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Religious studies

Books | One book analyzes political correctness, another displays it, and others move beyond it

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Two books of essays illuminate current problems of higher education. The Politically Correct University (AEI, 2009) shows academic hostility to conservatives and demands for liberal conformity. Essayists call for greater transparency but recognize that trustees need to risk cozy relationships and take action. The anti-Christian bias of The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2009) inadvertently shows why thoughtful students should avoid university religious studies departments.

A good religious studies department would put on its reading list Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona (Baker, 2010). The book includes 50 succinct essays that examine key questions concerning philosophy (including reasons for suffering), science, Jesus, and the Bible. Dembski's essay on "The Vise Strategy" has terrific questions designed to push methodological materialists to drop their unscientific prejudices and give God a chance.

Atonement, edited by Gabriel Fluhrer with essays by J.I. Packer, John Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, and others (P&R, 2010), should also be on reading lists. The book is filled with nuggets new and old: Packer, for example, points out that the pre-New Testament word for grace in Greek meant "gracefulness of conduct" and not "the thought that the word grace came to express . . . the thought of God in mercy giving to the limit in order to bless and save sinners."

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(To the limit and beyond: Packer quotes a Scottish theologian, James Denney, who described one person sitting on a pier and another telling him, "Look, I'll show you how much I love you"-and the second person jumps off the pier and drowns. "Denny argued that this wasn't a display of love but rather a display of idiocy. . . . It's only a display of love if the person who gives his life is doing something that had to be done to save me and that I couldn't do for myself.")

A major way God blesses and saves sinners, of course, is by putting Bibles in their hands. I've received new Bible editions from several publishers and will mention two that I particularly like. The Reformation Study Bible (P&R, 2008 second edition) combines English Standard Version text with excellent notes produced under the supervision of R.C. Sproul, Keith Mathison, Bruce Waltke, and Moises Silva. The Stewardship Study Bible (Zondervan, 2009), under the general editorship of Stephen Grabill, is the New International Version with good, brief essays on aspects of stewardship and a useful index of scriptural verses on work, saving and investing, coveting, and other key questions of faith and character.

Other editions are not so good. The Poverty and Justice Bible (British and Foreign Bible Society, 2008) runs a marker over nearly 3,000 Contemporary English Version verses tied-often loosely-to issues of poverty and justice. It includes 30 pages of notes that, among other things, ask us to "imagine a world with no weapons, but plenty of warm well-fed people" and then "let your government know what kind of a world you want." It's easy to imagine, but harder to practice, effective compassion. The American Patriot's Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2009) seems to equate America with ancient Israel: Many Bibles have useful maps of ancient Israel, but this Bible includes a map of the United States and a list of all 50 states and their dates of admission to the Union.

Confidence builders

As mentioned in February, Rodney Stark's God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (HarperOne, 2009) puts into perspective medieval Europe's counterattack against Islam. A longer book also from a secular publishing house, Jonathan Phillips' Holy Warriors (Random House, 2010), happily continues to reverse recent tendencies to curse the crusaders.

Ray East's The Life of Manny: Discovering Why People Follow a Leader (Horizon East, 2010) is an easy-to-read novel about a leader who overcomes problems by showing "confident humility." Richard Brookhiser's Right Time, Right Place (Basic, 2009) is a sprightly written memoir about William F. Buckley Jr., who showed confidence.
Email Marvin Olasky

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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