Good books are almost always individual labors of love. That doesn't mean they are easy to write; like a good marriage, a good book needs lots of work. But the stack of snappy but smarmy books by my treadmill is evidence that projects thought up by the corporate marketing department frequently misfire. So do books thought up by writers who misjudge their own talent and turn out lugubrious tomes. Still, I prefer passion to calculation.
Matthew Robinson's Mobocracy (Prima, 2002) is a good combination of passion plus evidence. Verbs like twist and undermine in the subtitle-"How the Media's Obsession with Polling Twists the News, Alters Elections, and Undermines Democracy"-display Mr. Robinson's fact-backed concern about journalists manipulating surveys so they can trumpet their own views while still claiming to be "objective." That most poll respondents know little about many subjects on which their views are sought makes them readily malleable by clever question-framing.
The Church Impotent by Leon Podles (Spence, 1999) has as its subtitle "The Feminization of Christianity." Mr. Podles passionately points out that "Most people think ... either men are too bad for Christianity, or Christianity is too effeminate for men." These beliefs reflect a misunderstanding of grace and of the tough spiritual and intellectual warfare to which Christians are called. The way to restore potency is not to feminize the church further but to stop singing so much about walking dreamily in the garden, and to emphasize more the garden-variety serpents, including those within ourselves, that must be fought.
Joshua Muravchik's Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (Encounter, 2002) is a well-crafted history of one of the world's most popular religions over the past two centuries. Mr. Muravchik eschews the dull vocabulary of dialectical theoreticians and instead chews up and spits out the life stories of prominent socialists. His religious critique could be further developed, but he recognizes well the socialist need to worship something, and he perceptively includes fascists and national socialists (aka nazis) in the socialist family tree.
Also on the list of well-argued works is Michael Corey's The God Hypothesis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), another book that shows why, humanly speaking, the odds in favor of Intelligent Design are overwhelming. It takes a lot of faith to be an atheist today. And here's one more: David Henderson's The Joy of Freedom (Prentice Hall, 2002), a jaunty tour of the economics world that shows beyond a reasonable doubt the superiority of a market system. Given the evidence, it has always taken a lot of faith to be a socialist.
One of the reasons that few books by professors pass the passion test is that many academics, like many of their journalistic counterparts, adopt a veneer of objectivity. It's not true objectivity because it is man-centered rather than God-centered, but in any event the dithering academic style virtually guarantees dull writing. Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals (Harvard U. Press, 2001) does not get into these philosophical questions, but his list of 546 heavily mentioned public intellectuals (judging by press mentions, Web hits, and academic citations) does show the irrelevance of universities to much of our current public discourse. The list also shows both media bias and evangelical ineffectiveness, since not more than 1 percent of those on it are evangelicals.
The one evangelical who makes everyone's list of great American thinkers is Jonathan Edwards, who did not fear intellectual combat with any man or false god. Gerald R. McDermott's scholarly Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods (Oxford, 2000) shows how, in Edwards's notebooks, he condemned Islam for "forbidding inquiry," winning some followers by its gratification of sensuality, and winning others only by the power of the sword. Edwards was pro-Jewish without accepting Judaism; he prayed for both the conversion of Jews to Christianity and the return of Christian Jews to their homeland, where God would make them a "visible monument" of His grace and power.
Edwards's notebooks show that he relied on and developed the prisca theologia, the belief that all humans at first gained knowledge of true religion either from Noah's sons or, later, from Abraham, whom God placed "in the midst of the earth, between Asia, Europe, and Africa." Edwards saw Greek mythology and philosophy, and Roman law, all heavily influenced by the law of Moses and biblical history. He believed not only that people apart from the Bible could gain knowledge of God the Creator, but that through the prisca theologia they could also have some sense of God the Redeemer, and he pointed to Plato as an example of an essentially Trinitarian thinker. Heady stuff, this, but Edwards had a head so bright that even those who care nothing about Christ have to look up and wonder.