Archives For Book of the Month

This entry is part 5 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

My wife laughs at me when I finish a book and say, “This was one of the best books I have ever read.” Apparently I say it often. But this time I mean it. I just finished reading Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson. And it was one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Unlike the other books I’ve recommended thus far, Wilson’s book is unconventional. In a lot of ways. It doesn’t stick to a single subject. He talks about everything from snowflakes, to the problem of evil, to kittens, to sand forts, to the creation of the world. But the book is not random. He shows how these things are fundamentally related to one another.

Nor does the book follow a straightforward outline. It meanders. It gives you a few thoughts on one subject, then shifts to another. Then it loops back on the first subject and you find that the tangent you thought you were on actually helps you see the original subject with far greater clarity.

Basically, this means that N. D. Wilson is a brilliant writer. He is sometimes whimsical, but always profound. He touches on the most difficult of subjects with joy, grace, and ease. For example, much of the book focuses on the problem of evil. This is a topic that has consumed a lot of ink. Yet Wilson’s approach is different than anything I’ve read on the matter. He combines philosophy (his Master’s degree is in philosophy), history, science, and art in a skillful though roundabout way to make a convincing argument about the existence of evil and the goodness of God.

Though his education is in philosophy, Wilson is primarily a children’s writer. In fact, his children’s books are excellent (I started with 100 Cupboards and highly recommend it). His skill as a fiction writer makes him better as a theologian/philosopher/non-fiction writer. Conveying truth is one thing (that’s hard enough on its own). But to convey truth imaginatively, in a way that catches the reader off guard, that captures his senses and speaks to his soul—well, that’s another thing altogether. These types of books are rare.

I think that Wilson has accomplished a great feat of balance and imagination in this book, but I know that others will disagree. Some will find his playful writing style off-putting. Others will feel lost amongst his casual references to philosophers (though each time he conveys the essential thoughts of these deep thinkers).

But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At various times I had to stifle my laughter or hide my watering eyes. Essentially, Wilson showed me the world I inhabit every day of my life and caused me to see it in a way that I had never seen it before. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is both playful and serious. It is a celebration of life and a reminder of what really matters. Ultimately, he calls us to see God—not by looking beyond the things of this world, but by seeing his handiwork, character, and grace in everything in and around us.

If everything I’ve said here turns you off, you’d better skip this one. But if there’s anything in you that longs to explore some of life’s most serious questions from a non-traditional angle, I can’t recommend Wilson’s book highly enough. I hope you like it.

This entry is part 6 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

Most Christians go through life with an uneasy truce with the media. We can’t avoid the media altogether. (Maybe we can, but nobody really does.) But we also distrust it. We find music, movies, and tv shows compelling, but we also sense that we are being asked to believe something that is not true. Most Christians don’t get beyond this tension. They say, “Okay, media, I’ll stay tuned in, but I’m not going to be entirely happy about it, and I reserve the right to feel guilty from time to time.”

In this post, I want to introduce you to a book that can help you move beyond the media truce: Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer by Grant Horner. The book is directed at movies, but Horner explains that his theory for what movies are and how Christians should relate to them applies to all aspects of cultural production.

Why do people make movies? And why, when we watch movies, do we find things that seem so true and important standing alongside other things that are clearly false and destructive? Horner explains this in light of Romans 1, where Paul essentially says that every human being knows the truth about God, and that every human being is attempting to suppress that truth. So the grand human drama that plays itself out every single day is one of truth and suppression: we know God’s truth, but we push it down. We are never entirely successful in our attempt to suppress God’s truth, says Horner, so truth continues to spring up, even in the most unlikely places.

So how do we relate to movies? We do so with discernment. Horner encourages us to engage with the stories that our culture is telling. But he warns that there is no such thing as mindless entertainment. The Christian must use her God-given mind in every sphere of life, and movies are no exception.

Horner is realistic about the harmful effects of film. He argues that film is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling that any culture has ever known. Sometimes this powerful medium has a beneficial effect; sometimes the effect is harmful. Each Christian must be aware of what he can helpfully view, and what he ought to avoid. Not only does this vary from person to person, we may also find that we can watch a film and benefit from it one day but not the next.

All of this fits within the first half of Horner’s book. But the second half is equally fascinating. He explores particular genres of film and asks questions like: Why do we find comedy funny? Why do people like watching horror films? How should we think about Hollywood Romance? Though the Bible does not address modern films directly, Horner’s analysis of these topics comes from a thoroughly biblical worldview, and I resonate with his explanations.

If you don’t care about movies, you probably shouldn’t bother with this book. But for the rest of us, this book is very helpful. You spend a ton of time investing in movies of all types. Why not spend a few hours thinking about what movies are and how we should relate to them as Christians?

Book of the Month: Altared

Mark Beuving —  September 25, 2012 — 5 Comments
This entry is part 7 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

The church can get pretty weird about dating. Last Spring I did a series of blogs on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” The popularity of this series doesn’t prove that I had a solution for making dating in Christian circles less awkward, but it does show that this issue is on a lot of minds.

I’m telling you, we are weird about the road to marriage. We can’t agree on what it should be called, how often it should be done, how long it should last, how close a not-yet-married couple should get, and on and on. Yet most church folk tend to be pretty opinionated about these things. And perhaps more germane to the problem, we all seem to have an urgency to see every single person in our churches married. I don’t think anyone is trying to make their single brothers and sisters feel bad or pressured, but the pressure is there nonetheless.

AltaredAnd now to my point. Last week a book was released that I have been waiting to see for a long time. The book is entitled, Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We. For years I have been wanting a solid book that helps Christians navigate the road to marriage, but I haven’t been satisfied with the go-to books on this subject (though each makes helpful contributions). This is the book that I’ve been wanting.

The authors, writing under pseudonyms (Claire and Eli) in the tradition of Soren Kierkegaard, help us think this issue through in a variety of ways. They offer their experience of being young singles in the church world. Sometimes they heard it said aloud, sometimes it was more latent, but always there was an understanding that the single person’s goal (duty even) is to get married as soon as possible. This was their experience, and I think most of us who grew up in the church can relate. The authors then survey a number of statements from prominent Christian leaders to reveal that this pressure to marry quickly and at all costs comes to us from the top down as well.

Marriage is a good gift from God, and the authors are eager to affirm this. It is the perversion of God’s gift that makes the pursuit of marriage an all-encompassing goal and contradicts 1 Corinthians 7 that the authors want to challenge. Their concern is that we can get so caught up in finding “the one” to love that we neglect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors—not just our potential mates.

So the authors explore love and marriage from a biblical perspective. What should our priorities be when thinking about love in general and marriage and dating in particular? They also did the difficult work of incorporating some of the most helpful thoughts from church history that come to bear on the matter. This gives the book a richness and continuity that we often miss out on.

Probably my favorite part of the book, however, is the narrative. “Claire” and “Eli” teamed up on this book because they saw the way our marriage preoccupation affected their own dating relationship. Both authors are gifted writers and insightful persons in general, and their story is woven through the book, sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from his. The effect is a compelling exploration in which one is personally invested, rather than an impersonal treatise.

So if you want someday to date someone, if you are dating and want to think through it more effectively, if the concept of dating seems awkward yet you aren’t quite ready to kiss it goodbye, then you really ought to read this book. And for the rest of you, everyone in your churches is either married, on the road to marriage, or wrestling with issues of marriage, dating, and singleness. This really isn’t an issue that can be safely ignored.

If you’d like to get a taste for the writing of one of the authors, check out Eli’s recent article in Relevant Magazine.

This entry is part 8 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

Yesterday I posted on the economic effects of sin, and I cited a couple of examples from Vishal Mangalwadi’s book Truth & Transformation. Today I’m going to take the extra step and formally recommend the book.

Vishal Mangalwadi 2Mangalwadi has been referred to as “the Francis Schaeffer of India,” partially because he studied under Schaeffer, partially because he follows Schaeffer’s method of applying biblical truth to the pressing issues of the day. Mangalwadi is particularly interesting because he is a non-Western scholar who is well acquainted with Western thought and development. He provides a much needed perspective on our approach to life that is at once intelligent and unbiased.

In Truth & Transformation, Mangalwadi explores the impact that worldview has on our societies. You might be tempted to think that a worldview is a personal matter that doesn’t have much bearing on practical matters that affect whole societies. But Mangalwadi argues otherwise.

Water CarriersFor example, Mangalwadi asks why there are still women in India transporting water on their heads, when the Western world has found ample means for piping water and harnessing its power. It has nothing to do with intelligence, ingenuity, or motivation. It has everything to do with worldview.

One important contribution of Christianity to the Western worldview has been in the development of science. Christians see the world as God’s creation, and humanity as God’s caretakers. Because God is an orderly and rational Creator, the creation is worth exploring and mankind is capable of learning how the creation functions and shaping it in ways that benefit our societies. In this way, the Christian worldview has led the Western world into some major technological developments.

In parts of India, by contrast, the animistic worldview leads people to see the world not as something that can be explored and shaped, but rather as something controlled by unpredictable spirits that must be appeased. The local river is not something that can be harnessed for power and the water passing downstream is not something that can be piped into villages and homes. Rather, the spiritual forces within the river must be respected and appeased, and therefore water must be manually transported.

Truth and TransformationMangalwadi’s simple argument is that truth transforms. What we believe affects the way we live, both as individuals and as societies. And what God reveals to us holds true in the real world. So when we appropriate truth, it transforms our lives. And when we labor to see that truth take root in our larger societies, then widespread transformation can result.

This doesn’t mean that we can force God’s truth onto our culture or that transformation will be quick and easy. Mangalwadi carefully avoids two extremes here. He insists that this world and our societies are worth fighting for. Real healing and transformation is possible on this earth. But he equally insists that the world will not suddenly become a perfect place through our efforts.

Mangalwadi explains that God calls us to be witnesses, not revolutionaries. Our role is to faithfully represent God’s truth in every area of life. The transformation is in God’s hands. Truth & Transformation will help you think through the impact of truth and our calling to actively bring that truth to bear outside of the walls of our churches.

This entry is part 9 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

The Crowd, the Critic, & the MuseTwo months ago, Michael Gungor released his book The Crowd, the Critic, & the Muse: A Book for Creators. You may be familiar with Michael Gungor’s band: Gungor. As a band, Gungor creates music that is deeply Christian in content, though not every song is explicitly religious, nor would many of their songs fit the typical mold for worship songs. The band is refreshingly creative, with carefully crafted musical moments and lyrics that show a depth of thought and insight.

Michael Gungor’s book is focused broadly on human creativity, but his examples are most frequently pulled from the world of music. Much of the book is autobiographical, and he shares many of the joys and struggles that he and his band mates have encountered in their musical career.

Gungor sees the world as a place of possibility. He believe that human beings have been shaped by God and given an inherent creativity that must be used to the glory of God. God has given us this good and beautiful world, and he sets us free in the midst of it to continue his initial act of creation.

Gungor insists that our creative expressions reflect the soil in which they grow. A tree is known by its fruit. So when we create out of soil that is depraved and harmful, we should not be surprised when our artistic productions come out lacking. While we can’t change everything about the context in which we create our art, we can carefully guard our souls in order to cultivate the right kind of creative soil.

GungorI’m not sure that we always expect our artists to be theologically deep, but we probably should. Artists tend to stare at the world and ponder its intricacies while the rest of us take things for granted. Michael Gungor has clearly pondered this world, the Bible, God, and the relationship between faith and art. He comes across as a dreamer, to be sure, but not the kind who has lost touch with the world as God describes it.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about Gungor’s book is his thoughts on the Christian Music Industry. He sees many dangers with using the term “Christian” to describe an industry (as opposed to a person). He has some helpful criticisms of how the industry functions and how it might better serve the both the Christian and the secular communities. And yet Gungor (the band) is part of the Christian Music Industry.

He explains that they never signed up for a membership in the Christian Music Industry. They signed with a secular label. They don’t intend to write songs for purely Christian audiences. And yet, for a variety of reasons, they get listed as “Christian” on iTunes and Amazon, and therefore they get pigeonholed into a certain genre (he also explains why “Christian” makes a horrible genre). This isn’t all bad, and Gungor insists that he loves Christians and the people who make up the Christian Music Industry. But he sees its limitations and calls us to look beyond this kind of oversimplified classification.

Not everyone will be interested in this type of book. But if you’re interested in music, I’d highly recommend it. If you’re creative in any regard, I’d recommend it. Michael Gungor is a bit quirky, and he definitely has fun in his approach to writing. In my opinion, those elements combine with a sound theology of art and a good assessment of the human experience to form a strong book.

 

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