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Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (2003). Ann Coulter is a highly articulate conservative jackhammer, trying to dismantle the liberals with each paragraph of her book. I’ve read a lot of these kinds of books by both conservatives and liberals, and generally they are pretty surface-level affairs that hit all the current hot buttons in a raging diatribe aimed unrelentingly at the opposition. Coulter’s book is different. Frankly, it’s not what I expected. The flame-thrower language is there, but this is a well researched and well documented book. She catalogs the Senator Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) story from beginning to painful ending, disabusing her readers of a lot of near-mythology that has developed around this man the liberals love to despise (most recently the subject of George Clooney’s movie, Good Night and Good Luck). Not a week after I finished this book I saw one of Coulter’s observations in action—another book author condemning and incorrectly citing Senator McCarthy as the head of the House Un-American Activities Committee—pretty much the way Coulter predicted it. She may not be correct in all of her conclusions, but she demonstrated neatly that liberals are certainly not always correct in theirs.

Ann Coulter, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) (2004). This is a collection of Coulter’s columns from Human Events and her syndicated column for Universal Press Syndicate.  This series of essays provides you with a lot more breadth but not as much depth as the typical book topic.  She is at her best or worst, depending upon your perspective, once again leveling liberals with a rather cranked vocabulary, to say the least.  Her writing (and I assume speaking) style leaves me a bit cold—I think rants weaken arguments not strengthen them—but her points of view are worth considering and from time to time she gets off a one-liner that is downright funny.

Douglas L. Fagerstrom, The Ministry Staff Member: A Contemporary, Practical Handbook to Equip, Encourage, and Empower (2006). This is an excellent leadership book written in the context of local church ministry. Dr. Fagerstrom’s thirty years in church ministry and leadership make him a perfectly prepared author for this book. The book is loaded with practical wisdom, how to’s, and insights on the personalities and politics of everyday administration. Dr. Fagerstrom is the president of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, which is associated with Cornerstone University. I recommend this book highly not only for church ministry staff members but for anyone in leadership.

Noah Feldman, Divided By God: America’s Church-State Problem—And What We Should Do About It (2005). Feldman teaches law at New York University and has emerged as one of the nation’s leading experts on the relationship of church and state. He argues that the Founding Fathers and the United States Constitution they left us never intended to separate religion and politics or even religion and state via an impermeable “wall of separation.” Rather, they intended what they said in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Feldman believes we need to provide even more freedom for public religious expression—despite the wishes of “legal secularists,”—people who want to fully privatize religion via the law, and with more religious diversity than desired by “values evangelicals”—those who want to legalize their particular view of public morality. Then, Feldman states we should vigorously maintain a financial wall of separation—absolutely no tax generated government funds for any purpose whatsoever. It’s a good argument. God be with you in making it happen.

Kevin Seamus Hasson, The Right To Be Wrong: Enduring the Culture War Over Religion in America (2005). The thesis of this book is quite similar to Noah Feldman’s Divided By God. Hasson describes two groups defined by opposing views of church and state relationships—the “Park Rangers,” who want religion to be exclusively private, and “Pilgrims,” who want to use the state to coerce the religious consciences of those with whom they disagree. He argues that if either the secularists or the religious moralists “win,” culture loses freedom. Hasson says it is wrong to insist upon no religion in culture and wrong to insist upon one religion in culture. Rather, he believes we must grant others freedom without surrendering our own allegiance to truth as we see it. In other words, we must grant them “the right to be wrong.” Hasson is the founder and chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonpartisan, interfaith, public interest law firm that protects the free expression of all religious traditions.

David A. Livermore, Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions With Cultural Intelligence (2006). If you are interested in missions of any kind, you need to read this book, in part because it challenges the assumptions and the industry known as “short term missions.” For decades Christians have been traveling overseas for short periods of time to build facilities, assist in medical care, Teach English as a Second Language (TESL), bring food or distribute clothing and much more, along with sharing the Gospel and experiencing a spiritual high that we’ve all heard about in bonfire testimonies when the short term mission team returns. Dr. Livermore is not opposed to such humanitarian and spiritual outreach, but he is concerned and at times alarmed at how “Western” or how “American” we go about these trips—with little or no advice from Christian nationals. He believes short term missions is at a crossroads, it needs to be re-visioned and restructured. Dr. Livermore is the Executive Director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, associated with Cornerstone University.

Christine Rosen, My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood (2005). With remarkable detail and alacrity, Rosen recalls her childhood experiences at St. Petersburg’s Keswick Christian School. Her Mother was and is a Pentecostal believer, divorced from her Father and remarried, so every other weekend Rosen and her sisters bounced from their Father and new Mom’s home to “BioMom’s” with accompanying differences in religious views and practices. The author at times borders on biting the hand that fed her, making fun of her Mother, questioning various aspects of her experience, and in the end rejecting Christian faith. According to her, Rosen is not religious today in any particular way, a choice that is reinforced by her marriage to a non-religious Jew. So she believes she has outgrown what she was taught, and she believes she stands above and outside of it. Yet she acknowledges that she learned, she was loved, she was offered security, spiritually and otherwise, in a faith community, and she recognizes today that her BioMom was not as wacky as she once considered her. This book is slow moving at times and at others is clearly a book written by a woman for women, but it is also a case study in how someone processes her faith-based upbringing from the vantage point of faithless adulthood.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News (2003). If you want to learn more than you ever wanted to know about television news anchors, read this book. If you want to learn about American history during the past sixty years or so through the camera’s lens, read this book. If you want to try to identify what is going to happen next in broadcast news journalism, read this book. I learned a few things, but this book was not really my cup of tea. But it was a Christmas present, and I’ll read just about anything, so I read it.

Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (2005). This is basically a Christian worldview book written by a young pastor of a huge church riding the wave of the emerging church movement. Bell’s preaching schtick comes through the book loud and clear—he likes youthful tones and metaphors, likes to stretch or even shock peoples’ thinking, writes with an abandon that he thinks or makes you think has never been done before, all while genuinely yearning to know God authentically and live out his Christian faith in a truly high impact mode. The best sound bite in the book is “Christian makes a great noun but a terrible adjective.” Very thought-provoking comment. Bell seems to embrace a culture or even reader based approach to hermeneutics as opposed to a Scripture based approach, but it’s frankly hard to tell. He opens discussion on doctrines like the virgin birth, asks truly off the wall question (again, apparently to make people think) but leaves the reader wondering exactly what he believes—or more, where he’s going.

Joan Biskupic, Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice (2005). In what will likely become the standard work on Justice O’Connor’s years on the high court, this book not only details how she became the influential swing vote but also how she evolved from conservative to moderate. This is an interesting political and legal biography encompassing some of the most controversial issues facing the nation in the past twenty four years. The author holds a law degree but has developed a career as a journalist, court reporter, and editorialist, so she can read the law and she can write. Recommended reading if you want to understand the law behind episodes of “Law and Order.”

Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum (2003). This biography details the life of a very strange man and an even stranger family. James Smithson’s estate left the equivalent of $50 million to the United States of America, a country in which he had never set foot, to start a museum in his name that would further the knowledge of mankind. Thanks to Smithson’s interest in learning, to his poignant desire for respectability, and to his largess, the Smithsonian Institution is today the most extensive and remarkable museum in the world. This book also lauds John Qunicy Adams, crediting him with almost single-handedly protecting and preserving Smithson’s estate until such time as sufficient other individuals joined in a desire to fulfill the dying man’s wishes. Adding to the weirdness of Smithson’s life is the story of his illness, death, and burial in Italy, followed several decades later by a visit by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, the wealthy American inventor and his reluctant but supportive wife who rescued Smithson’s bones from their precarious seaside grave and brought them to America. You’ll not likely see a movie about James Smithson, so you’ll have to read the book, especially if you like real life trumps fiction stories.

Billy Crystal, 700 Sundays (2005). I’ve referenced this book and Grisham’s in an earlier blog. Suffice it to say here, the story of Crystal’s immigrant Jewish heritage, his family’s very early influence upon the development of Jazz via their New York City record shop, and Crystal’s talent as a comedian and entertainer all create a fairly stimulating read. But Crystal’s insistence on repeatedly using the worst of vulgar language robs the book of moral strength in what might otherwise be an engaging story of family love and endurance.

Michael K. Deaver, A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years With Ronald Reagan (2001). An interesting insider’s view of the Reagan personality, politics, and phenomenon. Many interesting tidbits like Reagan’s speaking trick: As a 70 something, he could not read his cue cards, but he did not want to wear reading glasses and, thus, appear older. So he wore his contacts, popped out the left one just before he spoke, developed the ability to read the cards with his left eye, looked at the audience with his right eye, all the while looking younger and more vigorous to his rapt listeners. Deaver is a loyal friend and supporter whose own legacy is forever intertwined with his boss, so this is a kind interpretation. But Deaver does speak knowledgeably about some of Reagan’s weaknesses and misjudgments. For anyone who liked Reagan or his conservative “revolution,” this is an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

John Grisham, The Broker (2005). Grisham’s stock in trade: legal fiction. An excellent novel about a wayward Washington, D.C. lobbyist that makes you think Jack Abramoff was the model for Grisham’s protagonist. Very well written. Timely. Free of sex scenes and generally free of language. Just a good read.

Michael Medved, Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life (2004). Medved tells how it’s possible for an irreligious, liberal, Yale-educated young Jew to migrate to traditional Judaism, political conservatism, and a position as one of the leading conservative voices in the nation. Even aside from the political story, Medved has lived a very interesting life. His recollection of his immigrant elders, hitch-hiking literally tens of thousand of miles while in college (he provides you with an exact count), going to school with Hillary Rodham Clinton and a host of other now notable individuals, experience as a movie critic, and very early success as a writer with subsequent television appearances make for rather engaging reading. Beyond this, Medved makes a compelling case for conservatism, American patriotism, and appreciation for a country where anyone with talent, drive, and a willingness to work enjoys boundless opportunities.

John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (1959). Real history written as political biography. This is a long, thorough, sometimes ponderous book. But you will not find a source better prepared to deepen your knowledge and understanding of this intriguing and truly brilliant figure who spanned the Colonial Period through the Birth of the Nation through its earliest days. If you are not serious about history, stay away from this book, but if you’re game, take the plunge. No matter how much you’ve read about the War for Independence and human nature, you’ll still learn something from this book. In the end, it will heighten your awe about what clearly was an exceptional and a providentially blessed period in all of history.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

Christian pollster George Barna says, “Local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.” When I first read this statement it stopped me cold, right in my tracks, a total focus while I tried to get my mind around the implications of what Barna was saying. Could this possibly be true? And if it is, what does it mean? If churches are no longer influencing culture, what is?

In his new book entitled Revolution (Tyndale, 2005), George Barna describes seven dominant spheres of cultural influence: movies, music, television, books, Internet, the law, and family. Then he says culture is also subject to several second tier influencers: schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses. You’ll notice that the church is not listed.

According to Barna, in year 2000, 70% of American adults interested in faith matters looked to the local church for information. By year 2005, this number dropped to 30-35%. In 2000, alternative faith-based communities provided faith information to about 5% of the population, while five years later this number jumped to 30-35%. Meanwhile, in 2000, 20% of American adults turned to media, the arts, and culture for information about faith, while in 2005, the number of adults seeking faith information in media, the arts, and culture increased to 30-35%.

In other words, in the new millennium, the church is rapidly losing its once powerful influence upon culture, while corresponding increases are taking place in alternative faith-based communities and media, arts, and culture. People are beginning to look outside rather than inside the church for cues on how to live out their faith in everyday life.

These statistics evidence a rather astounding shift in American worship patterns, credibility and authority imputed to institutional religion, and willingness to seek faith information in a variety of new media sources. If you acknowledge the reality and significance of these trends, it suggests at least these considerations for the local church:

-- the church needs to engage the culture not run from it,

--the church needs to learn more about current culture, including values, worldviews, and trends,

--the church needs to learn how to communicate within current culture—in other words, learn how to share “the old, old story” in perhaps “new, new ways,”

--the church should work to equip Christian people with the ability to lead and transform current culture, not just follow it,

--the church needs to learn new media, drama, the arts, video and audio, computer gaming, the Internet, and more for God’s glory,

--the church needs to learn to share its methods with and through excellence or excellent techniques (methods), because fervent piety without excellence is no longer effective.

I am not for a minute suggesting the Church should change, dilute, or hide, its biblical message. I’m not saying all churches need to be the same, be progressive and “non-traditional,” be “hip,” or in any other way simply forget generations who continue to learn in established forms. These generations still need access to established forms of worship, so that these people may continue to learn, grow, and serve the Lord.

I am saying that if the Church or local churches ignore cultural trends, Barna’s statement will be realized. If you do not believe this, look at European countries where churches have been silent, culturally irrelevant, or non-existent for years.

I think Barna’s statement is downright scary. I don’t think I want to live in a culture where the biblical church has no influence on culture. That’s one reason I work in a Christian university, in part because I think the rationale for Christian higher education is stronger than ever. Christian universities like Cornerstone University graduate men and women whose biblical worldview has been developed and sharpened, who have been given an excellent preparation in their field of interest, who understand the culture in which we live, and who wish to influence that culture for the cause of Christ.

We need not be afraid, because God is Sovereign over change as well as history and tradition. But we do need to be active, even proactive. We need to live out our faith. We need to help and to lead our churches toward greater cultural impact.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.