Original RBL Reviews

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection

Pope Benedict XVI. Ignatius Press, $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-58617-500-9

Popes are known for writing encyclicals and papal bulls, not popular works on the historical Jesus, which is in any case a field well trod by countless other authors. But Pope Benedict XVI, aka the German theologian Joseph Ratzinger, has now written the second volume in his Jesus of Nazareth series. (A third may be in the offing.) And this book, as with the first, is a worthy contribution to the field not only because it was written by a pope but also because it combines solid scholarship with deep spirituality. As such it joins the Jesus of history to the Christ of faith in an accessible narrative. This volume explores the drama of Holy Week, yet it is relatively bloodless compared with other treatments. The focus is on the meaning of the events, with a strong reiteration of recent church teaching against imputing guilt for Jesus’ death to the Jews of that time or now. But Benedict’s explanation of the Resurrection and his phrase “evolutionary leap” to help conceive it may be the most fascinating and enduring aspect of the book. The Resurrection opens “a new dimension of human existence,” the pope writes; it “points beyond history but has left a footprint within history.” The same could be said of this book. (Mar. 10)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Rob Bell. HarperOne, $22.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-204964-3

Bell, influential pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and author of Velvet Elvis, aims to provide an introduction to some of the big questions of Jesus’ life and message. Claiming that some versions of Jesus should be rejected, particularly those used to intimidate and inspire fear or hatred, Bell persuasively interprets the Bible as a message of love and redemption. He is clearly well versed in the scriptures, and for support his arguments look to everything from the parable of the prodigal son to Revelation to the story of Moses, in addition to his own personal experiences as a pastor, many of which are the book’s highlights. Bell’s vision of Christianity is inclusive, as he argues against some traditional ideas--for instance, hell as eternal punishment reserved for non-Christians--in favor of a God whose love and forgiveness is all encompassing. His style is characteristically concise and oral, his tone passionate and unabashedly positive. The result is a book that, while not exploring its own ideas deeply, may be a friendly welcome to Christianity for seekers, since they don’t have a dog in the fight over hell that this book has ignited among the professionally religious. (Mar. 15)

A Dangerous Dozen: Twelve Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo but Taught Us to Live Like Jesus

C.K. Robertson. SkyLight Paths, $16.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-59473-298-0

In this collection of biographical, social, and theological reflections on 12 Christian figures who often confronted and changed the societies in which they lived, the writer doesn’t shy from controversy. Canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Robertson (Transforming Stewardship) ranges through church history to find “blessed troublemakers” who sometimes evoked anger from established authorities and other times spurred church and state to try to “canonize and control” them. The apostle Paul, 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, and German resistance martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer are some of those profiled less likely to raise questions in readers’ minds. But others, such as W.H. Ting (controversial for his activities in Communist China) and third-century theologian Origen, may be debated. While the writer’s progressive perspective makes for lively reading, some readers will be disturbed that he often seems willing to question the sincerity of Christians throughout the centuries (and sometimes biblical scholarship as well) in order to highlight those whose perspectives sometimes put them at loggerheads with the powers that be. Questions accompany each chapter, making the book suitable for group or individual study. (Apr.)

Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God

David Platt. Multnomah, $14.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-60142-372-6

Addressing evangelical Christian leaders and members, megachurch pastor and author Platt (Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream) espouses six “essential ideas” to accomplish the title goal. For example, in “The Tyranny of the Good,” Platt urges individuals and congregations to prayerfully review budgets, questioning everything--family homes and dreams, church programs, building projects--with a willingness to sacrifice all “to accomplish the Great Commission,” namely, to evangelize. Providing examples of individuals and churches who faithfully engage in this process, he describes his own congregation’s embrace of community orphans needing foster care and adoption, as well as the work done by families undertaking missions in impoverished countries. Platt challenges affluent Christians to rethink devoting vast resources to entertainment and latte, and instead apply those resources to evangelism. With urgency, he calls leaders to equip lay Christians to spread the gospel to the 6,000 “people groups” who risk “everlasting suffering in hell” because they have not heard about Jesus. While mainline and other nonevangelical Christians may dispute some of Platt’s assumptions, his call for faithful allocation of resources and an empowered laity will resonate across the Christian spectrum. (Apr.)

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia

Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. IVP Books, $25 (300p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3834-9

Because Euro-Americans are largely unaware of Christian history in Africa and Asia, the authors set out to tell stories of Christian leaders from Korea, China, Africa, and India. These narratives from the 19th and 20th centuries stand on their own rather than filling the pages with assessment and evaluation, because “it is important first simply to know before trying to judge,” the authors write. Profiles of influential Christian voices and activists range from Archbishop Janani Luwum, a martyr in Uganda murdered by Idi Amin’s regime in 1977, to Dora Yu, a woman considered the foremost Chinese evangelist during the early 1900s. The otherwise brilliant book suffers from uninspiring front matter, and while one strength is the incredible detail harvested from missionary journals, biographies, and autobiographies, the first chapter immediately bogs down in minutiae of church politics surrounding its subject, Anglican martyr Bernard Mizeki. The value of this book is the window it opens to a diverse world. The authors maintain that these stories show indelibly that the Holy Spirit has been active across the world and across time. (Apr.)

2012: A Clarion Call: Your Soul’s Purpose in Conscious Evolution

Nicolya Christi. Bear & Co., $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-59143-129-9

Natural disasters and human-produced upheavals seem to be accelerating in frequency and scale, and with each disruption, grave concern about humanity’s future escalates. The urgency to respond before the “point of no return” is amplified by modern speculation about the Mayan prophesies surrounding December 21, 2012, portending both the end of a planetary cycle and the possible dawning of a new consciousness. Christi, a “consciousness evolutionist” and activist, believes that a global shift in consciousness is not only necessary but an evolutionary inevitability and an opportunity: conscious evolution is the essential seed of change from which the future can grow. She writes that her “ascension process”--dramatic times of illness and awareness that began at age 16--enhanced her knowledge of wisdom traditions and her expertise for charting humanity’s progression to fifth-dimensional consciousness, from Homo sapiens to Homo luminous. Philosophically and pragmatically, Christi outlines the imperative and indicators for conscious evolution, asking each human to heed the call and realize what could be the soul’s highest purpose. (Apr.)

Sneak Peek: Religion Book Reviews Coming in PW April 11

I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim

Edited by Maria M. Ebrahimji and Zahra T. Suratwala. White Cloud, $16.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-935952-00-8

Ebrahimji, a producer at CNN, and Suratwala, a business consultant, assemble short essays by 40 unique American Muslim women in this easy to read book. Between the ages of 20 and 40, the authors share their range and diversity of experiences, from pleasant ones, such as becoming a mother, to ones that reflect stereotypes (such as teen marriage to protect the woman’s “honor”). The diversity of experiences (from single moms to interns striking out on their own for the first time), ethnicity (from African-American to Arab immigrant), and variety of careers and higher education (from an doctor of Afghan-descent, second-guessing herself over the details of an emergency surgery, to a media enthusiast determined to become a television reporter despite her wearing of hijab)--are striking for their range. Many women speak of their fathers, who both push their daughters to achieve but also implicitly reinforce a level of patriarchy. Their frustration over the lack of voice in American politics is a recurring theme. Despite some repetition and a lack of a guiding structure, this is a very useful and welcome contribution in an understudied area. (May)

The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion

Tim Challies. Zondervan, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-310-32903-9

Are cellphones and wikis good for faith? Author and Christian blogger Challies applies the discernment taught in his first book (The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment) to the subject of digital technology. He writes that technology is from God, but its merits and downfalls depend on how people use new devices—and how they allow those devices to use them. Though Challies is not the first author to warn about overuse, he takes a unique, comprehensive view of technology through the contexts of Christian theology, theory, and everyday experience. After offering a brief history of technology from the steam engine to the mobile phone, he examines six ways in which the latest digital media are affecting our behaviors (e.g., reducing accountability, changing our perception of truth). As we “approach a frontier,” Challies cautions readers to consider potential behavioral changes before they are written into our history. While he does not draw definitive conclusions, the questions he poses will give readers necessary pause and help them to take a careful look at technology’s place in their lives. (May)

A First Look at the Stars: Starred Religion Book Review Coming in PW April 11

The God Upgrade: Finding Your 21st Century Spirituality in Judaism’s 5,000-Year-Old Tradition

Jamie S. Korngold. Jewish Lights, $15.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-58023-443-6

Korngold, a Reform rabbi who as “Adventure Rabbi” leads outdoor hikes and retreats designed to recreate the spiritual connection between nature and Judaism, takes her 2008 book God in the Wilderness a step further. She presents brief updates of the concept of God as advanced by Maimonides, Spinoza, Buber, Heschel, and Kushner before offering her own understanding of God. She asserts that “upgrades” are in keeping with Jewish tradition and rejects the conception of a God that keeps score of human deeds and hands out punishments or rewards accordingly. Instead, she argues for modernizing the contemporary notion of God so that it becomes compatible with both science and Judaism. This involves maintaining ancient rituals as “gems” that tie today’s Jews to ancestors and to each other. Traditions and heritage linked to contemporary understanding will produce a fresh view of God that can “inspire you, bring you comfort, and fill your life with peace.” While Korngold primarily addresses Jews, her powerful message can resonate with people of all faiths as they struggle to reconcile science and religion. (May)

On the Virtual Shelves: Web Exclusive Religion Book Reviews

Christians and the Common Good: How Faith Intersects with Public Life

Charles E. Gutenson (Brazos, Apr.)


Biblical Seductions: Six Stories Retold Based on Talmud and Midrash
Sandra E. Rapoport ( KTAV, Feb.)