Life-Long Learners 8.0
Eighth in an expert series on must-read books.
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.
InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Even many who were not sports fans were moved by Jeffrey Marx's bestselling Season of Life, which told the story of professional football star Joe Ehrmann, his Christian faith, his work with at-risk youth, and his vision of using sports to teach character, grace, and love. In this new book, Ehrmann (whom Parade magazine called "the most important coach in America") explains his philosophy of sports and his approach to coaching—and it is wonderful. (How many sports figures start their testimonial books with a discussion of Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer, Viktor Frankl, or the death of a beloved brother?) This book is remarkable in many ways and is a must-read, not only for anyone working in athletics, but for parents of kids who are involved in sports. We can be grateful for experienced leaders such as Ehrmann who have explored a responsible view of sports (and studied some theology, giving him a depth of insight missing in so many motivational books by well-intended superstars). This is a gift amidst societies that have nearly made a secular religion out of sport, and is a contribution on behalf of us all.
Mind Your Faith: A Student's Guide to Thinking & Living Well by David Horner (InterVarsity Press, 2011)
For several years, I have been on a campaign to get college students to read the accessible, interesting, and important Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos, 2007) by Comment contributors Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby. That it is not mentioned in Horner's otherwise extensive bibliography makes me wonder how it was omitted—or why. Optiz and Melleby explain the myth of religious neutrality and remind students of the joy of developing a uniquely Christian perspective in their studies.
This new book does not quite reach for that most profound vision, but it is nonetheless a very valuable resource for anyone wanting to be a good thinker, to see thinking as spiritual formation, and to stand firm in intellectual consistency. Dr. Horner has given us perhaps the most thorough and helpful overview of using our minds well, and therefore Mind Your Faith is also useful for those who are not students. This book shows how ideas work, how to think "contextually," and how to live lives of moral seriousness. Horner is a professor of philosophy at Biola University and is president of the Illuminato Project, which attempts to "bring the light of a classical biblical vision of goodness, truth and beauty into the thinking of the church and culture."
Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker Academic, 2011)
I have been waiting to tell Comment readers about this long-awaited book; thanks be to God that it is now available! For many reasons—the best which are profoundly explored in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Brazos, 2008)—understanding a sense of place, localism, and so on is increasingly urgent. Yet until now, no reliable Christian thinker has systematically explored this exact subject. Bartholomew, a Canadian from South Africa, is renowned as a cultural philosopher and Bible scholar; his work on wisdom literature is particularly important. Here, he studies all the pertinent Biblical passages throughout the Biblical narrative—section by section—and, from a profoundly Christian framework, discusses place in the Western philosophical (and theological) traditions. From this he develops a perspective on redemptive practices for being in place and attending to our own sense of locale. This last somewhat more practical portion is excellent, with suggestive chapters on cities, homes, and other aspects of daily life.
Much more thinking and writing needs to be done on this subject, and this programmatic overview will be useful for years to come. It is serious about developing a Biblically-informed understanding, and is quite culturally astute. (Bartholomew is himself perhaps somewhat of an exile or refugee, displaced; his brief dedication is poignant as he notes the death of his parents and thanks a sister who maintains a family farm in Africa to which he can return.) Bartholomew shows us why all this matters and gives insight for living more faithfully in light of this basic notion. Perhaps here is no other essential aspect of our being that has not been much studied and considered from a Christian view (think, for instance, of our view and experience of our bodies, health, minds, relationships, or our experience in culture—so many features of our lived experience.) The book is demanding, at nearly 375 pages, and is being touted as unprecedented and exceptional by many early reviewers, from Bob Goudzwaard to Ellen Davis to Norman Wirzba. I am sure that Comment readers will want to study this urgently and discuss it thoroughly—online, in classes, or in churches, especially in our own locales.
Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics by Alisa Harris (Waterbook, 2011)
These waning days of summer provide a perfect time to read a pleasant and entertaining memoir, and as the harsh tones of political discourse continue to rise, a fun read about Christian faith amidst varying visions of civic life might be a respite from talking heads and pushy pundits. Twenty-something Ms. Harris tells her story well, and from her skills as a writer I predict that this will not be her only book—she can turn a phrase and capture a mood in prose that is clear and energetic. As she describes being raised in the home of a Religious Right activist—she marched against abortion clinics as a toddler, carrying signs that she could not understand in small clenched fists—one is immediately carried into the world of serious political workers, experiencing Republican Party local strategy sessions and prayer meetings that were as much political statements as authentic worship.
By the second page I was so taken by her storytelling I knew this was going to be one of my favorite books of the fall; on page 4, she reported something so surprising it took my breath away. By the end of the first chapter I was already telling others about this fine young writer I had found. Eventually, Harris left her right-wing world, much to the dismay of her godly parents, and as a young adult was left to discover a faith that was less overtly partisan, less political—more, shall we say, normal. She went off to Hillsdale College, became a reporter in New York City, but still has the activist bug—she takes up some causes of social and economic justice. (I was riveted as she narrates organizing a demonstration against the Bank of America, putting us on the streets of Manhattan, contrasted with the pro-life picketing she did as a child.)
Yet we might ask, has she just replaced one hard-core ideology for another? Is she just playing the role of the often-noted shift of younger evangelicals becoming active in causes of social justice and such? Harris does not indicate from her allusions or footnotes if she has read widely about the various ways in which people of faith have related faith and citizenship—oh, that she would cite some of the authors who offer a critique of both the left and the right, and realize the possibilities of a refreshing alternative to the binary pendulum swing between her parents wholesale involvement in conservatism and her peers' embrace of more lefty tendencies.
I am sure that as Harris continues to observe the cultural landscape and continues to "untangle" her faith, she will continue to develop a coherent social and political perspective. For now, this coming-of-age story is a splendid and important voice by a savvy and clever writer. Regardless of your political persuasion or your age or cultural inclination, this is a book to enjoy, to ponder, and to share.
Mathematics Through the Eyes of Faith by James Bradley & Russell Howell (HarperOne, 2011)
Comment addresses the broader culture, but one of its most foundational notions is that every area of life can be perceived and lived under the relevant Lordship of Christ—that is, there is no side of life that is unrelated to one's deepest convictions. We know that principles and practices in politics or ethics are contested, but do religious beliefs affect arithmetic? And could it possibly matter?
Well, there is good news and bad news: the "bad" news for some of us (the many who have math phobias) is that, yes, God indeed cares about this side of life! But perhaps this is actually quite good news. For those of us eager for an adventure, happy to be life-long learners, who are intrigued by a touch of philosophy and eager to be involved in conversations about cultural engagement, this very study could be the adventure of the year! Yes, here is another opportunity to "think Christianly." With wise insights, these authors walk us through the history of math, the role of numbers, the philosophy of science, and how a Christian worldview might colour and shape our approach to this not-so-singular subject. I do not know of any other study of mathematics that also cites writers such as Thomas Merton and Jonathan Edwards (let alone Nicholas Woltersdorff on aesthetics), and so the book has a nearly inspiring feel at times. This fine book joins others in the Through the Eyes of Faith series (such as studies of psychology, business, literature, biology, history, and music) sponsored by The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger's bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.Subscribe