Archives For *Featured Reviews*


Barbara CrookerEverything is Present


A Feature Review of

Gold: Poems (Poiema Poetry Series)
Barbara Crooker

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2014
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Reviewed by Kendra Juskus


In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth wrote that “the poet has “a disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present.” In Barbara Crooker’s poetry, everything is present. In the poems of her latest collection, Gold, published by Cascade Books as part of the Poiema Poetry Series, the world is so irresistible that her speakers and characters eat it alive, smacking their lips.


This urge to savor everything has much to do with the intersection between Crooker’s chosen epigraph—Frost’s familiar “Nothing gold can stay”—and the loss of her mother: “We only have one mother,” she poignantly reminds us. But mothers aren’t the only precious metals in this book. Crooker’s speaker also scrambles to hold onto “blue afternoon[s]”; “a spigot of birdsong”;  “the long slow drip of honey and molasses”; “the hoots and calls of [her husband’s] breathing”; and “coffee in a mug, buttered toast, the same old sun returning.” However Crooker may live the present moment, her words inspire nothing less than a desire to be fully absorbed in the fleeting world.

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Nicholas WolterstorffHope for a New Creation

A review of

Journey Toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South
Nicholas Wolterstorff

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2013
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Reviewed by Marilyn Matevia
Some of the clearest contemporary thinking and writing about the theory and practice of justice has come from Nicholas Wolterstorff.  A philosopher and Christian theologian, Wolterstorff’s standout previous books on the subject include Until Justice and Peace Embrace (1983), Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2010), and Justice in Love (2011).  In each of these, Wolterstorff combines careful theory-building with real-world applications and examples, and always with an undertone conveying the urgency and imperativeness of working for justice.
Journey Toward Justice displays these same characteristics, but weaves in an autobiographical thread.  The book was invited to launch a new series published by Baker Academic, “Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity,” in which North American Christian scholars reflect on how encounters in the global south have shaped or changed their thinking.  Wolterstorff acknowledges in the preface that he is uncomfortable with this format; he considers himself a philosopher who “deals in abstractions,” not a story-teller who deals in narratives.  But Nicholas Wolterstorff has always been very skilled at (and insistent about) connecting his so-called abstractions to concrete situations – that is, at uniting theory and praxis.  Indeed, he urges that other scholars develop this capacity as well (see the final chapter of Until Justice and Peace Embrace).
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Steven P. MillerCan Evangelicalism be Born Again?

A Review of

The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born Again Years

Steven P. Miller

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2014
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Reviewed by Betsy Shirley


I nearly choked on my sandwich. A remake of the movie Left Behind? In 2014? I was sure my friend had misread something.


But a quick Google search and there it was, incontrovertible evidence: due in theaters October 3, starring Nicholas Cage, with a budget that one Wall Street Journal blogger simply described as “expensive.”


What does it mean, when Hollywood produces a 2014 remake of a 2000 movie based on a bestselling 1990’s book series? Is Left Behind is simply the newest offspring of Hollywood’s desperation for profit coupled with our infatuation for remakes and sequels, like so many installments of Transformers and X-Men before it?

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James K.A. SmithWe Are All Secular

How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

James K.A. Smith

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2014
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Reviewed by Brad Fruhauff
James Smith sets out to accomplish two main things in his short book. First: to paraphrase and condense Charles Taylor’s magisterial 2007 A Secular Age as “an homage and a portal” to the larger book. Second: to translate some of Taylor’s philosophical musings into practical questions for reflection for Christians in ministry or leadership contexts. It’s important to keep in mind that, unlike some accounts of secularism, this isn’t primarily about disarming the logic of secularity or explaining why the New Atheists are wrong. Nor is Smith about to use to Taylor to sound an altar call back to some foundational truth of Christianity as an antidote to secularity. It is neither polemic nor didactic in that way. It is, however, always intriguing and often illuminating. Thus it succeeds as an “homage.”

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Charles HughesLove and Death

Cave Art: Poems

Charles Hughes

Paperback: Wiseblood, 2014
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Review by Michial Farmer


In the title poem of Cave Art, Charles Hughes’s excellent first collection, he ruminates on the ancient paintings in Lascaux, miraculous surviving the millennia:


Inside the caves,

The painters left, in vain, what more they saw—

Stark, dazzling life that tugged them in and in

And still survives as art and evidence.

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Francis SpuffordA Mischievous and Playful Argument

A Feature Review of

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

Francis Spufford

Hardback: HarperOne, 2013
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Reviewed by Kurt Armstrong


Before we get started, I’d better state my bias: I love this book. Spufford’s Unapologetic has tied Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss for my favourite book last year, something I suspect my co-workers will hate me for. I’ve been cornering staff members and waving Unapologetic two inches in front of their noses, insisting that they to drop whatever it is they might have planned for the evening and go out and buy a copy right now.

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Dallas WillardA Pervasive Catalyst for Human Change

A Review of

The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth

Dallas Willard and Gary Black

Hardback: HarperOne, 2014
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Reviewed by Tom Farr.
Few voices have been more profound in the world of Christian thought than that of the late Christian philosopher, scholar, and theologian Dallas Willard. Willard had a rare ability to shed light on the message of Jesus and paint a biblical picture of the Kingdom of God that is exciting and compelling. I first discovered Dallas Willard about five years ago when someone suggested his book The Divine Conspiracy.  Once I started reading it, I was hooked. Willard took the message of Jesus distilled in the Sermon on the Mount and showed its revolutionary relevance to those who desire to follow Christ today. I was drawn by the way he described Jesus as someone intelligent who has all the answers for life’s deepest questions and the way he described the Kingdom of God as an accessible reality today. There was so much wisdom from the Bible unpacked in The Divine Conspiracy that I felt drawn to the message of Jesus in way I hadn’t experienced before. I soon read almost every other book that Willard had written, and each of them explored the revolutionary concept of the now-present Kingdom of God that is a reality to those who apprentice themselves to Jesus.

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William WillimonThe Most Important Word Christians Have for the World

Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven & Earth
William Willimon

Paperback: Abingdon Press, 2013
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Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown


In William Willimon’s latest book, Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven & Earth, Willimon presents the first volume in a series of books for popular audiences called Belief Matters. Willimon says, “In the Belief Matters series we will joyfully explore the riches of the faith, the adventure of Christian believing, the gift of Christian theology. We are going to dare to think like Christians” (ix). While Incarnation and the following volumes are addressed to popular audiences, Willimon insists that these volumes will not seek “to be lost in dumbing down Jesus” (ix), for Jesus spoke a challenging word to people. Willimon seeks in Incarnation to discus the mystery of Jesus Christ, the God who became fully human, or as he says, “In Christ, heaven and earth meet; God gets physical” (xi). Willimon calls Jesus’ salvific work in the Incarnation “the most important word Christians have to say to the world” (92).

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Martin ThielenAligning Beliefs and Practice

A Feature Review of

THE ANSWER TO BAD RELIGION IS NOT NO RELIGION: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and Believers.   
Martin Thielen

Paperback: WJK Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Bob Cornwall

*** This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.
It’s no secret – fewer people are going to church than they used to.  Many give the bad state of religion as their reason for staying away.  People seem to have noticed that there is a lot of hypocrisy among Christians.  They’re too politicized, angry, exclusive, dogmatic, and self-righteous.  They’re simply not pleasant to be around.  So why spend your Sunday’s around such people.  Instead, we can be spiritual without the trappings of religion.  I can understand the sentiment – I’ve known these kinds of people.  I’ve even been counted among them a few times in my life.    But just because some religion is bad, doesn’t mean we have to totally give up on religion!
Martin Thielen, a United Methodist Pastor serving in Tennessee, and a former Southern Baptist pastor, doesn’t think that we have to give up on religion completely, because some representatives of the faith are not all that attractive.  In other words, he’s asking people to give the church a second look.
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Michelle DeRushaUltimately, We Are All Misfits

A Feature Review of

Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith

Michelle DeRusha

Paperback: Convergent Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Paul D. Gregory


There are a multitude of ways in which we come to faith. Being raised in a southern Christian home, I learned early in life about personal relationships with God, the importance of prayer and church attendance. My parents taught me early on what it meant to have a personal relationship with God and how that relationship should sustain me through hard times. Mom and dad were also never shy about the importance of prayer. I can remember being “prayed over” numerous times when I was a kid, which resulted in my learning how to pray from an early age. And our family practically lived on the grounds of the church we attended. Sunday morning and night and Wednesday evenings were standard fare with other days interspersed in between. I believe I was 8 years old when I made my first profession of faith, but the transformation of my mind and heart probably occurred much earlier.
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