Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A while back I read Eric Metaxas’s biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and was both fascinated and confused. Metaxas writes extremely well, and his description of the daily events in Germany, particularly the German church, of the 1930’s and 40’s sheds light on things overshadowed by world events.

However, his silence and even whitewashing of Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodox theology left me quite puzzled. In the months since the publication of Bonhoeffer, numerous scholars also have weighed in on this, as Tim Challies notes in this column.

I ran across an interview that Metaxas gave in which he was asked about the controversy, and I found his answer to be a lengthy example of ‘begging (evading) the question.’

4) There has been some criticism that perhaps you paint Bonhoeffer as “too evangelical”. I thought this was unfair, that you had painstakingly given the whole of Bonhoeffer’s theology, even quoting lengthy excerpts. How do you respond to this criticism?

I find the criticism hilarious on the one hand, and tragic, on the other.  Bonhoeffer and any other serious Christian is less concerned with being an “evangelical” — whatever that really means — than with being a Christian, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.  One thing I have said over and over:  I never set out to paint any portrait of Bonhoeffer other than what I saw, for good or for ill.  That some seem to think that I have put some English on the ball seems to say more about their expectations than about the reality of his life.

Note how Metaxas 1. invokes personal feelings to point attention away from the real issue. 2. blurs the term ‘evangelical’. 3. conflates orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right conduct). It is possible for a person to do right, but believe wrong (Mtt. 7.21-23). 4. uses an ad hominem attack on critics rather than deal with the substantive charges.

The facts are what they are:  Bonhoeffer thought of the Bible as the living “Word of God” and prayed every day and pointedly criticized the regnant theological liberalism of his era (both in Berlin and at Union in New York) and called abortion “murder” and advocated a traditionally biblical view of sexuality and called for the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every realm in history and culture, and advocated obedience to God under all circumstances and spoke against mere “religion”…  so, yes, he tends to look pretty “evangelical.”  But that really is a label that is unhelpful when trying to understand him.   Bonhoeffer was a devout disciple of Jesus Christ.  That should suffice, I think.

What does Metaxas mean by “the living ‘Word of God'”? Particularly, what did it mean to Bonhoeffer? The charge is not that he was a liberal theologian, but that he was neo-orthodox in his beliefs. Note again Metaxas conflating orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Not that some ideologues on the left and right haven’t been annoyed, as you mention.  But they are annoyed at reality, not at my depiction of reality.

It all really is somehow funny, though.  It has to be noted that theologically liberal Bonhoeffer scholars have kept deadly quiet for decades, while chest-beating humanists like Christopher Hitchens and “Bishop” John Spong have claimed Bonhoeffer as one of their own.  But when  Bonhoeffer is portrayed as the robust and serious Christian that he was, they have howled with all their might and main and have practically scampered up palm trees to cast down their cocoa-nuts of bitter fury.  One wonders where their priorities lie.

Fussy theological conservatives, on the other hand, who have accepted this false theologically liberal view of Bonhoeffer, are another story, no less tragi-comic.  They bring to mind the guy on the beach with the metal detector and headphones, oblivious to the staggering beauty of the sand and sea and sky.   They seem bent on discovering any scrap of evidence that “proves” Bonhoeffer was neo-orthodox, and if not that, then something else unpalatable — anything!  I think even a cigarette butt in the sand would thrill them.  They sometimes seem to be worshiping an idol of theological purity.

But to have perspective on it all, we must remember that both types, left and right, have always been with us.  As a friend of mine once said:  ”They are like the children in the marketplace who say, ‘We played the pipe and you would not dance; we played a dirge and you would not mourn!’”   Quel domage [what a shame!].


Nowhere does Metaxas begin to deal directly with the question of Bonhoeffer’s theology, which was controversial while he was alive as well as in the ensuing years. Setting aside that specific issue, it is irresponsible for a biographer to avoid dealing with this specific point which is undeniably a substantial part of Bonhoeffer’s life story.

Metaxas’s book is well written, but flawed for the gaping hole at a crucial juncture.

His response here does, however, serve Christians well, for he highlights a necessary question: What defines an evangelical? Orthodoxy or orthopraxy?


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recent listens

An interesting series of snapshot biographies from the Revolutionary times. This is another book that was easier to listen to than to read. I’ve had two or three failed reading attempts in the past.

It is striking to be reminded how the men involved understood that they were creating significant history while in the fray. There are times when a person realizes that they are both active agents and pawns in a greater narrative. This book raises the perennial question about men making events or vice versa.

An interesting description of the work of the Secret Service. It details both the work and the difficulties of the work done by these courageous men and women. It also relates numerous behind-the-scenes stories of various Presidents and other high officials. I wondered, though, if the agents are sworn to secrecy, how accurate are the stories? I must also include this warning: ITPSS contains a fair bit of profane language and examples of crass behavior of various Presidents.


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that’s my boy

Gideon fell asleep ‘reading’ at the beginning of yesterday’s nap. I have many memories doing the same, but I hope it doesn’t hurt his eyesight like it did mine. (Did I mention that we had to spend $155 on glasses for me, after a $225 Groupon.)

Note the other books stacked up for further reading!

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animal farm

My brother, Andrew, read this in a college business class and has recommended it to me several times. I can see why. I listened to this while working this week, and it was riveting.

Whew, if Animal Farm doesn’t paint a picture of our times, I don’t know what does. This was supposed to be a metaphor for the Soviet Union, but it captures the United States really well. Squealer is a perfect representation of the typical White House press secretary. And blaming everything that goes wrong on Napoleon sounds eerily similar to all the whining that has gone on the past 2+ years.

Patrick Tull has a well-deserved reputation as a reader. This is 3 1/4 hours well spent.


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listened to beowulf

Beowulf was intended to be an oral presentation rather than a literary work, and listening to it unlocked the splendor of this epic poem. It becomes pretty easy to imagine yourself in an ancient hall being regaled by a troubador…or maybe I was sleep-deprived when I listened to it. But it was still fun to imagine.

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Holiday visits to family allow for a lot of extra read-time since the kidlets are playing with cousins, and they stay up a good bit later-and therefore sleep later-than normal. Plus, Jill’s parents don’t have a computer, let alone the internet, and the kids are playing Wii or watching Toy Story 3 for the seventeenth time.

So here are the books I have been able to read in the past week:

DA Carson

Orlando Saer

Tony Dungy w/Nathan Whitaker

David Eddings

Greg Lucas

Pat Kirwan

These are in no particular order of importance or recommendation. I may blog about some of them in coming days.

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I saw this book at a friend’s office and it called to me that it must be read soon. A fascinating book highlighting the uniqueness of boys and their particular needs.

The author is a pediatrician (as is her husband) in the UP (that’s a significant portion of Michigan for those of you who are geographically challenged) and the mother of several children, including a son. She draws on her experiences with parents and boys to illustrate the points she makes. Dr. Meeker also helpfully draws on a significant amount of research and studies to guide toward her conclusions and recommendations.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way early.

The book is in some ways mistitled. The subtitle talks about 7 secrets to raising boys, but I realized about halfway through the book that I couldn’t find the “7 secrets.” There are 12 chapters, so that didn’t help. None of the chapters talks about secrets, except the final chapter “Ten Tips for Making Sure You Get It Right.”

Dr. Meeker writes this as though she were talking with you over coffee, hence it is somewhat clunky in its writing style. Her editor could have done some things to clean up repetitive phrases and other minor annoyances that crop up occasionally.

Setting these in context, Dr. Meeker’s passion for raising boys to be men shouts loud throughout the book. She is, I believe, a practicing Catholic, and several times she points out the need of religious training, but the book is written to the general public rather than toward a specifically religious reader.

There are numerous nuggets worth mining and many thoughts that stopped this dad and made him consider his actions.

  • “Every son is his father’s apprentice, studying not his dad’s profession, but his way of living, thinking, and believing.”
  • “Our job is to teach our sons to be assertive enough and strong enough to be different from the rest [of his rebellious peers].”
  • “for girls, the greatest predictor of good self-esteem is the physical affection her father shows her. Similarly, when a father encourages his son, whether through words or physical affection, the boy’s life always changes for the better.”
  • “One of the first and longest-lasting struggles a boy feels is mastery over his body.”
  • “Adolescence is, in a nutshell, the period in which a boy learns to master himself.”
  • “The best aid any parent can give a[n adolescent] boy is to capitalize on his receptivity when he is a child. Teach him your beliefs, and tell him why you believe what you do. Give him a solid moral foundation and then help him practice it. This way, when he is an adolescent, he will have a clear structure with which to work.”
  • “The biggest mistake we make with adolescent boys is forgetting that they all need help moving out of adolescence.”
  • “Every boy in America needs a man to become one.”
  • “Your son needs to live life beside you.” (emphasis mine in this quote)

Wanna read the book now? I want to read it again! Dr. Meeker also has a book on daughters, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, that I also want to read (at least to find out if the subtitle fits that book any better!)


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