The squirrels in our backyard have been feasting on the ropes of our aging hammock, reducing significantly the likelihood of my finishing any long novels this summer in such a relaxed setting. So I've concentrated the last few days on three much shorter books, all of which may deserve your attention.
The quickest read of the three (but quick hardly means shallow) is John Piper's new The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God. This Minneapolis pastor (and occasional WORLD columnist) could write a book in his sleep and still find me a fascinated reader. But when his insights and ability with words are coupled with the powerful themes of Job's timeless story, the shortness of the book saved me no time at all, for I had to go back and read it again and again.
The author's theme, of course, is not Job, but God. That is always John Piper's theme. He wants his listeners to know the God of the Bible; he wants that especially because he also knows our human tendency to redefine God by our own preferences. So in the context of this year of searing national pain, author Piper says: "It is a great sadness when sufferers seek relief by sparing God His sovereignty over pain. The sadness is that this undercuts the very hope it aims to create."
Then Mr. Piper compresses into 78 elegant pages the sweeping analysis of suffering that we all first read in Job's 42 chapters. For me, the climax comes in a poetic conversation between Job and little Jemimah, the first of the daughters God gave him as part of his replacement family. John Piper speaks to modern superficiality both outside and inside the evangelical church when he has Job gently respond: "Your mind/Is right, Jemimah, but it's small./He's gentle, kind, but that's not all./I have some friends who thought they knew/The mind of God, and that their view/Of tenderness exhausted God's,/And that severity and rods/ Could only be explained with blame,/To vindicate His holy name."
My second book recommendation is by another friend, Frank Brock, who has just retired from a 15-year stint as president of Covenant College. Mr. Brock's An Educated Choice is billed as "advice for parents of college-bound students." But don't assume that this is only a book-length recruiting brochure either for the college where he served or for Christian colleges in general.
Indeed, An Educated Choice sometimes sounds a little gloomy. In his years as a college president, the author listened carefully to his own students, to students across the country, to their parents, and to society at large. The glibness he found in many quarters disturbed him. "Most students," he writes, "barely comprehend the once-in-a-lifetime potential for learning and growth that the college experience provides." The book is, in some measure, a response that says: "Get serious! Think it through. This is an important choice you're making."
A unique contribution of the Brock book is its focus on parents. "Too many Americans have given in to mediocrity," he says. "One reason is that even parents don't know what to look for. [They] do not realize just how influential they can be in guiding their college-bound children in this process." So he has one chapter on "Understanding Teens," another on "Helping Students Ask the Right Questions," and still another on "Why Colleges Fail to Give Students What They Need."
The most feisty of my little trio of books (and therefore the most likely to upset some readers) is E. Ray Moore's Let My Children Go, an argument that Christian parents should waste no more time trying to redeem the state school system in America, but should instead withdraw their children from such schools.
Late in March, just before his book came out, Mr. Moore got an unexpected boost in issuing his controversial call. James Dobson of Focus on the Family was almost as blunt on his daily radio broadcast: "In the state of California, if I had a child there, I wouldn't put the youngster in a public school.... I think it is time to get our kids out."
The format of the book (with an overly gaudy cover and sometimes garish typography inside) and its early references to school shootings and Bill Clinton's moral problems may give this little volume a more sensationalistic tone than it deserves. Persevering readers, however, will be rewarded with a solid compendium summarizing most of the pros and cons on this controversial subject.
I don't agree with all of Ray Moore's conclusions. He is too pessimistic, it seems to me, about school vouchers. But on the main topic, I agree. I can't forget what my father always used to say: "The state will also feed and clothe my children-something I don't particularly want. But I'd far rather have the state feed and clothe my children than to have the state shape their minds."