The Twins are headed into the first round of the World Series tonight. Randy Moss is back in Minnesota (though some wits say “OK, now all you’ve got to do is find someone to throw to him.” Yeah, yeah, Brett Favre is looking all too like the Brett Favre of the Jets years. I still can’t wait to see Moss in purple.) And four new & notable church-historical books are about to hit my mailbox, as it’s time again for the judging in the history/biography category of the Christianity Today Book Awards. This year’s finalists:
Jenkins is a masterful summarizer of difficult narrative, and there’s no more difficult narrative than the story of the post-nicene christological controversies. It’s also a tough episode of church history to teach, so I’ll be glad to have Jenkins’s book–whether or not I think it deserves top billing in this year’s awards.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas
I’ve been hearing really good things about this one and can’t wait to dig into it. It will be my first cover-to-cover reading of a Bonhoeffer biography, though I’ve seen a couple of the biographical films out there. Bonhoeffer was a complex figure who lived his life for Christ to the hilt, and in doing so was forced to make some impossible decisions.
God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, by Thomas Kidd
I wasn’t a huge fan of Kidd’s book on the Great Awakening, but I’m willing to give this one a chance. Certainly the church played a major role, and one not always acknowledged today, in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Christian History once did an entire issue on the impact of Christian faith on the American Revolution.
Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, by Eric Miller
Lasch was a fascinating figure–hugely influential in American cultural criticism a few decades back as one of the first to alert us to the toxicity of our addiction to individualism. Alan Wolfe provided the New Republic with a penetrating review of this book a little while back. Here’s a taste of it (the rest has gone behind NR’s “pay curtain,” though you can get a two-week free trial online membership if you really want to look at the full review):
In a moving tribute to Christopher Lasch written shortly after his death in 1994, Dale Vree, a Catholic convert and the editor of the New Oxford Review, wrote that “Calvinism was his true theological inspiration.” Lasch was certainly not one of the faithful. “Even before I took so rashly to writing about religion,” he once scribbled to himself, “it was an embarrassment to admit that I had none.” Yet despite his skepticism, the crucial idea associated with Calvinism since the sixteenth century—an insistence on the complete and utter depravity of the human race—fit Lasch’s increasingly dark vision of human purpose almost to perfection. “Calvinism (via Perry Miller) was my downfall,” he wrote to an inquiring Barbara Ehrenreich in an undated letter. “Or was it Luther’s commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Romans, taught to me by Sidney Ahlstrom? Some ancestral throwback to some distant German past? Or just orneriness and perversity? I kept it under wraps for years, but it was bound to come out in the end.”
If Lasch’s peculiar form of secular Calvinism was a throwback to his family’s past, it must have been a distant one. Lasch was born to Robert and Zora Schaupp Lasch in Omaha, Nebraska in 1932. Although descended from Midwestern Lutherans on her father’s side, Zora “had not a spark of religious faith,” as she described herself in her unpublished autobiography. A feminist and a rebel, she was very much a product of the Roaring Twenties, Nebraska-style. After receiving her doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr, she returned to the state university in Lincoln but was denied permission to teach ethics because of her commitment to naturalism. She included among her acquaintances John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. The only thing she had in common with the fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan was her home state.
Ah, the crisp fall air and the smell of newly printed pages . . .