Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Books for February 2012

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern WorldTo Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t say enough about this book. It is one of those books that I read and keep tying into everything else I see, hear, and read; that I keep telling everyone else about, and that quotes regularly come to mind that apply immediately to circumstances or ideas.

In short, Hunter considers the lofty and frequent goal of “changing culture” or, as the title states, even changing the world— both in its foundational underpinnings and rationale, and in the efforts and approaches put forth to accomplish such. As history has proven, each attempt has been found wanting, and Hunter considers why and redirects us toward an approach that is both biblical and proven. Along the way, he helpfully rethinks ideas like worldview, political power, and public witness, in each providing much assistance toward the realignment for the thoughtful Christian.

While lengthy, there isn’t a part of Hunter’s book that drags or gets tedious. Each chapter builds on the previous ones, and there is constant progress forward toward constructive ends. Every repetition serves a useful purpose and restates ideas with different emphasis or nuance. The tone and spirit of every critique is gentle, with healthy affirmation and always with more than mere critique in view.

I look forward to considering and reconsidering this material many times over, for a long time to come, and with as many people as I can.

Girl Meets God: A MemoirGirl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve liked Lauren’s writing style in everything I’ve read from her; no less so in this book. In it, she recounts her coming to faith— twice, actually— and shares the honest struggles of a new Christian finding her way into an unfamiliar faith. With fresh and keen observations, she reminded me of how delightfully curious and how frustrating the early years of maturity in the faith can be.

Girl Meets God is an easy read, and will be enjoyable to any Christian.

Traci LordsTraci Lords by Traci Lords

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like many men, I have struggled with the temptation to the use of pornography, especially since it is so readily available to anyone who wants it. One of the ways that, by God’s grace, I have been able to strengthen my resistance to that temptation is by learning to understand the objectification of women that occurs in the porn industry, and by recognizing how abusive and harmful is their participation in the creation of porn.

Traci Lords’ autobiographical work, Underneath It All, is helpful in both of these ways. She offers the reader a clear, barely-varnished look at the broken circumstances that made her vulnerable to entering the porn industry, the harm and abuse she suffered while working in it, and the long-reaching aftermath of its consequences. Her story is heartbreaking, though there is a (so far) happy ending.

Be warned: while she is careful in how explicit is her description of the making of the pornography itself, there are graphic concepts described within this book. There are also photos of Traci that, while absent of nudity, are racy and provocative. Finally, there is a fair amount of coarser language, even sometimes related to sexual things. With that said, nothing is found here that isn’t milder and less coarse than the average HBO or Showtime TV show, or “R” rated movie.

The book is an interesting story, not least because it is clear from the cover and the author’s presence in more mainstream culture in recent years that she has overcome much of the brokenness that afflicted her early in her life. The writing is not bad, but far from literary in quality.

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy SpiritForgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This title fits nicely into a category I would call “Vernacular Theology” because, while it isn’t up to the level of academic or even advanced lay-level theological writing, it isn’t exactly mere “Christian Living” either.

I appreciated Francis Chan’s effort to challenge Christians toward more thorough and faithful consideration and reliance upon the Holy Spirit. In that way, it was a very strong work on a needed topic. The Holy Spirit— and our theological reflection on His presence and work in our lives— is probably one of the more woefully neglected topics in the broader evangelical tradition (apart from our Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren, at least), and certainly among Reformed or Calvinist folk.

There were times when I wasn’t 100% with Chan in his particular points, like when I felt he was being provocative for the sake of it or even throwing down a gauntlet of “if you disagree then maybe you aren’t a Christian” (though never in those words). These occasions weren’t enough to sour my overall impression, however.

Chan’s writing isn’t bad, and it is generally engaging enough. He’s not up to the level of a Nouwen, Wangerin, or Sinclair Ferguson in his ability to engross his readers in a page-turning literary feast.

I read this one as a free, borrowed title from Amazon’s Prime Kindle Lending Library, so I didn’t have any financial stake in liking it— but I did anyway.

The Facial Hair HandbookThe Facial Hair Handbook by Jack Passion

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Chalk this one up as another of the more odd titles that I read this month!

I bought this because, after 3+ years with a full beard, I wanted some insight into better care for my beard. (Especially since moving to Arizona, I’ve noticed that the skin beneath my beard is dry and sometimes irritated.) The Amazon reviews for this book suggested that such insight might be found within.

I will say this: the author is definitely passionate about his own beard, and about what beards in general suggest about a fellow’s manliness. He’s also funny, and there are a few laugh-out-loud lines in the book. It is an entertaining read, though I say that as a beard-wearer more than as a reader.

By and large, though, I found very little help in this book for what I sought. The information offered is far too basic (though very thoroughly covering the basics) for my needs, as I already know very well how to wet-shave and how to wash and brush my hair. This book is ideal for a college kid who is in one of two circumstances: a) his dad was largely an absentee and therefore couldn’t or didn’t teach his son the basics of grooming; or b) he’s setting out to grow a beard but is too insecure to even ask friends or family for advice.

Seriously, if you’re not in one of these two situations, this is hardly a “must read”. If you’re bored and more than mildly curious about beards, though, it won’t kill you to read it.

View all my reviews

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