Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Books Roundup

Let's start with the best fiction I read this year (not necessarily published this year): Peace Like A River by Leif Enger is written in prose both springy and boundless this is among the best novels I've read in the past few years. The Last Man by Vince Flynn is the thirteenth Mitch Rapp book and he continues to impress with his pacing. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer is one that is staying with me. A novel with odd and sometimes grotesque characters that are broken in ways that we all are. The main character Sunny is a woman born with a medical condition that makes her hairless, and her baldness is used to great effect as a metaphor, as her wig is something like a fig leaf in Eden, covering her real self. It serves as a buffer to the real world: of her autistic son's problems, her husband's cold logic and distance, her mom's impending death, her fear surrounding her pregnancy. And lastly, The Snow Child by first-time author Eowyn Ivey. This is an enchanting story of a childless couple starting over in the Alaskan wilderness and their relationship with a mysterious girl. Full of wonder and a measure of sadness, this outstanding debut novel ranks with the best of Leif Enger and Gil Adamson.

For nonfiction: Leaving Yesterday Behind by William Hines is a fabulous short book on dealing with our past. It is doctrinally orthodox while being relentlessly practical. Knowing God by J.I. Packer is a classic and is worth multiple readings. Luther's Commentary on Galatians is, despite being a bit repetitive in its main theme, a 500 year-old law & gospel classic. On The Incarnation by Athanasius. The author was a 4th century Christian who wrote this as a long letter to a recent convert in order to help him understand Christ's Incarnation. It is ripe with orthodox Christian doctrine and one of the more powerful sections of the book is how he ties the passage in 1 Cor. 15:55 (O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?) to the martyrdom of the early Christian church. That in Christ's conquest of death He not only provided reconciliation with the Father culminating in eternal life, but also followers who embraced death while standing on the truth of these claims. Not to be missed is C.S. Lewis's quotable introduction where he discusses the value of old books and recommends, as a "good rule: after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." Good advice made all the wiser when choosing classic texts like this one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 Movie Picks

The Red Shoes
My Life As A Dog
The Artist
A Separation
Monsieur Lazhar
The  Kid With A Bike
The Dark Knight Rises

Breaking Bad: Season 5 (Part 1)
Homeland: Season 2
Little Dorrit
Downton Abbey: Season 3

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Hole In Our Holiness: A Review

The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of GodlinessThe Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you ever wonder that if God desires us to be holy, what this looks like? Or what the difference is between progressive sanctification and definitive sanctification? Or does an emphasis on holiness lead to pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism? Kevin DeYoung covers these topics and more in his new book, The Hole In Our Holiness.

Pastor DeYoung makes an important point when he states that we must confirm that holiness is possible. And if it is possible, and not optional, then how do we do it? He has a helpful distinction here in speaking of salvation and works as the "root" and the "fruit"; that in Christ every believer has "positional" (definitive) holiness that can never change, and from this place of new identity every Christian is commanded to grow in the "process" (progressive) of holiness. He writes, "My fear is that...we focus on what Christ saved us from but not what He saved us to."

Some practical advice he has is that "the simplest way to judge gray areas like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: can I thank God for this?" While I appreciate this suggestion I don't think it is as clear as a few defined questions can be. For instance I think it would be better to ask: 1) Is sin glorified? i.e. made to look cool or desirable, and 2) does this inflame your sinful tendencies or vulnerabilities? His statement that "worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange" is much appreciated in this context.

DeYoung's book is pastoral in approach and grounded in historic, confessional Reformed teaching. It will stand solidly next to Sproul's Holiness of God and Bridges's The Pursuit of Holiness as an excellent work in the business of godliness.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gilead: A Review

GileadGilead by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robinson’s novel is narrated by John Ames, who is writing a wistful and spare letter to his young son. It contains a lifetime of reminisces: about his vocation as a pastor, of his marriage late in life to a younger woman, and a good deal about his ne’er-do-well godson. When I tried to read this several years ago I didn’t make it halfway through but in this audiobook version it became more than palatable, it showed how this work bears the imprint of genuine human experience.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Quiet: A Review

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If American culture has a personality preference would it be the outgoing, social extrovert or the reserved and thoughtful introvert? In Susan Cain's new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking she posits that the former is our template, something she calls the Extrovert Ideal. This "ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight" and though this is an "enormously appealing personality style ...we've turned it into an oppressive standard."

The most compelling material is front-loaded, especially in discussions like how new the phrase "having a good personality" is (20th century), and how advertising for things like soap in the 1920s were pointing toward a more confident outgoing self. Cain visits a Tony Robbins rally/seminar and Harvard Business School seeking to understand the dynamics of extroversion, and visits Rick Warren's Saddleback Church with the author of a book on introversion in the church who has good insights into the quiet, liturgy, and contemplation found in high church tradition and missing in evangelical megachurches. There will be recognition here for most readers drawn to a book like this.

The missteps come later on, mostly centered on explaining events/people through the lens of extroversion/introversion and the "exciting research" of neuroscience. She frames things like the rejection of Al Gore's climate change advocacy and Moses’ reluctance to serve Yahweh in terms of their introversion and tries to show that evolution has given us a "new brain" that replaces the "old brain", which sounds suspiciously like our sinful nature to begin with. There are time where inserting categories like temperament can't bear the weight of the application she's using, and between these speculations that are not well grounded and the trips into scientism they grind the book to a halt in places.

This is a book that will appeal to readerly types whose very love of books and what they provide predispose them to the arguments contained. There is a bit too much us-versus-them and it is overlong but to have someone write about what so many of us think is thrilling if not completely satisfying in the end.