Books-a-mile

History, art, theology, adventure, courage-and pandering

Issue: "Rockwell's resurgence," Nov. 24, 2001

I've received a few letters like this one from WORLD subscriber Peter Kushkowski: "Reading while treadmilling!? How does Marvin Olasky do it? I have all I can do to juggle my TV remote.... I'm sure I'm not the only reader who desires to emulate Olasky, but doesn't know how." Since never before in my life have I been seen as performing a difficult sports feat, I'm grateful for that query. The key is my non-athleticism: I walk rather than run on the treadmill. Also, it's important that the treadmill have a mostly horizontal display in front on which a book can be placed; holding a book or placing it in a vertical holder is much less pleasant. Now that I've demystified the subject, on to some interesting books of the past several months. Two-thirds of what comes my way isn't worth mentioning, but Alvin J. Schmidt's Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Zondervan, 2001) readably records how Christianity changed charity, sexual conduct, medical care, education, science, literature, the arts, business and labor, and a host of other fields. When the ignoranti claim that all religions are the same and have the same effects, thump them with this book! Another book good for Christmas gift-giving forces me to break my policy of not using these pages to promote books (including mine) by WORLD authors. Since taking college art history and American Studies courses, I had thought poorly of Thomas Cole and other 19th-century landscape artists, but Gene Edward Veith's Painters of Faith: The Spiritual Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America (Regnery, 2001) shows why the professors were hostile: Those paintings reflected a Christian worldview. A book that makes me realize the residue of biased lectures from 30 years ago deserves praise. It's vital throughout the year, but especially as we think more about Christ's birth, to fight popular distortions of Christ's identity and power. Philip Jenkins's Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford U. Press, 2001) routs the media-hyped nonsense of the Jesus Seminar and others who are trying to remake Christianity in their own gnostic, liberal, and feminist images. John Frame's No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (P&R, 2001) concisely fights the tendency among even some evangelicals to turn God into a pitiful, helpless giant. God's sovereignty is the underlying theme of a great novel that will be reread as part one of its movie version hits the screens just before Christmas. Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware (Tyndale, 2001), will be helpful to parents using J.R.R. Tolkien's great work for months of bedtime stories to children, a practice I heartily recommend (see WORLD, Dec. 4, 1999). As the authors note, "recognizing that our small stories serve a much larger purpose can turn ordinary details of the daily grind into scenes of extraordinary adventure." Several essays in a useful paperback, Tolkien: A Celebration, edited by Joseph Pearce (Ignatius, 2001; originally published by HarperCollins), also explain how to move from everydayness to a quest. Stratford Caldecott's "Over the Chasm of Fire" summarizes well the "unmistakably Christian form" of heroism that Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam all represent in different ways. Kevin Aldrich shows how views of time and death among Tolkien's elves, dwarves, and men affect all that they do. John Eldredge's Wild at Heart (Thomas Nelson, 2001) emphasizes the importance of men being men, amid churches that have often been feminized. The non-athlete in me says that Mr. Eldredge sometimes associates manliness too much with mountain-climbing rather than fighting to keep a college or a church from heading down the slippery slope, but the only team I was on in high school was the chess team, so what do I know? His basic point is excellent: As Bilbo and Frodo Baggins knew, the road goes ever on and on, and we must follow if we can, no matter into what dangers it leads us. I usually note in this space only books I like, but a terrible tome deserves mention because it speaks so loudly about the depravity of the timid at heart. I felt embarrassed for Benjamin Barber when I read his The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House (Norton, 2001), the autobiography of an academic totally swept away by the opportunity to visit the White House occasionally. "What a weakling," we are tempted to say, but the biblical response to both homeless guys and those who are too easily domesticated is, "There but for the grace of God go I."

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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