The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity by Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattic

The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christinaity by Christopher Gehrz and Mark PatticSummary: The orientation of our faith matters a lot to the way we interact with the world.

Pietism has a negative connotation much of the time. But as I went through the book and heard the authors’ description of what they mean by pietism, I realized that I have some strong pietist leanings. And in some ways I think I am probably more accurately described as pietist than evangelical. Pietism is plagued, sometimes rightly, with a reputation for legalism. But pietism, like the term Methodist and Puritan and even Christian was a pejorative that was later adopted by the movement.

The Pietist Option’s title is riffing off of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, but the book is much more influenced by Philipp Spener’s 1675 book, Pia Desideria, than a response to Dreher. The themes of that book, which really defined the pietist movement, are worked out here in a modern context.

Pietism, for the authors is focused on:

  • A more extensive listening to the Word of God
  • The common priesthood for the common good
  • Christianity as life
  • The irenic spirit
  • Whole-person, whole-life formation
  • Proclaiming the good news

The authors, a historian of Pietism and a pastor from a pietist influenced denomination, are writing pastorally more than academically. Their orientation is that reform and renewal need to be constant, but the tone and orientation of our faith as well as the visibility of our love for other Christians and those outside the faith needs to take on a greater prominence.

A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness and Truth by Michael Bruner

A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O'Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness and Truth by Michael BrunerSummary: An exploration of Flannery O’Connor’s writing, theology and influences.

A Subversive Gospel is the type of book that will never find a large audience, but that I thank God (literally) that Christian academic publishers still publish.

This is my year of exploration of Flannery O’Connor, which I am probably doing it all wrong. I have only read her short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and her Prayer Journal before deciding to read all of her fiction this year. I picked up a quick biography at the end of last year to give me a bit of context before I started. And then I was recommended A Subversive Gospel. A Subversive Gospel is oriented toward someone that is quite familiar with her work, especially The Violent Bear it Away, which is the most discussed work in A Subversive Gospel.

I did stop about 2/3 of the way through the book and quickly listen to the audiobook of Wise Blood to get a sense of O’Connor’s novel style. I will probably read A Subversive Gospel again, or at least parts of it, after I finish reading O’Connor’s fiction. Most of the book, while referencing her writing, I think was good preparation for reading her books. I am glad I read it when I did, so that I will hopefully get more out of, and enjoy the books more, because I understand them more.

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick PhillipsSummary: The story of how Forsyth County, GA expelled all African Americans in 1912 and continued to not have any African American residents until the late 1980s.

I stumbled on Blood at the Root at my local library and is the type of local history that I probably need to read more often. Forsyth County, Georgia is not far from where I live now. I attend church that opened a multi-site location in Cumming, the county seat of Forsyth County. Cumming was a small rural town in 1912, but it part of the suburbs of Atlanta now and I know several people that live there.

In 1912, there were two allegations of rape against Black men in close succession. Allegations of rape of white women by black men was a common part of lynching. It is not that no allegation of rape by Black men was true. But that given the Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of African American in the era of lynching, it is unlikely that many of the allegations of rape were true.

The two rape allegations (one allegation of a rape attempt and a second where the woman was found seriously injured and she died two weeks later). There were several mob actions by Whites against Black residents that required state troops, a lynching, and a show trial that resulted in death sentences for two men (one 16 year old is the youngest to ever be executed in Georgia).

Over the next several months, Night Riders, harassed the African American population of Forsyth County (approximately 10% of the population) and eventually all Black residents of the county left, many abandoning property or selling it at significant loss of value.

The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians by Frederica Mathewes-Green

The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians by Frederica Mathewes-GreenSummary: Short explanation of historic Orthodoxy’s understanding of Christianity.

Real life often gets in the road of, or impacts my reading. I am a stay at home Dad, so I often have my reading interrupted by toddlers. I listened to a lot of audiobook with somewhat partial attention while I supervise my children at the park. Last Thursday, I listened to all of this short book while having a crown put in. I thought I had an old filling come out. And wasn’t really prepared to hear that it was the tooth that was cracked (right next to a filling). So on and off over a 3.5 hour period, I listened to this 2 hour audiobook. It isn’t really possible to listen to an audiobook (at least with the headphones I had) while they were drilling my tooth.

But I immediately thought of James KA Smith’s thoughts on the importance of bodily practice as I listened to the opening chapter. Mathewes-Green described part of the historic importance of Orthodoxy as taking seriously the body.

I have read or listened to several books by Mathewes-Green about Orthodoxy. Her background as a Protestant before converting to Orthodoxy makes her an important link to helping Protestants like myself understand an important, but culturally different, stream of Christianity.

Like Thomas Oden, Mathewes-Green, makes the argument that the historic practices of the church should be the root of our modern practices of faith. While Oden mostly attempted to bring modern Protestantism an awareness of historic theology and practice, Mathewes-Green actually moved into a stream that still practices a liturgy that is largely unchanged from early centuries.

I really do appreciate hearing about this bias toward ancient Christianity. I think it is important. But I also have not been convinced that our Christianity should be still be practicing a largely ancient liturgy as Orthodoxy is. I think the ancient theology and practice should be biased, but that we need the ability to culturally reinterpret that liturgical imagery when necessary. The bias should be ancient, but not fixed.

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher Heuertz

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher HeuertzSummary: Explores a personality trait system that is more focused on weaknesses than most systems.

I am highly skeptical of the Enneagram. I am not sure why in particular, but I am. The Enneagram is the new current in-vogue, Christian personality test. Personality test systems can be helpful to give language and concepts to how people are different. But all of them in the end are systems that have to be understood as broad categories which do not completely capture the full individuality of a person.

But I picked up The Sacred Enneagram because it was on sale (still $4.99 on christianaudio) and because a number of people that I respect that are either pursuing training in Spiritual Direction or have Spiritual Directors have recommended it to me. I mostly approached this book as a means to get a broad overview.

I am not sure an audiobook for Sacred Enneagram is really the best method for a broad overview like this because a nine category personality system is somewhat complicated. I am not a fan of the narrator. He is a competent narrator, but a bit droning and in a book like this that is talking about spiritual matters, his emphatic tone doesn’t doesn’t really work. The narrator reminds me of Scott Brick. Brick, and Adam Verner the narrator of this one, have great voices, but they should be narrating thrillers or horror novels, not books on prayer and spiritual growth.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James KA Smith

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James KA SmithSummary: We as humans do not change simply through new information, but we are shaped by ‘liturgy’, the habits and community rituals that surround us.

I am quite late to actually reading Desiring the Kingdom. It was first published 9 years ago. I purchased it 4 years ago, but I didn’t actually read Desiring the Kingdom until this week when I realized that there was a new audiobook out.

The basic ideas in Desiring the Kingdom are not new to me. I have read six of Smith’s other books including You Are What You Love twice. (You Are What You Love is intended to be a more popular level introduction to similar ideas.) Several of the illustrations, going to the mall and ball park as an alien anthropologist trying to understand what it is that we as humans are doing is familiar from other books and talks I have heard. But it is worth reading this full book as both a reminder of the ideas and a more full expression.

Desiring the Kingdom is attempting to refocus our Christian discipleship away from information sharing toward worship in a broad sense. We are not simply ‘Brains on a stick’ but we are ‘thinking things’. It is not that information and thinking are unimportant, they are very important. But we are not changed simply by being introduced to information. We are changed through the power of worship and by refocusing on what we love.

Part of what is difficult for me is that I am a part of a megachurch, which I love, but which does not really take the ideas of Smith’s understanding of worship into account. My church wants to be a church that unchurched people like attending. And I love that. Our church is full of people that hated church as children, teens, or adults and because they hated church they never understood the gospel (or in some cases the actual gospel wasn’t presented.)

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood by Flannery O'ConnorSummary: A 22 year old veteran,comes to the city since his only remaining relative (his mother) died and the country home is falling apart.

One of my reading projects for the year is to read all of O’Connor’s fiction. I have read A Good Man is Hard to Find several years ago. But I knew I wasn’t really getting all of the meaning of the short stories. One of the reasons I want to read O’Connor is because I am looking for books that require a bit of struggle. Not because difficult books are ‘better’ because they are difficult. But because books that require something of the reader use different intellectual muscles than those that are laid out more clearly. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction. Books that while they may be academically difficult, are not intended to have layered shades of meaning. Fiction and poetry does often have layers and I am trying to work on some of those intellectual muscles.

Last year I picked up the short biography, The Terrible Speed of Mercy and I am currently reading A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness and Truth. Previously I also read O’Connor’s graduate school Prayer Journal.

A Subversive Gospel is one of those books that I want to read more of, an interpretive guide. It is not a biography, although it has biographical details, it is about O’Connor’s writing, theology and philosophy. (It is also a reworked dissertation.) A Subversive Gospel has been very helpful at understanding O’Connor and their vision of writing so that I can understand the books later. But I was nearly 75% of the way through A Subversive Gospel and I have not read one of the novels, so I quickly listened to Wise Blood, not so much for the story, but to get a sense of what her novels felt like before I finished A Subversive Gospel.

One of O’Connor’s most quoted phrases about her writing is, “…to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” This is very similar to what James KA Smith says he is doing in his attempts at being an alien anthropologist that is exploring the mall and the ball park to understand what cultural liturgies are driving those spaces.

“…my goal is to try to make strange what is so familiar to us precisely in order to help us see what is at stake in formative practices that are part of the mall experience.(p23 of Desiring the Kingdom)

Wise Blood is not a standard country boy comes to the big city story with standard middle of the 20th century characters. First of all, I listened to the audiobook, but it was one I did not leave running when litter ears were around like I often do. This is full of crude ugly language, swearing and derogatory comments. But lots of books that are not classics have bad language. (And there is a real beauty to the language even when it is crude.)

The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Binti #3)

The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Binti #3)Summary: Binti returned home to try to find stability, she found more confusion realizing that the home she thought she understood was not what she understood. And now she also brought war to her home.

Part of what is important about alien stories is that they are alien. Part of what is important about reading an African author writing alien stories is that she points out that sometimes those of different human cultures are actually just as alien as the actual aliens. And sometimes those from our own culture or family are less close than those aliens that are adopted into out family.

The Night Masquerade is the third part to what is really a single long novel. I assume that these will be packaged together in a single volume at some point. Together they are less than 500 pages. There are three distinct parts here, but the story is a single story.

Binti, in part one, secretly leaves her traditional African village home to enter an alien university against the wishes of her family. During the space travel everyone on board expect for her is massacred as part of a long feud. Binti, as a harmonizer, helps to solve the immediate problem and bring about a peace, but at great personal cost to herself.

Boy of Dreams by Nathan Van Hoff (Kingdoms of Broken Stone #1)

Boy of Dreams by Nathan Van Hoff (Kingdoms of Broken Stone #1)Summary: Boy of Dreams is start of an epic fantasy series.

I grew up reading fantasy. Lloyd Alexander, Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffey, Piers Anthony, Raymond Feist, Tolkien and CS Lewis were part of my continual diet of reading. I re-read a number of books of my childhood about six or seven years ago, but I have not read a lot of fantasy lately.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Fantasy as a genre is a bit of a muddle. On the one hand there are those that want to turn the genre on its head, but mostly end up relying on earlier authors for jumping off points. Philip Pullman and Lev Grossman are examples of this style. Both are talented authors, but they are more about deconstruction than construction and there is a limit to my interested in deconstructed fantasy. Others like George RR Martin stay fairly close to the common ideas but push the lines on violence or sex or other cultural mores.

Traditionally, part of what I think attracts young readers to fantasy is the clear lines of good versus evil and the common theme of the young unknown having a secret power or being of noble lineage. Both I think are good themes to encourage teens to read. The pushing of boundaries is in part tearing down that traditional good vs. evil line and making everything be much more focused on the shades of gray. (V.E Schwab plays with this in each of the titles of his fantasy trilogy.)

Boy of Dreams is a first novel and a traditional epic fantasy. Whether intentional or not, there are hints of ideas from older epic fantasy. Being a first novel, and self published, there are some points where I think some editing or more experience writing would have told the story a bit differently. But I was engaged through most of the book. (I was less engaged at the start as the story was set up. After the main plot started to unfold, I read the rest of the book straight through.)

Warrenfin is a young teen, a new apprentice mage, and the main character. He is taught by the youngest full wizard, Tryphena. Magic has begun to be forgotten after many wizards turned evil and many on both sides died in the ensuing civil war. Tryphena has spent a long time (years, maybe decades) looking for a boy of prophesy that see the future in his dreams. She believes Warrenfin to be that boy, the wizard council does not. So she proceeds to start his instruction on her own, against the wishes of the council. At the same time, she has instructions from the council to investigate a war that seems to be breaking out, and which may be influenced by dark magic.

Reviewed Books on Sale

Links are to the reviews, which have links to the sales at the bottom. (Roughly in order from newest sale to oldest)