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The Gospel According to America: Reflections on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea

by David Dark. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. ISBN 0664227694. Pb., 173 pp. $14.95.

The Gospel According to America is a winding path through the literature, film, and music of the American consciousness. It curves through theology and brings onto the stage of awareness figures ranging from Bayard Rustin to Dorothy Day, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, and Will Campbell. It is not an easy read for those unaccustomed to Melville, Hawthorne, and Pynchon--and far less easy for those who have never listened to Wilco, REM, or Dylan. Written in a style that at times leaves one considering the possibility that David Dark's marvelous offering was translated from the German (not so), the book is demanding; it is not a book for the beach. So why make the journey? Is the demand on the reader worthy?

Indeed it is. For Dark brings biblical insight--delivered in diverse cultural forms--to bear upon our history. He calls us to "stand firmly within the Jewish- Christian tradition and its teaching that evil doesn't come to us self-consciously, introducing itself and offering us a choice ("Join us in our evil"). It's more like a Faustian bargain, a narcissism in which we believe our fantasy to be the only real, unbiased version of events. We surround ourselves with voices that will affirm our fantasy and dismiss as treacherous (or evil) any witness that would call our innocence into question. (p. 76)

The People’s New Testament Commentary

by M. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, Hardcover; 827 pages. ISBN: 0-664-22754-6, $39.95.

Here is a one-volume commentary on the New Testament with up to date information that is also very much in line with what Presbyterians believe. I am tempted to say, "This is the commentary for you;" because I firmly believe that every household should have one handy reference work that helps each person understand Scripture, and you would find this book to be exactly that.

Reflections Over the Long Haul, A Memoir

by Robert McAfee Brown. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. $24.95. Hb. 305 pp. ISBN: 0664224040

Bob Brown didn't yield the floor until the Grim Reaper nudged him out. Son Peter: "When he quite literally was on his deathbed, a week before he drifted off, and still somewhat rational, I asked him how he was doing. ... I thought he would say something to the effect that all was well, that he was unafraid, that life had been good, that he was ready to move to meet God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson and all the others. Instead, he looked at me with great determination and said, 'Publish that book.' "

 

From Christendom to World Christianity: A Review Essay

Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996. 266 pages; and The Cross- Cultural Process in Christian History. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002. 284 pages.
 

An intriguing intramural debate is being waged today among members of the mission studies academy -- a debate about terminology. What is the best phrase to describe the result of revolutionary change in Christian demographics that occurred at the end of the 20th century? This change concerns the center of gravity of Christian adherents in the world. Mission demographers, David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, document in their massive publication (The World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford, 2001) that by the year 2000 there were more Christians in the southern and eastern hemispheres than in historic Christendom--Europe and North America. Philip Jenkins has highlighted this phenomenon in his work, The Next Christendom (Oxford, 2002), claiming that perhaps as many as two-thirds of the world's Christians will live outside the West by 2050. Shall we refer to this global Christian movement as "world Christianity" or "global Christianity"? By either name 21st century Christianity not only now is firmly established as a world-wide phenomenon but also has become predominantly a non-Western religion.

Whose Religion is Christianity? Christianity beyond the West

by Lamin Sanneh. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Pp. xii, 138. ISBN 0- 8028-2164-2. $12.

In the course of the 20th century, Christianity finally outgrew its long Western phase of development, underway since the time of Constantine. A world religion had emerged by the end of the modern era, an "ambi-cultural" network of Christian faith communities that will not be bound by past patterns of social, aesthetic, or even theological conformity. Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, is not concerned to establish these facts here. Instead, his burden is to explore the implications of Christianity's unfolding polycentric future, where the edges of greatest growth are to be found in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa, rather than in the old North Atlantic heartlands of 19th century Christendom.

The Elusive Spirit of Just War: A Review Essay

 

Books reviewed:

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. New York: Basic Books, 2003. 250 pages.

Edward Leroy Long Jr., Facing Terrorism: Responding As Christians. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004. 117 Pages.

Oliver O'Donovan, The Just War Revisited. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

The Dignity of Difference: How To Avoid The Clash of Civilizations

 

by Jonathan Sacks
(New York: Continuum, 2002 with four reprints; ISBN 0 8264 6850 0)

 

If you are concerned about the world, and wonder if there is any hope for the crises and complexities of our times, and if you care about faith and relationships around the globe, this is a book for you.

The year: 2020. Jonathan Sacks, philosopher and theologian, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (UK), paints two different pictures of how the world could be.

In one wonderful vision, the year 2020 brings the dawning of "a world of global prosperity and peace." Information technology and high-speed communication have doubled real incomes in the space of 20 years. The dangers of overpopulation have been removed. Genetically modified crops have made starvation a thing of the past. The latest in education curricula reach the most remote African villages via the Internet. Low-cost medical treatments have brought AIDS, TB and malaria under control. International agreements have put an end to the injustices and tensions, the inequity and exploitation that characterized the first years of the 21st century.

The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation

 

by Drew Hansen. New York: Ecco, 2003. ISBN 0060084774. $13.95. 293 pp.

It has been 37 years since an assassin's bullet tragically ended the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A stone marker at the base of that balcony on the grounds of what is now the National Civil Rights Museum has an eerie quotation from the book of Genesis, "Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him ... and we shall see what will become of his dreams."

Dr. King's "dream" led to monumental changes in American culture and we all share a debt of gratitude for his selfless prophecy and vigilance. But if he were alive today, I am certain Dr. King would remind us that his "dream" has not been fully realized. In our country today, the issues of "residential segregation, inequalities in education and poverty among Americans of all races" threaten the very fabric of our democracy.

The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words

By Ronald C. White Jr. (New York: Random House, 2005. Pp. xxiii, 448. $26.95)

Ronald C. White's new book is a thorough and engaging study of the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln's major speeches and public letters. The focus on language is clear throughout: White argues that Lincoln carefully crafted his words to address specific situations and persuade his immediate audiences. Yet The Eloquent President is not a literary study per se; it avoids technical, theoretically informed analysis in favor of straightforward readings discussed against the background of the day-to-day life and social encounters of the Civil War President. This is a well-written book without a heavy-handed message or strong thesis. It reads easily and yet makes serious points.

 

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