June 2009: Books Read

1. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. I’d been looking forward to reading this since it came out last year, and when I was talking with my cousin (who is not a Christian) over Christmas about a book to possibly read together, I knew this was the one. Since February we have been reading about a chapter at a time, he e-mailing me his thoughts and me responding with my thoughts. It has been a fruitful dialogue, I think, mostly because Keller covers so much in this book. The first half features chapters on various questions/objections that people in North America have about Christianity (e.g., “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”), and the second half features chapters that examine the claims of Christianity. Keller has clearly done a lot of thinking about cultural and philosophical issues and a lot of talking with non-Christians, and it shows. I highly recommend it both for believers who want an overview of modern/postmodern Western objections to Christianity, and unbelievers who want to know what some responses to those objections are.

2. A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society by Rodney Clapp. The title of this book says it all, really. Clapp argues that we are in a post-Christian society, and says that the church’s response to this situation should not be to attempt to reassert Christian cultural dominance but to become a culture unto itself. I bought it used, and the previous owner had written a lot of question marks in the margins, and I could see why. It’s much too short for Clapp to really develop his arguments, so I’m not too sure that it’s likely to convince many people who don’t already agree with the thesis. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t call it a life-changing book. For those who want more fully developed thought in this area, I’d recommend the work of John Howard Yoder or Stanley Hauerwas.

3. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. I’m a sucker for books about culture. All you have to do, as an author or publisher, is put the word “culture” in a book title, and you can guarantee that I’ll at least pick it up and look at it. I was already familiar with the work of Andy Crouch, largely through the influence of my Sunday School teacher when I went to Third Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Fritz Kling. Back then (this was seven years ago), Fritz would hand out copies of the magazine of which Crouch was the editor, re:generation quarterly. I remember reading through a few issues and especially liking Crouch’s voice. One time, Crouch even came to Richmond and I went to meet him with Fritz and a group of others. I don’t remember a lot about the meeting except that Crouch talked about highways and how they were a product of and also produced culture. I thought his habit of looking behind the stuff of everyday life and wondering why it was there and what it said about culture was fascinating, and a good habit for me to develop too.

Culture Making has talk about highways, and so much more. Crouch rejects one-dimensional Christian responses to culture, calling us to reject some, embrace some, but above all, make some. Culture abhors a vacuum, he says, so it isn’t enough for us to just pick and choose what we like and don’t like. If we want good culture(s), we need to make it. He presents a reading of the Bible in which culture is prominent, and urges us to stop trying to change the world. What we can do, instead, is start making culture in small groups (“the 3, the 12 and the 120,” he calls them) and trust God to magnify our culture-making efforts.

It also has the story of what happened to that little magazine, re:generation quarterly. It failed, but Crouch encourages his readers to try and make culture, even if it sometimes means failure. Crouch is a good writer, and this is a good book. I hope it makes it into the hands of many Christians.

4. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Even though many people of my generation read this book when they were in junior high or high school, I did not. Since it has been so powerful for so long and for so many people, I decided to read it.

How can I review a book like this? I can only say that it was heartbreaking in its ordinariness. Everyone who reads the book knows how extraordinary the circumstances were under which it was written: Anne and seven other Jews hid in a secret apartment in Amsterdam for over two years as most other Jews in Europe were shipped off to death camps by the Nazis. In the end, the residents were shipped off too and only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, though, the most compelling part about the book to me was just how ordinary it was. Anne was truly gifted as a writer, but in so many ways she was just like any other girl: she had conflicts with her parents, she desired romantic love, she had hopes and dreams for the future. One reason for the popularity of this book, I think, is that so many people can relate to Anne. She seems like us, or like someone we know and love. And because she is so like the rest of us, we can’t help but be chilled and saddened by the fact that what happened to her happened to millions of others, and could happen to anyone.

5. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. I can’t remember the first time I heard who Dorothy Day was, but I’ve been curious to read this book, her autobiography up to the early ’50s, for a while. The front of my copy of the book calls her a “legendary Catholic social activist,” and I was curious to see how she got started, what motivated her, and what led to the Catholic Worker Movement, which she co-founded.

The book didn’t disappoint. It was a quick read, and I found her description of the movement and the people involved to be inspiring. It made me want to be a part of something like it. Her writing isn’t all inspirational, however. After all, it is called The Long Loneliness, and she is honest about the loneliness it is possible to feel in the midst of many people and in the midst of a great movement.

One tidbit that was surprising to me was that Day was not a socialist in her Catholic Worker days. I had assumed that she was… I suppose because I had read somewhere that before she became a Catholic she worked on several socialist newspapers. She actually describes herself as an anarchist and pacifist.

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2 thoughts on “June 2009: Books Read

  1. Dawn July 5, 2009 / 5:44 pm

    Nice reviews!

  2. 4854derrida January 26, 2010 / 12:27 pm

    Hello

    I’ve just uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]–i.e., Christopher Closeup– and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues with Catholic Worker homes in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/4854derrida

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor

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