Edward Gilbreath’s Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church (InterVarsity, 2013) legitimately emphasizes King’s refusal to separate theology and worldview applications. That’s in keeping with King’s letter from Birmingham’s jail, where he wrote of injustice and complained that “many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’” King wrote that “many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion, which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.”
King’s letter is, among other things, a superb piece of journalism, in which he points to specific facts and draws out their implication. In so doing, he defends truth-tellers against the charge that they are troublemakers: Blaming the messenger is “like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock,” and it’s “like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion.”
We republished King’s entire letter at wng.org as our Feb. 1 leadoff hat tip to Black History Month. The cover date of this issue, Feb. 22, is George Washington’s birthday, so I bring to your attention The Education of George Washington (Regnery, 2014) by Austin Washington, a distant descendant of his book’s subject. It’s a loosely written book that corrects some mistaken notions: For example, Parson Weems did not make up the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then acknowledging it by saying, “I cannot tell a lie.” Weems merely wrote that Washington with his shiny new hatchet had chipped off some of the cherry tree’s bark.
Sadly, the capital named after Washington now appears to have more money manipulators than truth-tellers. Many of us have seen photos of Germans pushing wheelbarrows full of nearly worthless paper money during 1920s hyperinflation, but Frederick Taylor’s The Downfall of Money (Bloomsbury, 2013) shows how governmental irresponsibility led to the destruction of the middle class and the rise of Hitler. Politicians sometimes think they can inflate their way out of trouble, but they end up with trouble squared.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent much of his adult life dealing with the social, political, and theological trends that emerged from middle-class desperation. The Bonhoeffer Reader, edited by Clifford Green and Michael DeJonge (Fortress, 2013), is a solid selection from the German martyr’s 16 volumes of writing. It includes well-known works about Christian community like Life Together, lesser-known but controversial essays like “The Church and the Jewish Question,” and prison essays like “What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth?”
Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent storyteller, and his homilies in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Little Brown, 2013) are fun to read. His important theme is that disadvantages can become advantages, especially when we think creatively. The lessons he draws, though, are sometimes too simple: Did a French village’s unity frustrate Nazi plans, or did authorities not kill everyone in town because more among the French did not want to join what was beginning to seem like the losing side?
Thinking of giants leads me to Brian Godawa’s series of Bible-based but not Sunday school sagas, of which Joshua Valiant and Caleb Vigilant (Embedded Pictures, 2013) make up books five and six. Godawa’s lively writing and page-turning action make up for the over-the-top chapters of very physical angels and demons bashing each other. He gives a strong reply to those who equate the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan with the ethnic cleansing tragedies of recent decades: The Canaanites were the Nazis of the ancient world both in murderous desire and occultic worship. Godawa’s imagined backstories of Joshua and Caleb, and his speculation on how Rahab could have arrived at her crucial spot on a Jericho wall, may make segments of your Bible reading come alive. (Warning: violence and sexual situations.)