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Divine Disruption: Holding On to Faith When Life Breaks Your Heart

Tony Evans, et al. Thomas Nelson, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7852-4114-0

“How do you balance the goodness of God with the tragedies of life?” asks senior pastor of Dallas Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Evans (Prayers for Knowing God) in this eloquent inquiry, written with his four grown children. The close-knit family focuses here on lessons learned after the death of eight extended family members in less than two years, and, to that end, they share personal insights and scriptural examples of how to cling to hope in God in the midst of grief: “The Lord does not ask that we be okay with being broken. He only asks that we submit to the breaking and trust Him with it.” They recount the circumstances of each loss, including the death of Evans’s wife, Lois, who died of cancer. Evans shares that, though his family and many others continued to pray for Lois’s healing, he surrendered to God’s sovereignty. Evans’s children, meanwhile, celebrate their mother’s legacy with fond recollections of family meals and celebrations, and explain that the book is the fulfillment of their mother’s desire that they work together and combine the strengths of their individual ministries. Any Christian who has wrestled with loss will appreciate this message of hope. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God

J. Richard Middleton. Baker Academic, $26.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8010-9801-7

Middleton (A New Heaven and a New Earth), a professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, N.Y., explores the implications of Abraham’s silence in the face of God’s commandment to kill his son Isaac, in this dense work of scriptural interpretation. When God orders the human sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham obeys blindly—and is only kept from filicide by a deus ex machina intervention. Middleton studies the episode both from the perspective of a Bible scholar and as a man of faith who aims to “help people of faith recover the value of lament prayer as a way to process our pain” by analyzing “models of vigorous prayer in the Bible.” He concludes that “Abraham’s response to God” should not be “exalted as a paradigm for us to follow.” Ultimately, Middleton considers Abraham’s silence a missed opportunity, as the patriarch could have objected to the decree—an act that “would have had the salutary result of Abraham exhibiting... his discernment of God’s merciful character.” It’s an intriguing interpretation, though Middleton spends more time than is needed making the case that the traditional understanding of the story—as a positive exemplar of blind faith—won’t work for every modern believer. James Goodman’s But Where Is the Lamb? will be a better bet for readers grappling with this Bible story. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of All Books

Roberto Calasso, trans. from the Italian by Tim Parks. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-374-60189-8

Italian publisher and writer Calasso (The Celestial Hunter) once again muses eloquently on the Bible in this 10th entry in his series dedicated to exploring ancient myths and the human search for meaning. In Calasso’s signature style, he retells Bible stories, mostly from the Old Testament, emphasizing the themes of separation and sacrifice that tie the stories together. These narratives feature alongside literary criticism, scholarly analysis, philosophical digressions, and quotes from a wide range of thinkers—including Freud, Baudelaire, and Robert Alter. For instance, the story of Moses gives Calasso the space to muse on the nature of authority and how primogeniture (the primacy of one’s first born son) has affected world history: “You can act as a judge, but there will always be someone who casts doubts on your authority.” In their refraction through Calasso’s prodigious mind, biblical stories are connected to a broader history of ideas, and the author argues that the Bible, like other ancient texts and myths, represents the human drive for transcendence and meaning. Despite the scholarly trimmings, the individual retellings will have wide appeal. Readers with any level of biblical knowledge will benefit from Calasso’s far-ranging insights. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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With Fresh Eyes: 60 Insights into the Miraculously Ordinary from a Woman Born Blind

Karen Wingate. Kregel, $18.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4681-8

Ministry leader Wingate shares in her engrossing debut lessons learned after suddenly regaining her sense of vision. Born legally blind, Wingate underwent surgeries in her youth during the 1960s that gave her limited eyesight. When a doctor discovered a tear in Wingate’s retina decades after the original surgeries, she had another procedure yet was skeptical of the doctor’s promise of better-than-ever eyesight. But two weeks later, she was able to read the numbers on her scale and to see the texture of dirt, the smoke of fireworks, and other mundane details that, to her, were thrilling. In 60 brief chapters, Wingate shares the small and joyful experiences of her new eyesight and offers short homilies on topics such as gratitude or trusting God: “Choosing to trust God for his protection is a mindset, an intentional decision made before danger happens.” Her chronicles of minor moments (watching clouds pass or squirrels play, and reading song lyrics for the first time) pave the way for her preaching of God’s power to provide one with wholeness. This is a promising work for Christians looking for vibrant personal devotions or material for sermons. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Divine Messengers: The Untold Story of Bhutan’s Female Shamans

Stephanie Guyer-Stevens and Françoise Pommaret. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-61180-918-3

Journalist Guyer-Stevens and anthropologist Pommaret deliver a part-travelogue, part-ethnography centered on the deloms of Bhutan, historically recognized as women messengers from hell who return from the dead to serve as advisers, mediums, healers, and teachers. When the authors set out to research deloms—who they believed no longer existed—they uncovered a living tradition that complicated an academic narrative which assumed deloms were a thing of the past. Indeed, the authors write of encountering contemporary deloms throughout Bhutan, often showcasing the deloms’ experiences of learning of their reincarnated past, their service to their communities, and their contentions with the boundaries between the female shamanistic roles. For instance, the delom daughter of a village leader explained the 18 levels of hell she experienced during her reincarnation, as recounted in a speech “interrupted at unpredictable moments by some kind of possession that made her stomach growl in the most profound way.” Refreshingly, the authors forego stiff academic analysis and instead give the deloms they encountered space and the ability to speak for themselves. Those interested in the relationships between Buddhism and shamanism will relish this eye-opening account. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Jesus I Know: Honest Conversations and Diverse Opinions About Who He Is

Kathie Lee Gifford. Thomas Nelson, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7852-5476-8

In this pleasing collection of interviews, Gifford (It’s Never Too Late), former Today show host, presents an eclectic array of perspectives on Jesus, including those of devout Christians, as well as those more casually interested in Jesus’ example of living. She begins by sharing her earliest memories of feeling Jesus’ presence, and often returns to the topic as she asks artists, actors, and media personalities about their relationship with Jesus, among them Megyn Kelly, Kristin Chenoweth, and Brian Welch. Other conversations are with lesser known individuals, such as Rabbi Jason Sobel, a Jewish follower of Yeshua, and journalist Raakhee Mirchandani. Gifford emphasizes the individuality of each person’s story and stresses the diversity of God’s kingdom. No issue is off limits, and Gifford discusses with architect Roger Charles how his attempts to affirm atheism led to a surprise faith, how “trying to keep God in my life” allowed Kris Jenner to overcome the death of her husband, and the long-term process of healing from sexual abuse with actress Cynthia Garrett. Gifford’s probing interviews consistently surprise and entertain, and do a great job of locating themes of personal faith among figures working in industries known for secularism. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Religious Journey of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Jack M. Holl. Eerdmans, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-80287-873-1

Historian Holl (Juvenile Reform in the Progressive Era) delivers a striking biography of President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969), drawing on the 34th president’s writings as well as recollections from those who knew him to trace the evolution of his religious beliefs. Growing up in rural Kansas, the future president developed an “aversion to institutional religious affiliations” and “a worldview that perceived human history as a dialectical struggle between divine and demonic forces.” Later, as president, Eisenhower saw himself as “pastor in chief” and mobilized American civil religion to overcome domestic and foreign obstacles as his administration pushed nuclear nonproliferation, the integration of schools, and the introduction of references to God within the pledge of allegiance and the national motto. Nevertheless, Eisenhower’s “middle of the road” approach to church and state, Holl writes, garnered criticism from across the religious and political spectrum. Holl contends it is difficult to determine whether Eisenhower’s actions were essentially political or religious in nature, and does a solid job of revealing the inner life of a man who believed “our form of government has no sense unless it is grounded in a deeply felt religious faith.” Holl’s impeccable study will appeal to those interested in mid-century American religion and politics alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Making of the Bible: From the First Fragments to Sacred Scripture

Konrad Schmid and Jens Schröter, translated from the German by Peter Lewis. Harvard Univ./Belknap, $35 (432p) ISBN 978-0-674-24838-0

Schmid (A Historical Theology of the Hebrew Bible), professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Zurich, and Schröter (Jesus of Nazareth), professor of New Testament at Humboldt University in Berlin, pool their expertise in this comprehensive look at how the Bible was made. Prior to the invention of the printing press, they contend, there wasn’t one book of either the entire Jewish or Christian Bible, but rather “a great diversity of forms of the Bible” beginning with the recording of individual texts on papyrus. The texts’ evolution over time, they argue, allowed for a “multifaceted nature of the Bible... a compilation that varies in extent and configuration.” The authors discuss the choices to canonize (or not) books of both the Hebrew and the Christian Bibles—possibly based on the extent to which they harmonized with fundamental theological beliefs. They then explore how the Hebrew Bible was “created within an environment where no appreciable religious function was assigned to texts,” and how those texts began as literature rather than holy scripture. The end result is a remarkable deep dive into foundational books whose origins are often taken for granted. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/27/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dare to Be: God Is Able. Are You Willing?

Charlotte Gambill and Natalie Grant. Harvest House, $22.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7369-8456-0

Gambill (Turnaround God) and Grant (Finding Your Voice), cofounders of the recurring women’s conference Dare to Be, chronicle their friendship and share stories of the organization in this empowering work. The authors challenge Christian readers to recall the first time they heard the phrase “I dare you” and to use that spirit to embrace adventures with God. While little specific advice is offered, a recurrent message of letting go of doubt and seeking new experiences in the knowledge that God has a plan drives the book. Asking readers to trust in God and open themselves to new friendships, the authors look back to when they met and describe initial awkward moments (such as summoning the courage to befriend one another at a women’s conference in 2005) before they both stepped out of their comfort zones. Gambill examines the daring responses of Bible characters David, Mary, Elijah, Elisha, Mordecai, and Gideon—such as how a prolonged awkward moment when prophet Elijah anoints Elisha represents “a gap that allowed Elisha to be honest so that he could join this journey unencumbered.” The authors advise: “God wants us to add such pauses to our lives too.” Grant, in chapter-ending “Notes from Natalie,” provides summaries that often include lyrics from her inspirational songs. Gambill and Grant’s uplifting exploration of their friendship will appeal to Christian women looking to solidify spiritual and personal bonds with others. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/27/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Book of Big Knowing: Tiny Bursts of Insight to Wake Up Your Soul

Michele Sammons. Michele Sammons, $19.95 (126p) ISBN 978-1-73616-860-8

Over the course of more than a hundred “short bursts” of New Age wisdom, Sammons’s savvy debut explicates a connected, joyful view of the world and readers’ place within it. Sammons’s framework sees the soul—having chosen to incarnate to experience human life—as “in love with us”—and tied to the universal love of “God/Source.” How one feels is central—no matter what others think; desires big and small come from one’s soul and should be followed. One can also manifest desires by aligning “vibrations and thoughts” to a place where what one wishes is already done. Sammons encourages celebration as central to personal experience, and though she preaches nonjudgmental acceptance of what happens, there is nothing ascetic in her guidance for living. Each “short burst” ranges from a sentence (“transformation is the willingness to show up where you are—differently”) to a single page, and offers affirmational reminders of one’s spiritual place in the world. Sammons’s upbeat encouragement will settle readers looking for deeper connection with soothing, intuitively sound advice. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/27/2021 | Details & Permalink

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