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III. Book Reviews (101- )

A Review by David Claerbaut


Barack Obama (Crown, 2020)

Barack Obama likes to write books about himself (four so far, with a second memoir volume still to come), and this 768-page whopper is no exception. Nonetheless, the book is exceptionally well-written and reveals an acutely self-critical quality in our 44th president. The book, similar to his preceding tomes, attempts a personal, intimate style. This clearly helps the reader turn the pages. Obama does well in explaining his youthful quest for identity as a bi-racial, internationally-shaped child, his political development, and the Roman numeral moments of his first term.

The reader accompanies Obama from his earliest political stirrings to his dramatic grassroots campaign that upended seeming shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton in 2008, beginning with his win in the Iowa caucus.  He offers an insider view of presidential power, partisan politics, and international relations. There was plenty of drama to discuss, including the financial crisis upon his entering the White House, pushing through the Affordable Care Act, wrestling with the options in Afghanistan, and the demise of Osama Bin Laden.

What makes Obama’s story unique is not just his African-American ancestry, but his non-blueblood journey from being a community organizer to reaching the most powerful office in the world. He openly discusses the issues involved in his being African-American, and the polarization of US politics, in addition to the impact his presidency had on his wife and daughters.  Interestingly, while the book chronicles many personal, even intimate events, and a humble self-critical spirit comes through, the reader never really gets to know Obama. He remains above the battle, detached–something about which his campaign manager, David Axelrod, wrote in his memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.  Obama is nothing if not emotionally controlled. While this personal cool often served him well in the presidential pressure-cooker, it does little when it comes to genuine self-revelation.

Not surprisingly, reviews of the book cover the entire spectrum, reflecting the polarization of the country. A reviewer for the New York Times called Obama “as fine a writer as they come” with the book “pleasurable to read, sentence by sentence, the prose gorgeous in places, the detail granular and vivid.”  Publishers Weekly referred to it as a “sterling account [that] rises above the crowded field of presidential postmortems,” while Kirkus Reviews deemed it, “A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.” A New York Journal of Books reviewer stated that “[e]very sentence in this book deserves to be treasured and relished.” Conversely, others found it “boring,” a “Promise without Land, for Land without Promise.”  Another New York Times review characterized it as “700 pages that are as deliberative, measured and methodical as the author himself.”

One can only wonder as to the reception Trump’s memoirs will receive.

Dr. David Claerbaut teaches doctoral students at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[135] OUTLIERS: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books, 2011)

We reviewed Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink recently in which the author focused on how so much of our (even accurate) thinking and decision-making moves are snap judgments, seemingly moving at the speed of light. Here Gladwell looks at highly successful people with an eye toward what exactly makes them different.

For Gladwell it is all about their background–one’s culture, parents, generation, and the peculiar aspects of one’s development. As with Blink, the book is chock full of stories, spanning from the success of billionaires to why the Beatles achieved pop music supremacy.  For example, Gladwell investigates the basis of Asians’ seeming math proficiency, and points out that their languages have a distinctive numeric quality, predisposing Asian children in a math direction. Moreover, he sees the historically strong work ethic in Southern China having been passed down to their American descendants.

Gladwell does well with statistics. He uses them well in pointing out that the amount the children of the various social classes learn during the school year does not differ much. Upper stratum parents, however, continue educating their offspring during the summer, reinforcing what has been learned in school. The accumulation of these summers becomes the key factor in class-based achievement differences.

In terms of expertise, the key number for Gladwell is 10,000.  World-class performance requires a total of about 10,000 hours of practice. Hence, the billionaire, the Beatles, the Asian math whizzes, and the children from the upper social stratum all have the 10,000-hour rule in common.

As with Blink, the book has its detractors. Some critics see Gladwell’s supporting data–including the statistics–as anecdotal rather than truly scientific. In short, they see Gladwell’s “findings” more as hypotheses. For them the book is journalism–taking a position and then marshalling evidence for its support–rather than rigorous, dispassionate science. Whatever, Gladwell struck a popular chord with this book, as it debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

I enjoyed the book, finding it insightful, illuminating. At the same time, at 336 pages centered on a single thesis, it became a bit ponderous and anecdote-heavy, but that is a small issue. Clearly, the English-born Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker Gladwell–who professes to be a Christian–has established himself as a latter day, out-of-the-box thinker, and his ideas encourage the reader to think about common phenomena in new and fresh ways.

Dr. David Claerbaut teaches doctoral students at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[134] BLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books, Little Brown, 2005)

If you haven’t read this incredibly popular book of nearly 20 years ago, it will be interesting to get your reaction when you do. In Blink, Malcom Gladwell a provocateur author who professes to be a Christian, breaks new ground on how we seemingly “think without thinking,” making choices in the twinkling of an eye. Furthermore, Gladwell investigates why some people regularly get those decisions right, while other rarely do. In short, he gets at how our brains really work–often so quickly that we cannot explain our reasoning to others.

The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes that exemplify amazingly accurate instant determinations, like that of the psychologist who can predict the long-term stability of a marriage in a matter of minutes. There are also monstrous failures like the “new Coke.”  It is all about the practice of what Gladwell calls thin-slicing, as opposed to careful study. Thin-slicers have the instant capacity to ferret out key factors from myriad elements.  Gladwell supports his thesis by painting with a wide brush, pulling examples from science, medicine, sales, and advertising; even gambling, dating, sports, movies, and pop music.

Gladwell actually advocates snap judgments over ponderous analysis, providing the person is not corrupted by personal biases. Too much data generates the blurring effect of cognitive overload. Moreover, he believes that effective thin-slicing can be developed through experience, training, and one’s fund of knowledge.

Interestingly, the book elicited mixed reviews. Some readers were blown away by Gladwell’s insights. Others found the book excessively long, believing the author lays out his thesis in little more than 40 pages, with the rest being filler. Others questioned the validity of Gladwell’s thesis. One Amazon reviewer typified this view stating that with the book aimed at “the casual reader,” Gladwell could play fast-and-loose with his supporting anecdotes. “The studies he references are rarely detailed sufficiently so that the reader could know whether they’d had any controls, had been repeated and peer reviewed, etc. They’re riddled with opinion and assumptions about results…”

Author Michael Legault attacked Gladwell’s notions in his 2006 book, Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye. “Blink exploits popular new-age beliefs about the power of the subconscious, intuition, even the paranormal,” he states.   While Gladwell acknowledges that “mind-reading can ‘sometimes’ go wrong, the book enthusiastically celebrates the apparent success of the practice, despite hosts of scientific tests showing that claims of clairvoyance rarely beat the odds of random chance guessing.”

That the reading audience is split is not all bad. If anything it will encourage future readers to think carefully rather render a snap, thin-sliced judgment on the validity of Gladwell’s thinking.

Dr. David Claerbaut teaches psychology and sociology at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[133] RIGHT COLOR, WRONG CULTURE: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic  

Bryan Lorritts (Moody Publishers, 2014)

Bryan Lorritts’ simple, but profound book does a first-rate job of laying out what is involved in developing a multicultural church. Told in the form of a fable, it is the story of a white Memphis church, located in a racially changing neighborhood, trying to become multicultural. The all white search committee—under the direction of Peter, an African-American consultant–is in quest of the right African-American person for an assistant pastor position.

The committee thought it struck gold with the very first candidate.  Ronald was from a church in Philadelphia. A product of an intact black family, he was married with children of his own.  Well-educated, well-dressed, and well-spoken, with an impressive resume, the committee was sold. This was their guy.

Then Peter began asking the youthful Ronald some questions. “How many African-Americans are at your church in Philadelphia?”

“About a dozen or so of us in a membership of about three thousand,” Ronald replied.

“Are you friends with any of them?” Peter pressed.  He was not.

“Any black friends at all?”

“Acquaintances yes. Friends, not really.”

Peter asked Ronald if he ever preached on race relationships.  He did not.  Things became discernibly tense when Peter asked Ronald about his interracial marriage. The committee was offended by Peter’s questions and made it clear when Ronald left.

“If you hire him,” said Peter, “I guarantee your church will fail in the first year.”

Gradually, Peter helped the committee realize they had been blinded by their own monocultural biases.  Ronald was actually one of them. He had assimilated into the white church culture, totally alien to the low-income population in the local Memphis community.

“You can hire the right ethnicity, but the wrong culture. Make this mistake and you will spend a minimum of eighteen months cleaning up your mess,” said Peter.

The older second candidate, Pastor Octavius Mitchell, did not fit either.  Immaculately dressed replete with blue reptile shoes, Mitchell was a graduate of an all-black college, deeply imbued with the tradition of the black church.  Mitchell had an imperial bearing. and viewed the pastorate as a lofty, highly-esteemed, and well-remunerated position. Again, right color, but the wrong culture.  He may well have been able to connect with the local community but not with the current church membership.  Like Ronald, he was monocultural.

For Peter, the ideal candidate would be one who had “the unique ability to go from culture to another, without compromising or losing who they are in the process,” someone with a multicultural mindset.

Lorritts’ book is a page-turner, packed with power, and extremely instructive. By presenting it as a narrative, the reader is hooked on how the story will turn out. This is all I am going to say about the “plot,” but I will say that if you are struggling with making your church truly multicultural, you will be hard pressed to find a better book than this.

Dr. David Claerbaut is author of fifteen books.  

A Review by David Claerbaut


George W. Bush (Crown Publishers, 2010)

Obama’s memoirs are not complete–he has a second volume in the works–and one can only wonder about Trump’s, so George W. Bush’s retrospective deserves attention.  I read this book long after Bush left office, and expected little from the tome, given W’s reputation for lacking intellectual curiosity, but I was pleasantly impressed. Too often presidential memoirs are little more than excessively-long, self-serving apologias for the president’s policies, written in hopes of swaying the opinions of historians.

If anything comes through in this 497-page book, it is Bush’s stable sense of self and personal values. Contrary to Clinton, he does not seek the approval of others, nor live in the ashes of regret. As the title indicates, the book is organized around the key decisions in his life in general, and his eight-year tenure in particular. Perhaps more important, he cuts the reader in on his thoughts and feelings with respect to these decisions. Some ideology is present, but on balance it is free of the obvious partisanship that commonly characterizes these literary efforts.

On the personal front, the book rolls back the covers on his decision to quit drinking and commit his life to Christ, in addition to his relationships with his wife, daughters, and parents, particularly his correspondence with his father on the eve the Iraq War. There is also the pain over accusations that racism tinged the federal government’s handling of Katrina, and his personal opinion of other world leaders in terms of he could and could not trust.

He discusses his choice of Dick Cheney for vice-president, in addition to his cabinet appointments, his many counter-terrorism measures, his legislative initiatives including tax cuts, education and Medicare reform, as well as attempts to restructure Social Security and immigration. He is understandably proud of keeping America safe after 9-11, though he desperately wanted to bring Obama to justice.  The book does particularly well in describing election night 2000, the drama on Air Force One on the heels of 9-11, and life in the Situation Room at the outset of the Iraq War. He makes no secret of his calculated concern that failure in Iraq could be worse than Vietnam. There are also some attention-getters, including his good feeling toward political adversary, Ted Kennedy, his ambivalence toward Cheney, and his discomfort with Colin Powell.

The book is refreshingly absent of Clintonian narcissism, very well-written, and–due to its decision focus–easy to follow. He engaged one of his speechwriters, Christopher Michel, as his ghostwriter and Michel lays down the prose in a way that aligns with Bush’s public speaking style. Throughout, Bush comes off as a secure man–much due to his faith–one who did his job with a diligence enabling him to move forward rather peer in the rearview mirror chained in the bondage of regret.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearning.com.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[131] LAMENT for a SON  

Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans, 1987)

I read this book long after its 1987 publication, and quickly realized why it is a classic. It is an immensely poignant and personal story that begins with a chilling Sunday afternoon trans-oceanic phone call, informing the then 54-year-old Wolterstorff that his 25-year-old Eric had died in a mountain-climbing accident. In this wrenching yet encouraging 111-page book, the internationally famous philosopher puts scholarship aside and opens his heart as a grieving father to the reader. He wrote it “in the hope that it will be of help to some of those who find themselves with us in the company of mourners.”

The incredible response to his book indicates he succeeded. Though he does not mourn “as one who has no hope,” he eschews the pious cliches (“Just remember God works all things together for good”) that utterly fail to engage the devastation of an irreversible loss. The reader can imagine the pain of Job as Wolterstorff searches for meaning as he comes to grips with this unspeakable tragedy. The book is in the class of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed.  In his journey, Wolterstorff never dismisses the “demonic awfulness” of death.  Rather than seeking some final closure, he says, “I shall try to keep the wound from healing, in recognition of our living still in the old order of things. I shall try to keep it from healing, in solidarity with those who sit beside me on humanity’s mourning bench.”  Nonetheless, he does uncover meaning and solace in the Beatitudes and the concept of a suffering God.

The book is raw, honest, giving the reader an inside-the-skin experience of grief, as one reviewer stated.  There are no easy how-to answers here. In fact, in some ways it is a book of questions from a father trying to survive emotionally with a loss he could never have imagined. Wolterstorff takes the reader through the numbness, emotional isolation, confusion, and stare-at-the-ceiling silence of a father looking to God for answers that initially seem not to come. It is, however, a book of hope and healing–certainly not triumph–that is gained through a persistent, hard-won faith out of which comes a new sense of the character of God and his compassion for wounded people.

Though the pain of his loss never leaves, by sharing his personal journey, Wolterstorff provides the reader with a fresh sense of how deeply one’s seemingly comfortable faith can be challenged, and priceless insights into how the believer can go through the shadow and anguish of death in quest of peace and meaning.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearning.com.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[130] THE UNGOVERNABLE CITY:  John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York  

Vincent J. Cannoto  (Basic Books, 2019)

This book is, among other things, a nostalgic journey back to the turbulent 1960’s and 70’s.  The scene is New York City, and the mainstage figure is movie-star handsome, charismatic John V. Lindsay, a liberal Republican who served as the city’s mayor from 1966 to 1973. The former Congressman was initially extremely popular, even striking political fear in the hearts of presidential aspirants Nelson Rockefeller and Bobby Kennedy, along with their followers. Early on, the energetic mayor was indeed pegged by any for the White House. Nonetheless, despite waves of initial optimism, Lindsay’s liberal solutions to the city’s myriad and chaotic woes–a declining population, rising crime rates, a shrinking manufacturing base, racial unrest, and severe economic pressures–proved to be little more than a series of failures. So much so, he left office at just 52, a tired and disillusioned man, one with no political future, described by one New York Times writer as an exile in his own city.

Clearly Lindsay did not create the problems with which he was confronted.  Cannato, a historian, points out that many of the city’s vexing issues began five years before Lindsay became mayor and reached their climax in 1975 when the city declared bankruptcy under his successor, Democrat Abe Beame.

Cannoto’s Lindsay comes off as a man long on style and short on substance–aloof and distant, qualities that ultimately did not put him in good stead with Gotham voters whose lives were characterized by ongoing, polarizing urban crisis. The book is filled with fascinating stories and people, including power brokers like Robert Moses, the student revolts at Columbia University, a severe blizzard, hard-hat riots, political corruption, racism, and anti-Semitism, all of which bring the reader back to the daily drama that characterized the nation in general, and NYC in particular at the time.

Interestingly, we rarely see former mayors making successful runs at the presidency.  (Lindsay, himself, switched parties and ran for president in 1972, but failed to win any primaries and was gone by early April.) Perhaps that is because the job of big-city mayor is so problem-laden that few if any emerge politically unscathed by the experience. Clearly Lindsay was in part a victim of the conditions of the job to which he was elected. Nonetheless, Cannoto sees Lindsay’s policies as not only ineffective, but ones that compounded the city’s woes.

For Cannoto, the man who aspired to be the Republican incarnation of JFK, turned out to be its LBJ. Johnson had dreams of greatness only to see those dreams shattered by the faulty handling of the Vietnam war.  Similarly, Lindsay (who died in 2000), was bursting with political ambition, only to be derailed by his failed efforts at urban reform.

The NYC Lindsay story is in itself gripping, but Cannoto’s savvy in bringing the reader back emotionally to a troubled yet electric era in America is perhaps even more compelling. The final lines in the book provides an example. Cannoto writes, “But as the memorials end, the brave, charismatic, but ultimately flawed mayor recedes into the past, his cries of reform just a faint echo of a distant era in American politics when John Lindsay was as fresh and attractive as his ideas.”

Dr. David Claerbaut is the author of fifteen books.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[129] A HIGH IMPACT LIFE: Love your Purpose, Live with Passion, Leverage your Platform   

Pete  Ochs  (Enterprise Stewardship, 2019)

This is a thought-provoking Christian book.  It makes many truly powerful points. Among its greatest strengths is its initial question posed to the (middle to upper class) reader: Are you satisfied with your life? The question really grabs the reader, dominating her thinking in a healthy way. From there the book skillfully lays out a detailed path to a satisfying life.  Every point by the author–even minor ones–is well-explained and compelling.  In that sense the book is intelligent and illuminating.

A problem is that there are too many such points.  The chapters are long, loaded with diagrams, making it a chore to grind through the later ones with the glut of ever-more complex diagrams.  (Why not three 10-page chapters than one of 35 pp.? one wonders.)  In some instances, the diagrams become data overload.  Instead of being able to relax and absorb the key points, one wonders if she should page back to previous chapters to see how all this slide rule stuff fits together.

There many wonderful vignettes, but two stories of Christian women in leadership raise questions. The two are regaled for their faithful discipleship in rising to prominent positions, one at McDonald’s and the other at Kentucky Fried Chicken—two corporations that advance cancer-causing, obese-encouraging, and diabetes-developing products. One wonders how clearly these women were thinking–or for that matter, the author in including their stories–in choosing to work to expand the revenues of these empires.  Many would argue that one’s sense of stewardship would obviate their being publicly associated with corporate giants aimed at turning a buck by hooking people with salt, sugar, and other legally-addicting elements, things that only bring early death and physical deterioration to ignorant millions of victims.  I am sure I am not the only one who saw how oxymoronic these stores are if one uses just bit of Christian thought.

As important as these concerns may be, the book is overwhelmingly good in encouraging and laying out a map to effective, life-satisfying discipleship. It is memorable and it speaks to middle to upper class Christians in a way few other books do.  I would give it an A-.

Dr. David Claerbaut teaches at Grand Canyon University. 

A Review by David Claerbaut


Nicholas Wolterstorff  (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988)

If you are looking for highly intelligent treatment of the relationship of religion and science, this classic book–among the most famous by the renowned Nicholas Wolterstorff–is the one you want. Originally published in 1976, with a paperback edition twelve years later, this 161-page book is still widely cited.

For Wolterstorff, the Christian scholar is a member of two communities, the community of believers and the community of scholars, and a key issue becomes how these two communities fit together. In addressing the issue, he begins by rejecting what is called foundationalism–that a belief is warranted only if it is grounded in certainty. In Wolterstorff’s thinking , only in mathematics and logic does one have that certain knowledge.

“On all fronts foundationalism is in bad shape… It is not the case that one is warranted in accepting some theory if and only if one is warranted in believing that it is justified by propositions knowable…with certitude,” writes Wolterstorff. A structured reality can exist without having a satisfactory “foundation.”  We are free to pursue knowable truth realizing that some beliefs are more warranted than others.  “All that follows is that theorizing is without a foundation of indubitables. Our future theories of theorizing will have to be non-foundationalist ones.” (Pp. 52-53)

For Wolterstorff, one cannot claim that even the Bible is foundational in a non-inferential and indubitable sense. It does not contain a foundation of certitude. So, when assessing a theory, a person brings many beliefs to the process, she is “cloaked in belief,” beliefs that make a theory acceptable. Wolterstorff calls those control beliefs. For the Christian, one’s religious beliefs function as control beliefs and “their functioning as control beliefs is absolutely central to the Christian scholar.” (Pg. 66)

Those control beliefs are not final. They are open to revision, as in the case of Galileo’s doctrine of heliocentrism rather than geocentrism.  Secular scientists also have to decide on how to deal with data that counters their scientific beliefs. Many doggedly hang on to their pet beliefs in face of contrary evidence.  For Wolterstorff, those with a Christian worldview need not fear science. Indeed, as Arthur F. Holmes, author of The Idea of a Christian College, stated, “All truth is God’s truth,” releasing the Christian scholar to study any phenomenon fearlessly.

Dr. David Claerbaut regularly confers with Dr. Wolterstorff. 

A Review by David Claerbaut


Arthur F. Holmes (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987)

Arthur F. Holmes’ book should be required reading for anyone committed to truly Christian higher education. As important as defending the faith, theology classes, chapel services, and Christian vocational training may be, for Holmes the genuinely Christian college should provide “an education that cultivates the creative and active integration of faith and learning, of faith and culture.”

Born in England, Holmes came to the US in 1947, and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Northwestern University. He served as a philosophy professor for over forty years at Wheaton College. A singularly gifted scholar and teacher. Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said, “It would be hard to think of anyone who has had a greater impact on Christian higher education than Arthur Holmes [who died in 2011].” In addition to his service as a professor, Holmes managed to publish ten books in addition to creating the Society of Christian Philosophers.  He was particularly lauded for his teaching, developing a foundational history of philosophy sequence that Wheaton College made available online in 2015.

This simple, 106-page book has stood the test of time. It is not aimed at students. Rather the intended audience includes professors and administrators in Christian colleges. In the brief, but clear and insightful tome, Holmes engages such subjects as the importance of liberal arts, integrating faith and learning, the role of academic freedom, building community, and the characteristics of an educated person.

Among the many strengths of this highly-regarded book is that it provides a lucid criteria for what Christian higher education is, and just as important, what it is not. As such it can provide a barometer for measuring any Christian college’s claim to being a Christian higher educational institution, so necessary in an age in which postmodern and pragmatic thinking continues to seep into Christian entities. The book will help professors formulate their thinking and curricula, and keep administrators from veering off course.

Interestingly, this book was all the rage when it first came out in 1975, with notable philosophers like Nicholas Wolterstorff viewing it as being a potential classic at the time of its publication. Wolterstorff was right, and I am confident its many readers will agree.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the author of fifteen books. 

A Review by David Claerbaut

[126] THE CHRISTIAN MIND: How Should a Christian Think?   

Harry Blamires (Regent College Publishing, 2005)

This book is as good as it gets at laying out a Christian worldview. In fact, I cited it liberally in my own book, Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education. First, however, let’s talk about the author, Harry Blamires, who died in 2017 at 101 (that’s right, over a century of life), was a genuine scholar. He was the head of the English Department at what now is Winchester University in England. His mentor was none other than C.S. Lewis at Oxford College.

An author of twenty books, including Where Do We Stand, this one is a genuine classic. Though originally published in 1963, it is timeless.  In it, Blamires aggressively analyzes some of the illnesses of the church, foremost among them its tendency to lapse into secular thought systems–what is now called political correctness–rather than engaging in uniquely Christian thinking. The following salvo, at the beginning of the book, captures much of his point of view.

]There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, the Christian ethic; a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality… But as a thinking being the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which relates all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems — social, political, cultural — to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith.]

Blamires cited six marks of the Christian mind: (1) Supernatural Orientation; (2) Awareness of Evil; (3) A Unified and Concrete Conception of Truth; (4) Acceptance of Authority; (5) Concern for the Person; and (6) A Sacramental Outlook. With that as context, for Blamires there is simply no place for the rejection of miracles, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the existence of sin, or that truth is anything other than objective. In short, anyone who does not accept scripture as authoritative cannot have a Christian mind. Note, Blamires is not saying such people may not be Christians. He is saying they do not have a Christian mind.

There is room for diversity of opinion in Blamires’ thinking. People with Christian minds will not agree on all issues. What is critical for him is the basis of one’s thinking. The goal is to eschew pragmatic and partisan political thinking and move in the direction of scripturally-based thinking.

The book is one sharp book–packed with power. It is chock full of brilliant, illuminating, yet understandable insights. I would love to see churches use this book in its classes on discipleship.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[125] CANCEL YOUR OWN GODDAM SUBSCRIPTION: Notes and Asides from National Review  

William F. Buckley, Jr. (Basic Books, 2009)

Not so long ago, my daughter sent me this book as a gift.  What a gift it was! Reading Buckley’s both serious and hilarious account of his days as the publisher, editor, contributor, and fund-raiser for his beloved National Review was a pure joy, and I suspect readers–regardless of their political persuasion–will also enjoy this literary romp.

Though some Christian readers may be put off by the title, it is important to note that Buckley never shrunk from making clear his Christian faith.  In fact, one of his books, Nearer My God, is as the subtitle states, an autobiography of his faith.

Much of this book, however, centers on letters, often uncomplimentary, from readers, and Buckley’s unique and often outrageous responses in the “Notes & Asides” section of the magazine.  Many of those along with unpublished correspondence is included. What stands out is that despite the political vitriol included in many of the epistles, Buckley assiduously avoids slouching toward personal attack in his responses.  He counters hostile opinions with wit and insight, and accepts kind words with grace, and again, some clever humor.

An interesting dimension of the book is Buckley’s interactions with mainstage political figures including the likes of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John Kenneth Galbraith, A.M. Rosenthal, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. among others. Culled from a pre-email era, the reader is also treated to some most entertaining correspondence between Buckley and governmental organizations.

The book has plenty of thought-provoking substance, but readers will best remember the knee-slapping humor with which the matchless, one-of-a-kind Buckley laces so much of his writing. I regularly found myself having to stop for a belly laugh as I worked my way through this delightful 304-page, you-are-there book. The Amazon ad puts it well, describing the book as “combative, brilliant, and uproariously funny,” representing “Buckley at his mischievous best.”

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut


William F. Buckley, Jr. (Encounter Books, 50th Anniversary Edition, 2015)

I have long appreciated William F. Buckley, not so much because of his politics but for his wit and unabashed Christian witness.  Early on Buckley established himself as a faith-and-learning champion in his first nationally renowned book, God and Man at Yale. His Christian worldview came through in a number of his books and I used his work in my book, Faith and Learning on the Edge.

This book, a reissuing of the 1966 edition, was a gift to me from my daughter. The title is a play off Theodore White’s popular The Making of the President series. It is an event-by-event description of Buckley’s unsuccessful run for Mayor of NYC in 1965. It is hilarious, insightful, and full of Buckleyan takes on politics, conservatism, and life in general.

Though he was roundly defeated by John V. Lindsay, Buckley became the star of the campaign. “As a candidate, Buckley was cleverer and livelier than either of his rivals,” remarked Joseph Alsop. Murray Kempton summarized Buckley’s winsome above-the-battle stance by saying, “The process which coarsens every other man who enters it has only refined Mr. Buckley.”

The book is filled with insights into the myriad problems of big city America–crime, drugs, education, transit, racism, housing, and law enforcement, among others–and a heavy sprinkling of conservative, often creative solutions. Interestingly, the NYC of more than half a century ago will sound disturbingly contemporary to the reader. The problems remain unsolved. Throughout, Buckley sounds the clarion for Republicans to adopt a genuinely conservative ideology rather than seek a centrist identity.

The latter point about the Republican party was one of the reasons Buckley ran this quixotic, and most entertaining campaign. He was distressed by the leftward direction of the party under what he believed were pseudo-Republicans like Lindsay, and Nelson Rockefeller, with the former thought by many to be a likely Republican presidential nominee in a future election. Another reason was his desire to lay out the real issues of the city, fully expecting that Lindsay and Democratic candidate, Abe Beame, would obscure the realities in politicspeak.

That, however, is not the charm of the book. The charm is Buckley–his wit, sarcasm, story-telling savvy, and monstrous intelligence. When asked by the press what he would do were he actually elected, Buckley shot back, “Demand a recount.”  When asked for a conservative estimate of how many votes he expected to get, Buckley said, “Conservatively speaking, one.” If you like that level of wit, you will enjoy this book.

One of the real positives of the book is Buckley’s penchant for offering plain, candid, descriptions of the nature of problem-ridden urban America. He takes a forensic pathologist’s approach to urban ills, but offers insightful ways to bring the corpse to life. It is vintage Buckley, and that should be sufficient to hold readers’ attention regardless of political ideology.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a sociologist at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[123] LET’S PLAY TWO: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks 

Ron Rapoport (Hatchette Books, 2020)

If you know anything about Ernie Banks, you will really enjoy this book, because Rapoport takes the reader past the always-smiling, ever-affable, fan-friendly “Mr. Cub exterior, and into the person of Banks

Ron Rapoport, a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than twenty years put together a gem here.  He not only interviewed Banks myriad times over his journalistic career, he spoke with more than a hundred family members, teammates, and others to gain a multi-dimensional view of the very non-self-revealing Banks. He also consulted oral histories, court records, and other documents in putting together this insightful portrait.

Rapoport takes the reader through Banks’ youth in the 30’s and 40’s segregated Texas, his time with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, and on to the Chicago Cubs of the 1950’s. To say Banks was a dominant player in his prime does not do him justice. He was the National League’s MVP in 1958 and 1959, hitting a total of 92 home runs and driving in 272 runs for the losing Cubs in those two years.  And he did it playing shortstop.

The Cubs of the early 1960’s were horrible, but then came 1967 when Leo Durocher’s team started winning, packing usually empty Wrigley Field with delirious fans–Bleacher Bums among them–only to have it all collapse in the infamous doom of the 1969 pennant race.

The handsome, African-American Banks was the face of the Cubs for nearly 20 years. Never complaining, ever signing autographs and giving positive interviews in a troubled Civil Rights era, Banks was beloved everywhere. Even in the tumultuous 1960’s, when under the scourge of manager Leo Durocher, Banks turned the other cheek at his manager’s scornful public slights.  In fact, that Banks was so genial may well have been a reason the come-to-kill-‘ya, ultra-competitive Durocher did not like him. It was Durocher who said, “Nice Guys Finish Last,” and there were no nicer guys than Banks, whose teams finished last or near last almost annually.

But that is not the story here. It is about the inner Banks. This ever-approachable, always encouraging, icon was divorced three times, largely estranged from his twin sons, and on the brink of a fourth marital split when he died in 2015.  Despite his gregarious nature, he remained ever the stranger. His roommate, Fergie Jenkins, said Banks talked incessantly, but not about himself. Known for his signature phrase, “Let’s play two [games today—a doubleheader],” Rapoport provides a sensitive profile of a troubled, conflicted, profoundly lonely man. One who kept his ever-happy game face on at all public occasions, while coping with personal disappointment, an Uncle Tom label, and never reaching baseball’s post-season, despite being among its greatest performers.

Once retired and out of uniform, the Cubs did not know what to do with Banks.  He was employed in various public relations capacities, but this winner of the Lou Gehrig Award for performance and character, a man who played in 717 consecutive games in the 50’s, would fail to show up for scheduled events. After long-time owner, P. K. Wrigley, sold the team in 1981,Banks was regarded—in words of Chicago Tribune sportswriter Phil Rogers, as “something of a crazy uncle who hung around the house for no apparent reason” and the organization privately informed the press that Banks had been dismissed over his unreliable behavior.

This is a poignant yet wonderful book.  Beyond providing an inside view of the subject, it captures American life in the last two-thirds of the 20th Century. Rapoport had originally planned to collaborate with Banks on a biography, but Ernie’s death in 2015 precluded that.  Much as many miss Mr. Cub, it is hard to believe an authorized biography could top this.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[122] FOR GOD and COUNTRY: The Christian Case for Trump 

Ralph Reed (Regnery Publishing, 2020)

As the title indicates, Reed is an unabashed Trump apologist in this book, attempting to bring as many evangelical Christians as possible into the President’s camp before the 2020 election. The 256-page volume is strong on research and case-making. It also comes alive with personal stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes of Reed’s interactions with Trump

Despite his rough edges, salty language, and less than savory moral past, Reed is all in for The Donald, claiming that the President, who garnered 80% of the evangelical vote and a majority of the Catholic vote in 2016, should rightfully do even better among these groups in 2020.

The case is mainly built around Trump’s performance with respect to issues of cardinal import to Christians. Reed makes clear that no one since Reagan has been more uncompromisingly pro-life or a greater champion of religious liberty than Trump. While the author demonstrates a good grip on US history, along with topflight experience as a strategic wizard, the crux of the tome is a defense of Trump’s record on Christian issues.

In Reed’s thinking, Trump is one who walked the walk—delivering on policy issues where other Christian-friendly presidents did not. He trumpets the President’s support of Israel. He spares nothing in explaining how liberal forces are trying to demoralize Christians in hopes of defeating Trump and his pro-Christian platform. For Reed, Trump is the only choice for the serious Christian. In fact, he sees the Christian Never-Trumpers as benighted, hopelessly naïve advocates of political surrender.

His ardent support will be off-putting to some readers. One Amazon reviewer likened Reed to a cult member. “Critical thought is abandoned in favor of rationalizations, twisted logic and fawning, wide-eyed worship. Which is not to say Reed is unintelligent or insincere in his beliefs. He demonstrates both intelligence and sincerity but then so did many of Jim Jones’ followers.” Indeed, the book is not very critical of the 45th President, but then again Reed makes no secret as to his purpose: to re-elect Donald Trump.

A positive for the reader is Reed’s insider status as a political operative. The Wall Street Journal said he may be the best of his generation. The 59-year-old Reed has been involved in politics since his college days at the University of Georgia. He has worked eleven presidential campaigns and was an advisor to George W’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

Whether the reader is pro or anti-Trump, the book will provoke some serious thought. The faith-and-learning advocate will enjoy how Reed presents a Christian worldview in which one can integrate Christianity and politics.

Dr. David Claerbaut teaches doctoral students at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut


David Halberstam (Ballantine Books, 1994)

We have a classic here.  This 816-page book, by the late, great David Halberstam is timeless and priceless.  The author makes a compelling case for how the current state of the US is much the result of the seeds of the 1950s–in politics, economics, along with social and popular culture. Halberstam covers a stunning array of people and topics, brilliantly and painstakingly working through example after example of his thesis, and doing so with humor and vibrance.  In his own fascinating style Halberstam shows the current relevance of iconic figures of the decade, including Eisenhower, Nixon, John Foster Dulles, General Douglas MacArthur, Herbert Hoover, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, among others.  But he goes well beyond military and governmental figures, to people like Ray Kroc (of McDonald’s) and lesser-known types like Harley Earl who installed fins on cars, and Kemmons Wilson who littered the roadsides with Holiday Inns.

Indeed, covering an entire decade (even using 800 pages) is an ambitious task, but it is hard to imagine a better job of it. In a sense, Halberstam’s work encapsulates the history of an entire decade in a single volume. The faith-and-learning reader may well note Halberstam’s liberal leanings here and there, portraying controversial liberals like Margaret Sanger favorably, while omitting entirely the spiritual renewal of the era (increased church attendance) and the impact of evangelists like Billy Graham.

Nonetheless, this is one excellent and eminently readable work. While many see the 1960’s as the transitional decade of the millennium and the 50’s as a sort of sleepy segment, Halberstam makes a convincing case that the 50’s served as the real pivot point in US history, setting up so much of which followed. For example, Brown vs. the Board of Education kicked off the Civil Rights Movement. The cold war led to Vietnam while the arms race, much fed by the hydrogen bomb, moved into high gear. The pill and the sexual revolution have their origins in this decade, and how about Elvis Presley and rock and roll?  Television became a cultural force in the 1950’s as it suddenly entered the nation’s homes, providing stay-at-home entertainment while creating a consumer society through its myriad commercials.

Indeed, if you know nothing of the 1950’s, you should, and this book will solve that problem for you. If you remember that decade, you will see its power in a whole new light through Halberstam’s masterpiece.  The reader will notice how quickly those 800 plus pages fly by.  This book is one for the ages.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by Steve Launer

[120] RECRUITING CONFIDENTIAL: A Father, a Son, and Big Time College Football

David Claerbaut (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2003)

Though dated, this book tells an intriguing story and can still be helpful to college recruits and their families. The book is biographical, as Claerbaut takes the reader through the recruiting experience of his son, a record-breaking rusher in a Chicago-area high school.  By his son’s junior year, oodles of letters from colleges started coming in.  All total, he received 42 Division I inquiries.

Claerbaut takes the reader inside both the byzantine recruiting process but also the father-son bond that emerged from the experience. The story begins with a trip to the University of Iowa on a Friday night after James set an Illinois high school playoff single-game rushing record. The two meet the coaches and are allowed down on the field before the Hawkeyes’ Saturday game against Michigan. James’ excitement about Iowa and the Big Ten was fed by an assistant coach’s continued correspondence. Then it suddenly stopped, as the coaches decided that despite his blazing 4.4 speed on the 40 (yard dash), James’ 175-pound frame was not large enough to be a Big Ten ballcarrier.

There were other suitors. Urban Meyer, then at Bowling Green University was very interested, Meyer made an “early offer” and pursued the youngster faithfully. The two visited Bowling Green and saw a game there. Navy, then coached my Paul Johnson, also put a full court press on James. Johnson made clear that James’ weight was a non-factor in his multiple-option offense. The two visited the academy on a football Saturday and later attended the Army-Navy game at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. Claerbaut takes the reader inside the meeting rooms with coaches.  There were other visits as well, and Claerbaut takes the reader inside the on-campus, meet-with-the-coaches experience at each.

Things become agonizing for James when Harvard entered the picture. Though not a Division I program—a substantial negative–James was well aware of what a degree from that institution could do for his future. He also began realizing that due to his size, the other schools interested in him, with the possible exception of Navy, were mid-majors.

One of the benefits of the book is the insight the reader who has a child with college athletic potential can gain from James’ and his dad’s experience. Claerbaut, formerly an AD at a Division III basketball powerhouse, carefully conveys to the reader what can be expected as the recruiting process intensifies. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “We are going through football recruiting with our son right now and I found this book’s depiction of how the process works and what it is like dealing with college coaches to be dead on.”

I will not spoil the story by revealing his final choice, and the surprising way in which it was reached.  Some readers may be put off by Claerbaut’s insertion of himself into the experience and the narrative, though others will see that as simply a father looking out for the best interests of his son. In any case, it is quite a story with lots of valuable inside information on an often under-the-radar process.

Steve Launer, a former sports announcer, is an avid researcher on topics of faith and the church.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[119] FREEDOM’S ORATOR: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s

Robert Cohen (Oxford University Press, 2009)

I believe I bought this unexpectedly powerful book after browsing in a New York bookstore.

And what a buy it was!  There are many books on the student revolts of the 1960’s, but few better than this one.  A reason is that the author, Robert Cohen, social studies and history professor at New York University, manages to describe a troubling yet exhilarating era through the experience of one of its mainstage figures, Mario Savio, student leader at Berkeley.

The biographical avenue makes the story come alive, elevating it above mere recitations of often confusing events, so typical of books on the protest era. What’s more, the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement was arguable the most impacting of the student rebellions. Savio came by his courageous activism honestly, having been arrested in March of ’64 for protesting the San Francisco Hotel Association’s refusal to include blacks for non-menial jobs. He followed that by risking his life registering black voters in Mississippi in the summer of that year.

Unlike many fellow activists of the era, Savio did not come from an elite background. The eventual orator hailed from a blue-collar New York Catholic family and struggled with stuttering as a youth. What Cohen manages to do is capture the electricity, the “buzz” of the era, giving the pages life. His research is meticulous, pulling from Savio’s papers, as well as oral histories and recollections from other protest leaders. Cohen has the biographer’s gift of seeing into the personality and motivations of his subject, making Savio someone the reader truly meets in the 544 pages.

The book is filled with the expected highs and lows, so much a part of the high-voltage, gurgling-with-change environment of the times. Good-hearted and egalitarian to the core, Savio had his personal demons as well. He was, however, a stirring orator.  Following is an excerpt from his famous “Operation of the Machine“ speech.

[If this [California-Berkeley] is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I’ll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be—have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product. Don’t mean … Don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!]

There was little stability in Savio’s life after 1964. He moved to England in 1965, having accepted a scholarship to Oxford University, but did not finish. He held a variety of jobs, including college teaching, ran unsuccessfully for public office, married twice and had a son. He was teaching mathematics, philosophy, and logic at Sonoma State University when he died in 1996, having had a history of heart problems. He was only 54 years old.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the author of fifteen books.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[118] THE BEST GAME EVER: Colts vs. Giants, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008)

In the opinion of many, the NFL began on December 28, 1958, when the New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts in Yankee Stadium for the NFL championship. It was, arguably, the greatest game in football history, played before a throng of 64,000 fans and a national television audience of 45 million more, a record at the time.  Thirteen months after this spell-binding event, Pete Rozelle took over as commissioner upon the unexpected death of Bert Bell, and with his marketing genius, elevated the NFL to heights few could possibly  imagine.

The game had everything, pitting the league’s strongest offense–Baltimore–against the league’s toughest defense, led by Giants middle linebacker, Sam Huff. The Giants were the arrogant glamour team from the Big Apple, while the Colts were a more blue-collar contingent from less-celebrated Baltimore. The game featured no less than seventeen future Hall of Famers, including Baltimore Head Coach, Weeb Ewbank (who went on to coach the New York Jets to their upset victory over those same Baltimore Colts a decade later in Super Bowl III), and Giant assistants, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. The following year Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers, while Landry started his historic run with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960.  It was “the greatest concentration of football talent ever assembled for a single game.” Were that not enough, the contest was not able to be resolved in 60 minutes, necessitating the NFL’s first sudden death overtime game. Interestingly, not every player was even familiar with the sudden death rule that would determine the champion.

Bowden’s book is a well-written page-turner, taking the reader back in a you-are-there fashion to a time when fans intimately connected with their home-town teams, and the players were less celebrities than non-self-promoting ordinary men representing those teams–men who needed to hold off-season jobs to provide sufficient income.

Bowden brilliantly mixes the drama of the event with engaging stories about the players and those witnessing the event. He puts a particular focus on the then under-appreciated, scholarly, and ever-meticulous Hall of Fame receiver, Raymond Berry of the Colts. “Unitas to Berry” became an almost PA mantra in the closing moments of the nail-biting confrontation. The brilliance of the tandem brought the Colts to the brink of the end zone, where fullback, Alan ‘the Horse” Ameche plunged into the end zone, giving Baltimore the championship.

The book is first-rate from almost any angle. Perhaps more important, it is not a book about football so much as it is one about American culture.

.Dr. David Claerbaut is the author of fifteen books.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[117] THE PLANET STAR: Fight to the Finish

C. M. Chakrabarti (Dorrance Publishing, 2019)

This is the long-awaited second book in the Planet Star series. If you liked the first one, The Planet Star–Unfolding Prophecy, once opened, you will not want to put this one down. As the title implies, it is the ending to the Planet star saga—an exciting and satisfying one at that. The book has a Flash Gordon meets Star Wars quality with the story centering on the final confrontation between King Ewlon Galan and the wicked captor Uzak.

The widow, Shreela Bakra, is held prisoner by her captor, Uzak, Lord of Uni. Since Uni no longer exists, Uzak lays out his most diabolical plan to destroy the Khalian Solar System. Shreela must find a way out of her prison so that she can warn King Ewlon of the diabolical plot by Uzak to use the Molecular Exchange Processor (M.E.P.) to wipe out an entire solar system.

Throughout many segments in this story, Shreela learns the truth about her late spouse, Jor Bakra, and his incredible engineering ability to develop a weapon that would answer the call of Uzak’s M.E.P. technology. King Ewlon also learns, for the first time, that Shreela’s mate was Jor Bakra, the Astrophysicist hired by him to develop a technology to thwart Uzak’s weapon of mass destruction.

As filled-with-action story rages, the reader wonders whether Uzak can construct and turn loose the deadly MEP before King Galanand, and his contingent of allies can prevent annihilation. Were that not enough there is the need to sort out who can be trusted as loyal subjects and who are traitors. Plenty of intrigue for the reader.

The book has many pluses. Author Chakrabarti has singular writing gifts, among which are the ability of lay out a complex plot clearly (a genuine challenge for many sci-fi/fantasy writers), and the capacity to provide fast-moving vivid detail such that the reader gets a clear words-eye view of the exciting drama. The characters are well drawn and capture the reader’s empathy and identification, all of which gives the reader a most enjoyable “surround sound” literary experience.

.Dr. David Claerbaut is a member of the adjunct faculty at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by Steve Launer

[116] DUROCHER’S CUBS: The Greatest Team that Didn’t Win

David Claerbaut (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2000)

There are few baseball figures and teams about which more has been written than Leo Durocher, and the 1969 Cubs.  Claerbaut’s book combines the two, by taking the reader through the tumultuous 1967-1972 period during which Durocher and his team were front and center among millions of baseball fans. Those six winning but non-championship seasons were a patch of baseball light in an otherwise dark Cubs’ universe. In fact, prior to 1967, the team had but one winning season since 1945. After 1972, they did not have another one until 1984.

Understandably, Durocher looms large in the book, hence its title, but all the other characters, from Ron Santo to Ernie Banks, from Ferguson to Billy Williams are there as well.  Claerbaut does well in capturing the incredible excitement in 1967 Chicago when the moribund Northsiders suddenly began to win. By 1969, the team looked ready to win it all, only to break the hearts of its fans yet again. There is plenty of discord as well, the climax of which involved a near locker room brawl in 1971, creating a breach so severe that Durocher told his team he was quitting.

Parts of the book are heavy with statistics, a put-off for readers more interested in the narrative than cold analysis. Claerbaut devotes a whole numbers-laden chapter on what brought about the team’s 1969 collapse. The Cubs, well ahead in their division on Labor Day managed to lose 18 of their final 26 games as the Miracle Mets charged past them en route to a World Series championship, and the book offers an exhaustive post mortem on the causes.

What is remarkable is how beloved this team was. It is arguably the most popular of all Cub teams, with the possible exception of the 2016 World Champions; more popular than the teams that won divisional titles since. Banks, Santo, Jenkins, and Hundley are all in the Hall of Fame, while the likes of Ken Holtzman, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Bill Hands, Phil Regan, and Randy Hundley are forever etched in the memory of Cub fans of the era. So popular were these stars, that beginning in the early 80’s, legions of middle-aged men annually attended Randy Hundley’s fantasy camps just to be in the company of their heroes.

While the book covers the crash and burning of Durocher’s reign in the Windy City, and the bitter memories and fractured relationships he left behind, there is, in the end, redemption even for Leo. Having returned to his Catholic roots late in life, Claerbaut writes of a Cub reunion at which a penitent Durocher publicly apologized to Santo over the 1971 eruption, bringing tears to the eyes of many in attendance.

 Steve Launer is an expert in men’s ministry and a source of many of the blogs on this website.  

A Review by David Claerbaut


Keith Hernandez (Little, Brown and Company, 2018)

I like sports books (and review many of them), because all the dramas in contemporary society are played out in the sporting venues.  There are many excellent sports books and some excellent authors—James Michener, David Halberstam, and Roger Angell, among them—have written on at least one of the major sports.

There are also some lousy ones, and this one is an example. I never liked Keith Hernandez, so that could be a factor in this brief but negative review, but so be it.

He calls this a memoir, but Hernandez’s memory seems to end in 1980 with his exit from the St. Louis Cardinals.  It was in New York that Hernandez was part of a World Series Champion and was confronted with his drug use.  The book does well in describing his family, particularly his baseball-obsessed Spanish (not Mexican) father.  It also does well in describing his development as a quality hitter and fielder. Other than that, it is a waste. Though well read and cultured, Hernandez comes off as a thoroughly secular man, one who has lived an unexamined life, other than on all matters baseball. Twice married and twice divorced, he casually dismisses the marriages as mistakes, rather than evidence of personal character flaws meriting attention. Of course, he presents himself as the ever-devoted father to his three daughters by his first marriage.  He writes more—albeit matter-of-factly–about his sexual adventures with prostitutes and others over the baseball years than of his marriages.

Though professing a healthy respect for the importance of contemporary baseball analytics (advanced statistical analysis), the reader would hardly know it. Hernandez rails continuously against the increasing reliance on numbers, something not in synch with his evident intelligence. The reader never really comes to know Hernandez, other than with a bat or glove. That may be just as well, because what the reader does learn is less than interesting.

.Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[114] MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

Eric Metaxas (Viking, 2017)

This 496-page book is as gripping as a high-adventure crime novel. Other than his pretentious penchant to use complex vocabulary when simple words would do, Eric Metaxas delivers a stunning portrait of the Reformer. The book begins cleverly. Metaxas rattles off the things everybody seemingly knows about Luther and then debunks them all.  For example, Luther did not come from a peasant family, nor did he have a survival-driven childhood.  No bolt of lightning led him to monkhood, nor did the former nun who became his wife slip out of the convent in an empty herring barrel, and his 95 theses were likely not nailed on the church door in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517.

Luther comes alive in this book. Metaxas takes the reader back into the 16th Century society, one in which the Pope was the pre-eminent ruler over what was called the Holy Roman Empire and where questioning Catholic doctrine could be punishable by death. He introduces us to a man on fire for the scripture in a culture in which much of the Catholic clergy did not read the Bible. Scripture was the driving force of Luther’s theology and the basis for the Reformation. His study of scripture led him to reject the practice of selling indulgences and the policy of allowing only priests to drink the wine in communion. Luther’s study of the Bible led him to the conclusion that all believers are equal before God, a precursor to what would become a basic political tenet of the American Declaration of Independence two and a half millennia later. Above all, it led him to the doctrine that eternal salvation simply could not be earned. It was a function of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Luther was incredibly industrious. While being hunted down by the church hierarchy, he resided in castle of Wartburg translating the New Testament into German in just 11 weeks.  Greatly benefitted by the invention of the printing press, he became a prolific writer, churning out books and other writings in which he put his thoughts in unmistakably clear form. There is high drama throughout the book—illness, frequent disputes, debates, troubled relationships, and the constant threat of death. Luther’s singular courage comes through, born of the belief that God is bigger than any human threat. Though he died of a stroke in 1546 at 62, he did not permit the constant risk of martyrdom to deter him. Were he to die for the cause of truth, he would accept it without fear. Luther was all in for God.

In Martin Luther, the reader meets a man who respected the power of ideas and the towering importance unrelenting, independent, critical thinking. More than that, Metaxas introduces us to someone who showed what a single person—overflowing with spiritual conviction—can accomplish if committed to a cause (as his namesake, Martin Luther King said 450 years later) for which he or she is willing to die.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the author of fifteen books.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[113] IN THIS WORLD OF WONDERS: Memoir of a Life in Learning

Nicholas Wolterstorff (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019)

It is hard to review a book on the life of someone you admire and to whom you owe so much. World-renowned philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff is a friend and mentor of mine. As fine and towering a faith-and-learning role model as ever has been—he was a philosophy professor of mine at Calvin College before he went on to become a full professor at Yale.  Though he calls the book a memoir, it is very much an autobiography as it is laid out in chronological detail.  He tells his story in a series of vignettes, an effective device that grips the reader’s attention.

It begins in rural Minnesota where his mother died when Wolterstorff was just three. He developed a work ethic early on, when at 13 he began working on his uncle’s farm. Typical of Wolterstorff, he eventually all but ran the enterprise. In 1947, he enrolled in Western Christian High School in Hull, Iowa, some 60 miles from Edgerton, Minnesota, where he had spent much of his pre-high school life. Upon graduating, it was off to Grand Rapids and Calvin College where he all but instantly fell in love with philosophy. From there it was on to Harvard for his doctorate (at 25) and then back to Calvin as a full-time faculty member in a department that included the likes of Cornelius Plantinga, Evan Runner, and Richard Mouw.

At 57, Wolterstorff accepted Yale’s offer to become the Noah Porter Professor Philosophical Theology. The key word is accepted. He did not seek the position. His career is littered with achievements, (Woodrow Wilson Fellowship; Harvard Foundation Fellowship; Josiah Royce Memorial Fellowship, Harvard University; Fulbright Scholarship; President of the American Philosophical Association [Central Division]; and Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study in Culture, University of Virginia among many others) yet you would hardly know it in reading his book.  It is typical of Wolterstorff—wholly unpretentious and filled with gratitude for what he has experienced.

There is tragedy in the book as Wolterstorff tells of the wrenching pain of losing his son 25-year-old son, Eric, in a skiing accident in Switzerland in 1987. So profound was the loss that Wolterstorff divides his life in two segments: Before and After Eric. His 1987 book, Lament for a Son, in which he tells of the incredible sorrow is a near classic in Christian literature on grief. There is also his experience witnessing apartheid in South Africa, and how it brought about his commitment to the biblical concept of shalom.

Most of the book, however, is indeed one of joy and wonder. Wolterstorff takes the reader with him on his visits to Europe and opens a window for the reader to many thoughts from his brilliant mind. If you ever hear him speak you will be struck by how clear Wolterstorff communicates. He has an innate ability to make profoundly complex philosophical concepts readily understandable.  This capacity serves him—and more important, the reader–well in this remarkable book.

Wolterstorff’s love of art and thoughts on aesthetics come through as well. I echo another reviewer who remarked that in the spirit of aesthetics, the publisher is to credited for an excellent layout, one in which “the beauty of the writing is matched by the beauty of the presentation.”  To know Nicholas Wolterstorff is to admire him—equal parts brilliance and uncommon humility. If you have the slightest interest in faith and learning you need to read this book. You need to meet Nicholas Wolterstorff in these pages.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.  

A Review by Steve Launer

[112] DUFFY DAUGHERTY: A Man Ahead of His Time

David Claerbaut (Michigan State University Press–Gemstone Books, 2018)

David Claerbaut gives us a long overdue biography of Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty, a larger-than-life figure who was much more than a Hall of Fame football coach.  A near stand-up comedian, trailblazer, and raconteur, Duffy, as he was called, is arguably the most famous figure in the storied history of Michigan State University football. Claerbaut tells the story of Daugherty’s nineteen-year tenure at MSU, one marked by great success. Between 1955 and 1966, eight Spartan teams finished in the Associated Press top ten college football teams.

Much more than that, Duffy was a character. With his zany wit putting him in demand as a public speaker, even appearing on television with Jack Benny, Daugherty became so well known for his winning teams and quotable comments that he adorned the cover of the October 8, 1956, issue of Time magazine. The media could not get enough of this one-of-a-kind, homely, but lovable gridiron icon.

Underneath that often hilarious exterior, was a major change agent, with Duffy being among the first to recruit African American athletes into the mainstream of college sports. And what athletes they were!  We are talking about the likes of Bubba Smith, Clinton Jones, George Webster, Gene Washington, and Jimmy Raye, the latter of whom broke the mold of white-only quarterbacks in 1966. Many of these incredible performers came from the South where legendary coaches like Bear Bryant could not overcome the political resistance to integration. In fact, it was coaches like Bryant who alerted Daugherty to the identity of black players they could only wish to recruit.  In any case, from his arrival in East Lansing, Duffy worked to field integrated teams. His undefeated 1966 powerhouse squad—one that played Notre Dame to an unforgettable 10–10 tie in the season finale (well chronicled in the book)—included four black players selected among the first eight players taken in the NFL draft.

Daugherty comes alive in Claerbaut’s hard-to-put-down book, brimming with fascinating and side-splitting stories–plenty of football, big-time power struggles, and lots of laughs. There is a poignant edge to the Daugherty saga as well. After posting a near .700 winning percentage in his first 13 years at the state’s #2 (to Michigan) school, budget cuts and a refusal to upgrade facilities contributed to his going just 27-34-1 in his last six.  Discouraged by the school’s disinvestment and realizing the program was no longer competitive, Duffy felt all but pushed out. He resigned in 1972.  He was only 57.

It wasn’t over for the colorful Daugherty. After his resignation he served as a color analyst on television for a number of years. He died in 1987 at the age of 72.  As the years passed, Michigan State realized what a giant this multi-talented man was, naming its impressive football team practice facility the Duffy Daugherty Football Building in his honor.

A movie buff, Steve Launer has contributed movie reviews to FaithandlearningForum.com.  

A Review by David Claerbaut


Let’s Reason About the Devil: Between Superstitions, Myths and Reality

François-Marie Dermine (ESD-Edizioni Studio Domenicano, 2020)

This book is about latter-day Satanism. It was published in Italian and this review is based on an interview with the author, Father Francois-Marie Dermine, online in the National Catholic Register (https://www.ncregister.com/interview/longtime-exorcist-satanism-is-growing-in-western-societies). Fr. Dermine is not new to the issues of Satanism. He has been an exorcist since 1994 and helped design the “Course on Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation.”

Let’s Reason About the Devil: Between Superstitions, Myths and Reality is written in question-and answer-format, and Fr. Dermine has much to say. He wrote the book because he could no longer endure hearing people in general, and particularly colleagues in the priesthood, simply reject the notion the devil’s activity in contemporary life. He labels anyone who denies the existence of the devil as a heretic. He sees priests who deny Satan’s existence as reducing themselves to little more than social workers.

Fr. Dermine attributes much of this denial to the power of rationalism—the need to explain or demonstrate everything in logical terms. For many in the priesthood, the notion of the devil has become medieval, regressive, and superstitious, yet belief in the devil is prominent in society, especially among young people. The devil’s existence, according to Fr. Dermine is not to be demonstrated or attended by rational explanation. It is simply to be believed, particularly if one wishes to be true to the scriptures.

Fr. Dermine points out that the devil is mentioned more in the New than the Old Testament and that Jesus affirms the devil’s existence.  Moreover, Fr. Dermine sees a resurgence of overt Satanism, much driven by content on the Internet. Websites celebrate the devil as one who cuts loose from God to do whatever he wishes. Satanic groups are increasing. In fact, Fr. Dermine says more people than ever before are seeking him out for ministry.

He is also troubled by divination, stating that the Bible condemns the use of superstition and divination as acts of disloyalty toward God.  God does not reveal the future to us.  He calls us to trust his word and his presence in our life. He urges us believers to pray for ourselves and the church, with a focus on deepening our faith and educating ourselves.

What makes the book striking to me is that the author makes no apology—or rationalization, if you will—for his belief in the existence of Satan, unfashionable as it is among many “intellectual” Christians.  His citing the clergy as a group that has veered away from this belief is noteworthy.  Even among Protestant evangelicals, one rarely hears a sermon about Satan. Perhaps more important, is that his belief is rooted in decades of personal ministry as an exorcist.  Note the title: Let’s Reason About the Devil.  This is not an out-of-the-box bogeyman book. It is one calling us to think soberly about faith and spiritual reality in the context of scripture.   

Dr. David Claerbaut, a sociologist, is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[110] ROZELLE: A Biography

Jerry Izenberg (University of Nebraska Press, 2014)

This is not a book about “some sports figure,” and you don’t need to be a sports enthusiast to enjoy it.  Alvin “Pete” Rozelle was much much bigger than sports. He was a titan of American corporate life, in the tradition Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch. As a 33-year-old Public Relations guy, he—after 23 ballots–became the compromise choice of the owners for commissioner in 1960 in a NFL that had 12 teams. When he left in 1989 it had 28. In between, he negotiated a merger of the NFL and rival AFL, the creation of the Super Bowl, and jaw-dropping television contracts.

Author Jerry Izenberg, an award-winning sports journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger, carefully chronicles the key components of Rozelle’s career in this 312-page tome. But that is not the charm of Izenberg’s book. The author does what all too few biographers of famous people manage to do. He gives the reader an insight into the person, rather than just his accomplishments. Pete Rozelle comes off as a genuinely nice man—a bit of a rarity in the case of corporate behemoths. Rozelle assiduously avoided needless power struggles, choosing instead to submerge his ego and engage in consensus building and non-hostile negotiations. It was not easy.  He worked for a diverse and often dyspeptic collection of dollar-heavy and dollar-obsessed owners.  In addition, there was the ever-more-powerful players union. Its combat over compensation, pension, and other items was strong enough to bring about two work stoppages.

Rozelle navigated deftly through the landmines of his job, and did so while quietly enduring a toxic 23-year marriage damaged by alcoholism.  Rozelle, the sober one, was granted full custody of his daughter in a 1972 divorce, and Izenberg paints a tender portrait of the dutiful father spending his weeknights helping her with her homework in their NYC apartment, after returning from a grinding day in his office.

The thorn in Rozelle’s side was Al Davis, renegade owner of the now Las Vegas Raiders. Their disputes are well-chronicled in print and more recently in an ESPN “30 30” presentation. In short, Davis was totally committed to the interests of the Raiders, while Rozelle’s allegiance was to the larger NFL. The issue was joined when in the early ‘80’s Davis sought to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles without the voting consent of his fellow owners. Davis won, only after a long and contentious trial. Despite the loss, however, the ever-gracious Rozelle pressed on, bringing the NFL to ever greater heights until he announced his resignation at an owners’ meeting in 1989.  Appearing burned out, it was Davis who got up and embraced the emotional Rozelle when he left the podium.  Eleven years later, the then happily remarried 70-year-old Rozelle died of brain cancer.

This is a fine and insightful book.  It is filled with details of the headline-driven events of Rozelle’s near three-decade reign at the top of the NFL.  More important, you will get to know and like Rozelle after reading it. Leo Durocher once said, “Nice guys finish last.”  That would not apply to Pete Rozelle.

Dr. David Claerbaut is an author and teaches doctoral students at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[109] TIME WAITS for NO ONE: The Chronocar Chronicles

Steve Bellinger (Wordwooze, 2020)

Time Waits for No One is a sequel to Bellinger’s award-winning first science fiction work, The Chronocar: An Urban Adventure in Time.  In that one (see Book Review #101) we meet Tony Carpenter, who in 2015, happens upon a design for a Chronocar, a time machine created by a Dr. Simmie Johnson in the years following the Civil War. Johnson–a genius son of a slave—along with his beautiful daughter Ollie, meets Tony in 1919, the year of the fiercest of Chicago’s race riots.

We move now to 2012 when a new Tony Carpenter encounters a shot out of the past, one for which he is wholly unprepared. He runs into Dr. Johnson’s granddaughter who lays out an essentially unbelievable story coupled with a journey that cannot be dismissed. Tony returns to 1919 and the reader discovers that Dr. Johnson now faces the possibility that his designed time machine could potentially wipe out all of creation. The plot now moves to one of locating all copies of Johnson’s journal article on the Chronocar, and perhaps more important, every Chronocar in existence.

These efforts generate all types of unintended past and future consequences—things often getting worse, and involving more people, before they get better. Augie Furst, Tony Carpenter, and Martha emerge as exceptionally well-drawn characters who, through well-crafted dialogue, tell the story in the context of strong feelings and great tension. But there’s more.  Bellinger manages to use the backdrop of incredibly troubling historical events to communicate powerful social messages that fit neatly within the boundaries of the riveting plot.

Combining the plot with the social context (a rarity in sci-fi) makes the book powerful and impactful. This is another highly-recommended gift from the fertile mind of author Bellinger.

Dr. David Claerbaut, the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com, teaches doctoral students at Grand Canyon University.  

A Review by David Claerbaut

[108] e-POCALYPSE: The Digital Dystopia is Coming

Steve Bellinger (Wordwooze, 2020)

Steve Bellinger’s word processor is hot. His e-Pocalypse comes on the heels of two 2019 science fiction works. In this one, we meet Matty Williams, a computer tech whose intended retirement is aborted when he and his love interest, Divvie, come across a puzzling reality:  new social technologies are literally wreaking havoc with the minds of their users.

Their journey into how technological innovations are altering the lives of almost everyone on planet earth leads them to a surprising place: Roydon Technologies, their employer. A key element in the created chaos is “Augies,” reality-altering glasses that afflict the user, controlled by a worldwide computer giant disarmingly called NANA.

The issue is joined and the reader wants to find out if Matty, Divvie, and super geek Howard, can save the world from this perilous plunge into programmed servitude. Roydon seems omnipotent in its quest to subjugate humanity in an irreversible fashion. A virus that can combat Augies has to be created.

Bellinger tells the e-Pocalypse story with brilliant clarity, much due to his decades-long career as a computer expert. Amid a pandemic force like that of Covid-19, the stary becomes incredibly contemporary, realistic, and haunting. He spins the tale masterfully by introducing the reader to a future world. Everything is realistic yet terrifying with the characters three-dimensional, compelling, and engaging. Matty stands out as a gifted and complex protagonist. He makes no secret of his deep distrust of new technology and social media, all very understandable in the context of his life. There is an edginess to his character that is all very believable.

As with other Bellinger books, the reader is looking in one direction for the ending only to be sideswiped from another. Of necessity, the book has a large cast of characters, many of which enter early in the 148-page book, before the reader is sufficiently anchored in the story. Though some may become blurry, the main stage performers–Matty, Divvie, and Howard loom all the larger. The book is written in first-person and assiduously avoids preachiness. Bellinger lets the story do the “lecturing.”

This book is another winner, to be enjoyed by young and old.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a non-fiction author, and teaches at Grand Canyon University. 

A Review by David Claerbaut

[107] EDGE of PERCEPTION: A Paranormal Science Fiction Love Story

Steve Bellinger (Wordwooze, 2019)

Ron Lewis, born in a 1960’s oppressed black neighborhood, endures a curse harking back to the days of slavery. Ron’s education and intellectual orientation is rooted in science, but his scientific bent does not align with his experiences, whether it is an interracial relationship or supernatural encounters.

After much emotional pain, Lewis apparently is settled—at peace. Not long. He is bowled over by tragedy and everything comes loose. Eventually he has the opportunity to use his scientific skill to make contact with the dead and go face-to-face with the demons that have buffeted his family for generations.

And that is when the action really accelerates.

This book is a quality novel and the reader does not have to be steeped in paranormal psychology to follow the plot. What stands out is the strength of the character development. The reader is not only emotionally welded to the constant twists and turns of the plot, but also comes to care about the people in the story.

Bellinger paints a spine-tingling portrait of occultism, and the power of evil. He shows a particular skill in creating a chilly, disturbing mood, one that is consistent with science colliding with not-always-good supernatural forces. The book picks up speed. Many books bog down. This one does not. In fact, the reader is likely to find the second half of this 181-page novel more emotionally encompassing than the first half.

Bellinger is a believer and veteran writer. He has written newspaper articles, comic strips, radio drama, short stories, and fan fiction. This book, however, should spark some interesting reactions among Christian readers. We have the age-old science and reason vs. the supernatural expertly done, but there is also some illicit sex along with a journey into the occult.

For some Christian readers, boundaries may feel a bit stretched in this fictional flight into the supernatural. Boundaries, however, are often a tad loose in sci-fi, and one can feel good knowing the novelist at the controls knows the master of the supernatural.

Dr. David Claerbaut is an adjunct faculty member at Grand Canyon University. 

A Review by David Claerbaut

[106] THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING: The History of Top 40 Radio

Ben Fong-Torres (Miller Freeman Books, 1998)

What?  A book from 1998?

Yes indeed.  If you are a Boomer (or one at heart) who longs for the Top 40 (pop music) era in radio, this book is the time capsule you want and it is still available. Much more than a general sweep of the times, author Ben Fong-Torres, lays open the “innards” of the Top 40 phenomenon.  How did it start?  Why was it so incredibly successful?  Why did it end?

More than that, Fong-Torres travels the country.  You will get inside stations like WINS in New York, WLS in Chicago, and KRLA in Los Angeles. The stories of towering figures like Alan Freed—ruined by Payola—and the iconic Dick Clark are laid out.  Did I say Payola?  Fong-Torres explains that the practice of record companies greasing the palms of disc jockeys (DJs) to play their records was common, accepted, and legal practice for years. Air play was the means by which the record-buying public got introduced and “turned on” to the 45 rpm product, so all stops were pulled to get the song airwave exposure.

Fong-Torres introduces us to the industry movers and shakers—the station owners, consultants, and program directors who would move into a city, switch a station’s format over to Top 40, and then drive the listenership numbers skyward using their creative yet meticulous techniques. The DJs are all here as well: Murray the K, Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, and The Real Don Steele among many others. The book is chock full of their personal and often zany stories.  Smoking was ubiquitous in this high-adrenaline business and lung cancer death common, but what really becomes clear to the reader is the vagabond existence of the era’s DJs. They were driven by survival, ambition, and Arbitron ratings. The ratings were the analytics of the industry, the accepted indicator of how many listeners one had.  If the numbers plunged the DJs often did as well.  Having sold their soul to the industry, they would often catch on in another city. Anything to stay on the air. The ones with elevated numbers would land in bigger markets. It was a musical chairs industry.

This book captures it all. It’s a fun and informative ride.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. 

A Review by James Schaap


“The morns are meeker than they were” – (32)

R. W. Franklin, editor (Harvard University Press, 2005)

Note to Readers: Though we cite the larger book here, this is a review of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems through the eyes of a Christian reviewer. 

The morns are meeker than they were – (32)

The morns are meeker than they were –
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d be old-fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on.

It’s fall, that’s sure. Summer’s stunning dawns are gone. Outside the window, the sun rises somewhat glamorously, but “meeker,” as Emily Dickinson says, often in mist. And the nuts–were there any in our backyard–would be more, well, ripe, if acorns can be said to ripen. Berry season is over, but our fledgling raspberry patch of did their best work little more than a month or so ago.

The first three scattered pictures in this Dickinson poem carry some delight; after all, calling autumn dawns “meeker” is hardly trashing them. But the last line of the first stanza–“The rose is out of town” feels more hefty, even grave, not something you smile your way through. It’s lament, and coming where it does seem almost off key. Maybe Miss Emily would like to redo that line. We’ll never know.

The first two lines of the second stanza return to reverie. And make no mistake–it’s Mother Nature we’re talking about here because the world as Miss Emily sees it is female: here’s a scarf, there’s a gown. It’s fall and the world’s inspired fashionably in gorgeous earth tones, the field actually scarlet–with fallen leaves?

But then there’s that weak rhyme in the last couplet, and that very odd word, trinket, that feels like a clunker in what otherwise would be a tribute to fall in Amherst, the town she so rarely left. She’d like to be part of all this beauty, she says, so she’ll “put a trinket on.”

A trinket?  It’s pretty much impossible not to think of a “trinket” as something one picks up for a buck-and-a-half at Wall Drug. A trinket is not a coordinated accessory like a scarf and not close to a scarlet gown; but it’ll have to do for Miss Dickinson, who seems to want to be part of October’s own Easter parade but somehow can’t or won’t. Right in the middle of all that reverie, she sticks some cheap broach on her dress, something stamped out in Hong Kong. Seriously?

Helen Vendler, who wrote far more about Dickinson than anyone else, claims it’s the absence of the rose that makes all the difference, the rose who is just plain gone. The rose, Vendler says, is a traditional symbol of love, so she calls the poem “a plainspoken elegy for Eros.”
At least for me, nothing in Emily Dickinson is “plainspoken.” Number 32 is a postcard of New England in autumn festooned with a trinket. Go figure.  I’d like to think this Dickinson puzzle is pretty much pure reverie, wound up and around and through Miss Emily’s thoroughly Calvinist soul; for amid all those glorious fall colors, she’s discovered once again what Calvin says about the magnificence of Creation.

We see the world with our eyes, tread the earth with our feet, touch God’s works with our hands, inhale a sweet and pleasant fragrance from herbs and flowers, enjoy boundless benefits; yet in those very things of which we attain some knowledge, there dwells an immensity of divine power, goodness, and wisdom, as absorbs all our senses. His magnificence teaches us, Calvin says, that our trinkets are just that. His magnificence brings us on our knees to him because the best we can do is a trinket.

Then again, all of that may well be nothing but Calvinist dreaming. Poetry is at its best when it haunts us, when it leaves space for wonder, leaves space for us.

Dr. James Schaap is an excellent Christian novel. His website, www.siouxlander.blogspot.com, is filled with sparkling insights.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[104] THE PLANET STAR–Unfolding Prophecy

C. M. Chakrabarti (American Book Publishing, 2011)

New author, C. M. Chakrabarti, offers the reader a high adventure sci-fi thriller. The Khalian Solar System promised a new life for widows, but evil forces have duped and entrapped them in an effort to find the one widow, Shreela Bakra who has been prophesied to undo the Empire of the Lord of Uni. Though unaware of the prophesy, Bakra goes to the planet, Thebis, for training. There she is a victim of a kidnapping by the evil forces Uni. Things really pick up when Ewlon Galan, the disguised King of the Khalian Solar System and virtuous counterpart to the Lord of Uni–comes to the rescue. Ewlon, presented as a humble man, suffering from the loss of his own wife and son many years ago, joins forces with the imperiled Bakra. From there the reader is treated to a series of adventures as the tandem race to bring down malevolent Lord.  Ewlon evinces courage and character throughout, but his valor in no way diminishes Shreela, who displays singular strength, independent daring and an unconquerable spirit.

The reader encounters a huge spectrum of elements, among them loyalty, friendship, betrayal, and political machinations. Chakrabarti is a Christian, so good and evil shine through the novel. The book is a gem, brimming with good qualities. The writing is vivid and first-rate, a challenge in sci-fi as the author has to paint an intellectually understandable verbal portrait of an alternate reality. Chakrabarti pulls this off with ease. Perhaps more important, the character development—often sacrificed on the altar of a riveting plot—is excellent. The book is rich and satisfying and will leave the reader waiting for the sequel.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by Mark Eckel

[103] FAITH and LEARNING: A Practical Guide for Faculty

Patrick Allen and Kenneth Bradley (Leafwood Publishers & ACU Press, 2014)

“Learning is a communal act” is a statement constantly voiced to Allen’s and Bradley’s students (259). University life should not be done alone. Silos should be merged, departments opened to other departments, conversations ongoing between disciplines, and books written to wed faith with learning. If nothing else, the last now exists. Faith and Learning is an important book for full consideration throughout the Christian academe.

For Christians in Christian universities faith integration “is not a piece; it is the frame in which all the other pieces fit” (162). Allen and Bradley raise the important biblical connectives between “words and deeds” (chapter eight). The two must be synthesized. Theory and practice must come together. Institutional missions, assessments, teaching, mentoring, and faculty evaluations should all be woven through biblical thinking.

Allen and Bradley demystify what some consider to be a difficult subject to entertain. Chapters’ one through three create definitions, historical connections, institutional links, and specific practices. Ernest Boyer and his model of scholarship is explained and applied in chapters’ four to seven. Cutting through the myriad of interpretive voices, the authors clarify, consolidate, and coalesce Boyer’s foundational work Scholarship Reconsidered (Princeton, Carnegie, 1990) showing how his principles can continue to be practiced. Chapter eight focuses on the assessment of faith-learning integration across the academic horizon. Chapter nine gives practical, personal strategies to help Christian college personnel consider how faith-learning integration should be engaged. The concluding chapter summarizes the book giving the authors’ challenge to change systems and routines from curricula development to classroom instruction.

“Scholarship of engagement” is intended to “re-energize the university for the common good” (137). The work of Ernest Boyer sets the standard for Allen and Bradley’s guide providing both backdrop and performance for their ideas. Knighted a “wisdom keeper” (86) Boyer’s concerns for teaching, research, service, and application are the same as those in Christian arenas. Chapter five refers to teaching as an act of scholarship. The authors surmise that teaching and learning cannot be referenced without faith (109-16). Just as with faith-learning, there is good reason to hyphenate teaching-learning. The process of education should be a cross current of thinking enlivened by the ideas of everyone involved. Navigating disciplinary divides, the authors further state, “If we do not respect the other cultures on our campuses, we will not be able to think with wisdom or treat others with grace and dignity” (123). Interdisciplinary approaches would be a welcome first step toward unification over division (127). Praxis is crucial to apply “knowledge to real-world problems” no matter the subject area (137). Hearing from practiced university leaders (142-45) offering specific steps toward institutional transitions is a pleasure.

If Christian universities are in need of ideas for implementation of faith-learning integration, they need look no further than Chapter Ten. Individual and institutional concerns are addressed up front. Inductive to deductive, local then global, institution-specific to institution-wide strategies are demarcated.

A few minor complaints: “Addition” (209) is a poor word choice to invest in discussion when the whole of the work has been to synthesize faith with learning. Within the specific context of research institutions, a better way to consider qualitative research is as a natural outcome rather than an add-on. Some questions concerning “truth” (223) seem to open the door to individualized interpretation away from Scripture as authoritative. Chapter nine reads like a how-to for academic writers that seems a bit out of place. Chapter nine might better be an appendix.

This book is a necessary launch for Christian faith-learning integration. The conclusion of chapter seven (149-54) is really the introduction for Christian professors: the use of Spirit-given gifts for the betterment of students, colleagues, campuses, and communities. Throughout Faith and Learning the word “distinctive” is used to point toward a Christian college perspective. As the authors warn without a distinctiveness a Christian institution “can begin to look and act like every other” (235). The impetus for the work of faith-learning integration gives reason for who Christian educators say they are.

Dr. Mark Eckel is a veteran Faith and Learning teacher and scholar.  His website, WarpandWoof.org, is filled with thought-provoking content.

A Review by Mark Eckel

[102] MAKE YOUR MARK: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong

Brad Gray (Faith Words, 2014)

You better strap your boots on.  Gray does not bring it weak.  You will need your intellect, will, and spirit as Gray teaches through his first book Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong (Faith Words, 2014). 

Gray communicates incisive insights and Spirit-driven conviction.  Gray’s writing style is arresting, staccato, boxing jabs landing relentless reading ‘blows.’ At other times his words run us straight into force-fields, stopping us in our tracks to pause and consider.

We are surprised as Gray reminds us Samson is in Hebrews 11, the ‘hall of heroes.’ But then we see, we are a messed-up bunch just like our heroes. We bookend our spiritual successes with sinful escapades; exactly the lessons of Samson (170-72). The reader is introduced to parallel tracks: exposition of The Text and application to life. Gray’s commitment to Scripture and his brand of relevance, rivet the reader. His exposure of the reader to biblical culture and history is mesmerizing. He easily offers pivotal insights into Scripture’s meaning. Gray makes the audacious—but I believe proper—claim that Samson was to have used his strength for evangelistic purposes (149).

Hebrew words are used throughout the book. Many of language references lead to stunning observations such as the importance of the word “see” in the Samson narrative (120-28). Peppered in the text we find Gray’s fascinating stories and hilarious one-liners (“Nothing like being called a cow at your wedding reception by your husband,” 16). Gray makes clear corollary connections to other Bible passages (40), he eliminates invalid interpretations (42), and introduces rabbinic teaching tactics (52). We learn the importance of names in Samson’s world (72), what it meant to be a Nazarite (112-14), the origin of the Philistine nation (139ff), not to mention why the color blue is so important to the Hebrews (135-36).

Cultural connections are immediately tied to today’s standards. Among other things, all Samson curriculum being taught in Sunday schools and Christian schools must now be rewritten because of Make Your Mark. Gray has literally lived in the places he explains to readers, spending three years writing this volume. Gray’s work entails detailed analysis with a sometimes uncanny ability to bring the reader to a theatre seat as he explains, in pictorial detail on the page before us, exactly what is happening in Judges 13-16.

Dr. Mark Eckel is a veteran Faith and Learning teacher and scholar.  His website, WarpandWoof.org, is filled with thought-provoking content.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[101] THE CHRONOCAR: An Urban Adventure in Time

Steve Bellinger (Wordwooze Publishing, 2019)

Steve Bellinger has rapidly become a prolific science fiction author, and this initial tome is a mover. He uses time travel, a major component of sci-fi, in a unique and very creative way. The story is rooted in Simmie Johnson, the son of a slave, who turns out to be a genius. In the years following Civil War Johnson is accosted by bloodthirsty Mississippi lynch mobs, but manages to escape their murderous clutches. From there he enters academe and earns a doctorate in Physics at Tuskegee Institute. In his studies, Johnson uncovers the secret to time travel, and designs a time machine—Chronocar—only to discover that the technology necessary to make it functional does not yet exist.

We move ahead 125 years to 2015 when a young African American student at Illinois Tech, Tony Carpenter, happens upon Johnson’s design and actually builds a Chronocar. The student goes back to 1919 to meet Johnson, not to mention Johnson’s foxy daughter, Ollie. They live in what is called Chicago’s Black Belt, currently called Bronzeville. Regrettably, Carpenter chose a calamitous time and encounters the 1919 race riot, the bloodiest in the troubled racial history of the Windy City.

The 131-page story has wheels and keeps the reader moving.  What makes the book special is that it is much more than your basic sci-fi yarn. The 20th Century era is meticulously described from Chicago in general to how soda preparation was done.  While the ride is wild and full of surprises—quite enough for many readers–Bellinger masterfully mixes history with sci-fi such that the story is fun and exciting, but serious, educational, and thought-provoking as well.  The integration of a mesmerizing plot with a poignant time in history gives the book a richness many sci-fi formula books lack.

Bellinger scores with this new and fresh journey.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com. 

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