Some say non-fiction books are like tools—resources for getting a job done. Others say they serve as eyeglasses, refining our vision. Certainly those of us who care about God’s world and want to be faithfully engaged in deeds of cultural renewal need to be life-long learners and read widely.
Here are a few choice selections, resources to help us see (editor’s note: and all available from Hearts & Minds Books).
Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society by Jonathan Chaplin (University of Notre Dame, 2010)
Although Comment isn’t an academic journal, this serious study of the dense philosophy of Dutch scholar Herman Dooyeweerd simply must be mentioned. It was, after all, Dooyeweerd’s incisive critique of Western culture’s driving spirits and the attention to a Biblically-informed understanding of the multi-dimensional nature and inter-relationships of things in God’s world, which emerged from his Chair at the Free University of Amsterdam in the early parts of the twentieth century, that inspired a generation of young firebrand (mostly Canadian) philosophers in later decades to start alternative Christian think-tanks and activist ministries: the Christian Labor Association of Canada, the Institute for Christian Studies, and the Vanguard magazine of the 1970s come to mind—all, in some way, predecessors to Cardus and Comment. Organizations and networks and fans of this “reformational” social perspective have evolved and spread, but Comment continues to gladly stand in the broad tradition of neo-Calvinist thinkers who have used Dooyeweerd’s tools to reformingly engage culture.
This is meaty work, but well written, with an emphasis, as the subtitle suggests, on law and politics. It is the best book about Dooyeweerd and his philosophy that has yet been published, and is very important in these times of renewed interest in the deepest answers to our largest cultural and policy questions. Dr. Chaplin is director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge, England (as well as a contributor to Comment).
Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning by Nancy Pearcey (Broadman, 2010)
In this lavishly illustrated book, Pearcey carries on the tradition of accessible, but thoughtful social criticism which she learned from the likes of Francis Schaeffer and Herman Dooyeweerd’s friend, Hans Rookmaaker, during her time at the Swiss L’Abri study centre. Her previous major work, Total Truth, critiqued the modern drift to the vapidly subjective language of “values” (and privatized religion) due to a failure to understand the comprehensive nature of truth. The main culprit in that narrative is secular Rationalism rooted in the idolatries of the Enlightenment.
Here, she applies a similarly profound rejection of Enlightenment dualism to recent cultural history by tracing the trajectory of 18th and 19th century Romanticism down through contemporary views of the arts, popular culture, and the bohemian counterculture of the hip. Is she right about every interpretation of every artifact she discusses, every painting she shows, every movie she explains? Why not start a conversation with others around this feisty, informed, and very fun book?
Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition by James K.A. Smith (Baker, 2010)
Smith is another young scholar who has, at significant points in his life, been influenced by the great Herman Dooyeweerd. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom (Baker, 2009) was one of the most talked-about books in “worldview studies.” More recently, he melded his neo-Calvinist scholarly heavy-lifting with his Pentecostal impulses in a serious book on Pentecostal philosophy called Thinking in Tongues (Eerdmans, 2010). Yet it is this small, popularly-written set of short pastoral letters to young, strident Calvinists that reveals so much of Jamie’s insight and heart: these are emailed notes inviting rather robust newly-minted Calvinists—who argue a bit too much about TULIP—to be shaped by the broader Reformed tradition, to grapple with vital thinkers from Augustine to Kuyper, and to embrace a culturally-engaged, worldviewish, gracious expression of contemporary reformational living. What a wise and kind little book, exceptionally beneficial—even for those who are neither young nor Calvinist.
Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch by Eric Miller (Eerdmans, 2010)
Comment readers appreciate serious social criticism, and Christopher Lasch was one of the most important and insightful prophets of our time; his Culture of Narcissism, Haven in a Heartless World, and True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics are modern classics of serious intellectual social history. Indeed, this thrilling biography follows Lasch’s journey from a U.S. family steeped in liberal and progressive politics, through his time as a student in 1950s Harvard, and on to being a “public intellectual” during the Cold War and his break with the ideological failings of liberalism, while embracing something quite other than old-school conservatism. Although his intellect was formidable, his relationships with an impressive array of friends were equally remarkable. (He was, for instance, novelist John Updike’s roommate in college, was mentored or influenced by some of the great American scholars of the 20th century—Mills, Niebuhr, Schlessinger, Kennen, Hofstadter—and in the conservative revolution of the 1980s was in the thick of conversations with everyone from Jacques Ellul to Robert Bellah to Jean Bethke Elshtain.) One of the best books of any year that shows the story of a thinker’s life, his movement away from secular theories, and his effort to embrace a new tradition, doing social criticism with a view to sustainable hope. The book title, by the way, is a line from Auden.
Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker, 2011)
This is the time of year when many of our younger friends are increasingly itching to be done with high school and off to college. These upcoming months, though, are critical as they think about their transition to college, and Derek Melleby has spent years thinking about—and with older teens about—this new stage of their young adulthood. Why do kids go to college? What stories have influenced their assumptions about the college life? What things might Christian students consider as they prepare to make the most—for God’s glory!—of their upcoming college transition? Melleby is one of the finest young writers, a good friend of Comment, and has written a book that anyone who cares about high school students or college ministry should give to their young friends. I simply cannot think of a better book for an ordinary college-bound older teen, a wonderful prequel to the one-of-a-kind, fantastic book by Derek and Geneva college-professor co-author, Donald Opitz, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness. Thank God for such fun and vital resources for those wanting to make their lives, even their college lives, count for God’s Kingdom.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger’s bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.