Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

The Various Disciplines
of a Well-Ordered Life

 
A Feature Review of 

Acedia and its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire
R.J. Snell

Paperback: Angelico Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Tyler Campbell
 
 
No shortage of ink has been spilled surrounding the spiritual ramifications of our culture’s need for constant entertainment. Often times these didactic moments begin by addressing the material things that we spend considerable amounts of time with, and conclude with a call to disregard this type of lifestyle and return to a more disciplined religious life. But what of our metaphysical makeup implies the tension between discipline and lethargy? In his latest book, Acedia and its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire, R.J. Snell uses a variety of sources to create a modern definition of the Latin word acedia, which is generally translated as the noun sloth. Through his investigation Snell establishes that defining acedia as mere laziness misses out on the true character of the term, as seen within historical theology and scripture. By looking at acedia through a metaphysical lens and applying examples of contemporary distraction, Snell shows that the antithesis of acedia is found in a deeper understanding of the ways in which the Divine’s self-communicative love permeates into the mundane work of our life, making all that we do beautiful and important.

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Bringing Coherence to
our Scattered Spiritual Lives.

A Review of 

Lectio Divina: From God’s Word to Our Lives
Enzo Bianchi

Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Andrew Stout

 

Theological interpretations of Scripture are very much in fashion. These methods emphasize the Church’s interpretive role through typology, creeds, and liturgical use. Plenty of good books are available that call for reappropriations of premodern and precritical interpretive methods (in addition to a host of individual authors, book series like the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Intervarsity Press’ Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, and Baker Academic’s Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality could be mentioned). However, as Rowan Williams notes in the Foreword to Lectio Divina, “We have plenty of good scholarship and plenty of good popular summaries of that scholarship – but very little on the actual theology of reading the Bible, very little on reading the Bible as a central form of our discipleship” (vii). Enzo Bianchi understands the scholarship, and he provides a helpful orientation for the layperson. More than this, however, Bianchi shows that proper interpretation requires the faithful entrance into an active dialogue with the Word.

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A Parable of Authenticity and Hope
 
A Feature Review of 

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World
John J. Thompson

Paperback: Zondervan, 2015
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Reviewed by Jennifer Burns Lewis

 

John J. Thompson’s Twitter profile describes him as a “music lifer from the faith-fueled underground to Capitol CMG publishing in 20 short years.”  Thompson’s first book, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is part autobiography, part Christian living, part cultural commentary. It is a thoughtful and reflective parable of authenticity and hope.
 
Conversational in style, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate reviews Thompson’s personal journey as a son, a spouse, a parent and a follower of Jesus. A musician by background and vocation, Thompson has found both meaning and delight in so much of what adds zest and a holistic appeal to the organic, “homemade” movement. With chapters that compare homemade bread, small batch chocolate, home-roasted coffee, craft beer, gardening and artisanal music with faith and American trends in worship.  Rooted in his own experience as a child and young person healing from the hurt of domestic violence in his family of origin, Thompson recalls the role of the Church and the faith of his mother and step-father in moving him towards music, and a faith he could claim as his own.  We journey with Thompson from a difficult childhood toward a fulfilling and challenging career in the music industry, a personal relationship with the God he meets in Jesus Christ, and the family he creates with his spouse and children.

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From Myth to History
 

Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding
Steven K. Green

Hardcover: Oxford UP, 2015
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Reviewed by Michial Farmer
 
 
 

In March 2010, the Texas Board of Education found itself embroiled in a national controversy when it debated, and ultimately approved, a textbook that put a social-conservative spin on American history. (The national scope of the controversy was justified because Texas is one of the country’s largest purchasers of textbooks; what is held true in Dallas therefore is made truth a lot of other places.) Among the distinctive features of the new textbooks was the removal of Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who inspired eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutions. He was replaced by Moses, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin.

This decision makes more sense in the broader context of American social conservatism, a branch of which has focused for several decades on proving that the Founding Fathers were devoted to orthodox Christianity, or at least not as committed to secular government as the liberal consensus would have it. Jefferson—as a demonstrably unorthodox religious thinker who literally cut the miracles out of his copy of the New Testament—does not fit into this narrative. And since he coined the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state,” the proponents of the new curriculum thought it wiser to downplay his undeniable influence on republican politics.

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Moving us from Vision to Action

 

A Feature Review of

Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen
Mark Oestreicher

Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Danny Wright.

 

In Hopecasting, Mark Oestreicher stresses that hope cannot be earned, but can only be given as a gift, and that gift is given along the road of suffering. He offers a new definition for hope and explains that it is “faithful confidence that God continues to author a story that moves us from vision to action.”

 

Hope begins when we find ourselves lost, confused and desperate in exile. We are far from home, or what we want to be home, and need to recognize and name our dissatisfaction while choosing to honestly cry out to our Creator. There are barriers to this hope that God wants to break in and offer. Sometimes the barriers show up as cynicism, attempting to find and practice the proper technique, buying the right resources, choosing false optimism or staying busy long enough for things to change. These methods will only increase the madness because true hope can only be found in Christ.

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The Joy of God’s Companionship

 
A Feature Review of

Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives (Engaging Culture Series)
Paul Heintzman

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2015
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Reviewed by Ben Simpson
 
In the past week, I have exercised at my local YMCA, listened to Wilco’s new Star Wars album, watched Sporting Kansas City play the Houston Dynamo to a 1-1 draw, listened to Kansas City Royals baseball, and undertaken two home improvement projects. I have read books and enjoyed time with friends and family. That is a small sample of what I have done while at leisure.

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The Story of a Man and his Obsession

 

A Feature Review of

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio
Andrea Mays

Hardback: Simon and Schuster, 2015
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Reviewed by Anna Visser
 
In her prologue to The Millionaire and the Bard, author Andrea Mays says all that needs to be said about the book that is to follow: “This is a story of resurrection, of a magical book and two men, an American millionaire and an English playwright—the man who coveted the First Folio, and the man who composed it” (xvi). In this one, summative sentence, Mays reveals her awe and fascination with Shakespeare and his works, and she draws us into this tale of a man who revered Shakespeare even more than she does. The story that follows is, indeed, somehow magical—even to a reader who might not necessarily otherwise identify as a Shakespeare enthusiast.
 
Mays begins by explaining the history behind this magnificent book that would become the object of academic affection and collectors’ obsession—Shakespeare’s First Folio, a massive 900 page collection of 36 plays, collected and edited by two of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell.

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Disengaging in order to Flourish

 
A Feature Review of

The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World
Christina Crook

Paperback: New Society Publishers, 2015.
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Reviewed by Ryan Johnson.

 

The gentle sounds emanating from my smartphone alert me to the fact that it is time for me to wake up. I go ahead and disconnect it from its power source and crawl out of bed. Throughout the day my phone will serve to remind me what meetings I have, emails I need to respond to, and texts that are vying for my attention. On top of that, it will serve as an entertainment source for when I’m bored (or for when I want to procrastinate) and a way to keep in touch with friends through social media. For all of these services it demands only one thing… my unwavering fixation.
 
In her book, The Joy of Missing Out, Christina Crook explores this unwavering fixation that has grown out of the technology boom of the modern era. The compulsive checking of emails and the incessant check-ins on Facebook have become the norm for society. As Christina points out in her book, the very definition of compulsive behavior is an irresistible urge that is often against one’s own wishes. Our phones are within arm’s reach, our inbox remains open on our computers and our latest tweet was only a few minutes ago, yet we find ourselves drained with little desire or ability to interact with others face to face. Ultimately, it is us who have been disconnected from our power source.

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Meeting a Missionary for the First Time
 
A Review of

Running to the Fire:
An American Missionary Comes of Age in Ethiopia

Tim Bascom

Paperback: U of Iowa Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Sarah Lyons

 

I have grown up in an evangelical church. When I tell you this, it will automatically bring to mind a hundred different ideas of what I am like or what I have experienced, even though I have not told you how old I am or what denomination church I attend. Still, a lot of your assumptions will not necessarily be wrong.
 
For instance, there certainly was a great number of missionaries who passed in and out of my church’s doors. It was common for the sermon to open with a prayer over the next traveling family, often a young mother holding a baby while the father’s hand rested authoritatively on the shoulder of an older brother. I had casual knowledge of at least a dozen families who would later put their feet in places like Thailand or India. And yet, saying this implies that I actually knew a missionary, or at least had a conversation with one—which I didn’t.

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A Dream in your Mind or a Unrelenting Prayer in your Heart

A Feature Review of

Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-Given Dream
Beth Booram

Paperback:IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Tiffany Malloy
 
 
I remember the first time I made bread from scratch. I remember emptying the tablespoon of yeast granules into a cup of warm water, stirring it gently, and watching the water begin to fizz and bubble. Soon enough, my bare hands became caked with the sticky dough as I mixed the fizzing yeasty water into the dry ingredients. After much squashing and kneading, everything was good and thoroughly mixed so I covered the bowl with a kitchen towel and set the bowl atop a slightly warmed oven. The directions said I now needed to wait and let the yeast do its thing.

 

A few hours later I lifted up the towel, peeked my nose into the bowl and was delightfully surprised by the huge mound of fluffy dough that replaced the much smaller one that had been there just moments ago (okay, not really moments, but I was chasing 4 kids all morning. Time goes by quickly in my life). I laughed out loud and thought, Amazing.

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