Books for instruction and inspiration
Mediaculture: Reflections on the effect of media and culture on our faithby Gordon Houser
Here are some recent books you may not want to take to the beach, but they do provide instruction and inspiration.
One of the more important books so far this year is by a Mennonite author who has published articles in this magazine. Atonement, Justice and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek (Eerdmans, 2012, $55) is hefty (668 pages) and more expensive than some books, but it’s worth the cost.
Belousek makes a thorough argument that “the cross of Christ and the teachings of Jesus reveal to us the justice of God that transcends retribution for the sake of redemption.” He makes a strong case against penal substitution, which he shows is neither supported by biblical texts nor the early church, even though it’s held as sacrosanct by most evangelicals today.
Belousek goes on to show how the cross is the basis for the church’s mission, which is a “whole-life commitment to God’s redemptive purpose.”
The book’s thoroughness is a strength, but its length may dissuade some from reading it. It shouldn’t.
Forged in the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality by Diana L. Hayes (Orbis Books, 2012, $22) is a fine introduction to its topic and provides a broad overview of its development in both Protestant and Catholic traditions.
Hayes distills various aspects of African American spirituality, as “contemplative, holistic, joyful and communitarian,” where “there is no separation between the sacred and secular worlds.” She offers a historical perspective, from its roots in Africa to the “fiery furnace” of slavery in the United States. She discusses the importance of Negro spirituals and the emergence of the black church. She focuses on the struggle for civil rights and the spirituality of African American women.
Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Paul Boers (Brazos Press, 2012, $17.99) considers reasons why life for many of us is not as fulfilling as we wished it was.
Boers, a Mennonite pastor and seminary teacher, uses stories and provides information to describe the dilemma we face in our fast-paced, impersonal society. He then calls us to “focal practices—activities that center, balance, focus and orient one’s life.”
“Most of us,” Boers writes, “if we are willing to disconnect from devices that keep us entertained and in constant communication, can find room for things that give us the most energy and enrich our lives.”
Lazarus, Come Forth! How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Life of Peace by John Dear (Orbis Books, 2011, $20) is an extended meditation on the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11.
Dear writes, “All of us are called to share the risen life here and now.” His interpretation is instructive, but the writing shines when he tells stories.
Blind Spot: War and Christian Identity by Dorothy Garrity Ranaghan (New City Press, 2011, $11.95) is one more example of the growing literature from various Christian traditions opposing war and upholding peace.
Ranaghan is a founding member of a charismatic, ecumenical Christian covenant community. She uses arguments familiar to many Mennonites and writes, “Christians should heed the example of those who have found practical ways of seeking justice without tyranny.”
Curiously, she says she argues “neither for patriotism nor for pacifism,” as if the latter is to be avoided.
Gordon Houser is associate editor of The Mennonite.
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