January 2011: Books Read

1. Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. Reviewed earlier here.

2. Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era by Stanley J. Grenz. Grenz, a professor at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, wrote this book in 2000, five years before his untimely death. The edition I read was the second edition, which came out in 2006 and includes a preface by Brian McLaren.

The book is an attempt to show how evangelicalism has gotten to where it is now, and to show a way forward. In the first half of the book, Grenz gives his history of the movement, calling attention to the evangelical emphasis on convertive piety and tracing the development of the evangelical doctrine of scripture. He recounts the history of evangelicalism in the 20th century by showing how it developed into a “two-party” system. He looks at three pairs of scholars from each of the last three generations: Bernard Ramm and Carl F.H. Henry, Clark Pinnock and Millard Erickson, and John Sanders and Wayne Grudem.

In the second half of the book, Grenz points the way forward, urging a critical appropriation of postmodern sensitivities in the service of the church’s mission. He calls for a “generous orthodoxy” (a phrase which later became the title of a book by McLaren) that focuses on “the gospel of convertive piety, oriented toward the doctrinal consensus of the church, and motivated by a vision that is truly catholic, that is, a vision encompassing the whole church — and, beyond the church, all creation” (29).

I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half. Any book that can explore in an entertaining way the historical roots of contemporary discussions and disagreements will keep me reading. I also appreciated Grenz’s call for the church to exhibit a “unity in diversity centered in the gospel” (368) which was “not to be found in full agreement concerning all of the various teachings and practices of the church, but rather in the living presence of Christ” (369). Unfortunately for Grenz, this did not happen. In fact, there appeared in 2004 a book with the title Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times. While I am not willing to go to bat for everything Grenz argues for in this book, I can’t help but lament the fact that his call for a more irenic, less “us-against-them” mentality went unheeded.

3. Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers. This was the first murder mystery that Dorothy Sayers wrote, and the first to feature Lord Peter Wimsey as the detective.

Since I don’t want to reveal anything about the plot, here are just a few general comments. This isn’t the first Sayers detective novel that I have read, and it was interesting for me to note the similarities and differences with what she wrote later. This is quite a short novel, without extraneous descriptions or events. As her career continued, and maybe as she became more comfortable as a novelist, her writing style became more expansive.

In reading this novel I was struck again with how similar Wimsey, in particular, seemed to characters created by P.G. Wodehouse. Of course, no one would ever be murdered in a Wodehouse novel, so it is interesting to see the incongruity that comes about when a flippant, lighthearted person like Wimsey journeys into the world of crime. Anyone who likes Wodehouse, and especially anyone who likes the so-called “golden age of detective fiction,” will enjoy this book.