The Reformation: A History

The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Viking, 2003. 700 pages

When I picked up McCulloch's magisterial history of the Reformation, I thought perhaps I would spend a couple of hours dipping into it. I was in for a surprise. This large work of nearly 700 pages became almost an obsession for me as I engaged in a dialogue with this British theologian who has given us a passionate and opinion-filled discussion of the events we call the Reformation.

Polar Express

'The Polar Express' is an animation film that features Tom Hanks voicing several roles on his way to making a Christmas movie that looks and feels really different, especially on IMAX.

Our unnamed hero is a little boy who's just old enough to start doubting Santa Claus. He overhears his parents telling each other that he's shared his doubts with his younger sister. The mother and dad say, 'This may be the last year of the magic.' The little boy falls asleep, and the next thing he knows, a big train pulls up in his front yard, where the conductor offers to take him to the North Pole.

Finding Neverland


'Finding Neverland' is the play within the play within the play that is really about finding the magic at the heart of imagination. And, fittingly enough, it's all about believing.

Johnny Depp plays J. M. Barrie, the playwright who wrote Peter Pan. It's London, 1903.  The theater is the exclusive reserve of high society:  reserved people in reserved seats.  Barrie has enjoyed some success, but he'd not gotten in touch with his 'inner child' enough to pen the story that would immortalize him. Until he met the Davies family.

The Mom (Kate Winslet) is alone with her four sons, and somewhat destitute since her husband died. Her overbearing mother (Julie Christie) provides material relief, but emotionally, she's a dead weight. She constantly fusses about discipline and responsibility, and seriousness.  As if, should there be any playfulness left in them at all, it would soon be snuffed out for lack of a belief that it was important.  Sort of like Tinkerbell.

The Incredibles

Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30?  The servants who are rewarded are the ones who are given ten and five talents, and produce ten and five more. The servant who is chastised is the one who takes his one talent and buries it. Yes, yes, the 'talent' in the parable referred to a unit of money and not to individual ability. Nonetheless, it's irresistible for preachers and other well-meaning commentators to apply the metaphor of personal talents. The message would be something like, 'Use your gifts, especially if they can help someone else.'

Well, that's also the message of 'The Incredibles.' This is an animated Pixar feature, where the voices are notable actors, but it's all programmed into the graphics, just like the music soundtrack and the cutting-edge visuals. This is pure high-tech, because there's not a 'real' scene in it.  But it's engaging, nonetheless, in part because of the compelling character development.


Bill Coffin is a man of intrepid one-liners and steadfast, exuberant faith. "Credo, I believe," as he says in the preface of this slim volume, "best translates 'I have given my heart to.'" (p. xv). Or, I would venture, two hearts. What comes through clearly in this compilation of sentences and paragraphs is God's incredible love for us, all of us, and, in gratitude, one person's giving of his "heart to the teaching and example of Christ" (ibid).

The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World

By Douglas John Hall
Augsburg Fortress. 2003. 2243 pp. Pb. $17.

— Review by Edwin W. Stock, Raleigh, N.C.

The author is a Canadian Lutheran scholar whose book was first delivered in 2002 as 10 lectures at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. It is easy to read because it has an oral style. Yet, it is scholarly as it addresses Martin Luther's "thin tradition," a theology of the cross (theologia crucis) not well known or appreciated in Reformed Calvinistic branches, whose theology begins with the foundational pillar of the Sovereignty of God.

An Examined Faith: The Grace of Self Doubt

By James M. Gustafson
Augsburg Fortress. 2004. 128 pp. $15.

— Review by Ralph D. Bucy, Harrisonburg, Va.

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth
From the laziness that is contented with half-truth
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth
Good Lord, deliver us.
(p. vii)

The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God’s Family

By Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner
WJKP. 2003. 134 pp. Pb. $14.95.

Review by Stephen R. Montgomery, Memphis, Tenn.

It has become a cliché in book reviews to state that "this is a book that should be on every pastor’s bookshelf and every church library." In the case of Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner’s The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God’s Family, the cliché rings true.

You Only Die Once: Preparing for the End of Life with Grace and Gusto

By Margie Little Jenkins

Integrity. 227 pp. Pb. $12.99. ISBN 1-59145-013-6

Review by — Judy Haas Smith, Bedford, Pa.

Margie Jenkins, a Presbyterian elder, has written an important book. It ranks somewhere between the first-aid manual and the phone book, and should well be in every home. With a master's degree in social work, she has specialized in grief counseling and therapy for nearly 30 years.