Tag Archives | Penguin

The Gospel | Timothy Keller

Timothy KellerThe gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

—Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2011), 48.

The Skeleton Tree | Iain Lawrence

The cover of Lawrence's The Skeleton TreeAh, the old bait-and-switch.

I ordered this book expecting a good survival story that I could share with my son. The Skeleton Tree is about two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Visions of Lost in the Barrens danced in my head. Unfortunately, much of the book was taken up with the relationships and broken family history of the two boys. Survivalism took a back seat.

Lawrence is a Governor General’s Award winning author of young adult fiction, so I’m aware that this opinion reflects my own biases more than the quality of the writing. Lawrence’s prose is crisp and descriptive. Still, if this reflects the state of young adult adventure writing, I’ll stick with the classics.

—Iain Lawrence, The Skeleton Tree: Only the Wild Survive. (Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2016).

Biblical Love | Timothy Keller

Timothy KellerWhen the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give yourself to someone.

—Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2011), 78.

The Meaning of Marriage | Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

The cover of Keller's The Meaning of MarriageThe subtitle says it all. This book is about “facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God.” In our day marriage is something that’s fought over, argued about, and defended. In the midst of all the polemic battles, can we really hear the wisdom of God?

Timothy Keller brings four roles to the table in this book:

  1. Theologian: Timothy Keller’s understanding of theology is deep. To be sure, there are elements of his Reformed theology that I would take issue with, but not here. His view of marriage is deeply rooted in biblical theology.
  2. Pastor: Keller is the long-term founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. His years of pastoral work have given him an insight into human nature and the needs of both married and single people. This book is the product of his care for people’s relationships.
  3. Communicator: Pastors have to communicate—it’s part of who we are. Keller excels at this, as his New York Times bestseller status indicates. This book is easy to read and to understand. Keller makes profound subjects comprehensible with good case studies and analogies.
  4. Husband: Timothy’s wife, Kathy, co-wrote this book. This co-authorship adds to the balanced feel of the book, especially on the topic of gender roles.

The Meaning of Marriage is a good resource for pastors looking for counseling material and a great resource for anyone who wants to get beyond the cultural battles to understand the mystery of marriage with the wisdom of God.

—Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2011).

Stranger Than We Can Imagine | John Higgs

The cover of Higgs' Stranger Than We Can ImagineThe twentieth century can be understood as the loss of all omphaloi.

What are omphaloi, you might ask? An omphalos is the central hub of something. For ancient Israel, for example, the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Mount Zion was the omphalos of the world. It was the place where heaven connected with earth. The twentieth century is littered with fallen omphaloi.

  • Einstein’s relativity theories destroyed the omphalos of a fixed place.
  • War destroyed the omphalos of national emperors.
  • Freud’s psychology destroyed the omphalos of the rational mind.
  • The sexual revolution destroyed the omphalos of traditional morality.

John Higgs is equally adept at explaining quantum mechanics as he is with evaluating the impact of Super Mario Bros. on Postmodernism—and he does all of this with a great sense of humour. Here’s how he explains the counter-intuitive laws of the quantum world:

The quantum world is like the fun your teenage children and their friends have in their room. You know it exists because you can hear the shrieks and laughter throughout the house, but if you pop your head around the door, it immediately evaporates and leaves only a bunch of silent self-conscious adolescents. A parent cannot see this fun in much the same way that the sun cannot observe a shadow. And yet, it exists. (119)

Stranger Than We Can Imagine is a brilliant analysis of the twentieth century. For me, Higgs only runs into trouble when he gets to the present. With all the traditional omphaloi fallen, we are at the risk of tragic individualism. Higgs views the emerging social networks as a solution that provides social responsibility while not limiting personal freedom. Selfies are not symptoms of narcissism—they are ways to strengthen the nodes of the emerging network.

I don’t think we can live without omphaloi. As a Christian, I hold the Creator of heaven and earth as my centre. Higgs would likely view this as an antiquated hold-over from the twentieth-century, something that will be outmoded by personal freedom expressed in networked society. I see the network, with all of its mixed impact social impact, as yet another type of omphalos in a long line. We will always worship something.

—John Higgs, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century (Toronto, ON: Signal Books, 2015).

The Girl on the Train | Paula Hawkins

The cover of Hawkins' The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train is pure psychological tension that starts easy and builds on every page—actually, I should say “on every run.” After hearing a CBC Radio show on the popularity of audio books in Germany, I decided to give them a try. Not knowing where to start, I checked the best-seller list and clicked “download.”

I listened to this book over a month of running. I read quickly, so the audio version forced me to take every word in turn without racing ahead. This only added to the thrill. I extended my planned runs on more than one occasion to get more of the book in!

You can read this story as a case study in human depravity. The cast consists (mainly) of three women and three men who have complicated backgrounds and painful relationships. Hawkins tells the story through the voices of the three women.

Like a good mystery, you’re never quite sure who did what. Every time Hawkins switches voices, new revelations add to the depth and mystery of the plot.

The Girl on the Train is an intriguing mystery with fully realized complicated characters. It’s easy to see how this made the best seller list.

—Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015).

The Magician King | Lev Grossman

The cover of Grossman's The Magician KingQuentin still can’t get no satisfaction.

This was the main theme of the first novel of the Magician Trilogy (The Magicians). The emptiness in your life follows you even if you accomplish the things you long for. You can’t put a square block in a round hole. The Magician King begins with King Quentin still longing for that missing something.

What Quentin gets is a quest—a massive, no holds barred quest for the future of the entire multiverse. The plot is unpredictable and satisfying, at least for the reader. For Quentin, it’s another story.

I suppose we’ll find out in Volume Three, The Magician’s Land, if Quentin ever learns, let alone finds what he’s looking for.

—Lev Grossman, The Magician King (New York: Plume, 2011).

A View From the Bridge | Arthur Miller

The cover of Miller's A View from the BridgePlays are like poetry in their economy of words. By necessity, plays pack a tremendous amount of character development and tension into a mere couple hours of dialogue. This is certainly true with Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge.

Miller first heard the story of Eddie and his family from a water-front worker and decided to write it as a play. He first wrote it as a “mood experiment” (vii). He “wanted the audience to feel toward it as I had on hearing it for the first time—not so much with heart-wringing sympathy as with wonder” (vii). After a dismal debut which led to a major rewrite, Miller achieved his goal.

This story is full of tension. Imagine the low cello note in the backdrop of a suspense movie. That note builds throughout the play and doesn’t relent until the climax. Miller gives us characters and relationships of psychological depth.

This play is a study in desire gone wrong. This is human nature left to play out its vices.

—Arthur Miller, A View From the Bridge (New York: Penguin, 1955).

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