Spring treadmill

Books to get our minds in shape

Issue: "Progress in Hollywood," March 23, 2002

Not only baseball players need spring training. All of us need to toughen up our theological, economic, and cultural discernment as we battle a terrorism based in radical Islam. Our book chart on p. 19 presents five books on Islam from general publishers, two of which (Armstrong and Lewis) have been on bestseller lists.

I've also recently read on my treadmill three good books on Islam, along with some mediocre ones, by evangelical publishers. In the first, Muslims and Christians at the Table (P&R Publishing, 1999), authors Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka provide solid and readable sections on Muslim history and theology, and then show how Christians can apply that knowledge as evangelistic opportunities arise. Practical reminders include never sit cross-legged with Muslims (showing the sole of your foot is considered offensive and an indication of disrespect, especially to elders) and never shake hands with a Muslim after petting a dog (dogs are considered unclean, but since Muhammad had cats, felines are OK).

A second book, Chawkat Moucarry's The Prophet & the Messiah: An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam & Christianity (InterVarsity Press, 2002), goes right at one of Islam's many weak points: the reliability of the Quran. Given that its earliest known fragments date from the second century of the Islamic era, textual critics would long ago have taken it apart if the Muslim world had any intellectual freedom. Mr. Moucarry also compares key Christian and Muslim doctrines and provides a handy appendix listing Muslim theologians and mystics.

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A third book, Ravi Zacharias's Light in the Shadow of Jihad (Multnomah, 2002), is short but also not sweet. Mr. Zacharias shows how faulty theology leads to political and social dictatorship, and notes what happens to Muslim scholars who question Quranic teaching and origins. Egyptian journalist Farag Foda: assassinated. Ali Dashti of Iran: disappeared during the revolution there. Professor Nasr Abu Zaid of Egypt: had to flee the country. All three books make it clear that those who say Muslims and Westerners can all get along if we're just nice to each other are thinking like children.

"Just be nice" advice is also childish when we apply it to "the dismal science," economics. Many do not understand how the free-enterprise system uses our selfish desires to force us into objective altruism; three good, basic, and succinct books on economics can help. Samuel Gregg's Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (University Press of America, 2001) is excellent for ministers and others who gained their knowledge of economics from a college course and rely on periodic refreshers from the pages of Time. It includes short sections on major concepts such as mutually beneficial exchange, supply and demand, marginal utility, and unintended consequences.

I also like John Stapleford's Bulls, Bears and Golden Calves (InterVarsity Press, 2002), which presents the basics succinctly and includes thoughtful riffs on issues like pornography that are at the intersection of culture and economics. Those who prefer to learn some economics by reading a biography of a lively German, compassionate conservative economist in the mid-20th century could pick up John Zmirak's Wilhelm Röpke (ISI Books, 2001).

Three tough-minded books on our culture are worth noting. In Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry (Encounter Books, 2002), authors Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett show how much Western civilization and American democracy owe to Christianity. Chapters on the relationship of Christianity to slavery, science, war, anti-Semitism, charity, and the environment are also popularly written and readily understandable by general readers. Millard J. Erickson's The Postmodern World (Crossway Books, 2002) is a fine, brief introduction to the trendy doctrine. Robert P. George's The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Moralities in Crisis (ISI Books, 2001) is an excellent, scholarly presentation of the natural-law way of getting at hot issues such as abortion.

Finally, since most of what we learn is mediated through a press often hostile to Christianity specifically and tough-mindedness generally, Bernard Goldberg's Bias (Regnery, 2001) and William McGowan's Coloring the News (Encounter Books, 2001) are important books. Mr. Goldberg has gotten a lot of attention for his gutsy willingness to tell the truth about his former employer, CBS; the book itself is an easy-to-read summary of what almost all (except mediacrats and professors) now know.

The title Coloring the News initially made me reluctant to pick up Mr. McGowan's book, because I didn't want to read another complaint about newspapers hiring Latinos and blacks-but the author emphasizes the ideological thrust involved in hiring feminists and homosexuals, and documents his charges well. One of his best examples contrasts coverage of the murder of gay Matthew Shepard in 1998 (over 3,000 stories the following month) with coverage of the murder of Jesse Dirkhising by two homosexuals in 1999. That story was ignored by major newspapers and networks (see WORLD, Nov. 20, 1999).

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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