Archive | Book Reviews

Book reviews

Neverwhere | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's NeverwhereNeil Gaiman can do no wrong. From American Gods to The Sandman, from The Ocean at the End of the Lane to Norse Mythology—everything he writes is compelling. Gaiman has the ability to transport you into alternate worlds that feel, despite their fantastical nature, just as real as the chair in which you read them.

In the introduction to this, the Author’s preferred text, Gaiman explains that

I wanted to write a book that would do for adults what the books I had loved when younger, books like Alice in Wonderland, or the Narnia books, or The Wizasrd of Oz, did for me as a kid. (xii)

He succeeded. Neverwhere is the story of the underside of London where people who fall through the cracks live. It’s a place where rats are honored, villains have careers that last for centuries, and character like Door can, well, open doors. Think Narnia only darker and far more dangerous.

To echo the words that Guy Gavriel Kay wrote to first-time readers of The Once and Future King, I envy everyone who has not yet read this book. You have the gift of being able to read Neverwhere for the first time.


Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. Author’s Preferred Text. New York: William Morrow, 2015.

Resident Aliens | Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon

The cover of Hauerwas and Willimon's Resident AliensFirst Century Philippi was a colony of Rome. It was the place where grizzled Roman soldiers would settle when their warfare was over. Consider it a mini Rome—a place where Roman law and values reigned. It was to the Christians in this Roman colony that Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 NRSV). In the same way that Roman citizens embodied Roman values in Philippi, heavenly citizens are called to embody heavenly values while in the colonies on earth.

Resident Aliens is a fiery book. In it, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon describe a tragic situation: the colony of heaven is starting to look like the kingdoms of this world! Rather than being different, the church tries to fit in. In contrast to this capitulation, the goal of Hauerwas and Willimon is

to empower people in the church by exciting their imaginations to see what wonderful opportunities lie at the heart of Christian ministry—once the integrity of the church is reclaimed. (144)

The world has changed. Christendom has fallen. Rather than mourn, Christians can view this as a blessing. The church is no longer church-by-default. It must, once again, be the colony of heaven.


Hauerwas, Stanley and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

After Virtue | Alasdair MacIntyre

The cover of MacIntyre's After VirtueIs there anything left to be said about After Virtue? With this book, Alasdair MacIntyre brought Aristotelian-style virtue ethics back into the modern conversation. It is a true classic, still quoted and built upon today, almost forty years after its original publication date.

After Virtue falls into two parts. The first half of the book is deconstructive. MacIntyre carefully explains how the ethical problems of our time cannot be answered from within our post-Enlightenment framework. The ethical landscape today resembles the ruins of a once great culture. We have bits and pieces of ethical material from the past, but no historical context with which to apply them. Without context there can be no ethical progress beyond the emotivism of the day.

[M]oral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices. (60)

The second half of After Virtue is constructive. Now that the problem is diagnosed, MacIntyre prescribes Aristotelian medicine. Humans are social creatures, narrative construed toward a telos or goal. It is through the practice of virtues within a community that humans mature and become the sort of people who are able to encounter the moral quandaries of the day.

It is difficult to overstate the value of this book. After Virtue is one carefully argued perspective in which each of the 286 pages adds value. It is multidisciplinary, combining philosophical argument with sociological and historical context. Despite its age, I found myself continually reflecting on current political and social events through MacIntyre’s lens.

This is not a Christian book per se, but it has serious implications for the church. This is the foundation on which Stanley Hauerwas has based his ethical perspective. Pastors who wish to understand the moral makeup of the world and the church would do well to revisit this venerable volume.


MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3rd Edition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

Ethics | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cover of Bonhoeffer's EthicsSometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me now and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my Ethics . . . (14)

Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.

Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:

Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)

Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.

Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).

The Peaceable Kingdom | Stanley Hauerwas

The cover of Hauerwas' The Peaceable KingdomWe often think of Christian ethics in response to a concrete problem. Did that politician abuse his power when he dated that intern? Is it ethical for a rape victim to have an abortion? Is it permissible to lie in order to serve the greater good? Where can we go to find the resources to answer these questions?

Many Christians, especially of evangelical stripe, go to the Bible—Hauerwas goes to church. It’s not that Hauerwas doesn’t value scripture, but he knows that scripture was written by and formed within the church. Scripture is best read together, within the context of the church. It is in the community of the baptized that believers grow in virtue. It is in the church that Christians learn their place in God’s story and have their imaginations freed to think truly and ethically.

The entire book centres around chapter 5, “Jesus: The Presence of the Peaceable Kingdom” (72-95). The story of Jesus (not Christological reflection) is “meant not only to display [Jesus’] life, but to train us to situate our lives in relation to that life” (74). The life of Jesus is characterized by nonviolent love.

Thus to be like Jesus is to join him in the journey through which we are trained to be a people claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom of nonviolent love—a love that would overcome the powers of this world, not through coercion and force, but through the power of this one man’s death. (76)

The church embodies an alternate reality—true to reality. The church the place where nonviolent love reigns and thus bears witness to the world that Christ is present. (Or at least it should be thus. Violence and disunity threaten the witness of the church to its core.)

When it’s time to make difficult moral and ethical decisions, we will have been apprenticed by the church into the life of Christ and will have become the sort of people capable of making those hard choices.


Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002 (1983).

Snow Crash | Neal Stephenson

The cover of Stephenson's Snow CrashTry to remember what it was like in 1992 (if you were even alive back then). Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1. IBM introduced the ThinkPad. Intel released the 486DX2 chip. Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash.

There’s something winsome about reading science fiction that was written before personal computing took off. At one point in the narrative, a media mogul has to stop to use a payphone. Admittedly he’s outraged, but the fact that there are still payphones to use remind the reader of the cultural distance a couple decades can make.

Snow Crash is a thrilling novel with a climax that continues for over one hundred pages. The thrills are balanced by the philosophical mystery at the heart of the narrative. Perhaps it’s my training as a theologian, but the way Stephenson brings Eden, Babel, Enki, Asherah, and Pentecostals together is fascinating.

Snow Crash is a riveting ride from start to finish. It is a testament to Stephenson’s insight and imagination that a twenty-five year old dystopian fiction novel can feel so unsettlingly real.


Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Books, 2008 (1992).

Ministerial Ethics | Joe E. Trull & James E. Carter

The cover of Trull and Carter's Ministerial Ethics

The world today is marked by an “ethical uncertainty” (13) which makes it difficult for people, let alone professionals, to know what they ought to do in any given situation. This problem is magnified for Christian ministers since their unique role is more ethically demanding than other professions (14–15). Recognizing a lack of information on this topic, Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter wrote Ministerial Ethics with two purposes in mind. First, the book “intends to teach Christian ministry students the unique moral role of the minister and the ethical responsibilities of that vocation” (11). Second, the book was written “to provide new and established ministers with a clear statement of the ethical obligations contemporary clergy should assume in their personal and professional lives” (11). This book is intended to contribute to the character formation of ministers in training and to be pulled off the shelves by those same students years into their vocation in order to hone their ethical acuity.

Ministerial Ethics can be grouped into three sections (160). The first two chapters are foundational, exploring the minister’s vocation and underscoring the importance of moral vision. The following four chapters explore the various moral situations that the minister will encounter in the four spheres of life: personal, congregational, collegial, and community. The final two chapters focus on one particular ethical issue, clergy sexual abuse, then provide a code of ethics primer to aid the minister in responding to this crisis. It is worth noting the substantial appendices which include example codes of ethics from various eras and organizations. This valuable resource gives practical examples for the theoretical content of the final chapter.

Foundational Issues

Continue Reading →

Natural Born Heroes | Christopher McDougall

The cover of McDougalls Natural Born HeroesNatural Born Heroes is three books in one. The first book tells the story of how the daring resistance movement on Crete kidnapped a German General and then disappeared. The second book is a study of the hero in Greek mythology, suggesting links between the Greek heroes and modern Cretans. The third book is an autobiographical glimpse into McDougall’s studies in endurance diets and fitness training.

I picked up Natural Born Heroes on the strength of McDougall’s first book, Born to Run. While Born to Run was an inspiring book that actually made me want to run more, his sophomore effort lost me. The World War II story was exciting, but in order to fit the other material in he had to draw it out to an unnatural length. His fascial fitness ideas were exciting, but ended up sounded like fringe science.

While the idea was interesting, the execution left me wishing I could have just read a complete history of the Cretan resistance or a scientific study of endurance training. Both subjects are well worth their own treatment!


McDougall, Christopher. Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

antispam