What We're Reading: Insights from the Editors


(system) #1

The editorial team members at Spectrum typically have our noses in a vast variety of books, including some in the style of those reviewed on the site (some of them are the ones reviewed on the site), but also including many other genres, styles, and topics. Because one of the joys of reading is the opportunity for so much variety, we're delighted to share a few snippets here of our recent reads.

Ad 381 by Charles Freeman Rich Hannon (technical support for web and Spectrum board member) This book looks at the period between the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the decree in 381 by the emperor Theodosius, which legislated Trinitarian doctrine to be Christian orthodoxy. Popular belief has it that acceptance of the Trinity occurred by growing consensus and was ratified at the Council of Constantinople in 381. This book challenges that view and provides a fascinating look at the various positions — like Arianism — that ‘fought it out’ through the middle of the fourth century.

Freeman’s account can be a little unsettling to Christians who are under-informed about early church history. We like to think doctrines we take for granted sprang full-flower from the apostolic era, with instant, broad-based acceptance. This certainly was not the case with the Trinity. The disagreements at times even became physical. And finally Theodosius — finding no consensus and valuing public order over anything else — just shut down debate and declared a ‘winner.’

Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik Bonnie Dwyer (Spectrum editor) Gopnik is one of my favorite New Yorker writers. In this short book he makes a case for the significance of literary eloquence to civilization. He lionizes Darwin and Lincoln primarily for their writing ability: “They knew how to argue first. They particularized in everything and their general vision rises from the details, their big ideas from small sightings.”

Given the significant literature that exists on Darwin and Lincoln, I also appreciated Gopnik’s book recommendations about Lincoln and Darwin as well as gems from his survey of the literature such as this: “Science is a collection of stories about facts, not a mere collection of data dumps,” an idea he says goes back to John Herschel. While I didn't agree with all of his conclusions he did give me new insights to both men, as well as to Gopnik.

A Fine-Tuned Universe and The Liberating Image Johnny Ramirez (Café Hispano editor) The first book I'm reading is Alister McGrath's A Fine-Tuned Universe and the second is The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton. Middleton's book is on the imago Dei in select Genesis texts, and McGrath's book is the product of his Gifford lectures at the University of Aberdeen on natural theology, science and faith.

Fasting by Scott McKnight Rachel Davies (interviews editor) I just finished reading Fasting, part of the Ancient Practices Series edited by Phyllis Tickle. I’ve always been curious about fasting, but have never had a reason to actually try it. Though I knew it was biblical, I didn’t understand how the practice could be spiritually beneficial. McKnight has helped me. His premise is that we humans are holistic beings, combined in spirit and body. He contends that for a person who understands this, fasting becomes the natural full-bodied response to life’s “grievous sacred moments.” He stresses that fasting is not something humans do to “get something” from God — whether that be material possession, physical or emotional healing, or even intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Rather, fasting is a natural physical manifestation of the hungering inward heart. Believers fast to express their utter dependence upon God through “full-bodied prayer.” I like that. I recommend Fasting to all who are serious about the process of spiritual formation.

The Book Thief and I Am The Messenger Lainey Cronk (online book reviews editor) The Book Thief and I Am The Messenger are both by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief is beautifully (and a bit surprisingly) narrated by Death — but not a death character like any you've likely read before. It's set in World War II Germany, but it's not about either of those things, particularly; it's about people. Zusak has an amazing knack for creating characters that are rough and very human, and beautiful for it. The same goes for I Am The Messenger, a novel that tends toward philosophical and existential questions. Both are listed as Young Adult novels, but don't feel at a disadvantage — I think most of our Spectrum readers would be able to keep up!

You can purchase AD 381, Angels and Ages, A Fine-Tuned Universe, Liberating Image, Fasting, The Book Thief, and I Am the Messenger through our Amazon affiliate account and support Spectrum with your purchase.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1795