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.
Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard Mouw (Eerdmans, 2011)
Unless you’ve been on a long holiday this summer and disconnected from the internet, you’ve seen the wonderful collection of pieces reflecting on the contemporary significance of the 19th century Dutch theologian, statesmen, journalist, and cultural activist Abraham Kuyper that appeared in Comment. These essays, by students studying with Dr. Mouw, appeared on the occasion of the release of this new small book, since Comment and Cardus quite intentionally stand in the heritage of Kuyper’s North American legacy.
The Comment writers and readership are not the only community who have celebrated this clear, interesting, and inspiring volume, however; for instance, I wrote two lengthy columns about my own introduction to Abraham Kuyper and his distinctively Dutch, Reformed, worldview-shaping views of social architecture, principled pluralism, and the cosmic sweep of Christ’s restoring redemption. For now, though, please know that in this reviewer’s opinion, there is no better time for a readable introduction to Kuyper and no better author to do it.
Today, we greatly need a way above or beyond the impasse of the so-called liberal/conservative loggerheads, and Kuyper’s nuanced political theories offer a way. Much of this small book offers glimpses of Mouw’s own journey and how a neocalvinist way of thinking about things shaped his struggles between pietism and liberalism, helping him remain true to his Reformed tradition, even as he was longing to apply his faith to the issues which burned in the late 60s as he came of age. Dr. Mouw, now the President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is a respected political theorist and a fine, ecumenical Christian leader who stands firmly upon the shoulders of his beloved Abraham Kuyper. For even the most casual Comment reader, this book is a must-read to frame and deepen our communal discourse. In fact, readers will understand Comment‘s pages better if they understand Kuyper. True fans will know this for sure: Mouw on Kuyper-especially in his ruminations on the implications of Kuyperianism for today-is a true gift to be celebrated, cherished, and shared. Highly recommended.
Taking Every Thought Captive: Forty Years of the Christian Scholar’s Review, edited by Don King with Perry Glanzer, David Hoekema, Jerry Pattengale, Todd Ream, and Todd Steen (Abilene Christian University Press, 2011)
In my last Comment column, I announced the significant release of the new Mark Noll book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Eerdmans, 2011), which is, in one respect, a prestigious and long-awaited follow-up to his much-discussed book of twenty years ago, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1994). In that book, Noll lamented the ways in which evangelical Protestants generally had failed at nurturing young Christian scholars and how the evangelical tradition has been too often an example of crass anti-intellectualism. One bright spot in that dour report was the existence of a classy and robust journal, an academic journal virtually unknown outside of Christian higher education, Christian Scholar’s Review. Noll held that up as a good example of distinctively Christian academic work, and he not only celebrated the journal’s existence, he hoped that it would continue to flourish.
As the decades have rolled on, evangelical scholarship has deepened and widened and the CSR has been in the middle of hardy debates and important intellectual discourse, offering detailed book reviews, scholarly articles, stunning research about Christian higher education, and academic writing about nearly everything under God’s good sun. Thank God for this journal-and thank God for this fine new book, which could be described as a “greatest hits” release from CSR. This anthology presents several representative articles which demonstrate some of the best thinking found in the journal’s pages over the last four decades. Anyone with a broad curiosity about God’s world and the state of the academy, anyone who has wished for a more consistent witness from Christians speaking into the world of ideas-from mathematics to literary criticism and from political theory to the nature of higher learning-anyone who enjoys dipping into fine collections of essays both old and new will find much here to enjoy. And yes, Mark Noll is represented, along with luminaries such as Arthur Holmes, Nicholas Wolterstorff, George Marsden, Stanley Hauerwas, Dallas Willard, Nancy Ammerman, Roger Lundin, Richard Mouw, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. I am glad they included a controversial piece by Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger on how a sense of place, rooted in a Biblical understanding of “home,” might influence higher education. Ron Sider’s vibrant call for scholars who can popularize their theories for the service of cultural activists is excellent. What a great compendium from a little-known but splendid resource.
Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven’s Earthly Life, edited by Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens (University of Kentucky Press, 2009)
There has not been an overabundance of good books exploring the works and vision of essayist, novelist, poet, farmer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, even though many realize he is considered one of the finest essayists publishing today. He is renowned for the way his farming practices in his small Kentucky homestead have shaped his view of the world and his writing (is there anyone as respected as an essayist and novelist whose work shares such a common, consistent vision?). This scholarly anthology is an excellent contribution to the new field of “Berry studies,” and it is a beautiful confirmation of his social significance in these fast-paced days. The book is divided into four sections: Good Work (with chapters such as “Wendell Berry Goes to Medical School” or “Lawyering in Port William”); Holy Living (which offers distinct agrarian perspectives on topics such as birth control, urban gardening, view of the body, and one by Norman Wirzba on an agrarian approach to the mystical life, cleverly entitled “Dark Night of the Soil”); Imagination (“Embedded Hopefulness: Wendell Berry and Saint Thomas Aquinas on Christian Hope” or “The Membership Includes the Dead,” studying the fictional Port William community as communion sanctorum); and a final chapter that helps us move forward, inviting Berry more deeply into the discussion of democracy in North American civic life.
Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Women and Men by Dan Brennen (FaithDance Publishing, 2010)
Surprisingly, there seems to be little consensus on the wisdom of deep agape-filled relationships between the sexes, and even fewer guides to navigate the complexities of these relationships. And it is not every day that a book is both lucid and creative, intellectually stimulating and imminently practical, exploring an area that has been not been written about much and yet is utterly important to all of us. Dan Brennan is to be commended for diving into this subject, affirming God’s good gift of friendship, especially those friendships that develop between men and women. One reviewer noted that the book is written with tenderness and scholarship; another said it is “provocative and pastoral.” Lilian Calles Barger (author of the splendid Eve’s Revenge) notes that cross-gender friendship may be the “Achilles’ heel of Christian relationships.” This work is fascinating-Brennen notes an amazing array of authors and has truly surveyed the landscape of thoughtful Christians and others writing on this. It is both reassuring and challenging in many ways.
Reformed Mission in an Age of World Christianity: Ideas for the 21st Century edited by Shirley J. Roels, forward by Setri Nyomi (The Calvin Press, 2011)
A year ago, a splendid gathering in Grand Rapids brought together theologians and missionaries to consider how globalization and the new era of “world Christianity” might shape the Christian Reformed Church’s missionary endeavours. This small book, published with the cooperation of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, includes some of the major addresses at the conference and, as such, is a cry of the heart for strategic thinking about how new global and ethnic realities must influence age-old ways of taking up the call to make disciples. Those of us who are not part of this particular denominational communion (or who are not particularly interested in world missions) will nonetheless find this to be a remarkable set of essays. From Richard Mouw to Janel Curry to Ruth Padilla DeBorst, there is much here about borders, border-crossing, finding freedom from cultural captivity, and forging authentic multi-ethnic partnerships in new kinds of holistic mission. Anyone interested in being an agent of shalom in the twenty-first century will benefit from these astute observations.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger’s bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.