Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God’s redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and faithfully.
Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.
The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper by Richard Mouw (Eerdmans, 2011)
Those who know Dutch will recognize the phrase “in the line of” and will know that this is both a tribute to and a work in the tradition of—but yet not a slavish reassertion of—some party line. Yes, Mouw is doing the ongoing work of reformation that neocalvinists, and, yes, neo-Kuyperians, have been doing in Canada and North America for decades. These are previously published pieces, some of them from academic journals or chapters of books, and some first given as public addresses. These are simply some of the best scholarly pieces I’ve read in years on the Calvinist worldview and how Dutch Christian philosophers, especially—in what some called the wetsidee—have impacted the broader Reformed tradition and the early days of evangelical engagement with culture. Some of these pieces are heavy (“Modal Diversity in Dooyeweerd’s Social Thought” or “Law, Covenant, and Moral Commonalities: Some Neo-Calvinist Explorations”), and others more general (“Creational Politics: Some Calvinist Amendments” or “True Church and True Christians: Some Reflections on Calvinist Discernment”). Some will be fabulous reading for those who know some of the history of Kuyper’s movement (for instance, one chapter is on the public theology of Klaas Schilder and another is called “”Learning from the Dutch Calvinist ‘Splits'”). An important chapter lays out Mouw’s vision of contemporary civil society, inspired by Kuyper’s social thinking, and he has another chapter exploring in greater detail than he has before some implications of the Kuyperian notion of “sphere sovereignty.” One very important chapter—the earliest one written, penned in in late 80s, but still very helpful—looks at the nuances and disagreements between different sorts of neocalvinist philosophers, located in Grand Rapids, Toronto, and at Notre Dame. For those who recall the name Evan Runner, for instance, this overview will bring back important memories. For those standing in this Kuyperian Reformed tradition, working even now for the common good, these wise chapters are vital. Thanks be to God.
The Best of the Reformed Journal, edited by James D. Bratt and Ronald Wells (Eerdmans, 2011)
The Reformed Journal published out of Grand Rapids for four decades (1951 to 1990) and was a favourite place to read all manner of Reformed thinkers, and here is gathered a wonderfully good tribute, a greatest hits, with columns that are chosen wisely. They either are indicative of the sort of writing done in each decade or they are, themselves, beautifully written and enduring. Most are both, a window to earlier eras in our mutual heritage and luminous, insightful, and important even now. Nicholas Wolterstorff (who has several pieces in the volume) notes that the RJ was “never mean-spirited, breathing a generous spirit and a relaxed orthodoxy—the progressive, theologically serious Reformed tradition at its finest.”
The many authors are commendable—Harry Boer, Lewis Smedes, Henry Stob, Henry Zylstra, and Lester DeKoster through Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Bernard Ramm, Bert DeVries, Kathryn Lindskoog, Cornelius Plantinga, Virginia Stem Owen, Lionel Basney and so many more. And the topics! You can imagine the social and cultural matters upon which they bring a Calvinist worldview to bear—from civil rights to Watergate, Billy Graham to Tender Mercies, South Africa to feminism. There are book reviews and obituaries (one from 1965 upon the death of T.S. Eliot; another by George Marsden on Francis Schaeffer, for instance) and great reflections on a Reformed view of the arts and the sciences. There is a back and forth debate about social structures between Lewis Smedes and Carl Henry. There are stories (Lawrence Dorr) and sermons (Rod Jellema) and poems (Luci Shaw) and hymns (Mark Noll). At over 300 pages, this is a reader you will cherish, from thinkers and writers you should know.
Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian J. Walsh (Brazos, 2011)
Many older Comment readers will know Bruce Cockburn as the bearded Canadian folkie with a mystic bent and stunning guitar chops, or will recall him as a 1970s literate pop star, a nearly evangelical singer influenced by Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. Still others know him as one who has crafted powerful anthems lamenting the loss of the rainforest, the dangers of landmines, and (yes!) the injustices of the International Monetary Fund. For almost as many years as Cockburn has been recording and touring (and winning awards and earning critical acclaim), Brian Walsh, formerly of the Institute for Christian Studies and now campus minister at the University of Toronto, has woven ruminations about Cockburn’s songs into his books, published articles, and talks. Finally, his long-awaited book-length treatment of Cockburn lyrics—in conversation with the Bible itself—is available, and is earning accolades. The back cover has gushing reviews, noting its good writing and important insights into Cockburn’s prophetic art. Whether or not you are a Cockburn fan, this is a fascinating study of how rock music works, how Cockburn’s career has illuminated serious cultural concerns and engaged Biblical visions, and how such art can help us imagine the world in new ways. As Michael Gilmour, professor of New Testament and English literature at Manitoba’s Providence University, says, “Good things happen when erudite theological reflection takes popular culture seriously. This book is a case in point.”
Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace by Howard A. Snyder with Joel Scandrett (Wipf & Stock, 2011)
Much of the cultural and institutional work that Cardus offers to North American society is shaped by an essential conviction that God cares about societal life, that this world matters, and that Christ’s Lordship is good news for the world of matter and human cultures. This has a decidedly Reformed bent, as most Comment readers know, but we often celebrate those of other faith traditions who are speaking in ways that resonate or that share our general concerns, even if their particular formulations may be somewhat different. Indeed, we have much to learn from each other. One excellent conversation partner over many years has been the Free Methodist author Howard Snyder, who throughout his publishing career has affirmed that the local church is a “crucible of the Kingdom” and “a community of the King” (which is to say that the institutional church is only one, if vital, part of the creation-wide coming of Christ’s healing).
Snyder, who now holds the Chair of Wesley Studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, sets out here to “overcome the divorce between Earth and Heaven” and offers a theological and Biblical study which reminds us of the Scriptural affirmation that God is renewing all of creation. He convincingly shows how this promise has been sidelined or misunderstood and how, in recent years, there has been a renewed appreciation for creation and new creation theology. We need not be captive to Platonic idealism nor pietistic forms of faith—there are ways to see our faith and discipleship that are literally “down to Earth.” The book’s final sections offer important, generative principles for doing local church well once one holds this “creation-healed” promised hope. This challenging book has been called “stunning” and, for Comment readers, would offer a strong voice from a non-Reformed background, holding up our mutual concerns about God’s faithfulness to His creation, forming churches in missional, Kingdom ways, and our witness to the hope of a renewed Earth that is to come.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger’s bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.