So what is on your list of books to read?” This is my perennial question to my college students as I prepare to send them out into the periods of time out from under my supervision. In the season of curriculum review, it is also a good question for those of us whose classes or whose spirits need a recharge.
The following review is rather eclectic and looks at new and fairly new publications, as well as some not-so-recent publications worth picking up. I hope something from the following brief review of books might prove helpful or stimulating or renewing. Happy reading!
Perhaps of particular interest to readers of this journal, Louis Markos has written From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (InterVarsity Press, 2007). The introduction lays out a basic apologetic for the reading of the pagan classics, and the remainder of book consists of interaction with various key Greek and Roman classics.
Forthcoming this summer is Stratford Caldeco ’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re- enchantment of Education (Brazos). Chapter titles include “Educating the Poetic Imagination,” and Caldeco ’s work looks to be a good read for Christians interested in the recovery of the liberal arts.
Every year or two (at least) someone writes a book on the great books. Anthony O’Hear has recently wri en The Great Books: A Journey through 2,500 Years of the West’s Classic Literature (ISI, 2009). Beginning with Homer, O’Hear works through highlights of the western canon, offering a helpful introduction to some of the central great books.
Christianity and Culture
For teachers and parents wanting a brief introduction to the so-called “New Atheism,” it would be hard to improve upon Albert Mohler’s Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Crossway, 2008). In 108 pages, Mohler engages such persons as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Denne , Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. But one might also want to read the printed debate between theist and classical school guru Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens, Is Christianity Good for the World? (Canon Press, 2008). Tim Keller is known
as a good communicator, and his The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Du on Adult, 2008) is also a helpful read in coming to terms with resurgent atheism.
Any new publication by Peter Leithart is a cause for rejoicing. Leithart’s Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, and Hope in Western Literature (Canon
Press, 2006) would be an enjoyable read for anyone, but the teacher of theology or literature might be intrigued by Leithart’s thesis that the Graeco-Roman and Christian worldviews can be distinguished
by their differing eschatologies the Graeco- Roman worldview having a tragic eschatology and the Christian worldview having a “comedic” eschatology. Leithart has also written Solomon Among the Postmoderns (Brazos, 2008), in which he brings Solomon and Ecclesiastes into conversation with postmodern thought.
His last book before his death last year, Richard John Neuhaus’ work American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (Basic Books, 2009), is an a empt to wrestle with the relationship of our heavenly and earthly/temporal citizenships. Neuhaus’ journal First Things has been one of the most significant “thought” journals in America for almost two decades, his provocative mind and wit the engine driving much of First Things’ impact. The review of his book by Stanley Hauerwas (First Things, April 2009) is also worth reading.
Something to Read with the Children
Douglas Bond has authored a number of books for children, and so if you are looking for something to read with your children (particularly boys), you might look into Bond’s “Crown and Covenant” series, a trilogy of books following the adventures and challenges of the M’Kethe family, set in 17th century Scotland: Duncan’s War, King’s Arrow, and Rebel’s Keep (P&R, 2002/2003/2004). You and your children will find yourself thinking through the nature of Christian worship, the role and limitations of civil government, and the vexing issue of just war. Bond is currently two-thirds of the way through a new series, the “Faith and Freedom” trilogy, which carries on the story of the M’Kethes into the American colonial period and beyond.
Theology and Scripture
Before Dallas Willard published works like Spirit of the Disciplines and The Divine Conspiracy, he labored as a professional philosopher (as he still does) at the University of Southern California. His latest book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), has just been published. Willard argues for the indispensability and possibility of knowledge, and argues that the divide between “faith” and “knowledge” should be removed.
Edward L. Smither has written a particularly unique book, Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders (B&H Academic, 2008). Smither examines the ways in which Augustine invested in numerous persons as mentor, both in person and through his writings, and suggests that Augustine may be able to mentor us as we determine to mentor others. 2009 has been an important year for many reasons, including the fact that it is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, one of the leading lights of the Protestant Reformation. As part of the slew of commemorative publications, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing released several books on the person and legacy of John Calvin: two by David W. Hall, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights and Civil Liberties, and The Legacy of John Calvin: His In uence on the Modern World; David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback, A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes; Ford Lewis Ba les, The Piety of John Calvin: A Collection of His Spiritual Prose, Poems, and Hymns. InterVarsity Press published a new biography of Calvin: John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, by Herman Selderhuis of the Netherlands.
For those wanting an entry way into the church fathers, Bryan Litfin is an able guide with his Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos, 2007), with ten chapters on ten of the key fathers. Litfin’s summaries are helpful, and his guides for continued reading are spot on.
Though there are a number of good “New Testament Theologies” in print (Ladd, Marshall, Thielman, among others), Tom Schreiner ’s New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Baker, 2008) would be an excellent volume for anyone wanting insight into the New Testament. Teachers of Bible and history might also enjoy the recently published The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament Within its Cultural Contexts, by Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green (Zondervan, 2009). An introduction to the New Testament for college students, with an eye to historical and cultural backgrounds, beautifully done with excellent pictures, this would be a helpful resource for faculty.
The essays in Bruce L. McCormack [ed.]’s, Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives (Baker, 2008) are the published papers from the 2005 Dogmatics Conference at Rutherford House (Edinburgh, Scotland). The essays are uniformly good, but if you have to choose, don’t skip French theologian Henri Blocher’s chapter, “God and the Cross.”
John Frame, who teaches philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, continues to write and publish, and the latest volume in his “A Theology Lordship” series is The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R, 2008). In this 1000+ page volume, Frame offers his own vision and understanding of Christian ethics. Almost half of the volume focuses on the Ten Commandments, and educators will likely be interested in part five, “Christ and Culture.”
Folks had told me for a long time that I had to read Cormac McCarthy. His latest, The Road (Vintage International, 2006) is an apocalyptic “thriller” without the superfluous fight and chase scenes, though replete with suspense. But it is ultimately a story of the love between a father and his son, and when the son asks “Are we still the good guys?” and the father answers “Yes”—you believe him.
If you have never read the fiction of Michael O’Brien, reading his latest novel, Island of the World (Ignatius, 2007) will likely result in additional O’Brien purchases. Set in a World War II Europe, this is a moving and memorable story of faith and su ering and perseverance. Other novels (all with Ignatius) by O’Brien include Plague Journal, Sophia House, Father El ah, Strangers and Sojourners, A Cry of Stone, and Eclipse of the Sun. Of interest to all educators, he has also a book on children’s literature, A Landscape with Dragons: The Ba le for Your Child’s Mind (Ignatius, 1998), in which he suggests that much of contemporary children’s literature offers a confused portrayal of good and evil, thus marring a child’s ability to discern good and evil.
Politics and Current Issues
If one enjoys conservative commentary and perspective, one will undoubtedly enjoy The Politically Incorrect Guide to . . . series. Published by Regnery Publishing, this series seeks to offer basic introductions—generally of a provocative sort—to any number of current issues and fields of study. All volumes are written by established scholars in their various fields. Volumes include The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, . . . the Constitution, . . . Global Warming, . . . Science, and on and on!
Everyone should be concerned about America’s financial and economic situation. If you are looking for a succinct introduction to these issues, perhaps the best thing around is Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2009). Sum: federal control and “takeovers” will not solve problems caused by federal control in the first place. Both Republicans and Democrats beware.
Liberty Fund is another publisher that all educators should be aware of. Among their many titles, they publish a two volume set of primary sources that would be of value in any high school. Bruce Frohnen has edited both volumes, The American Republic: Primary Sources (2002), which covers U.S. history up through the War Between the States, and The American Nation: Primary Sources (2009), which continues up through America’s entry into World War II. And while we are speaking of Liberty Fund, Ted J. Smith, III edited In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963 (Liberty Fund, 2001). Weaver’s writings on education, logic, and rhetoric are priceless, and should be read by every educator wrestling with the nature of the liberal arts, and how they might be applied today.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute publishes some of the nest books around, and if you do not receive their catalog, you might consider doing so (www.isi.org). They have recently published The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited (ISI, 2008). Like Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, Carroll’s study covers the last 500 years of western culture. Carroll suggests that humanism—to the extent that it did not give a ention to the necessity of theological and religious realities—cannot be meaningfully sustained.
In a somewhat similar category, Michael Allen Gillespie of Duke University has written The Theological Origins of Modernity (The University of Chicago Press, 2008). Gillespie posits that modernity is one long attempt to work through the questions of (and relations of) God, man and the world—once “nominalism” is victorious over “realism.” Worth careful reading, but Gillespie is stuck because he cannot construe how divine omnipotence and meaningful human action can meaningfully co-exist.
Louis Dupre, in his Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), is also concerned to think through the rise of modernity and the ways in which “religion” and “culture” were ultimately set at odds with each other during and after the Enlightenment.
Certainly there is no end to the writing (and reading) of books.