Archive | Book Reviews

Book reviews

Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts | Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean, eds.

The cover of Smith and Dean's Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative ArtsCreative practice and critical research appear to be unlikely bedfellows! Creative practice is viewed as intuitive and open ended while critical research is more rigorously methodological and outcome oriented. However, for the last number of decades, creative practice has made its mark in the university as a form of research in itself: practice-led research.

Smith and Dean’s volume explores how creative practice can lead to the generation of new knowledge, which is the typical definition of research. They have collected essays from various realms—dance, new media, and creative writing to name a few—that demonstrate how practice and research can form generative partnerships which can find a home in the university.

The systems and structures of the university were not created with a view to practice-led or practice-based research, so the essays also tackle the sort of issues that arise when these two worlds collide. Most important, perhaps, is the need for funding bodies to understand what practice-led research is in order to promote this growing type of research.

This highly specialized volume will help practice-led researchers to understand their methodology while at the same time appraising them of the type of issues they will encounter in the university.


Smith, Hazel and Roger T. Dean, eds. Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Formation and Reflection | Lewis S. Mudge & James N. Poling

The cover of Mudge & Poling's Formation and Reflection

How is academic theology related to actual, living communities of faith? (155)

This is the question which the essays in this volume attempt to answer. As academic theology, influenced by postmodern deconstruction, has moved away from talking about God to talking about the possibility of talking about God, the academy seems more and more removed from the actual life and practice of the local church. Practical theology could be the bridge to reunite the two. The question is how.

The essays in this book are challenging to read. Each contributor is a respected author in their own right, bringing their own conceptual frameworks and peculiar language to the conversation. The range is broad. The essays cover historical theology, theological pedagogy, postmodern philosophy, hermeneutical theory, and liberation theology.

An interesting feature of this book is its unity—the contributors were able to read each other’s essays and update their own before the final printing. The back-and-forth between the authors helps to situate their viewpoints.

Edward Farley’s lead contribution, “Interpreting Situations: An Inquiry into the Nature of Practical Theology,” is particularly helpful in focusing the volume. If theology is an interpretation of history (tradition and scripture), then practical theology must be an interpretation of the situation. Why is it that we have libraries worth of material on biblical hermeneutics and tradition criticism, but no rigorous framework to guide the interpretation of the present?

This collection of densely argued essays demonstrates how difficult practical theology is to define, let alone to do. However, if we want to reunite orthodoxy and orthopraxis, then the effort is more than worth the reward.


Mudge, Lewis S. and James N. Poling, eds., Formation and Reflection: The Promise of Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987. Reprint, 2009.

To Know As We Are Known | Parker J. Palmer

The cover of Palmer's To Know As We Are KnownThe way in which we know things—our epistemology—matters. If we view the world objectively, as an object to be categorized and filed, we do damage both to the world and to ourselves. True knowing “requires the knower to become interdependent with the known” (32).

Parker Palmer, author and educator, develops his philosophy of teaching in To Know As We Are Known.

To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced. (xii)

Teaching has to be more than the passing down of objective facts. Genuine teaching brings learners into a community where they interrelate in faithfulness to the subject. Palmer even offers some practical advice for teachers to transition in this direction.

Stories are important for Palmer. A film about the nuclear weapons program, the account of a desert father, and the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate are all illustrative fuel that Palmer uses to flesh out his ideas.

To Know As We Are Known is an important book for both teachers and students that challenges the epistemology of the Enlightenment.


Palmer, Parker J. To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York: HarperOne, 1983, 1993.

Exclusion and Embrace | Miroslav Volf

The cover of Volf's Exclusion and EmbraceThen Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:34 NRSV)

We all know that we should forgive each other. We even know how often—seventy times seven (i.e. unending forgiveness). The problem comes not with the knowing, but with the doing.

Miroslav Volf hit this crisis between knowing and doing after at the end of a lecture when Jürgen Moltmann stood and asked, “But can you embrace a cětnik” (9)? These Serbian fighters had been terrorizing and destroying Croatia, Volf’s country. He was torn between “the blood of the innocent crying out to God and by the blood of God’s Lamb offered for the guilty” (9). This question drove him to research and write Exclusion and Embrace.

Exclusion and Embrace is the best book on forgiveness that exists. Period. Volf used the image of the crucified God, arms outstretched with side pierced, to show how those who are offended can make space within themselves to embrace the other. This does not mean that the embraced are exonerated—they can be embraced “even when they are perceived as wrongdoers” (85). This, of course, is precisely how Jesus receives us.

Although written in 1996, this book feels tailored for today. In our culture of “truthiness,” Volf writes of “Deception and Truth.” As geopolitical tensions flair, Volf writes of “Oppression and Justice,” “Violence and Peace.” Even gender identity receives a chapter. It is stunning to see just how broad the theme of forgiveness reaches.

Every paragraph of Exclusion and Embrace is rich. Volf’s writing is a dense and insightful mixture of philosophical acuity, psychological wisdom, and theological insight. Our world needs this book more now than ever.


Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.

The Prophetic Faith | Martin Buber

The cover of Buber's The Prophetic FaithBuber is best known for his philosophical gem, I and Thou. He was also an biblical interpreter who translated the entire Hebrew Bible into German. Although published before his translation work began, The Prophetic Faith demonstrates his broad and deep knowledge of the scriptures.

The Prophetic Faith begins with the Song of Deborah before moving backwards through Joshua’s covenant renewal ceremony to Sinai. Buber pays close attention to God’s name and the way at which YHVH and Israel became linked as expressed in the phrase, “YHVH God of Israel” (19).

From this point of origin, Buber traces the prophetic faith through the major movements of Israel’s life: the Assyrian threat, the Babylonian exile, and the return. Buber paints the prophetic faith as vivid and always engaged with the eternal Thou.

We are fortunate that Princeton University Press has just reissued this work. The Prophetic Faith is an inspiring look at the heart of Israel’s relationship with their God.


Buber, Martin. The Prophetic Faith. Translated by Jon D. Levenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Friedrich Nietzsche

The cover of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke ZarathustraThus Spoke Zarathustra is a difficult book to read. In fact, literary critic like Harold Bloom called it “unreadable”! Why, then is it one of Nietzsche’s most famous works? Why is it reprinted generation after generation? What made it “the book of choice” (345) for German soldiers on the battlefield?

Zarathustra is the story of a man who leaves his contemplation to share his wisdom with the rest of humanity. The book contains eighty short chapters on various repetitive themes and ideas that have no logical order. This is not a carefully crafted philosophical argument—it is a collection of ideas thrown out to take root in people’s minds.

Three themes stand out above the rest:

  1. It was here that Nietzsche first claimed that God is dead.
  2. Humanity needs to evolve into the Superman (or Overman), a person beyond good and evil.
  3. The Superman embraces “eternal recurrence”(341) by taking ownership of everything that has happened and will happen again.

In Zarathustra, Nietzsche called on people to reject the moral claims of the religious and embrace the will to power. Nietzsche viewed Christianity as a religion of weakness (which, ironically, it is—God’s strength demonstrated in weakness).

Nietzsche’s desire to evolve beyond mere humanity to the Superman is a lonely task. In the end, Zarathustra leaves all his weak followers behind. There is no room for a community of Supermen—only a lone powermonger. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is no less than a manifesto for an anti-Christ.


Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and for No One. Translated by Thomas Common. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2012.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke | Roger Stronstad

The cover of Stronstad's The Charismatic Theology of St. LukeIt is easy to forget that what we call the Bible (singular) is actually a library of many books and letters from many Spirit-inspired authors each with their own story and message. In The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Stronstad takes Luke’s book, the historical narrative we know as Luke and Acts, on its own merits.

When you take Luke at his word instead of subjugating him to Paul, certain themes in Luke-Acts become crystal clear. You begin to hear the echoes of the LXX in Luke’s text. You are able to see Jesus as the Spirit-filled prophet who transfers his Spirit to his community. You are able to see the the empowering vocational purpose of Spirit-Baptism.

Pentecostals often speak of Luke-Acts as a “canon within the canon.” I find that sort of language unhelpful in that it depreciates the rest of the biblical witness. I do, however, applaud any effort to allow the Biblical witness to speak in its full diversity.


Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories from the Old Testament to Luke-Acts. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 1984, 2012.

The Hidden Life of Trees | Peter Wohlleben

The cover of Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees

In the woods just north of the house I grew up in lived a massive hemlock, about ten feet off the main trail. During winter the snow would pin its lower branches to the ground. If you tucked the collar of your coat up under your toque, you could sneak through the branches without getting too much snow down your back. Once inside those perimeter branches, you entered a different world. The frigid wind and cold was gone and the snow that made walking so difficult was less than an inch thick. Every time I walked that trail in the winter, I made sure to pause underneath that hemlock.

Trees have always fascinated me which is why I was quick to pick up German forester Peter Wohlleben’s book. The Hidden Life of Trees is interesting reading. Did you know that trees can feed nutrients to the stumps of their fallen comrades, keeping the stump alive for centuries? Did you know that trees communicate with each other, warning their neighbours of pests?

Wohlleben convincing demonstrates that trees are far more complex organisms than we have understood. A fully functioning forest—forests that take five centuries to develop—are perfectly balanced examples of biodiversity.

Unfortunately, Wohlleben’s fascinating information and observations about the forests are mixed with overly anthropomorphic ideas. You get the impression that Wohlleben has spent a little too much time in the woods alone! The Hidden Life of Trees walks the fine line between research and romanticisation, falling too often into the latter.


Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate; Discoveries from a Secret World. Translated by Jane Billinghurst. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books, 2015.

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