to neglect the central role of prayer in their work and outreach.  He writes, "Only God's almighty power is sufficient to revive the church and rebuild the city.  All our preaching, teaching, programs, and outreaches are half-hearted until ignited by prayer."

Smed, a former pastor who heads Prayer Current, an organization that promotes discipleship and evangelism through prayer, saturates the book with examples from scripture.  Prayer was central to every move of God among his people.  For example, in the book of Acts, he points out that "every advance began with prayer, bold witness followed, and the fellowship grew in numbers and strength."  And looking at prayer in Paul's writings, "we need no further proof that prayer is at the heart of every effective endeavor to expand Christ's church." 

If we want to see revival in our homes, churches, communities, nation, it must begin with a revival of prayer in our hearts.  Further, our prayers should look outward, beyond our "private and personal concerns" to the safety and protection and spiritual health of our cities.  Most of the book is inspiration to embrace Smed's biblical vision for prayer.  He saves the more practical "how to" for an appendix, "How to Implement Kingdom Prayer for Church and City."  His is a welcome, crucial message for Christians and churches everywhere.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Road is a River, by Nick Cole

In The Old Man and the Wasteland, we meet the Old Man, who survives peril on his trek to Tucson, where he discovers the last refuge of a lone soldier who tried to keep civilization together.  In The Savage Boy, we meet the Boy who, after his soldier/mentor dies, proves himself as a warrior, finds love, and has it all taken away from him.  In The Road is a River, Nick Cole brings their stories together, completing the journey in the third book of the American Wasteland trilogy.

Having moved the people of his village from their desert outpost to the city of Tucson, the Old Man is feeling a little restless.  Everyone is settling in, scavenging what is left from the city, and reestablishing a civilized life.  But the Old Man picks up a radio broadcast from Cheyenne Mountain, the underground bunker in Colorado, where a group of survivors is trapped due to a cave in.  If he takes a tank and picks up a special weapon at a military base, he can come to their rescue.  He and his granddaughter set out on this journey, hoping they can find the fuel they need along the way and face down any dangers they encounter.

Along the way, they meet the Boy and mercifully invite him to join them.  His survival and fighting skills turn out to a boon, and together they make their way to Colorado.  Cole's prose is thoughtful and vibrant.  The ragged crew comes through some close scrapes with danger but Cole doesn't rely on implausible twists or silly plot points.  Though the world has changed, the laws of physics and human nature are still fully intact, and the story is thoroughly realistic and believable.

I will say this, after reading this trilogy: I admit that I approached it with skepticism.  Mad Max and all the sequels and imitators have really turned me off to this sort of post-apocalyptic fiction.  The American Wasteland trilogy definitely shares some traits with the genre, but it stands above with the humanity, plausibility, and thoughtfulness Cole brings to the stories.  So if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, you definitely want to pick this trilogy up.  And even if you're not, the American Wasteland trilogy is worth a read.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Tyranny of Virtue, by Robert Boyers

Robert Boyers is one of those liberals that libertarians and conservatives like to hear from.  He's a liberal academic who has been around a long time.  In The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies, Boyers writes about the absurdity of the PC culture and the manifestations of it in American life and on campuses around the country.  In the name of tolerance, intolerance has grown out of control and reason. 

The essays sometimes tend to ramble, and lack a strong unity among them.  But it's interesting to hear about his experiences and perspectives as a contrarian in the PC world.  His decades in the academic life give him a platform and credibility.  It makes me wonder, though, if a younger academic could get away with saying some of the things Dr. Boyers says.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!