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A Kabbalah of Food: Stories, Teachings, Recipes

Hanoch Hecht. Monkfish, $16.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-948626-31-6

Rabbi Hecht, a former competitor on the Food Network show Chopped, combines his passion for Jewish teaching and food in this entertaining volume. He contends that “[c]ooking, sharing, and enjoying food... creates a dwelling place for God within us and allows us to elevate the spark of godliness within the physical world.” Through a mix of recipes, anecdotes from the kitchen, and spiritual musings, Hecht explores how cooking according to methods within the Kabbalah “allows us to elevate the spark of godliness within the physical world.” While Hecht explains Jewish religious law pertaining to kosher foods, many entries demonstrate that strict adherence to the law should not preempt common hospitality. For example, Hecht repeats the story of a husband chastised at a Shabbat dinner for not covering the challah before the wine blessing and argues the reprimand was counter to the spirit of the tradition. Hecht also provides dozens of recipes for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, such as Sephardic chicken, pesto butter, and Moroccan salmon. This insightful, zesty work will serve as an easy entry point for those looking to understand the role of food in Judaism. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology Through Christian Eyes

Louis Markos. Classical Academic, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-60051-395-4

Markos (Heaven and Hell), an English professor at Houston Baptist University, explains thematic and ethical parallels between Greco-Roman myths and Christian scriptures in this lively work. Taking his lead from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who sought to emphasize the mythic power of the Christian story and its classical antecedents, Markos delves into how ancient writers drew on “general revelation,”or finding spirituality through nature or philosophical reasoning, to teach universal truths that find full expression in the “special revelation” of Jesus’s message. Each of the 50 chapters contains Markos’s pared-down retelling of a myth, a brief explanation of its connections to Christian ideas, and a series of discussion questions. While many of Markos’s parallels are rehashings of the interpretations of Tolkien and Lewis, some of his correlations are surprising: Pandora, like Eve, unleashed evil but also redemptive hope; Semele’s demise reminds Markos that God is powerful and dangerous; and the trial of Orestes is conceived as a resurrection story. While the work presumes a conservative Christian audience, any Christian will find these perspectives intriguing. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Esoteric Theravada: The Story of the Forgotten Meditation Tradition of Southeast Asia

Kate Crosby. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-61180-794-3

In this insightful analysis, Crosby (Theravada Buddhism), a professor of Buddhist studies at King’s College, investigates the history and cultural context of boran kammatthana, or old meditation. Crosby opens with an exploration of boran kammatthana’s position in theravada Buddhism throughout Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, and its marginalization during the colonial and postcolonial era. According to Crosby, colonialism’s focus on science and secularization undermined various spiritual traditions, leading boran kammatthana to become disconnected from a holistic network of integrated practices. Through social and political shifts in Southeast Asia, boran kammatthana was gradually supplanted by a theravada tradition that emphasized textual study, scientific rationalism, and commonsense understandings of texts. As for boran kammatthana itself, Crosby explains it is an orthodox practice following third-century Abhidhamma frameworks that focused on integrating and systematizing early Buddhist doctrines. Crosby’s careful and robust study will be eye-opening for Western Buddhist circles. While the barrier of entry is rather high for lay readers, those with a deep familiarity with Buddhism will find this stimulating. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional

Paul David Tripp. Crossway, $21.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4335-6767-4

Pastor Tripp (My Heart Cries Out) presents a “devotional of celebration and self-examination” with these 40 comforting daily reflections for Lent. Tripp encourages readers to meditate on Jesus’s sacrifice and suffering during the Lenten season and explains that, as mourning deepens, so does the capacity for joy. At the end of each devotional, he provides questions for reflection, such as “What do you need to give up, for a season or more permanently, to root the idols out of your heart?” and “what are your greatest disappointments in life, and what deeper desires do those things reveal?” Tripp suggests that readers view Lent as a season of prayer, which he refers to as both a gift of communion and internal “spiritual warfare”: “To pray we need rescuing grace that will free us from the dominion of our own selfish hearts.” He also discusses unwillingness as a characteristic of sin and compares it with Christ’s willingness to lay down his life, and reminds Christians that Jesus’s journey “didn’t end with the cross but with the victory of the empty tomb.” The author’s typically patient explanations of scriptural lessons and insightful connections to contemporary life drive each devotion. Tripp’s evocative guidance will be welcomed by fans and newcomers alike. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness: Ten Steps to Healing

Marina Berzins McCoy. Loyola, $13.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8294-5007-1

McCoy (Wounded Heroes), a philosophy professor at Boston College, weaves together personal experiences and Ignatian theology in this robust take on forgiveness. Arguing that embracing forgiveness for “others and ourselves... is how we make our way deeper into the celebration of community and communion,” McCoy offers 10 steps—trust in grace, create new narratives, and “cultivate habits of mercy,” among others—to help readers embrace forgiveness. She grounds her reflections in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and moves quickly to fit the work’s practices into her 10 steps. (Those unfamilair with the text may be at something of a loss.) For instance, she uses Ignatius’s “imaginative prayers” depicting Jesus’s life and dying moments as an exercise in compassion: “Jesus’ life of compassion and reconciliation shows us what it is like to live a life that is fully human.” To round out the lessons, she includes wisdom picked up in her own life, including the advice of a Jesuit spiritual adviser who told her to “pray with the image of being one of the sheep that Jesus ‘knows by name’” and how she learned to “extend mercy” while volunteering in a prison. While directed toward Catholics, this touching work will appeal to Christians of all stripes. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience

Dzigar Kongtrul. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61180-464-5

In this short but powerful work, Kongtrul (It’s Up to You), a Tibetan Buddhist lama, teaches ways of finding peace and patience in a flawed world. Kongtrul starts by explicating the destructive power of anger—which even in small amounts, he writes, can nullify efforts toward generosity and goodwill—and elaborates on the causes of mental disturbance, including not getting what one wants and getting what one doesn’t want. He then recommends practices and techniques inspired by the work of eighth-century Indian philosopher Shantideva for reducing aggression and building patience, such as meditations on giving up control and a list of “seventy-two ways we get disturbed.” Kongtrul skillfully weaves together the writings of Shantideva with Tibetan folktales and personal anecdotes (such as how cutting down trees to contain a forest fire in Bhutan reminded him that one must “let go of attachments” to control “the fire of anger”), and makes even abstract recommendations accessible, as with his description of the practice of sitting with pain as “simmering.” Buddhists will appreciate Kongtrul’s ode to Shantideva, but even non-Buddhist readers will enjoy this powerful work’s vivid writing and wise instruction. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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40 Questions About Biblical Theology

Jason Derouchie, Oren Martin, and Andrew Naselli. Kregel Academic, $27.99 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4560-6

In this helpful guide, evangelical seminary professors Derouchie (How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament), Martin (Bound for the Promised Land), and Naselli (How to Understand and Apply the New Testament) introduce biblical theology in 40 essays. The authors include scholarly references and ancient Greek vocabulary alongside discussions of translations, while also explaining common terms (for instance, organic means “how elements grow together as parts of a whole”). In the first part, the authors define biblical theology as the study of “how the whole Bible progresses, integrates, and climaxes in Christ.” The questions then turn to tracing themes throughout scripture, such as the role of covenants, the Sabbath, and resurrection. Through a close reading of repeated lines in Isaiah 2:12 and Exodus 15:2, for example, the authors explore how scripture continually refines God’s promises through new covenants. Chapters covering different views on dispensationalist theologies also make this a useful reference for anyone hoping to understand major threads in 20th-century American Christian scholarship. Aspiring pastors will get the most out of this diligent study. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution

Carl Trueman. Crossway, $34.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4335-5633-3

Trueman (The Creedal Imperative), an Orthodox Presbyterian minister and religious studies professor at Grove City College, delivers a sweeping, preachy condemnation of modern conceptions of the self, with particular emphasis on new understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality. Trueman uses theoretical frameworks developed by 20th-century sociologist Philip Rieff and contemporary philosophers Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre to argue that late-20th-century changes in the Christian West’s expectations around human gender and sexuality were driven by “ethical subjectivism” and “anarchic emotive morality.” Trueman traces the changes he deplores back to Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, whose “assaults on any static or transcendent notion of human nature” have defined Western conceptions of the self. He then turns a sharply critical eye to the work of Sigmund Freud, who, the author believes, made “sex the central element in what it means to be human.” In the final section, Trueman’s argument against the influence of LGBTQ people on society—such as that recognition of a broader range of human gender identities and sexual desires will lead to cultural acceptance of pedophilia and incest—will undoubtedly offend. While deeply researched and meticulously explained, this polemic will only appeal to readers who already agree with Trueman. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Win the Day: 7 Daily Habits to Help You Stress Less & Accomplish More

Mark Batterson. Multnomah, $21.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-19276-4

In this spirited motivational guide, Batterson (The Circle Maker), lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., shares seven transformative habits to help Christians conquer life’s challenges. He explains that “winning the day isn’t about getting it right the first time... it’s about getting it right eventually.” To that end, he discusses seven habits: “flip the script, kiss the wave, eat the frog, fly the kite, cut the rope, wind the clock, and seize the day.” Together, the habits are meant to help readers push back against one’s internal “voice of doubt,” move beyond one’s past by “hiding from nothing,” tackle the day’s most pressing concerns first, “do little things like they are big things,” identify patterns of self-sabotage, confess sins, and learn from failure. Batterson cites the life and record-setting career of the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who lived by the dictum “make each day your masterpiece,” as an example of someone who took to heart the “seize the day” mentality. This encouraging message to “give your dead yesterdays a eulogy” will appeal to any Christian reader of self-help. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good

Don Everts. IVP, $17 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4803-4

Pastor Everts (The Reluctant Witness) explores in this useful survey ways to “help Christians live in natural, normal, God-honoring ways.” Everts focuses on “the impact of Christians on the broader community,” specifically, how Christians interact with their neighbors through “volunteering, serving, and giving in and through the local church” and bases his conclusions on two recent surveys of 2,500 Americans who “self-identify as Christian.” On the concept of “common good,” Everts compiles survey responses that reveal how Christian communities thrive by elevating human giftedness, loving all of one’s neighbors, glorifying God, and tending to the needs of everyone. Graphics, personal testaments, and discussion questions round out and expand upon the research. “Paradigm Shift” sections within each chapter highlight trends within Christianity, such as how “the art of conversation is being eroded... by anger and an atmosphere of unrelenting contention.” Everts also praises the work of the Hopeful Neighborhood Project, a group “committed to improving neighborhood well-being around the world.” Those wishing for a deeper understanding of the values of modern Christians will find much to consider. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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