Reading is a joy. Below is a list of the books I was able to complete in the month of September, which I’m finally getting around to annotate. Hopefully one or more will perk your interest. Enjoy!
Theology & Biblical Studies
Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Aimee Byrd)
Athanasius contra mundum (“Athanasius against the world”) is a Latin phrase referring to the early church’s father defense against the heresy of Arianism. The phrase could be appropriated for Aimee Byrd, who almost single-handedly brought attention to a grave Trinitarian error within some sectors of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This controversy is discussed in the book (see chp 4), though it’s not the focus. Rather, the book seems to raise awareness of the damaging and worldly notions of masculinity and femininity that have crept into conservative churches under the guise of biblical orthodoxy. This also explains the books title, which is not suggesting we must recover from the Bible’s teachings on manhood and womanhood. Rather, she is suggesting we need to correct some of the excessive teachings that come out of the CBMW movement.
Criticism of CBMW isn’t new, as Christian feminist and Egalitarian authors have been doing this for decades. What is unique and powerful about Byrd’s work is that she writes as one who is essentially within the complementation camp, more or less (though she rejects this term, pg. 119). For example, Byrd believes the husband should be the spiritual leader of the home and church elders should be male. Clearly these are not positions of a feminist. Yet she also understands that much of what we define as “being feminine” or “being masculine” is more influenced by Greek philosophy than biblical authority. By holding to these pagan conceptions, we do grave damage to the Body of Christ, especially our sisters in the faith. One of the more powerful moments of the book was her reminder that our ultimate focus is on being like Christ, not subscribing to some gender ideal. She writes, “Christian men and women don’t strive for so-called biblical masculinity or femininity, but Christlikeness”, adding, “I do not need to do something in a certain way to be feminine….I simply am feminine because I am a female” (pg. 113).
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’brien)
The Bible is remarkably simple. So simple, in fact, that a “straightforward” reading can be somewhat deceptive. This isn’t the fault of Scripture, but rather the problem is with us. We are removed from its language, culture, idioms, and context by two millennia. For that reason, it is quite easy to misunderstand the “plain meaning” of scriptural passages. For example, when the Bible tells women to “dress modestly” (1 Tim 2:9), most American Evangelicals automatically assume Paul is prohibiting racy or revealing clothing. In actuality, the apostle is referring to economic modesty (expensive garments & jewelry). This is not to argue that it’s OK to wear racy clothing, but it does suggest that our pro-wealth American culture simply assumes “sexual modesty is of greater concern than economic modesty” (p. 43). Consider these quotes: “The core conviction that drives this book is that some of the habits that we readers from the West (US, Canada and Western Europe) bring to the Bible can blind us to interpretations that the original audience and readers in other cultures see quite naturally” (p. 15). “We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience” (p. 11). “If our cultural blind spots keep us from reading the Bible correctly, then they can also keep us from applying the Bible correctly.” (p. 17)
The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origin Debate (John H. Walton)
John Walton is an esteemed and highly influential Old Testament scholar and professor at Wheaton College. His chief argument is that Genesis 1 does not describe an act of material creation, but an act of functional assignment. It shows God bringing order from chaos, rather than demonstrating the mechanism through which material creation came into existence. Walton interacts with modern science, and one of the prevailing themes is that Genesis 1 and science do not need to be viewed as being in opposition (contra Young Earth creationists, whom Walton handles with compassion and respect). Regardless of how one views this position, Walton’s book is thought provoking. Yet perhaps its greatest contribution is its understanding of Genesis 1 as describing the inauguration of the earth as God’s cosmic temple (the chief function of the order God brought from chaos). This temple theme will become a decisively important theme throughout the rest of Scripture (i.e. the Promised land, David’s Temple, the individual Christian as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the coming final Temple per Revelation).
The End of Christendom (Malcolm Muggeridge)
This “book” is a mere 62 pages, reproducing Muggeridge’s speech given at “The Pascal Lectures on Christianity and University” at the University of Waterloo in 1978. As in Malcolm’s day, Christians today continue to confuse biblical Christianity with “Christendom”. Muggeridge defines the latter as being something “quite different from Christianity, being the administrative or power structure, based on the Christian religion and constructed by men.” Christianity, as Muggeridge sees it, is fatally compromised by its association with “Christendom,” which is the worldly structure of the faith. Such structures are, by definition, worldly, corrupt, and perishable. More importantly, they are inherently incompatible with true Christianity. As he points out, “You might even say that Christ Himself abolished Christendom before it began by stating that His kingdom was not of this world.”
The Little Book on Biblical Justice (Chris Marshall)
Did you know that Scripture refers to justice over 1,000 times? By contrast, sexual sin is mentioned roughly 90 times. Yet across the American Evangelical landscape, which subject is mentioned more often in sermons? While sexual sin is routinely discussed (or even condemned), justice is rarely addressed. In this short little book, Marshall does an excellent job demonstrating that justice is a central theme of the Bible and it is how God relates to the world. God is just and, as such, expects those who follow him to pursue justice. As Marshall puts it, “The essential mark of holiness is a lifestyle of justice” (p.32).
As my planned doctoral dissertation will be on the subject of biblical justice, one of my tasks for the next 2-3 years will be familiarizing myself with the vast secondary literature on social justice (economic justice, racial justice, etc).
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Ta-Nehisi Coates lite the political world on fire with his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations”. In this work, Coates writes three letters to his teenage son, detailing his concerns of a black youth approaching adultood in a nation with a deeply racist history and still plagued by systemic disenfranchisement. In this book, Coates shares with his son his own conscious awakening to what it is like to inhabit a black body in a racist world. Brilliant and beautiful, the book doesn’t shy away from being harsh and caustic when necessary. By allowing us to listen in as he instructs his son, the nation is forced to face its own role in this conversation. Have we truly become a country where a Black father must warn he son as he is about to fully enter into it? These letters answer that question, but leave the reader with a far more important question: what will we do to build a better world for the next generation of fathers?
The Warmth of other suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson)
Breathtaking. In this masterpiece of literature, Wilkerson chronicles the migration of blacks who fled Jim Crow South for the promise of a better life in Northern and Western cities. Rather than a telling a fictional story, Wilkerson tells a series of interconnecting true stories with exacting and riveting detail. From brutal Sheriffs in the South to angry mobs in the North, the book personalizes the journeys of the six million Americans who sought the promise of a better life, only to find racism to be a universal constant in every corner of America. Deeply troubling and emotionally distressing, the book nevertheless testifies to the spirit of faith and perseverance of those striving for a future. Purchase a copy of the book, but I also highly recommend listening to it on Audible.
The Fire Next Time (James Balwdin)
James Balwin is a complicated, troubling figure. As an avowed atheist, sympathetic to militant Black Islam, and a bisexual, he will not resonate with most Evangelical Christians. Yet few wielded the pen with more power and eloquence. In this book, Balwin writes a letter to his nephew about being black in a racist world (Ta-Nehisi Coates book, reviewed above, mimics this method). Baldwin is harsh towards religion, and especially harsh towards Christianity. Yet one must remember in Baldwin’s world, the only Christianity he observed was a version deeply opposed to civil rights and committed to racial separation and inequality. The book ends with a warning of a coming fire of racial unrest that, unless solved soon, will burn our entire culture to the ground. The book is profound, yet hopeless. It is passionate, yet disillusioned. One should reject Baldwin’s central thesis, yet pay serious attention to his cries of anger and lament.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Renni Eddo-Lodge)
“Sobering” and “bone-chilling”. These are just a few of the words reviewers have used to describe this book. The book is laced with personal anecdotes, but it also uses statistics and studies to demonstrate the right of people of color in the West (in her case, the UK). Despite the books title, Eddo-Lodge hasn’t really given up on talking to white people (the book itself is proof of that), though after reading her book you’ll understand the temptation to do so. Sadly, one of the biggest obstacles in racial reconciliation is even getting many white people to acknowledge there is a racial issue to reconcile. The very subject of race makes many white uncomfortable, or even angry. As you read this book, your heart will break as she recounts story after story of white friends who dismiss or deny her experiences. Still, one serious weakness is her ‘all-or-nothing’ perspective. She offers her white conversation partners a false dichotomy: they must accept her perspective and therefore “get it”, or reject her perspective and therefore prove their whiteness prevents them from “getting it”. In the end, Eddo-Lodge’s book is a powerful voice that needs to be heard, but it isn’t a voice that offers a solution.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND NATURE
A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)
Though this is a book on the origin of the universe as it relates to gravitational theories, it is intended for a lay audience. Hawking is largely regarded as one of the outstanding scientific intellectuals of our time, yet he has the remarkable ability to communicate effectively to non-scientific audiences. The book is fascinating and the reader should be impressed with the advances in our understanding of the universe, even as we are humbled with the recognition that we no so little. The chapter on black holes is remarkable lucid (perhaps the best treatment I’ve encountered). For the Christian, Hawkins has little patience for the concept of God. He concedes the possibility of a Deist conception of God, and even seems to sympathize with it. Yet for Hawkins, God is insignificant. If he does exist, it has nothing to do with our lives or our scientific inquiries. His atheism/agnosticism shouldn’t surprise us, but the astute believer should notice his longing for “a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence.” This desire of a unified theory of everything is remarkable, even beautiful.
American Buffalo: In search of a lost icon (Steven Rinella)
TV show host, wild game chef, podcaster, and avid hunter Steven Rinella details his account of a Bison hunt in the Alaskan wilderness in 2005. Yet in many ways the hunt itself is merely the backdrop of a much more important story, which is the history, role, and legacy of the American Buffalo. History, science, civilization, and ethics converge in a masterfully told story about the American spirit. It glowingly praises the inherent drive of humans to flourish while also vividly capturing our penchant for senseless destruction. Rinella’s language is terse, even course at times, but his ability to capture the imagination is exemplary. One does not need to be a hunter to enjoy this book, and once you pick it up you’ll have a hard time putting it down.
The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
Why read a book about Chinese military strategy written in the 5th century B.C.? Simply put, because the wisdom contained herein still translates to our everyday lives. Many of these pearls of wisdom can help guide our own actions (for example, “the wise warrior avoids the battle”, “a hasty temper is easily provoked by insults”, “in the midst of chaos there is opportunity”), while others help you perceive what others are attempting to do to you (“all warfare is based on deception”). This book will not only offer wisdom on how to deal with interpersonal conflicts, more importantly it will help shape your perspective on international and military policy. For example, even after all this time modern nations still fail to grasp the wisdom of this maxim: “there is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” As with most modern translations of The Art of War, Kaufman takes liberties, but the spirit of the original is preserved. While there are several editions and translations of The Art of War, this is the one you want.
The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
I read this in large part because it features so prominently in Aimee Byrd’s introduction to her book “Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. Being unfamiliar with Gilman’s work, I read it to gain a better understanding of Byrd’s volume.
The Yellow Wallpaper is troubling and chilling, which is exactly the point. The book (rather, a short story) is written from the perspective of a young wife and cleverly demonstrates her decent into madness. In an age where women were considered inferior, weak, and prone to hysteria, psychiatrists and neurologists increasing prescribed “rest cure” where women were told to lay in bed for days, weeks, or even months on bed. This was on the faulty assumption that their “hysteria” was caused by overstimulation (i.e. being too social, being too involved outside the home, etc). Without naming it for what it is, Gillman shows us the patronizing tone of the character’s husband, the cruelty of the “rest cure”, and the destructive consequences of viewing women as inferior. This has rightly become a classic in feminist literature.
Meditations: A New Translation (Marcus Aurelius)
Though unknown to most today, throughout the history of the Western world few works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. As emperor of Rome from 161-180 A.D., Marcus Aurelius was also a Stoic philosopher. His Stoicism was at odds with his duties as emperor as he reigned during a time of military conflict and civil unrest. This tension caused him to turn to inward reflection, resulting in the Meditations. Written in Koine Greek (the same form of Greek as the New Testament, which was the common tongue of the era), it seems Marcus never intended these reflections to be made public. Instead, they were his ongoing private reflections, something akin to a philosophical journal. These writings give us an unparalleled window into the philosophical underpinnings of the Greco-Roman world, particularly Stoicism.
Eat that frog: 21 ways to Stop Procrastinating and get more done in less time (Brian Tracy)
Written by leadership and time-management guru Brian Tracy, “Eat That Frog” is a simple, easy-to-follow guide to becoming more productive and effective. Though applicable to a wide-range fo life settings, the business professional (and especially Executives) will find this particularly valuable. The book isn’t weighed down by technical vernacular, statistics, or studies. Instead, the reader will find 21 easily adaptable principles that can be immediately applied. While the simplicity of the book is its strength, the reader will be further aided by diving into a more substantive treatment of the subject (such as “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, by Cal Newport).
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport)
It’s easy to lose yourself in shallow work. Emails, text messages, phone calls, people popping into the office are all part of daily life, but they also interrupt us from accomplishing those things that are most valuable to our organizations. Some studies have demonstrated that such interruptions increase the amount of time it takes to complete the task by as much as 500%. While we can’t avoid distractions, and in many cases should not, respected author Cal Newport advocates for creating multiple moments throughout your week where you can engage in “deep work”. These periods of distraction free concentration on complicated and important tasks makes us more effective and more efficient.
How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free from the Barriers of Your Productivity (Matt Perman)
While there are many books of time management and becoming a more productive leader, few attempt to look at these issues through the lens of Scripture. Fewer still attempt to do so with a thoroughly God-exalting goal. It’s interaction with biblical material is its overarching strength. The author doesn’t want you to “do better at work”, but rather flourish in life to God’s glory. However, there are a few points of criticism. First, Perman insists that developing vision is crucial to getting “unstuck” only to tell us a discussion on how to develop vision is beyond the scope of the book. Second, he spends far too much time advocating for getting “unstuck”, leaving the reader feeling like we are listening to a broken record. This could have been significantly trimmed, leaving more room for practical steps.
Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a Ph.D in Biblical Studies and Beyond, 2nd edition (Nijay Gupta)
This book is singular in focus and application, as the subtitle suggests. Yet for me, as a brand new Ph.D student in Biblical Theology, this is immeasurably practical and helpful. Nijay Gupta is a respected and increasingly influential scholar and professor in the field of New Testament studies. This volume is intended for prospective and current Ph.D students, guiding them through each step of their doctoral journey. It covers everything from how to apply to a program, where to apply, how to navigate the program, preparing for Comprehensive Examinations, defending one’s dissertation, and submitting articles for publication. The wise Ph.D student will already own a copy. The one seeking to become wise will buy one today.
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown)
First published in 1970, the incredible work forced an entire generation of Americans to come to grips with America’s betrayal and treatment of native peoples. The book is quite tedious to read, though not because Brown isn’t an excellent story teller. In fact, the author is too good in some respects. The book is emotionally tedious, as the reader is confronted with battles, treachery, broken promises, planned genocide, and systematic annihilation. The brutality doesn’t come in waves, rather it feel like a mountain crashing down upon one’s soul. Told from the perspective of Native Americans, it captures that one aspect of humanity we would rather ignore: man’s inhumanity to man. This should be required reading in every American High School.
The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Colin Woodward)
Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Francis Drake, Bartholomew Roberts, Black Sam Bellamy. Author Colin Woodward gives us penetrating insight int these pirates, and many more. More importantly, Woodward gives us insight into their world, including the political winds, the economic realities, and the brutal dehumanization by the hands “civilized” nations and their Navies. In response to this class-based system of economics that sought to only benefit the Royal class, men threw off the shackles of their bondage and took to piracy. The result was a strange mixture of voting rights and villainy, equality and brutality. The “Republic” of pirates gave unskilled men previously destined for misery and poverty the opportunity to earn riches beyond that of nobles, but at the literal cost of human blood. But in the end, was there really much of a difference between the pirates and the Governors who hunted them down? In the words of the Pirate Black Sam, “They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference [between us]: they rob the poor under the cover of law . . . and we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage.”