Reviews > Books

Graduation treadmill

Books | These books offer valuable wisdom for this season of commencement

Issue: "On the road again," May 9, 2009

Gregory Koukl's Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Zondervan, 2009) is a clever book to give new graduates who want to stand tall in their new communities and workplaces but fear that they'll come up short. Koukl succinctly offers Columbo approaches (remember the TV show?) and also shows how to deal with self-destructive arguments and magazine assaults. For example, is the statement "There is no truth" true? Is it an absolute that "There are no absolutes"?

One reason some students even at Christian colleges graduate without adequate intellectual defenses is that many faculties join in what C.S. Lewis calls "the quest for the inner ring" (Ring worms, Nov. 22, 2003). Anne Hendershott's well-written critique of Catholic higher education, Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction, 2009), shows how some professors worship academic idols instead of Christ. Her work supplements perfectly James Burtchaell's authoritative volume from 1998, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches.

Hendershott shows that many Catholic college professors and administrators don't like being stuck in -institutions with a lower status than many secular ones. Instead of competing by making their institutions more biblical, they often try to increase their academic prestige by abandoning traditional Catholic views on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, and women's ordination, and by kissing up to the conventional liberal wisdom.

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Academic abdication on defending children is the most obnoxious, especially since it goes against what Dennis Di Mauro describes as A Love for Life: Christianity's Consistent Protection of the Unborn (Wipf & Stock, 2008). And if those who deem themselves followers of Jesus stop being the salt o f higher education, nothing will stop intellectual rottenness from spreading. Would that more professors were like the giant described in Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America by Barry Hankins (Eerdman's, 2008): Hankins notes that "Schaeffer was intuitively gifted in understanding young people who had pushed the Enlightenment project to its logical conclusion" and were thus running on empty.

In past years I've told students who want to sense that emptiness to read Paul Johnson's excellent Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, which first came out in 1983 and then added a few years in a new edition published in 1991. But Johnson begins his opus with the years after World War I, thus missing the macabre fascination of watching the old order barreling toward collapse in 1914. Philipp Blom's The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 (Basic, 2008) fills in that hole with skillful storytelling: Blom combines a stylish historian's flair with a journalist's eye for human interest, in the process providing vignettes about (to name a few) futurism, Picasso, Sarah Bernhardt, eugenics, and murderers Ernst Wagner and Henriette Caillaux.

Will our early 21st-century experiences be the subject of a future Vertigo Years? Will historians report that the gay-rights agenda, with its attempt to ban free speech concerning homosexuality and to force Christian organizations to hire gays, overwhelmed religious liberty? Bruce T. Murray's Religious Liberty in America (U. of Mass. Press, 2008) reasonably reports the history of some First Amendment debates, and David Novak's In Defense of Religious Liberty (ISI Books, 2009) presents a perspective based in Orthodox Judaism and natural law. Novak opposes the tendency to substitute man's arbitrary power for God's law and arbitrary government entitlements for human rights that -predate government.

S. Michael Craven's Uncompromised Faith (NavPress, 2009) shows how to survive cultural meltdown; its chapter on homosexuality differentiates well between scientific fact and propaganda. The Innovator's Prescription by Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwang (McGraw-Hill, 2009) argues that business model innovations plus the advent of "precision medicine"-technologies that improve diagnostic ability and targeted therapies-will allow us to avoid a health-care-system meltdown. Surviving Financial Meltdown by Ron Blue and Jeremy White (Tyndale, 2009) includes basic advice such as "avoid recreational shopping."

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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