Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

Steve AlmondFootball: A Lover’s Struggle

A Feature Review of

Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto

Steve Almond

Hardback: Melville House, 2014Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Cody Stauffer
 
I love football. I have played it well. I have inflicted damage and my body has taken damage. I have devoted entire days to watching it live and listening to people talk about the glorious nuance of the game.
 
Lately, I have struggled with my love for the sport. It began when Dave Duerson, a Super Bowl champion safety, took his own life in 2011. He left a note requesting that his brain be donated to a brain bank doing research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a debilitating brain injury found in many boxers and now an increasing number of former NFL players. It became serious when I learned about Nathan Stiles, a 17-year-old football player who died shortly after his homecoming game due to a series of concussive and subconcussive blows to the head.

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Marcia Mount ShoopThe Gifts of Vitality, of Community, and of Transformation

A Review of

Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports

Marcia Mount Shoop

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2014
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Reviewed by Bernie Schock
 
In Touchdowns for Jesus, Marcia Mount Shoop offers a unique perspective on the inside world of big-time college athletics, especially big-time football. She is a trained theologian (PhD in religious studies from Emory University), an ordained Presbyterian minister, and her husband has coached in the NFL and NCAA Division I football.

 

Even though Marcia Mount Shoop and I may not agree on all issues, I appreciate her efforts to find “God’s fingerprints” in the world of sports. She believes that God is involved in complex ways in the details of our lives—even our sporting lives—and she is on a “quest for truth that can both convict and transform us.”

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Brian ZahndIs there No Peace in the Land?

A Feature Review of

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

Brian Zahnd

Paperback: David C. Cook, 2014.
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Reviewed by John W. Morehead

 

In recent years an increasing number of Evangelicals have taken up the work of peacemaking. No longer seen as the sole purview of progressives or liberals, these Evangelicals have connected their work in peacemaking as a central facet of the Gospel and a broader Christian theology and praxis. Brian Zahnd makes a thought provoking contribution to this growing body of work through his book.

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Bernard McGinnA Life of Savory Knowing

A Feature Review of

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae: A Biography

Bernard McGinn

Hardback: Princeton University Press, 2014
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Reviewed by Alden Lee Bass

“If Thomas Aquinas were alive today, he’d be a holy-roller,” I recently heard a Catholic professor explain. Looking at a few of the many paintings of St. Thomas made by his admirers, one does not get the impression that he ever broke into holy laughter, or laughter at all for that matter. Which just goes to show how diverse the reception of Aquinas has been over the centuries since his death, and by his most influential and representative writing, the Summa theologiae.
 
Thomas published a great deal more than the Summa in his short lifetime (he died at age 49). He wrote many beautiful commentaries on scripture, for instance, as well as commentaries on existing theological texts such as the Sentences of Peter Lombard. He also generated a large number of philosophical and theological treatises on such questions as: What is truth? What is evil? What is the soul? Though Thomas is mostly remembered as a man of sky-scraping intellect, in his own day his works were read widely by laymen and people of modest intelligence.

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Jon M. SweeneyWhen Exactly Did Francis Save the Church?

A Feature Review of

When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages

Jon M. Sweeney

Hardback: Ave Maria Press; 2014
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Reviewed by Adam P. Newton

 

Anyone attempting to write a book about St. Francis must face this key issue at some point: we know very little about him outside of a few hagiographic biographies that his followers penned in the decades after he died. He left behind a limited written record of his own intentions for how Franciscans should live, and his ideas were so radical that even his own brothers strayed from those principles while he was still alive. Is it a good idea for us to adopt his standards of living in the 21st century as a way to evoke a more Christ-like way of operating in the world? Certainly, but the ideas of Francis are so potent that they’ve superseded the facts about his life, transcended reality, moved to the world of myth and legend.

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Daniel HoranFollowing in the Footsteps of Francis?

A Feature Review of

The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton:  A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought and Writing
Daniel Horan, O.F.M. 

Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2014
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Reviewed by Michelle E. Wilbert

 

In this engaging and accessible work by Daniel Horan, O.F.M., we are presented with an enthusiastic and insightful book that asserts that Thomas Merton—Trappist Monk, Mystic, and arguably the most influential spiritual writer of the late 20th century—was not only demonstrably influenced by the beloved medieval Saint Francis of Assisi but continued to be a Franciscan at heart, if not in his professed vocation. While Horan makes intriguing and correct connections to a vigorous Franciscan influence in Merton’s life and work, offering the strongest support in discussing his engagement, during the last decade of his life, with the social issues of the 1960’s, the author, currently a Ph.D student in systematic theology at Boston College, perhaps takes the premise too far, generating the impression of an attempt to obscure the overriding fact of Merton’s unwavering devotion to the life of a cloistered, and later solitary, monastic.  This is however, a compelling book which stands as a very worthwhile addition to the Merton canon; it is well-researched, although some notable omissions might arouse a concern that there are “inconvenient truths” avoided out of a desire to shape the narrative in the desired direction—omissions that, in truth, might have made this a stronger book, not so much by detracting from the central thesis as possibly altering it to more closely conform with what was certainly closer to the truth—that the Franciscan intellectual and spiritual tradition were formative and exerted a subtle and occasionally more concrete influence on Merton’s evolving thought and work, yet neither eclipsed nor interrupted his commitment to the eremitical life—the life of solitude, prayer and contemplation he clearly discerned as his vocation in the earliest days of his Christian conversion. It is that vocation that was central to Merton’s mind and heart.

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Timothy WrightHow Then do we Pray Together?

A Review of

No Peace Without Prayer: Encouraging Muslims and Christians to Pray Together, A Benedictine Approach

Timothy Wright

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2014
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Reviewed by Amy Gentile and Liz Strout

 

Notes: This review, a fitting one for the Feast of St. Francis this weekend, was co-written by Amy Gentile and Liz Strout, who grew up in the same Baptist church and later converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and Sunni Islam, respectively. We read and discussed this book together, requesting it for review as we found the topic both timely and personally important.

 

Through the advent of technology, the world has grown increasingly more connected. We no longer have the privilege of remaining in isolated, homogenous communities (ethnic, religious, or sociopolitical). Ultimately, we would argue that’s a good thing, but it is not always easy, especially when there is a long-standing history of conflict and even violence. We must move forward with avenues of dialogue and peace-making, even when it is difficult. It is in this vein that Abbot Timothy Wright writes No Peace Without Prayer: Encouraging Muslims and Christians to Pray Together, A Benedictine Approach. He brings his experiences organizing dialogues between Catholic monks and Shi’a Muslims as well as a generous spirit to this text, setting forward a “framework, adaptable to the widely differing situations in which Muslims and Christians live side by side.” (16) This type of dialogue—whether between Christians and Muslims or any other differing communities—is a necessity in a globalized age, and we should all be echoing the call for dialogue, compassion, and ultimately peace.

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Charles Murphy
The Wind of the Spirit:  Now and Then

A Feature Review of

Reclaiming Francis:  How the Saint and the Pope are Renewing the Church

Charles Murphy

Paperback: Ava Maria Press, 2014
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Reviewed by Jess O. Hale

 

A wind is blowing through many lands in our world and many are finding this wind to be renewing or at least refreshing.  It may not be the first time this wind has blown through a few of these locales.  Could it be that we may just find  the breath of God’s Spirit in this wind?  To many Catholics and Protestants and even a few of those outside of the traditional faithful, the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Latin America as bishop of Rome counts at least as a breath of fresh air and quite possibly as the renewing wind of the Spirit of God on the church of Jesus.  After all, Pope Francis has forgone many of the more ornate trappings of his new office to live more simply and communicate more directly with the faithful and the world.  He focuses more directly on grace and love and justice than on the more controversial topics of sexuality.  To this end he has upset Rush Limbaugh with his economics and startled the mainstream press as he becomes Time’s Person of the Year.  He has stirred up the faithful outside of his Catholic flock as well—-even Sojourners magazine has given him an iconic cover as the joyous Pope Francis waves  with a bird perhaps representing the Spirit hovering close by.  However, as the continuing presence of the saint of Assisi witnesses, it is not the first time that a wind of the Spirit has come through troubled lands.

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Roger LundinThe Word is Life Indeed

A Feature Review of

Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief

Roger Lundin

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2014
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Reviewed by Jeanne Lehninger
 
 
For me, what could be better than a book about words and stories—my stock in trade. I am a teacher of literature and a reader who delights in graceful words perfectly placed and in perceptive stories which tell me the truth about life and people, and so about myself. That Jesus himself is the Word made flesh full of grace and truth renders me breathless. That the mystery of the incarnation reverberates in writer’s words that thrill with grace and truth can give me goose bumps. Not only my mind, but my flesh responds to words of beauty and truth, and I am changed by them. Roger Lundin would agree that words have power, that they matter, and that how a culture apprehends words and stories can change everything.

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The Metaphor is the Book Itself

A Review of

Metaphor
Denis Donoghue

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2014
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Reviewed by Jacob Slaughter

 

I am sure that anyone reading this review could provide me with an example of a metaphor. Any metaphor will do. Go ahead, the comment box is below. Yep, right now. Did you do it? Fine, you don’t have to, but at the very least I’m still betting that you would be able to identify a metaphor among a list of other rhetorical devices. Metaphors are something we all recognize. We use them all the time. And like anything we use regularly it is easy to take them for granted. We forget that there are complex processes at work in order for them to even exist, let alone function with minimal effort in our everyday speech. How is it that metaphors have become an essential part of our language and yet are often overlooked and taken for granted?

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