Here’s a rundown of the 10 books that I read in April 9. This was a really good month. I’d happily recommend each of these bound beauties. Ok. “Bound beauties” really put my book nerdiness on fully display. Sorry.
The Association of Small Bombs: A Novel by Karan Mahajan
This book was fascinating to me on many different levels. First, it is a book that speaks to our current global climate in which much of the world is far too familiar with terrorism. Especially terrorism intimately linked to religion. This novel highlights this climate by following the impact of terrorism through the lives of various different characters living in India ~ both Muslims and Hindus. Second, you also get a glimpse of broken people attempting to find wholeness through various efforts ~ both successful and unsuccessful. Third, on a personal level I really enjoy works of fiction that depict cultures unlike my own.
This book does contain some graphic content in terms of terrorism and (very brief moments) sexual content. I offer that as a warning not as criticism. I see both elements of graphic content as the author’s attempt to speak toward brokenness seeking wholeness.
I read the opening chapters over the course of a month until the storyline took an unexpected change of direction. At the point of surprise, I finished the bulk of the book over the course of a weekend.
Born To Run: A Hidden tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
Geez. Another book on the sport of running that had me hooked from preface to conclusion. McDougall details his true experience with the Tarahumara Indians who have developed the insane ability to run hundreds of miles through the Copper Canyons of Mexico. At points the book reads like fiction and at other points it reads like an academic science journal. The end result is entertainment … and a book that makes me want to run a 100 mile race. It will never happen. I could never do it. But boy do I want to do it.
The book ends with the Tarahumra, an extremely secluded group, running a 50 mile race on their home turf against a handful of America’s best ultra~runners. The book is filled with eccentric characters and well written prose. This book begs for a film adaptation. Guess what? After typing the previous sentence, I googled “Born to Run film adaptation.” Turns out the film is in development staring Matthew McConaughey. Alright, alright, alright. Go ahead. Take my money now.
The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Christ Whipple
This is the type of book that I will pick up in a heartbeat and read in two or three sittings. It has a presidential theme. It takes a unique angle. It is informed and well written. It did not disappoint.
As the title suggest, this book is a fairly detailed look at the position of White House chief of staff. It begins with the H.R. Haldeman and Richard Nixon and covers every chief right up to the four chiefs of Barack Obama. It contains insights from interviews with all 17 living chiefs and two former presidents. In particular, I was fascinated by the inner workings described in the Reagan , Clinton and (George W.) Bush presidencies.
Whipple makes a compelling case that great presidents are aided by great chiefs. Conversely, poor presidents are failed by poor chiefs. Some presidents are even mortally wounded by failing to name a chief or assuming that multiple aids can serve as a chief.
The Make of the President 1960 : A Narrative of History of American Politics in Action by Theodore H. White
This is the start of a trio of books that I will read on JFK. This book highlights the election, another will highlight his team, and the final book covers his death.
I breezed through this one. It was well worth the money spent (I think I picked it up for $3 used on Amazon) and the time spent devouring it. It was worth the money and time merely for the two page discussion on how JFK viewed politics. Here’s a taste:
“The root question of American politics is always: Who is the Man to See? To understand American politics is, simply, to know people, to know relative weight of names ~ who are heroes, who are straw men, who controls, who does not. But to operate in American politics one must go a step further ~ one must build a bridge to such names, establish warmth, a personal connection. Th country is so vast, and its political works so many, that these local leaders, groping as they leave their home base, crave contact with one another and are grateful to any man who can give them the sense of strength in multiplication.”
You also get a fascinating analysis of the differences in leadership style and team development between Kennedy and Nixon. White attributes much to Kennedy’s keen insight, intelligence, and above all, leadership ability. He also attributes much to Nixon’s failures in insight and leadership ability.
Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition by Michael Stroope
This is the first of five books that I finished for my doctorate of ministry studies. Dr. Stroope was a professor of mine in seminary. I overheard many conversations related the topic of this book. It’s fun to see it in print.
The book is an investigation into the language of mission. In part one Stroope provides an assessment of various methods and means through which modern interpreters have justified and historicized missions. In part two Stroope details the origins and modern use of missions. In part three Stroope provides an analysis of modern mission. He states his intention as an appraisal of the long course of mission rhetoric in an effort to identify the source and severity of the mission problem. His goal is to offer language that more appropriately expresses the church’s activity. Ultimately, Stroope argues that the modern mission movement is falling out of use. He claims it is a project of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fearful of the church defending tradition and its language rather than defending the gospel, Stroope offers an alternative in his epilogue.
He offers the language of “pilgrim witness.” Pilgrim offers the image of a people who journey towards a greater vision. Witness offers the ideas of beholding and telling. Beholding is to be captured by a vision that is revealed and thus is transformative. To tell is to do more than recount events but to convey with one’s words and life what has been experienced. Stroope argues that pilgrim witness is kingdom of God language rather than language of tradition.
The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher Wright
This is the second book I read for may doctoral studies. It was preceded by Wright’s 2006 Book, The Mission of God, which details the “big picture” of God’s mission and how the smaller pieces fit into the grand narrative of Scripture. The Mission of God’s People provides the answer to “So what?” for those who have grasped the concepts of Wright’s previous work. Wright defines missions as all that God is doing and all that he calls us to cooperate with that purpose. Wright admits this is a broad definition. He tightens the definition a bit by distinguishing between mission and missions. Mission is all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation. Missions is a multitude of activities that God’s people engage in by means of participation in God’s mission.
Wright argues that church must be able to identify with the story of God that extends back to creation and details how God’s people can bless the nations. The church must also live holy lives through keeping the cross of Christ at the center as they interact and work in the public eye. Wright does a great deal of exegetical work on the Old Testament in each chapter and provides bridges to the New Testament. A unique element is Wright’s argument for an holistic approach to missions. While upholding the necessity of providing for human needs, Wright argues that evangelism is a vital element of mission work. He devotes an entire chapter to proclaiming the gospel of Christ and another chapter to living and working the public square. The book is divided into two major parts. The first part draws the reader’s attention to questions, manly who are we and what are we here for? The second part draws the reader to answers, manly, practical ways to participate in the mission of God. This format makes the content extremely accessible without diminishing the exegetical work and academic work that provides the framework. Some of Wright’s practical ways include caring for creation, blessing the nations, walking in God’s way, redemptive living, representing God to the world, and proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Journeying Through Acts: A Literary Cultural Reading by F. Scott Spencer
This is the third book I read for my doctoral studies. This commentary offers a “literary–cultural” reading of Acts in light of recent scholarship. The focus is not upon theology or exegesis but upon literary elements including plot development, character development, and shifting points of view. Spencer provides a methodical movement, section by section, through Acts and reads the text in light of three fold focus: temporal, spatial, and social dimensions. While geography and time are discussed, the social dimension provides the bulk of attention. This is readily seen in discussion of Paul and his opponents. Helpful insights inform the reader in regards to honor and shame and patron client relations.
Spencer assumes a first reading of the text, allowing for characters and plot to develop withhold jumping ahead in the storyline or coming to a conclusion beforehand. Interesting in regards to the topic of mission, Spencer argues for a pair of expeditions around the Mediterranean and Aegan seas rather than a discussion of the traditional three Pauline “missionary journeys.” A concluding chapter that provided a summation of the benefits and insights of a literary reading of Acts would be a welcomed addition.
The Speeches in Acts: Their Content Context, and Concerns by Marion Soards
This is the fourth book I read for my doctoral studies. It is an analysis of 36 speeches in the book of Acts. Soards begins with a brief introduction discussing previous treatments of the Acts speeches versus his own. He argues that previous studies have allowed the repetitiveness of the speeches go unrecognized. Other studies have treated speeches in isolation, focused on a cluster of speeches, divided speeches by styles, or separated speeches by Christians from nonChristians. Soards argues that the speeches are chiefly valuable only when they are disassembled and used as parts of a whole. After the introduction, Soards provides a brief analyze of the 36 speeches, each speech receiving five to eight dense pages. Soards then provides a chapter to place the speeches in the context specifically Greco-Roman historiography, the Septuagint, and Hellenistic Jewish literature.
The final chapter offers conclusions. His conclusions provide a significant contribution to the study of Acts. He argues that the speeches in Acts tell of a transcendent but active God who relates to humans in order to bring to fruition God’s will, provide understanding of God’s will in relation to Jesus Christ, use temporal words to recognize the nature of the time, and provide the testimony of witnesses.
Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green
In the preface Green offers his two considerations that induced him to write the book. First, he argues that the whole subject of evangelism in the early church as been neglected. Second, he argues that most evangelists are not interested in theology and most theologians are not interested in evangelism. This book aims to address both considerations.
In a highly structured format, Green devotes chapters to pathways and obstacles to evangelism, evangelizing Jews and Gentiles, and evangelistic methods, motives, and strategy. Green interacts heavily with Harnack’s The Mission and Expansion of Christianity. Green comments that since Harnack’s work published in 1904, there has not been a significant study of evangelism. Green agrees with Harnack that evangelism is best done, not by a professional class of ordained evangelist, but by informal missionaries. Green provides a helpful look at evangelistic methods that include public evangelism, household evangelism, personal evangelism, and literary evangelism. These methods are driven my motives of a sense of gratitude, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of concern.
In epilogue Green draws some insightful conclusions including his belief that the modern decline of belief in heaven and hell is an insuperable barrier to dynamic evangelism. This is a great example of his attempt to wed theology and evangelism. He argues that evangelism was the life blood of the early Christians and this resulted in the Lord adding to the church daily. He comments that, “It could happen again, if the Church were prepared to pay the price.”
Raising A Modern~Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis
I meet with a group of men from church early on Wednesday mornings for breakfast burritos and conversation. The starting point of the conversation is the topic of being godly men in our homes and specifically our responsibilities as fathers. This book offers an icebreaker into the conversation. I struggle with some of the material but I wholeheartedly agree with the principle idea: Our children will not accidentally become adults who understanding what it means to be an adult and what it means to pursue God. It must be developed. (The book focuses on fathers and sons but the basic principles are transferable. I have a daughter and a son. I transfer ideas to both children)
The book uses the stages of knighthood as an illustration of how a father can lead his son into manhood. A page becomes a squire and a squire becomes a knight. The process is intentional with clear expectations and goals. On top of that, there are well developed ceremonies to educate and celebrate progress. Lewis argues for a similar process for young men. If that interests you ~ pick it up.
Again, I love the idea of intentional parenting. I strive for it and argue for it myself. Yet, I struggle with some of the content of the book. I pushback against some of the material on gender. Many of the characteristics that Lewis labels as “authentic manhood” are less about manhood and more about being an adult in my opinion. Meaning, I want to develop the same characteristics in my daughter. Not a big deal but it requires me to scribble many marginal notes arguing my point. Also, I see some of the ceremony discussion as a bit hokey. There I said it.