100 Word Book Reviews: May 2020

Pastoral Work: Engagements with the Vision of Eugene Peterson, edited by Jason Byasee and L. Roger Owens. Cascade Books: Eugene, Oregon, 2014. 206 pages.

A-: While Eugene Peterson’s vision of the pastoral office has been influential to many, there has been little scholarly engagement with it. This book fills that void with a collection of essays from theologians and pastors who have come to appreciate Peterson while also raising legitimate questions about his work. In four sections, the essays engage Peterson on Words, Institutions, People, and Llife. In particular, multiple authors note how Peterson champions the local and personal aspects of ministry, but often neglects the role of institutions in shaping human life. A recommended read for all who are interested in pastoral ministry. 

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King, Ballantine Books: New York, 1955. 544 pages.

A+: Tolkien captures why we read stories. This book demonstrates that epic fantasy has less to do with length (as in contemporary fantasy) and more to do with the scope and depth of its world. From the noble bearing of Gandalf and Denethor and the tense drama of the battle of Pelenor Fields all the way to the surprising events on Mount Doom and the shocking state of the Shire, this book draws us in and forces us to ask question about ourselves, our world, and the very Bible it regularly alludes to (without ever being a direct allegory). 

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, HarperCollins: New York, 1955. 202 pages.

B: Here Lewis presents Narnia’s creation narrative as a window into the creation and fall of our own. Two children travel to another world where they awaken an evil witch and bring her to our world, before accidentally sending her to Narnia as the world is created. In typical Lewis fashion, the book is full of fascinating, beautiful, and memorable scenes (who can forget Aslan singing Narnia into existence) as well as those that refuse to stick in our minds despite repeated readings. While worth reading, I find this one of the weakest of the Narnia series. 

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, HarperCollins: New York, 1950. 206 pages.

A: A young girl discovers another world inside an enchanted wardrobe. Pulling in her three older siblings, the Pevensies discover a world under a witch’s curse of perpetual winter. While three of the children listen eagerly to the promises that the great lion, Aslan, is on the move, the youngest brother is already in the thrall of the witch. In this magical story, Lewis presents the power of the cross and resurrection as the great King Aslan offers his life in place of the traitor Edmund only to have his bonds broken and be raised to victorious life the next morning. 

Kruger, Michael J. The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity, Cruciform Press: Monee, IL, 2019. 54 pages.

B+: In this short volume, Kruger responds to Richard Rohr’s list of the ‘ten principles modern Christianity need to embody.’ Collectively, these common beliefs are a “master class in half-truths,” for each contains something true and can be very appealing until you look closer. Each chapter digs deeper on the truth and flaws of these ‘commandments’ in order to help Christians distinguish between truth and falsehood. This book’s greatest strength is also its weakness: it’s brevity. At 54 pages, this is very simple and accessible for youth or small groups, but is not an in-depth resource. 

Lewis, C.S. The Horse and His Boy, HarperCollins: New York, 1954. 241 pages.

B+: As the only one of Lewis’ chronicles to take place entirely in the world of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy feels both strange and ordinary. No children pulled from other worlds. No witches to overthrow. However, this ordinary feel is intentional. Shasta discovers that Aslan has been with him even when he could not see him. Bree discovers the beauty and purpose of being a simply ‘ordinary’ horse. The ordinary tone fo the story highlights one of the key themes of the book: the fine line between ordinary and extraordinary in life with God.

Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian, HarperCollins: New York, 1951. 216 pages.

A-: In Prince Caspian, Lewis explores a Narnia where the days of the wardrobe have fallen into myth. When few remember the old stories and humans work to oppress the Narnians out of fear, the old stories will be remembered. Yet, not all will look back and cling to Aslan’s aid, but some will look again for any power that will promise freedom, even from the fallen white witch. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are called back to Narnia to rescue Caspian from his treacherous uncle, Miraz, the Narnia will learn again the power of an Aslan many had forgotten. 

Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, HarperCollins: New York, 1952. 223 pages.

A: King Caspian sets out across the sea to look for the seven lords his uncle set away. By the will of Aslan, he is joined by Edmund, Lucy, and the insufferable Eustace Scrubb. While Lewis explores how the sin of greed and the modern desire for utility and mastery go hand-in-hand, he also shows forth Narnia at its most magical and beautiful – a literary charge against the cold utility of the modern world. While Eustace’s transformation is most dramatic, every character faces tests of character as they journey to the eastern edge of the world and Aslan’s country. 

Lewis, C.S. The Silver Chair, HarperCollins: New York, 1953. 243 pages.

B+: Caspian’s son has gone missing and the king has grown old. Pulled into Narnia to rescue the prince, Eustace and Jill are given a series of signs by Aslan for their journey. Joined by the courageous but melancholy Puddleglum, the children fumble every sign until the last one, forgetting and disbelieving along the way. The prince is saved and he returns for one last encounter with his dying father. Though no one is allowed to know what might have been, the reader is left to wonder how heeding the signs (of Scripture) will change the character of our own adventure.  

Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle, Harper Collins: New York, 1956. 288 pages.

B: Lewis’ Narnian eschaton. An ape finds a lion skin, dresses an ass in it and parades it as Aslan come again. Eventually, the plotters claim that the vicious god Tash and the venerable Aslan are two names fo the same thing. The false Tashlan breaks the faith of many until Tash (a demon) and then Aslan actually arrive. Aslan’s arrival banishes the demon and summons the end of Narnia, where all beasts and people are judged by their reaction before the face of Aslan. The Last Battle challenges readers to face syncretism, false gods, and the shape of the end. 

Billings, Rachel M. “Israel Served the Lord”: The Book of Joshua as Paradoxical Portrait of Faithful Israel, University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, IN, 2013. 177 pages.

A-: When most studies of Joshua show greater interest in archaeological timelines and literary history than in listening to the text itself, this book is a breath of fresh air. Billings takes Joshua 24:13 as her starting point, “Israel served the Lord” and seeks to take this claim seriously while wrestling with the ambiguities of Israel’s actions (e.g. Rahab, Aachan, Gibeonites, Transjordan altar, possession of the land). What emerges is a clear picture of God’s faithfulness to Israel and a complex picture of Israel faithful in following God in messy circumstances and faithful in responding to their own sin. 

Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Exposition: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Third edition. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2018. 421 pages.

B: The difficulty of this book is more in what it denies than in what it says. Chapell rightly calls for preachers to be faithful to the text of Scripture and unfold it in light of the gospel and for the establishing and building up of the people of God. There is much to be learned here. However, he neglects and disdains most pre-modern preaching, revealing a significant blindspot in his account of expository preaching. He presents his vision and hermeneutics as timeless and the only faithful approach to preaching, but the project is unmistakably (and unwittingly) modern. 

Ferguson, Everett. The Rule of Faith: A Guide, Cascade Books: Eugene, OR, 2015. 104 pages.

B+: This short book is a good introduction to how the early church used and understood the ‘rule of faith.’ The rule was a summary of the Christian faith, but not the same thing as a creed. Filled with quotations from the church fathers, this volume shines when dealing history, but loses something when it tries to show the contemporary relevance of the rule. In particular, Ferguson’s distinction between the ‘broad unity’ of the rule of faith and the ‘division creating’ nature of creeds misunderstands the unitive purpose of creeds and the polemic nature of the rule of faith. 

Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings, Tor Books: New York, 2010. 1007 pages.

A: Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination. Sanderson opens his epic Stormlight Archive with an intricate world full of fascinating and compelling characters. As a kingdom’s war for revenge devolves into an endless series of skirmishes for more wealth and glory, a darker menace looms on the horizon. The ancient enemy, the voidbringers, may soon rise again. A beaten down bridgeman, an aging and troubled general, his passionate son, and a witty young woman with a dark secret and a dangerous plot must all seek to survive and discover just what is happening before it is too late. 

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