Archives For Book Reviews

Tournament Bracket

The best Christian book of ALL TIME: Confessions by Augustine! (Click for a larger image, or download a PDF for posterity.)

About a year ago, we announced our call for nominations for the Best Christian Book of All Time, and you — our readers — responded with great enthusiasm. From a nomination pool of over 140 worthies, we first narrowed the bracket to 64 contenders, voted out lesser lights (such as Luther, Calvin, Chesterton, Aquinas — I hope they make something of themselves some day!), and crowned our winner: Augustine’s Confessions, the Best Christian Book of All Time.[1] You may have heard of the runner-up, a short tract by C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity.

Tom asked me to return to the blog to share my reflections about the tournament. As I read through the bracket and reflected on the process, here are a few things that occurred to me.

Authors Included, Authors Excluded

The bracket was dominated by white European and North American men. This largely reflects the Christian church over its first 1,900 years, as well as (I wager) the reading habits of ESN members. For most of the church’s history, the education and theological opportunities for women were limited, and until 1900 or so, Christianity was centered in Europe and North America. The situation has changed dramatically over the last hundred years, however, as Christianity has exploded in South America, Africa, and Asia. Simply witness the phenomenon that is the Argentine Pope Francis for the most visible sign of this change.[2]

Looking through the bracket from last year, I was also struck by the small number of women writers represented, and they mostly in literature and devotionals. Seven of the eight women in the bracket were in those two brackets. Only Dorothy Sayers appeared in Christian Life & Discipleship, and not a single woman appeared in Theology and Apologetics.The increasing presence of women in leadership of the church, as well as the globalization of Christianity, leads to my next reflection.

How many of these books will still be read a century from now? If we re-ran the bracket this year, I bet it would largely come out the same. But a century ago, a far different group of contenders would have faced off. If we had blogged about this in 1913, I bet that Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur would have put in a strong showing in the literature bracket. Among devotional and theological writers, Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody would probably have been nominated. Augustine has been influencing generations of Christians for 1,500 years, so I don’t foresee him being neglected. In the Best Christian Book tournament of 2113, though, will C.S. Lewis still be as popular, or will he be seen as a uniquely 20th (and 21st) century voice? Continue Reading…

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Most people think there is a basic antagonism between faith and science that has to be overcome if one is to be both a theist and a scientific practitioner. Alvin Plantinga [1] says, au contraire. It is in fact the naturalist who has the real problem.

In Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Plantinga carefully works this out over 352 pages. He begins with the areas often thought to be in contradiction, in particular the questions of evolution and miracles, and demonstrates that in neither case is there a logical contradiction or conflict. He then goes on to discuss evolutionary psychology and biblical criticism. Through a discussion of the nature of “defeaters”, Plantinga shows that even in these areas, the sources of conflict are superficial at best and do not “defeat” theistic belief. Continue Reading…

Asking Jeeves

Katelin Hansen —  February 6, 2014

Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience by Malcolm Jeeves. InterVarsity Press, 2013. Note: For additional ESN blog posts on this title explore this tag.

There is a pressing need for healthy dialogue regarding the psychology, and biology, of faith. Do humans have free will? What are the respective roles of the mind, the soul, and the brain? Are reports of supernatural experiences evidence for or against the existence of Heaven? Are we pre-conditioned to seek out a divine being? These are not questions from which Christians should not shy away. In fact, I’m convinced that by leaning into the discussion, our faith will be deepened and enriched.

Dr. Malcolm Jeeves’s latest book, Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience [1], offers a first step into encounters with questions of psychology and faith. Jeeves’s long and esteemed career in psychology gives him a wealth of knowledge from which to draw.  Presented in the form of email dialogue between a freshman psychology student and an emeritus scholar, Jeeves’s book presents both current and historical scholarly perspectives on our existence as physical, intellectual, and spiritual beings. Accessing these deeply seasoned perspectives in such an approachable manner is a rare opportunity for the lay public.

I confess it took me a while to settle into this text. Jeeves is careful to orient uninitiated readers to the academic frameworks discussed, but many of the topics of most interest personally were found in the later chapters. Continue Reading…