Thursday, July 30, 2009

Denis Haack: Reader Interview

Current position/title: Co-director, Ransom Fellowship; Editor, Critique; Grandfather to seven above average kids.

Have you always been a reader? If not, how did you become one?

We didn’t have much to read around our house, as I remember, except for the Bible. We were fundamentalists, and didn’t think much of most literature—after all, why read a good book when you could read God’s book? I discovered the library at school in 7th grade (like Napoleon Dynamite, sports were not an option for me) and fell in love with books that could transport me in my imagination to worlds unseen. I read in school every chance I got, saving homework to do at home. My parents, who frowned on unassigned reading, thought I was very studious.

What are your reading habits and practices?

Read all I can, though now I do it with the understanding that good writing, good stories, and good books are good gifts of God. Each year I try to take a look at everything I’ve read recently and make an attempt to balance out the topics and genres so I don’t get too narrow. I also work hard to read works whose authors come from a variety of differing—even conflicting—perspectives (religious, ethnic, political, world view, etc.). When I get too busy to have time to read, I believe I am too busy and so I change my commitments.

Name 3 books that have been very influential in your life and one sentence that explains why.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Perhaps the finest novel written by a Christian in the 20th century, it revealed the power of the written word by helping to unravel the lies of Soviet totalitarianism.

The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer. This was the wedge that pried open the closed box of fundamentalism by letting me see that the fact that Christ was Lord had implications for all of life.

Knowing God by J. I. Packer. I fell in love with theology as something that could be authentic and alive, and with the God that has shown himself in Scripture.

If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and what questions would you ask him or her?

Cormac McCarthy: Would you please tell me the story of your spiritual pilgrimage?

According to a recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts, very few young people are reading. Do you have any ideas on how to get young people to read?

Nothing profound. All I’d suggest is read good stories aloud to them—as often as possible, in every setting possible. We like inviting people over for a meal and then moving to the living to listen to a story. Or when my wife and I speak at a college retreat, Margie offers to read stories at bedtime. Sadly, we’ve found too few grew up in homes where this was standard practice.

Past Reader Interviews

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NEW Leader's Guide for The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness

While the book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness can be used for individual study, we have found that students grasp the content of the book much more thoroughly when read under the guidance of a mentor, small group leader or teacher. Youth groups have used The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness as a way to prepare students for college. The Leader’s Guide is designed to assist leaders in their preparation for leading discussions around the themes in the book. Our hope is to see a generation of young people take both their faith and studies seriously. May this new study guide help toward that end!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Happiness Defined

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

David Naugle, in his new book, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans, 2008), points readers toward a recent study of Americans. The research showed that while the U.S. highly values “happiness,” it came in number 23 on a list of the world’s happiest countries. Naugle writes, “Though there is significant disagreement on what happiness is and how to get it, there is substantial agreement in recognizing it as the bull’s eye on the target at which we aim our lives.” But here’s the problem as Naugle explains: “Scientific, economic and cultural forces have produced a paradigm shift in the way most people understand happiness. It has morphed in the minds of many Americans into a promise of sustained pleasure and painlessness.”

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives invites readers to consider what we should aim for to obtain a truly “happy life.” Naugle suggests that we need “not a hedonistic but an ‘edenistic’ happiness that roots the fullness of human life in God and his creation.” This type of happiness only comes when we learn to love the right things. “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.”

Using illustrations from history, pop culture and Scripture, Naugle makes a strong case for how followers of Christ can (re)learn how to live a “happy” (properly defined), good life. The book is deep, but accessible, and would be good reading for parents and youth workers as they help young people better understand what true happiness really is. And, truth be told, the message of the book is one we all need to be continually reminded of: Our happiness is found in our love for God.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shop Class as Soulcraft

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Matthew Crawford
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Matthew Crawford's new book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work appeared on my Summer Reading List. I'm about half way through it and it's certainly worth reading. Crawford is asking fundamental questions about work. With a PhD in political philosophy, and after working in universities and "think-tanks," Crawford opened a motorcycle repair shop. He discovered that not only did motorcycle repair seem more meaningful, but he also found it much more intellectual. Meaning, repairing motocycles required him to think more. He writes, "Given the intrinsic richness of manual work - cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal - the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education."

Good question. Why have we devalued "working with our hands?" Perhaps the best sermon I have ever heard preached was by Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church) on a Christian understanding of work: Made for Stewardship (right-click to download). I find many of the strongest points in Crawford's book to be in-line with the historic, Christian understanding of work. We are created in the image of a creator, of a worker, of a God who both works and rests. We have been placed on earth to tend, work, cultivate the creation. Work is not a necessary evil, but it is part of God's good creation, the task given to humans before the fall. To be human, is to work. Of course, after the fall, there are now thorns and thistles related to our work, but we are still called to work. Work is not something we do for money or for leisure, but it is how we image God in the world. Crawford's book gets pretty close to this kind of understanding of work, and I recommend it highly.

It turns out that Stephen Colbert and I have similar reading lists. He's probably a follower of Bookshelf. Enjoy the video!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

College Culture

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

Roger Rosenblatt’s novel Beet (Harper Perennial, 2008) was written before the current economic recession, but its comic plot is even more realistic today. The story takes place at fictitious Beet, a small, liberal arts college in New England. Beet College suddenly loses its endowment, and the board of trustees is called upon to make major changes or they run the risk of having to shut down the school entirely. Their solution is to start a faculty committee to develop a creative curriculum that will increase enrollment by giving Beet a marketing advantage. English professor Peace Porterfield is asked to take charge of the committee and work with an impossible cast of professors from diverse departments.

is a sarcastic, sometimes cynical, comedy about higher education in the 21st century. Rosenblatt is clearly trying to make a statement about the direction of some American colleges. By using outlandish characters and subplots, he exposes some of the wrong turns colleges have taken in order to be more appealing to students. Themes such as political correctness, grade inflation, tolerance and many other issues on campus today are explored, giving the reader a unique, often funny, look into the ridiculousness that is found at some colleges today.

Rosenblatt’s purpose for writing, however, is not just to point out what has gone wrong in higher education. Through the characters and plot twists, he also is reminding readers of what is good, right, true and beautiful. At the end of the day, this novel is a plea for institutions of higher learning to return to the central purpose of educating young minds toward moral formation. Beet would be a good choice for someone looking for a summer/beach read that will also get you thinking about education and adolescent development. Similar to Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Beet offers a unique window into current college culture.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Porn University

Reviewed by Chris Wagner

Pornography has become so mainstream in today’s society, that many people no longer label it as a problem. Perhaps the idea that viewing pornography is an acceptable form of behavior is nowhere more prevalent than on college campuses. But does this truly reflect the status quo?

Michael Leahy set out to answer that question in his book Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex On Campus (Northfield Publishing, 2009). While in college, Leahy found himself immersed in pornography and sexual behavior. Not until much later, after many broken relationships and hard lessons learned, did he come to grips with the powerful negative impact it played in his life. He now speaks to college students across the country in an effort to educate them about the truths of pornography and the emptiness that comes with so-called “sexual freedom.”

Leahy invites students to visit My Sex Survey to answer a few questions about their own sexual beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Thousands of students have done so, and Porn University is a result of these many responses. The book breaks down those responses and discusses ways in which the statistics manifest themselves in the lives of students and adults alike. Insights are provided about the differences in sexual attitudes between men and women. Leahy explains the patterns of sexual addiction as well as the consequences of consuming pornography and partaking in harmful sexual behaviors. He concludes that only Christ can ultimately fulfill our relational needs, and offers hope to those who are in the midst of struggle.

Porn University will open the eyes of anyone who reads it to the prevailing attitudes about sexuality on college campuses. As such, campus ministers will benefit greatly from the read as they learn how to better care for students.