Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

Humanizing Evangelicals

A Feature Review of

The River Caught Sunlight: A Novel
Katie Andraski

Paperback: Koehler Books, 2014
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Reviewed by Leslie A. Klingensmith

 
Followers of Christ have forgotten how to talk with one another. We talk to each other. We talk about each other. But as far as talking with each other for the purpose of building relationships and mutual understanding, we are failing in dangerous and tragic ways. As a “slightly left of center, socially liberal and theologically generously orthodox” Presbyterian pastor, I have made some effort to develop friendships with my colleagues who term themselves more “evangelical” than I am. I have a couple of those friendships that I especially treasure, for when I spend time with those women and men I am reminded all over again that we are all children of God. Despite the issues that divide us, we are more alike than different and (most of the time) we are making a sincere effort to follow the teachings and example of Jesus. Despite what I know about the desire we all have to serve Christ, I am also sinful. I publicly confess here to gravitating to authors whose viewpoint is more in line with my own, to not subscribing to evangelical publications, to rolling my eyes and hitting the “power off” button when prominent evangelicals are featured in the media, and succumbing to smug certainty that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Unless I am intentional about cultivating the relationships with people whose theology is more conservative than my own, I can easily become dismissive of their perspective, which is not helpful to me or to them or to the whole people of God.

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Truthful, Kind, and Trust Building.

A Feature Review of

Christian. Muslim. Friend.: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship
David Shenk

Paperback: Herald Press, 2014.
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Reviewed by John W. Morehead.

 

How should Christians engage Muslims? In America Christian-Muslim relations are strained at best. A recent LifeWay survey revealed that a large percentage of Christian pastors view Muslims and Islam negatively. It is likely that these attitudes are found among rank and file church members as well. In the midst of this situation in our post-9/11 world, David Shenk provides suggestions based upon his extensive experience as a Mennonite missionary and peacemaker on how Christians might profitably interact with the Muslims they encounter.

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Revolving Around A Dark Center

 

A Feature Review of

Hold the Dark: A Novel
William Giraldi

Hardback: Liveright, 2014
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Reviewed by Martyn Jones.

 

I come to a strange, recurring realization about my surroundings, be they rural, suburban, or urban in character: Every square inch within view has been shaped according to a human plan. Walking in Chicago or Madison, I wonder at the streetlights and sewer grates: each designed to fit in the scheme of the whole, each produced by a mind working to impose further order upon its world.

 

This remains true in the fields and woods where I grew up in semi-rural Ohio. Trees rise to the sky out of carefully allotted parcels of earth; woods darken the horizon only where someone hasn’t seen fit to develop the ground for some other purpose. Nature across the Midwest is mapped into a grid that is subject to the will of the invisible hand. For all the parks, creeks, and forests, finding a place that is remote—truly distant and out of reach—is difficult.

 

This foregrounds the quality that immediately caught me about Hold the Dark, William Giraldi’s literary thriller set in the Alaskan tundra: a feeling of extreme remoteness. This feeling takes hold in the first paragraph and does not abate. The language is almost biblical in its simplicity: “The wolves came down from the hills and took the children of Keelut.” It practically begs to have a scriptural refrain appended: “In those days, the wolves came down…”

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Walking the Ancient Path With John Michael Talbot

A Review of

The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today
John Michael Talbot

Hardback: Image, 2015
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Reviewed by Jake Kampe

 

Sometimes we are served well to take a good look at history in order to comprehend and find meaning within the present. Understanding the lives of those who have walked on this Earth before us is imperative to understanding ourselves as well as our place within the Kingdom of God. As American culture, and more significantly, the Church, finds itself within a system of complexity and identity crisis, the need for a healthy balance is become increasingly apparent. When inundated with a seemingly endless onslaught of belief systems, theological constructs and Christian trends, it is becoming more and more difficult to build and strengthen a clearly definable foundation of faith. Becoming increasing frustrated, especially within younger generations, Christians are finding the repetitive and sometimes transparent teachings of modern Christianity empty, often leaving them with more feelings of discontent than peace. It is no surprise than countless Christians are finding or rediscovering comfort in the liturgical Church structures, spiritual disciplines and the teachings and philosophies of the ancient leaders. Looking specifically at the example of the Church Fathers, the Church has at its disposal a priceless asset that is just as essential for us today; maybe even more so.

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Life at the Table

 
A Feature Review of:

From Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed
Leonard Sweet

Hardback: NavPress, 2015
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Reviewed by Andrew Camp
 
 
I was raised at the table. Every morning and every evening, I, along with my three sisters, were required to be at the table to have breakfast and dinner together, even when one of us had to be at school at 7:00 am. I don’t remember much of what was shared or talked about each breakfast and dinner, but I do remember the table being a very safe place, a place where no matter what had transpired throughout the day, when we sat down together as a family, I was in a sanctuary.
 
The primacy to which my parents gave the table has greatly informed my understanding of life, God and Church. When I set out on my own, I wanted the table to be central to how I lived and practiced the same hospitality my parents so generously exhibited. As I enjoyed table fellowship with others, whether in my home or in their home, I became curious as to why we were more than content to linger around the dining room table, sometimes sitting in less than comfortable chairs, long after the meal was consumed, when the living room furniture was just a few steps away.

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Testing the Possibilities of Nonviolence

A Feature Review of

Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Christians Have Never Really Tried
Ronald Sider

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Tyler Campbell

 

Ronald Sider has worn many hats since publishing his bestselling book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in 1977. He has contributed to organizations such as Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as well as the Social Action Commission of the National Association of Evangelicals. He is also the founder and President of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), and Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary. Sider’s passion for combining the worlds of theology and social justice has provided the framework for the majority of his writings throughout his career. His most recent book, Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Christians Have Never Really Tried, focuses on the Christian call to nonviolence by showcasing successful nonviolent campaigns. By tying his argument not only to the biblical call of Jesus, but to successful pacifist movements, Sider has written a book that will be useful in both the academy and the church.

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A Whodunnit with Depth and Nuance

 
A Feature Review of

Death Comes for The Deconstructionist: A Novel
Daniel Taylor

Hardback: Slant Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Lesa Engelthaler

 
 

I have a thing for short first sentences. In Death Comes for The Deconstructionist, Daniel Taylor delivers three of them rapid-fire in the opening of the first chapter, “Something is wrong. I’m not well. The voices are back.”

 

Taylor has written eleven books, though this is his first venture into the vast frontier of fiction. I admit I hold fiction on a bit of a pedestal. To me, only the best of the best write fiction. Taylor’s debut novel does not disappoint.

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Less than the Sum of its parts?

 
A Review of

Elvis Presley: A Southern Life
Joel Williamson

Hardback: Oxford; 2015
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Reviewed by Adam P. Newton.
 
For the last 50 years, Elvis Aaron Presley incited libidos and passions with his golden voice, twitching hips, and good ol’ boy Southern charm. And it took Joel Williamson less than 400 pages to rob The King of the personality, swagger, and joie de vivre that made him one of the most iconic performers of all time.

 

Admittedly, Williamson’s thesis was never to glorify Presley, much less indulge in any blatant hagiography. The purpose of this tome was to strip away the glitz and glamour a bit in order to better understand Elvis the man at the expense of Elvis the cultural deity. And as a former “D-List” music critic who believes Sam Phillips deserves more credit for Elvis than Colonel Tom Parker, I welcomed the chance to see behind the curtain.

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What is your testimony?

A Feature Review of

Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is At the Center
Noel Castellanos

Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed by David Swanson

 

What is your testimony? The question might sound dated, but the sentiment behind it has been important to a wide variety of American Christians for a long time. The before and after of conversion to Jesus is mixed with one’s narrative arc – some more dramatic than others – to create a form that is instantly recognizable in churches of distinct denominations, races, and styles of worship. Increasingly there is a second conversion that follows the first. If the first conversion is accomplished by believing the good news of Jesus, identifying with the justice priorities of Jesus’ kingdom marks the second. Like the first conversion, the second has its own testimony.

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God Moving on the Margins

A Feature Review of

Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders
Chris Hoke

Hardback: HarperOne, 2015
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Reviewed by Stina Kielsmeier-Cook
 
 
There comes a point in nearly every Christian’s journey when the glitz and fizz of new life in Christ begins to fade and God feels elusive. I’ve been in that grey landscape for a couple of years now, though I always keep my eyes open for glimmers of God’s presence. And, when I chance a sighting – through a surprising answer to prayer perhaps, or in the stories of God’s redemptive work in others – I am bolstered to keep trudging forward in this life of faith.

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