Tag Archives: Book Review

Not Cool at All

I just recently finished reading Not Cool by Greg Gutfeld. It is a book filled with astounding insights and unnecessary crassness, and all from someone who describes himself as a “troubled agnostic.”

Gutfeld sees, as few other people do, that our politics is a matter of preening, and that the whole country is a maladministered high school, one in which the cool bullies have seized all practical control. The subtitle “The Hipster Elite and Their War on You” says it all, and it is not really overstated. I wish more of our preachers could see the problem that afflicts us as Gutfeld sees it, while continuing to see what Gutfeld does not yet see. The only way out of this morass is the gospel of grace.

I thought of having this be my book-of-the-month next go round, but then I would have dump in so many disclaimers as to make the whole thing a grand exercise in pushing and pulling. So I thought I would write on just one aspect of Gutfeld’s book. He describes himself as libertarian, but I think he is more of a contrarian than anything. He leans against conservative groupthink when he is around them, and against libertarian groupthink when around them. For example, his chapter on the military was much more positive than a thoroughbred libertarian would write.

The aspect of Gutfeld’s jeremiad that I wanted to address was his chapter on homosexual marriage. He is a libertarian, so he is for it. But the chapter largely revolved around his complaints against straights who come out for same sex mirage as a way of increasing their cool quotient. He also remonstrates with all the activists who want to tag opponents of same sex mirage with “hate thoughts” — Gutfeld seeks to be reasonable there as well. Give everybody a minute, he argues. This has been a huge shift, one that has occurred in the course of just one generation, and so why are you hectoring everybody who wants to think about it for a moment? So this was a defense of opponents of same sex mirage by a proponent of it.

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Book of the Month/April 2014

God in the Whirlwind

I have been blessed by David Wells for many years. This book, God in the Whirlwind, is the capstone of a particular writing project, one that began with No Place for Truth. I read that book in 1994, and have been faithfully reading his other contributions as they came out. The other books, well worth readying, are God in the Wasteland, Losing our Virtue, The Courage to Be Protestant, and Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

It is not too much to say that this book is his positive affirmation of what he believes, a fitting conclusion to his sweeping critiques of all the things he doesn’t believe — which he dissected so ably in the earlier books.

So I would like to make three observations about this book. The first is that Wells draws a sharp contrast between that which comes “from above” — the gospel of grace — and that which comes “from below” — everything else. This is actually the issue in all comparisons of different faiths, approaches, religions, or worldviews.

A second important emphasis is the distinction he draws between redemption and therapy. We now live in a therapeutic culture, one in which forgiveness is not needed, but treatment is. The treatment might come in those little capsules beloved of modernists, or it might come from varying doses of magnesium, randomly administered by people who want Facebook for a doctor. We want fixes, not forgiveness, and so Wells uses the phrase holy-love to discuss what God is like. When we separate holiness from love, all we get are legalisms. When we separate love from holiness, we get the therapeutic dealer offering us the joy pills.

The third thing to be observed is how Wells simply states, faithfully and simply, the gospel. The subtitle of the book is “How the Holy-love of God Reorients our World.” The bulk of the book is simply a sturdy and very competent walk through the basic tenets of the Christian gospel.

I have only one complaint, which in the scope of his work, amounts actually to something of a quibble. I trust his observations about the way our culture is circling the drain, but his anchor points for these observations are frequently polls and surveys. I wish that he would turn his critical eye on that.

With that gotten out of the way, I commend this book highly. It is food for the soul. And given the astute observations made in all his earlier works, it is a table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies.

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Book of the Month/March 2014

Listen Rap

This small accessible book is a very sane and very good introduction to a much controverted subject.

I write this review as an observer of rap, and admittedly not as a devotee. In fact, I recently told a friend that if I write about it too much, I will undoubtedly commit a howler or two, like calling it hop hip. So what is my perspective on it? Besides being the perspective of a non-expert, I think it would be most accurate to call me an appreciative and supportive non-fan. You can read some of the reasons for that here in a post called Dear XYZ.

This book, Does God Listen to Rap?, by Curtis Allen, can be divided into two basic sections. The first describes the origins of this form of music, giving us the history of it. Where did it come from, and why did it catch on?

“So let’s be honest. Rap isn’t exactly rooted in the rich soil of holiness” (p. 37). Having established in that first section that the origins of rap were pretty tawdry, Allen goes on to show in the second part of the book why — scripturally — that shouldn’t really matter to us, at least not as a stand-alone argument. He gives thoughtful arguments from Scripture on why the genetic fallacy is in fact a fallacy when it comes to music. I have read a lot of cultural analysis, and Allen comes to the subject in fresh ways. For one example, he develops one argument from the fact that all music came from the line of Cain (Gen. 4: 17-21), beginning with a gent named Jubal. We don’t know what his stage name was — perhaps JubalZ.

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Book of the Month/February 2014

Glamour

I have enjoyed Virginia Postrel’s writing for years. Her first book, The Future and Its Enemies, was a great treatment of our modern Luddites, our quasi-Luddites, our neo-Luddites, and our Luddites in denial. It was really good. In The Substance of Style, she showed an acute aesthetic sense in her survey of modern technology and it’s products. Style is not a superfluous add-on extra — it is part of the substance of what we do. Here, in The Power of Glamour, she does a wonderful job in describing an aspect of our world that is examined far too infrequently. One of the things that opponents of free markets are adept at doing is in categorizing advocates of free markets as soulless, bottom-line-cash-value only, number crunchers. I don’t know of a better refutation of that line of attack than simply pointing to the work of Virginia Postrel.

This book begins with definitions — which is hard, because an essential part of real glamour is the ineffability of the thing. Nevertheless, she does good work via negativa. Not everything that is called glamorous actually is. “Though people often equate them, glamour is not the same thing as beauty, stylishness, luxury, celebrity, or sex appeal” (p. 6). Paris Hilton is the anti-Grace Kelly. For Postrel, the essential elements of glamour are “a promise of escape and transformation; grace; and mystery” (p. 9, emphasis hers). After her very able description of what it (elusively) is, the book then goes on to show the “growth and evolution of glamour as both a spontaneous phenomenon and a calculated tool of persuasion” (p. 9).

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Book of the Month/January 2014

Food Police

Charles Krauthammer has noted, more than once, and I have quoted him, I also think more than once, that liberals don’t care what you do, so long as it is mandatory. This coercive spirit driving them applies to everything, and what once used to be used as a reductio ad absurdum in our debates with them (about tobacco or health care, say) are now embraced by progressives as a serious part of their agenda. Anything to grow the girth of the state. They want control of the food supply, and they want it to further their statist ends.

Like it or not, food is now a serious political issue. The Food Police by Jayson Lusk is a very fine book about the politics of food, and the politics of food — as it turns out — is quite an extensive subject. We’ll get to some of the details of that in a moment.

cooks in a van

First, there are a number of distinctions we need to make before moving on to a closer interaction with the book. As those who have been following my posts on food should know, the need of the hour is for us to leave one another alone. What someone else has for lunch ought to make me purse my lips not at all, and a censorious gaze should be the last thing on my mind. We should all be allowed our laissez faire lunchtimes.

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A Purpose Driven Book Review

I won’t go into it now, but as a result of a series of odd events, I decided that at some point I needed to read a book by Rick Warren. I had picked up a copy of his Purpose Driven Life at a used bookstore, and despite the fact that California evangelical megachurch land is not my home territory, I decided to venture in.

And, I have to say, I was really surprised at how good it was. This thing has had monster sales in the evangelical world — and here my bigotries come out to play, like a box full of three-week-old puppies let loose in the garage — and as everyone knows, monster book sales in the evangelical world mean that the object that is selling briskly must be a eighteen-wheeled shipment of shinola.

Well, not this book. This book deserves to have sold every copy that sold. And if it was read and did no good, it was simply that the reader wasn’t paying attention, or took a dim view of obedience. Warren begins by laying down the foundation of God-centeredness. On that bedrock, he builds out the five purposes of each person’s life. They are to be worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship. The book has forty chapters total, each one of manageable size, developing each one of those five categories. Speaking as a pastor, I have to say that I know a lot of Reformed types who think they are past all this when they actually are not, and who would really be edified by what Warren has to say here.

It should go without saying that in reviewing this book, I am not signing off on anything Rick Warren may have said or done elsewhere. I am not as well-versed as I should be on the hate blogs, so I don’t want to praise anything on the index prohibitorum . . .

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Book of the Month/December

PeaceRiver

A month or two ago, I got a book recommendation from Nate, of a kind that was worth paying attention to. He had spoken at a conference for Christian artists together with a writer named Leif Enger, and was really impressed with him. As a result he got and read one of Enger’s books titled Peace Like a River. When he was done he told me that he thought I would really like it. So I bought it, read it, and really liked it.

Now this book has been out for more than a decade and has boatloads of critical acclaim, but I had never heard of it. Feel like I have been living in a cardboard box or something. But I have heard of it now, and want any people who are in the same condition of ignorant missing-out-ness that I was in to drop everything and go get it.

Enger’s marvelous prose is shaped on a hand turned lathe. He is descriptive, vivid, gripping, and — hard to do in a book that is not a comedy — laugh-out-loud funny. His metaphors startle you, right before falling into their place with a satisfying click — and he does it over and over again.

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Book of the Month/November

This book is only available in electronic form, but given the nature of the book, I want to make it my book of the month anyway. It is the kind of book that every church that practices church discipline (which should be all of them) ought to have on the premises.

Two Governments

 

Correction: there is a paperback.

And surely, with every session of elders, somebody has a Kindle, and that somebody ought to be tasked to read this book on behalf of the session, and to bring back proposals to be incorporated into the documents of the church. Written by two young attorneys (Robert Renaud and Lael Weinberger), this book provides a historical survey of church/state relations (throughout all church history, but focusing on the Reformation era and the American Founding era), along with a legal survey of the rights churches currently have in America on matters of church discipline.

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