Saturday, February 11, 2017

90 Days in John, Romans, and James

The Good Book Company has released a series of devotionals that I believe are going to become a staple in both my spiritual life and my future gift-giving. Devotionals are typically hit and miss with me. Some are good, some are not-so-good. I enjoy prayer books (Valley of Vision is a favorite), but devotional books quite often are not what I am looking for.  

These “open Bible devotional(s)” are different. Requiring the reader to “keep your Bible open, on your lap or on your screen, as you use these studies” these are more prompts to greater study than they are standalone thoughts.  

The content is great. I expected that. Sam Alberry and Tim Keller are solid theologians and engaging writers, so that was not any sort of surprise. What I was not suspecting was such a nice format. The book is a solid hardback and includes a full page of lined space to record prayers or response thoughts. I am thinking about using it to record prayers and thoughts and then give the book to one of my kids as a gift. Even if I simply keep it for myself, it will be nice to have a record of my devotional life over a period, or to return to it a couple of years from now and go through the devotions again.

          Great content. Great format. I really cannot think of any reason that these volumes should not be at the top of any Christians to-be-read list.

Review copy provided.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Obedience of Christ

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the GospelLast Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospel by Brandon D Crowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the longest, my understanding of the Gospel did more than center on the cross. I had no concept of much beyond passion week and the resurrection and, for that reason, I really did not have much of an understanding the passion week or the resurrection. Some Reformed teachers were influential in my life regarding a greater understanding of the Gospel narrative as a whole, but it was McKnight's 'King Jesus Gospel' as well as some of N.T. Wright's essays that helped me understand the life of Jesus as more than a prologue to the passion. Brandon Crowe's new volume has taken my willingness and desire to see these truths and armed them with the exegesis and theology, particularly as it relates to Christ as the second Adam and the benefits of his perfect obedience.

Crowe's point that the life of Christ was vicarious and necessary for salvation was a truth I readily affirmed from my salvation on. However, the nuanced depth of this truth is that which I am still seeking to fully understand. Crowe highlights how:
* Jesus is identified as the second or last Adam whoe "obedience overcomes the disobedience of the first"
* "The Gospels present Jesus as the last Adam in various ways, including in the temptation narratives, by means of the role of the Holy Spirit, and through the Son of Man imagery"
* The Sonship of Jesus has "numerous implications" including: "Jesus’s filial identity relates Jesus to Israel, the typological son of God"; the Sonship of Jesus relates him to "the first covenantal son of God," Adam; and "in light of these canonical links, Jesus’s sonship strongly emphasizes his obedience."
* In the Gospel of John, Jesus is "portrayed as the obedient Son who was always working and always doing the will of his Father, accomplishing salvation for those who believe" and this work must be "viewed as a unity, which means his life and death are both necessary for the perfect completion of his work."
* Since the kingdom of God is one of righteousness, Crowe points out that the work of Jesus necessary to inaugurate that kingdom must be completed by a "righteous king." "Jesus’s power is corollary to his holiness and includes his binding of the strong man, by which he overcomes the sin of Adam."
* and more.
Crowe rightly points out that his volume cannot exhaust the topic he covers, and I will not try to exhaustively cover it (or his book even) here in a book review. I will have to return to this volume again, and the good thing is that I am looking forward to it. Crowe has contributed a great volume to the study of Christology that will be of benefit to pastors, scholars, and believers alike.

Review Copy provided.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel RealizedA Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized by Michael J. Kruger

 RTS and Crossway have teamed up to provide a beautiful collection of essays that survey the entirety of the New Testament. Subtitled “The Gospel Realized,” this volume pairs well with the Old Testament volume, and contributions from Robert Cara, Guy Waters, Michael Kruger, Simon J. Kistemaker, and others provide the reader with a New Testament flyover that somehow manages to cover each book with significant depth while remaining relatively concise and quite approachable.

This volume is explicitly designed to “introduce the reader to the major historical, exegetical, and theological issues within each of the twenty-seven book “while meeting the self-set criteria of being accessible, theological, reformed, redemptive-historical, multi-authored, and pastoral. Each chapter is structured the same (introduction, background issues, structure and outline, message and theology, and select bibliography) in order to minimize the differences inherent in a work of multiple authors. For the most part, this is successful, and when differences show up, it is almost always a positive and does little to harm the continuity of the work as a whole.

In regards to the explicit criteria set forth in the introduction, this volume is immensely successful. This is not a work geared towards or limited to the realm of academia. Fully accessible, this volume does not shy away from the confessionally reformed lens through which it interprets the Scriptures and consistently points the reader to God’s working salvation throughout the history of his people and his world. Persistently pastoral, the theologians expounding Scripture throughout never lose sight of the fact that they are being used of God to build up his church rather than puff up academics. Knowledge for knowledge sake is not presented. Information geared towards a better understanding of Scripture and thus a greater love of God and neighbor is what this book is filled with, and why this book will be a long-standing blessing to the church at-large.

Review copy provided.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering DeathStruck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death by Russ Ramsey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russ Ramsey made me cry. Multiple time, he made me borderline sob. And Lisa Ramsey doesn't get off the hook, either. She only wrote the afterword, and she still made me cry. But the emotions evoked by Ramsey's book were so necessary and so good. As he narrates some critical times in his own life, and the lives of others, Ramsey displays his pastoral abilities by constantly pointing to the overwhelming, all-consuming grace of God. What makes it that much more impactful is that he does this while maintaining a transparent humanity that equally affirms the desperate grief and clinging hope that defines all believers in the midst of tribulation. One of the endorsements compares this work to Lewis's A Grief Observed, and that is a pretty apt comparison. I already have a friend I will be giving a copy of Struck to and plan to come back to it myself on a semi-regular basis....basically anytime I need a good sob and an encouragement that God is worthy of my trust.

ARC provided for review.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Silence and Beauty: A Review

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of SufferingSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sort of book that I hope begins to dominate Christian publishing. In the Bible Belt Christendom in which I was born and in which so much Christian publishing occurs, the arts are neglected, if not demonized. Tough topics are skirted, ignored, or answered with trite truisms and a call to blind faith. Differing voices are ostracized out of fear that differences will lead to divisions, or possibly reduce them. Fujimura does not succumb to any of these pitfalls (of course, it would be difficult to ping him as a Bible Belt Christian) and engages tough topics of culture, art, and the universal human experience through the lens of Endo's masterpiece novel, "Silence." And he does so in a manner that is clear and gracious. In addition to that, he does so in a manner that is beyond insightful. "Silence and Beauty" is literary and cultural commentary that does not settle just does not settle. This book excels in every area and deserves to be read widely.

I cannot express how greatly I enjoyed this work. If you want to glean significant insight on a novel of great impact (and even greater now as a Scorsese film) as well as the universal issues addressed within, "Silence and Beauty" is the place to go.

Review copy.

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Faulkner’s Language of Loss in Absalom, Absalom!

Faulkner’s Language of Loss in Absalom, Absalom!
Absalom, Absalom! is a work that, in many ways, defies all conventional wisdom. The syntax is torturous; the narrative is disorienting and narrators utterly obtuse, and the story at the heart of the novel is rather simplistic. However, many critics wholeheartedly endorse William Faulkner’s 1936 novel as the greatest of his works, the greatest work of twentieth-century American Modernism, or even the “great American novel.” Any reader who takes the time and makes the, at times immense, effort to decipher the language and the narrative undoubtedly will find him or herself if not agreeing at least sympathetic to those now not-so-hyperbolic claims. Absalom, Absalom! is a novel that speaks to the heart of the reader. The unreliable narrators merely mirror the manner in which personal involvement, or lack thereof, shades recollection. The simplistic narrative only heightens the awareness that people are people and the common experience of fallible and often depraved humanity is simply that—common. Faulkner’s enigmatic syntax and non-standard diction (undiction, even) obscure the meaning of the text, but it does so in a manner that drives the reader below the surface and, in doing so, actually illuminates the real meaning of his work. In particular, Faulkner utilizes specific, language-based techniques to help the reader sympathize for and empathize with his characters and the narrative as a whole. By recognizing the role of language in communicating not only information but also experience, Faulker chooses to use unconventional linguistic choices to express the tangible, potential, and perpetual loss felt by the characters of Absalom, Absalom!, the Civil War South, and the South of Faulkner’s own time.
The acceptance of language as a means of communicating information and ideas is virtually universal. Apart from an occasional encounter with a deconstructionist or a particularly cantankerous skeptic, language as a tool of communication is not a topic that receives much debate. However, many scholars for many years have argued that while language does serve the role of communication agent, there is a causative/creative aspect to the spoken and written word as well. From traditional speech-act theorists (Searle) to twentieth-century vital materialists (Bennett, Gries, Mitchell), considerable attention has been and continually is being devoted to the idea that language impacts as much, or more, as it communicates. One discipline that has advanced this understanding of language is psychoanalysis.
Freud’s position on psychoanalysis was that of “nothing but the conversation between the doctor and his patient” (Gammelgaard 86). This position was because, while the “scientific ideal…, of unambiguous significations often make[s] us forget that language live(sic) its own life,” language “became a device for penetrating the deeper levels of the psychic apparatus (Gammelgaard 87). Freud argued that language dealt with more than the surface, and a discussion between doctor and patient could often reveal as well as heal. This phenomenon led many to refer to psychoanalysis as the “talking cure” (Gammelgaard  86).
Freud viewed language as having a “central function” (Gammelgaard 86) to psychoanalysis because it offered a “special language of the unconscious” (Gammelgaard 86). Freud noted that “the dream speaks in tropes and figures” (Gammelgaard 88) and that the method of psychoanalysis is “better captured through the rhetoric and aesthetic function of language than its conceptual and referential function” (Gammelgaard 88). The overwhelming impact of language upon the conscious and subconscious experience cannot be limited to an exchange of concepts or ideas. This fact is seen clearly, in the negative sense, when a patient engages in a psychoanalytic session. When a patient is sharing his or her experience, telling a story, there exists an “internal tension between the system of the language and the discourse of the speaking subject. In other words, when the patient tells his story in accordance with the general rules of language, another story is revealed – not necessarily in the content of the story but in its flaws” (Gammelgaard 89).
While psychoanalysis is interesting, the question of how this relates to Faulkner’s use of language is begging to be answered. Freudian psychoanalysis exerted a tremendous amount of influence around the turn of the 20th century. One somewhat surprising place that psychoanalysis was especially prominent was in the literary arts. While the Freudian impact upon twentieth-century literature is significant, the impact of Freud, and psychoanalysis in general, upon the authors attached to the Modernist movement is difficult to overestimate. One relevant example of this Freudian influence is in the works of James Joyce. While Joyce ultimately “rejected psychoanalysis[, his use of] monologue intérieur (or ‘stream-of-consciousness’) … coincided with the growing interest in Freud’s explorations of the human unconscious” (Bowker 10). Joyce was “like Freud,…an interpreter of dreams and fascinated by apparently incoherent utterances” (Bowker 278), and his innovative novels and short stories make this readily apparent.
            Freud’s influence on Joyce was great, and so was Joyce’s influence on William Faulkner. Kenneth Holdich recounts the tale of Faulkner, along with Sherwood Anderson, and others gathered together at Harold Levy’s apartment to “read aloud from a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses that had been smuggled into the United States” (35). In the same breath that critics laud Joyce as “unquestionably the single most influential world writer in modern fiction” (Inge and Inge 176), they argue that the “name of Faulkner would inevitably occur next as Joyce’s most obvious aesthetic heir and a source of even richer comparative possibilities” (176). Whether Faulkner’s work actually supersedes Joyce’s is not the argument being presented here, but the acknowledgment of Faulkner as an heir to Joyce is not a strange occurrence.
While Joyce would later repudiate psychoanalysis as such, his indebtedness to Freudian thought is as apparent as is his influence over writers that followed him—even some who would not or could not acknowledge Freud as authority. As far as the influence of psychoanalysis goes, William Faulkner received it coming and going. His allegiance to Freudian thought is clear, though his loyalty to Freud is suspect. One of the Freudian influences on Faulkner was Joyce himself. Faulkner was a devotee of Joyce who, as noted earlier, was himself an adherent to the tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis. John Sykes, among others, has pointed out that “there can be little doubt that Joyce was Faulkner's principal teacher of how Freud's ideas could give rise to new fictional techniques of characterization and emplotment” (513). Sykes even goes to the extent of saying that, given Faulkner’s evident indebtedness to Joyce that, “One could go so far as to say that Joyce opened the way for Faulkner's artistic appropriation of Freud” (513). 
The influence of Freudian psychoanalysis upon Faulkner’s thought is explicit from very early on in Faulkner’s life and career. An early unpublished, unfinished manuscript is “considered noteworthy because of its extensive reliance on Freudian insights” (Singal 74). Elmer is so steeped in Freudian thought that it is “as if he had kept a textbook of psychoanalysis at his elbow”(Singal 74) while composing the work. Though Faulkner would “later insist that he had not read Freud,…his writings referred to him and showed that, at the very least, he had heard a lot of talk about Freudian psychology” (Blotner 147). For the record, Faulkner also claimed to have “never read Ulysses” (Meriwether and Millgate 30) and credited the seeming influence of Joyce to a “pollen of ideas” (Meriwether and Millgate 31) floating about at the time (for direct textual contradiction of this claim, see Honnighausen, William Faulkner: The Art of Stylization in His Early Graphic and Literary Work). Whether Faulkner had studied Freud and Joyce (likely) or simply acquired Freudian insights and Joycean techniques by cultural pollination (less likely), Absalom, Absalom! bears the marks of a man greatly influenced by a literary appropriation of psychoanalysis in a number of ways. The area that stands out the greatest is that of language. The Freudian insight on the impactfulness of language both at the conscious and unconscious level is seen in a number of ways through the narrative of the rise and fall of Sutpen’s Hundred and the experience of individual characters and events.
Faulkner uses three distinct language tools to convey a sense of loss but even more than that a sense of the loss of opportunity, a perpetual loss. He uses negative qualifiers, dichotomic language, and false meanings. He employs these tools to allow the reader to not only know but to feel what the character is experiencing. The manner in which Faulkner’s diction compels the reader to inhabit Yoknapatawpha County, specifically through the minds of Absalom, Absalom!’s narrators, will be explored below.
            Faulkner uses a series of negative qualifiers in his writing. Negative qualifier, for the sake of this paper, could be defined as the addition of a negative prefix or suffix to a positive word in order to negate the meaning in a unique and dynamic manner. It is undifficult to find numerous examples of this technique littering the pages of Absalom, Absalom!. When Faulkner has his narrator in the opening pages describe Rosa’s actions as welling up from “some bitter and implacable reserve of undefeat”(8), he is utilizing this technique. Faulkner easily could have written about the same characteristic with more standard terminology. Faulkner could have described Rosa as irrepressible or spoke of her reservoir of resilience, but he chose to use “undefeat.” Pages could be devoted to merely examining the “un” words that Faulkner either invents or rescues from obscurity, but for every “unregret” (11), “unvolition” (87), and “uncomprehension” (103) Faulkner utilizes, he employs other turns of phrase as well. He introduces a "nothusband”(5) and “notpeople” (6). Faulkner’s own “notlanguage” (6) is that which lies beneath the surface of all these words. Acknowledging, again, the influence of psychoanalysis on modernist thinking about speech, Faulkner is saying as much with what he does not say as what he does and pointing to truths that rest below the conscious surface of everyday speech.
            Faulkner’s negative qualifiers accomplish much on their own, but they are especially effective as he piles up other, similar language devices. The dichotomic language of Absalom, Absalom! is another example of Faulkner’s beyond-the-surface interaction with words.  When he speaks of the unique relationship between Judith and Charles, Faulkner refers to it as the “engagement which did not engage, that troth which failed to plight” (10). He speaks of Sutpen’s mentaility as that of “invincible fatality” (30) and Goodhue’s permanent trip to his attic as a “voluntary incarceration”(68).
            Some instances of Faulkner’s dichotomic language are magnified by the immediate context or the greater narrative of Absalom, Absalom! as a whole. When Faulkner writes an aside for Quentin as he receives a break from Rosa’s narration, the dichotomic language is buried at the end of a substantial build-up, causing the reading to rethink the entirety of what has been read based on the contrast found at the end:
It [the events not narrated by Rosa to Quentin] was a part of his twenty years' heritage of breathing the same air and hearing his father talk about the man Sutpen; a part of the town's—Jefferson's—eighty years' heritage of the same air which the man himself had breathed between this September afternoon in 1909 and that Sunday morning in June in 1833 when he first rode into town out of no discernible past and acquired his land no one knew how and built his house, his mansion, apparently out of nothing and married Ellen Coldfield and begot his two children—the son who widowed the daughter who had not yet been a bride—and so accomplished his allotted course to its violent (Miss Coldfield at least would have said, just) end.
Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth.
He was a barracks filled with stubborn backlooking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence. (emphasis added 9)
These instances are only a few cases of Faulkner’s dichotomic language in Absalom, Absalom!, and this language is not the only linguistic tool of subversion Faulkner utilizes. While specific examples will be examined with individual characters below, Faulkner also employs various levels of false, or at least subversive, meanings to words such as respectability, shrewdness, innocence, and others.
Faulkner’s use of language accomplishes many important tasks in Absalom, Absalom!. His (at-times) torturous syntax creates a sense of disorientation that fits perfectly in the telling of the rise and fall of a Sutpen character in the midst of a South reeling from the immediate effects of the Civil War and the lasting effects of slavery and pervasive classism, sexism, and racism. Faulkner’s use of language further obfuscates a narrative already hidden behind narrators of varying degrees of unreliability. Essentially, Faulkner takes this gem of a story and buries it deep below the surface in order to force the reader to dig deep and, after exerting the effort, truly appreciate what is found.
These effects of his use of language are important, but what truly stands out is the emotional reaction that his use of negative qualifiers, dichotomic language, and false meanings evoke. Faulkner could have used simple, straightforward, unnuanced language to evoke mere pity. To make the reader feel the tangible loss of Sutpen’s rise and fall, as well as the fall of the South, Faulkner would not have had to try very hard. However, by using these somewhat counterintuitive and wholly unconventional means, Faulkner was able to convey not only the sense of actual loss but the sense of loss in perpetuity—a hopeless grief that sees no silver linings, bright spots, or rainbows. Faulkner’s language is on the surface about loss, but below the surface about a greater loss—the loss of possibility in the present, past, and future.
William Faulkner, like Mark Twain before him, filled the role of the “southern author as at once a participant in and ironic witness to a drama of memory and history that centered essentially in the never-ending remembrance of the great American civil conflict of 1861-1865” (Simpson 304). History’s lasting influence on the present is simply one of the reasons society needs those who can and will remind all of what has come before. Faulkner’s witness, “not to the actual historical event, but to the remembrance of it” (Simpson 305) is illustrated most clearly through his use of language that imparts a sense of loss upon loss. This hopeless language can be seen through many of the characters, even if the specific techniques mentioned before are not utilized explicitly in regards to them. While this despair is seen in the characters and felt by the reader, the sense of boundless loss Faulkner conjures is emblematic of the time he is portraying, the Civil War South, and even the time in which he is writing, the Pre-Civil Rights South.
When determining which character of Absalom, Absalom! best illustrated the sense of loss that defines the novel and Faulkner’s use of language there within, it is difficult to know which one to examine first. Perhaps it shoud be the fatherless young man shot dead by his brother for presuming to seduce their sister with African-American blood coursing through his veins, or the brother who felt the need to pull the trigger, or the sister who was destined to be “widowed before she had been a bride”(170).  Maybe it should be the man whose “voluntary incarceration” in opposition to a war between brothers led to his starvation, or his daughter, the “child who had never been young”(17)? Perhaps it would be ideal to look at the innocent, shrewd, respectable man with an “invincible fatality”(30) that began the entire tragedy that befell Sutpen’s Hundred made One (141). Or maybe Wash Jones is the proper character with which to start.
Wash Jones was Sutpen’s hired hand or, more precisely, his lackey. Wash would do errands and odd jobs for Sutpen and enjoy the benefits of being around him. Wash does not appear on many pages of the novel, but his presence is felt at critical junctures, and he undoubtedly represents the loss that the narrative illustrates. Wash is the very definition of undefeat. Persistently extolling Sutpen and others with the dichotomic mantra of “They mought have killed us but they aint whupped us yit” (153), Wash is used to announce the central event of the novel and then to both commit and suffer the most grievous and viscerally repelling act of the entire Sutpen story.  By both destroying Sutpen’s design to ever produce a viable heir within the novel and extending beyond his fictional representation to reveal “the delusions and helplessness of the ‘poor white trash’ in the Civil War South” (Rodden 23), Wash Jones assumes a significance that his limited presence on the pages of Absalom, Absalom! could easily conceal.
A character that certainly did not suffer from a lack of presence in the story is Rosa Coldfield. Rosa is derisively referred to as “the town's and the county's poetess laureate” (8). She is mocked with the rhyme: “Rosie Coldfield, lose him, weep him; caught a beau but couldn’t keep him” (141). Rosa is a character who grows from functioning out of a “young and indomitable unregret” (11) to an attitude based “out of some bitter and implacable reserve of undefeat” (8). Quentin treats her as an old woman not worthy of being listened to (143). Sutpen treats her as a factory to produce him a male heir (102) and Rosa herself recognizes that she is a “child who had never been young” (17) or learned “how to play” (22). Rosa was a woman who was “born too late” (17) and never knew love. Rosa’s relationship to the events of the story often mirror her father’s “voluntary incarceration” (68); she refuses to engage in any manner she does see as appropriate and ends up withering away to an emotional nothingness and a perpetual outsider. Rosa, “who in actual fact was [Judith’s] aunt and who by actual years should have been her sister and who in actual hope and experience and opportunity should have been the niece” (58). This Rosa who is “neither aunt, cousin, nor uncle, Rosa” (144). She is simply “Miss Rosa Coldfield” (144), nothing more until she is nothing more. Rosa is the only narrator who has actually met Thomas Sutpen. Rosa is the “only one who lived with him and his family, the one who wore her own dead sister's wedding ring during her short-lived betrothal to him” (Lazure 480); Rosa is the “central catalyst” (Lazure 480) of Absalom, Absalom! for “it is she who sparks Quentin's fascination with the Sutpens and she who takes him to Sutpen's Hundred and forces him to become not only a listener but also a physical player—and the unwitting bearer of her legacy—in this story” (Lazure 480). If any of Faulkner’s characters illustrate the significant loss of actuality and loss of potentiality, it is Rosa Coldfield.
Rosa Coldfield’s situation and suffering make it rather easy to see the loss she endured. The opposite is true for Thomas Sutpen, but Sutpen is a character of loss as well. Faulkner uses three distinct terms in a manner that diverges from or contradicts their ordinary meanings. In doing so, Faulkner shows the lack that Sutpen both endures and creates, as well as the perpetual ramifications of his actions and, as a typified version of the Civil War South, the perpetual ramifications of the War and Southern ideology.
Sutpen is a character of “invincible fatality” who exhibits a shrewdness, respectability, and innocence that are all far from how people generally use these terms.
The one of these three terms that Sutpen most resembles in its everyday sense is shrewdness. An ambitious reader would not have to venture too far to find the necessary evidence to produce a quality argument for Thomas Sutpen as a shrewd man. However, anyone offering a counterargument would find significantly more evidence to rebut. Sutpen’s shrewdness is surface only, as his actions are often less manipulatively wise as they are instinctual and counterproductive. Sutpen “believed that all that was necessary was courage and shrewdness and the one he knew he had and the other he believed he could learn if it were to be taught”(206). Sutpen knew he had couragage; he believed he could be taught shrewdness. However, Mr. Compson clarifies that Sutpen did not even know what shrewdness was, “he did not mean shrewdness, Grandfather said. What he meant was unscrupulousness”(207). Here is where the evidence for Sutpen’s shrewdness can be found. If the reader takes Sutpen’s understanding of shrewd, as a synonym for unscrupulous based on the fact that the term unscrupulous had not made it yet into the lexicon of Henry Sutpen because “it would not have been in the book from which the school teacher read” (207), then Sutpen certainly could be considered a shrewd man. However, this convoluted understanding of shrewd is the one which most people have. Faulkner uses this contradictory understanding to disorient the reader and create a sense of unease about Sutpen and the entire situation with the realization that Sutpen, in a sense, was still innocent of terms like unscrupulous and would have viewed his actions as shrewd or even courageous:
(he did not mean shrewdness, Grandfather said. What he meant was unscrupulousness only he didn't know that word because it would not have been in the book from which the school teacher read. Or maybe that was what he meant by courage, Grandfather said). (207)
Rosa notes how Sutpen “concealed himself behind respectability” (12), but this respectability is not that which people normally think of. Sutpen “scuttle[ed] into respectability like a jackal into a rockpile” (148). Sutpen needed respectability, and he had none of his own. He did not have the history or the name, but he knew needed it. Sutpen desired “the shield of a virtuous woman” in order to “to make his position impregnable even against the men who had given him protection on that inevitable day and hour when even they must rise against him in scorn and horror and outrage” (11). Sutpen was not in and of himself a person to be respected. His actions did not warrant respect, neither did his attitudes. The respectability he received was only symbolic. He married into a respected family, but Sutpen did not have any actual respectability in the eyes of the people. Rather, he brought the family in which he entered down to the depths of the irrespectability he initially brought with him to Jefferson.
The term used for Sutpen that is most counterintuitive is innocent. Mr. Compson reminds Quentin that “Sutpen's trouble was innocence” (182). After being exposed to rejection and the idea of socio-economic exclusion, Sutpen “discovered, not what he wanted to do but what he just had to do, had to do it whether he wanted to or not, because if he did not do it he knew that he could never live with himself for the rest of his life” (187). After discovering the world and discovering his own “innocence,” Sutpen realized what he needed to do. The problem rested in his inability of doing it “because he not only had not known that he would have to do this, he did not even know that it existed to be wanted, to need to be done, until he was almost fourteen years old” (183). Owen Robinson notes that, “[d]espite the extreme poverty and simplicity of his family’s circumstances, there is an air of prelapsarian innocence” (107) about Sutpen and his plans. Fourteen-year-old Sutpen is even “innocent even of his innocence, rendering its perfection all the more dangerous in its collapse” (Robinson 107). Sutpen’s interaction with the black butler barring his entrance to the white man’s home set his life “on its idiosyncratic course” (Robinson 107) where his “innocence” remained, at least to some degree and in its purely ignorant form. His original innocence “left him vulnerable – a vulnerability that fuels his determination to rid himself of it” (Robinson 107). This is why Sutpen could truthfully tell Mr. Compson that his actions were not driven by anger. Sutpen was not mad:
He insisted on that to Grandfather. He was just thinking, because he knew that something would have to be done about [the rejection]; he would have to do something about it in order to live with himself for the rest of his life and he could not decide what it was because of that innocence which he had just discovered he had, which (the innocence, not the man, the tradition) he would have to compete with. He had nothing to compare and gauge it by but the rifle analogy, and it would not make sense by that. He was quite calm about it, he said, sitting there with his arms around his knees in his little den beside the game trail where more than once when the wind was right he had seen deer pass within ten feet of him, arguing with himself quietly and calmly while both debaters agreed that if there were only someone else, some older and smarter person to ask. But there was not, there was only himself, the two of them inside that one body, arguing quiet and calm: But I can shoot him. (182)
So, even when Sutpen acted in a manner utterly reprehensible, his “innocence” held on because his actions were simply fulfilling the plans he made in his state of innocence, plans not made out of sinful hatefulness but pre-fall practicality and post-fall necessity. However, this is another instance where Faulkner’s use of the term is subversive and says more than it says. Before Sutpen’s “innocence” is introduced, the reading has had a heavy dose of Rosa’s perspective about the “ogre” (17), the “demon” (6), and after the explanation of Sutpen’s innocence, the reader has chapters left to see time and again how truly uninnocent Sutpen actually is, even if he did suffer significant loss.
            Rosa and Sutpen were not the only characters who experienced loss and a continued loss in Absalom, Absalom!. Virtually all of the characters suffered immense tragedy and significant loss. Charles Bon grew up without a father, finds his father, seduces his sister, and is killed by his brother. Bon lost everything, gained it, and lost it again. Henry lost (forsook) his birthright, his brother, and his life. Judith was the notwife of a “nothusband” (5) who moved from a “young girl’s vague and pointless and dreamy unvolition” (87) to a “widow without ever having been a bride” (12) who became a “widow sure enough without having been anything at all” (12). Her engagement with Charles Bon was one “which did not engage, (a) troth which failed to plight” (10).
While all of the instances of Faulkner’s unique use of language are worth noting, most turns-of-a-phrase are single occurrences. However, there is one unique “un” usage that occurs repeatedly in the book and from the lips of multiple narrators. Undefeat shows up five times in Absalom, Absalom!,and it is used in reference to Rosa, Henry, and Thomas Sutpen. The universal nature of this word in regards to the novel seems too conspicuous to not be purposeful. Faulkner repeatedly uses “undefeat” to define characters and events of the Sutpen family and the Civil War South. The Sutpen clan did not enjoy victory. Neither did the South in the Civil War or the South of Faulkner’s own time. The fact that these characters experience undefeat at first glance indicates a persistence and a victory-in-the-face-of-defeat mindset. However, it is more of a bleak picture than that. Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! does not provide silver linings. The thing with defeat is that it offers a new start to the one who accepts it. The person who refuses to accept defeat, however, suffers the same loss over and over again. “Impotent yet indomitable” (5) Sutpen suffered this. Rosa suffered this. Henry in his refusal to crush the “eggshell shibboleth” (115) of race suffered this. Wash suffered this in his vengeful and fearful slaughtering of Sutpen and his own family. Goodhue suffered this in marrying off his daughter to an ogre and then jailing himself in an attic. The post-Civil War South, in all of its “The South Will Rise Again” glory, suffered this, as did the volatile South of Faulkner’s own era.
Faulkner’s genius may be accurately found in his willingness to let his characters speak. In an exchange with Malcom Cowley, Faulkner credited his literary success to his willingness to listen to “the voices.” “I listen to the voices and when I put down what the voices say, it’s right,” Faulkner wrote. He added that at times, “I don’t like what they say, but I don’t change it” (Cowley 114). This is true throughout Faulkner’s writing and especially in Absalom, Absalom!. Beyond letting the characters speak for themselves, Faulkner’s psychoanalytical-influenced view of language even allows the internal voices of the characters speak for themselves and communicate, almost directly, from the character’s own emotional center to the emotional center of the reader. Realizing that “in some respects, we are never the complete masters of our words” because “[w]e speak…out of our cultural and ideological contexts, often not realizing that, like the novelist, we are ‘listening’ and faithfully speaking or writing down what they say” (Kartiganer 30) forces everyone to recognize the impact and influence of language upon the thoughts, emotions, and actions of people. Faulkner let the characters of Absalom, Absalom! speak for themselves and, in doing so, allowed them to speak directly to the reader.

Works Cited
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York, Random House, 1974.
Bowker, Gordon. James Joyce: A New Biography. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.
Cowley, Malcom. The Faulkner-Cowley File. Viking Press, 1966.
Faulkner, William. Novels 1936-1940: Absalom, Absalom!. New York, Literary Classics of the United States, 1990, pp. 1-316.
Gammelgaard, Judy. “The Talking Cure: Psychoanalysis and the Ambiguity of Language.” The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 38, no. 2, 2015, pp.86-93.
Holditch, W. Kenneth.  “William Faulkner and Other Famous Creoles.” Faulkner and His Contemporaries. Edited by Joseph Urgo and Ann Abadie. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Inge, M.T. and Inge, D.R. “William Faulkner and Guimarães Rosa: A Brazilian Connection.” Faulkner and His Contemporaries. Edited by Joseph Urgo and Ann Abadie. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Kartiganer, Donald. “‘Listening to the Voices’: Public and Fictional Language in Faulkner.” Southern Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 2, 2008, pp. 28-43.
Lazure, Erica Plouffe. “A Literary Motherhood: Rosa Coldfield's Design in Absalom, Absalom!.” Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 3-4, 2009, pp. 479-496.
Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate. Lion in the Garden; Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. New York, Random House, 1968.
Robinson, Owen. “‘That florid, swaggering gesture’: Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen as Southern Writer.” European Journal of American Culture, vol. 20, no. 1, 2001,  pp. 100-111.
Rodden, John “ ‘The Faithful Gravedigger’:The Role of ‘Innocent’ Wash Jones and the Invisible ‘WhiteTrash’ in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!.” The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, 2010, pp. 23-38.
Simpson, Lewis. The Fable of the Southern Writer. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1997.
Singal, Daniel Joseph. William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Sykes, John D. “What Faulkner (Might Have) Learned from Joyce.” Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 3-4, 2005, pp. 513-528.

Adam and the Genome: A Review

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic ScienceAdam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science by Scot McKnight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight join together to provide an introductory examination of a topic that has become, and will only become more, critical as we scientifically progress as a people. The mapping of the human genome was a quantum leap for genetic science, and the repercussions reverberated far beyond laboratories and the hard sciences. With such a radical reorientation of how humans interpret the book of nature, it is only appropriate to consider the impact on how we interpret the book of God's special revelation. The need of a work like "Adam and the Genome" is undeniable, and McKnight and Venema are up to the task.

Venema spends the first half of the book examining genetic science and presenting a positive case for naturally guided human evolution. If you have been studying biology or genetics to any significant degree, there is nothing groundbreaking here. But it is a great summary of genetic science as it relates to evolution. Its greatest quality might be the manner in which Venema presents complex scientific data and theory so that it is accessible to any willing to put in the effort. More so, Venema presents the basis for the following section that investigates the epistemological and ontological implications of modern biology's greatest feat.

This is where McKnight jumps in. He is admittedly no scientist, but he is a theologian with significant insight and a manner of presentation saturated with grace. I significantly disagree with McKnight on a number of theological conclusions (denial of original sin being a big one!), but the manner in which he examines these issues in light of genetic science is profitable to emulate, whether the results mirror his conclusions or totally contradict them.

I have accused Dispensational theology of imposing itself with a hyper-literal reading that ignores the historical and culture context of the author and the text. I have been guilty of that myself in many ways with many Scriptural passages, and even if I remain unconvinced of the certainty of evolutionary theory, I am convinced of the necessity to remove as much as possible the cultural blinders that keep me from reading the Bible as it is intended to be read. if that is the totality of the impact this book has upon me, it will have been time well spent. But I have a feeling that its reverberations will be a bit more far-reaching.

ARC provided for review.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground

Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common GroundAdventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground by Richard J. Mouw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. Richard Mouw is an encouraging person, and this is an encouraging look at his life. As someone who was converted late in my teens and proceeded to join the only denomination, nay-the only church, that was anywhere near biblical (and then proceeded to do that very thing 2 or 3 more times), I have been on a 15-year quest to be properly catholic-gracious yet discerning, willing to learn but able to stand firm, charitable yet wholly convinced. Hearing the former Fuller President reminisce about the ebb and flow of his thought and life reminded me of the need and benefit of recognizing that charity is not a weakness and grace is not opposed to standing firm.

Mouw offers a memoir rather than an autobiography, and I am glad that he chose to do so. First, it allowed me to learn the difference, and second, that choice gave him the freedom to organize his recollections around topics and ideas, rather than chronology and events. Some people’s lives are defined by events, but some people are better examined through an ideological lens, and Mouw definitely falls into the latter category.

I do not always agree with Mouw, but I appreciate the fact that he is firmly convicted of his beliefs and firmly determined to be a unifier, divide-crosser, and brother to all who find their hope and joy in Jesus Christ, as well as a friend to all who bear the image of the eternal One.

Mouw’s memoir is a blessing that needs to be read by many, many people.

Review copy provided.

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Evolution and the Bible

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say YesEvolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes by Denis Lamoureux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Denis Lamoureux has produced a work that will go a long way in combatting the fallacious either/or dichotomy that continually drives many unbelievers away from the Christian faith and many believers away from scientific endeavors. Lamoureux combines history, theology, science, and personal anecdotes to help the reader recognize that reading Genesis has never been as straightforward as many would seek all to believe. This volume, and Lamoureux’s work in general, is doing much to knock down Evangelical shibboleths that go beyond requiring allegiance to God’s word by requiring unquestioned loyalty to one interpretation of God’s word. There are plenty of areas that I would disagree with Lamoureux’s conclusions as well as presuppositions, and I think the book suffers from a couple of unnecessary sections (I am not sure how Darwin’s faith or lack thereof actually matters in this discussion), but the book as a whole is solid.

Can you be a Christian and embrace evolution? Lamoureux would argue that not only can this be the case, but this should be the case. I do not know if I am ready to go that far with him, but I have become increasingly willing to embrace the fact that genuine, God-fearing, Christ-loving, Bible-believing Christians can be fully convinced about evolution as the mechanism of God’s creation. If you want a brief, clear, approachable representation of the argumentation that has brought me and others to this point, Lamoureux’s newest work is precisely what you’re looking for.

Review Copy received from the publisher

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Martin Luther

Martin Luther (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 Simonetta Carr’s series of biographies is a hard set to define. The books are aimed at children, but they are informative and utterly unique. I guess what I am trying to say is that I do not feel embarrassed that I consistently find a way to shelve these with my books rather than my kids—selfish, yes; embarrassed, no.

Carr’s biography of Martin Luther is destined to endure this same sort of shelf migration the which others have grown accustomed. It comes just in time for the 500th celebration of the Reformation next year when many around the world will be thanking God anew for that special grace he exhibited in Wittenberg in October of 1517. Carr’s work will serve as an invaluable aid because of how engaging, encouraging, and spiritually and mentally edifying it is.

The biographical details are clearly presented, and most readers will not have any problem with the text. Younger readers might need a parent to read through it with them the first time, and I would encourage you to be the one to volunteer to read it with them. Beyond the text, the book as a whole is expectedly gorgeous. If this is your first entrance into the series, you will be amazed. If you have enjoyed Carr’s bios before, do not expect to be the least bit disappointed. The maps are helpful; the illustrations are gorgeous. The photos of places and relics make you feel like you are visiting a museum. My favorite pictures are the one of Luther’s room at the Wartburg castle and the drawbridge he crossed upon leaving his place of hiding. The book concludes with a “Did You Know” section, a timeline, and some excerpts from his catechism. I would have taken a page at the end and included the text of “A Mighty Fortress,” but that simply may be just my immense affection for the song shining through.

Martin Luther another great volume from the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series. Grab this one, or any of them, and you will be greatly pleased.

Review copy provided.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Alfred HitchcockAlfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alfred Hitchcock created brilliant works of art that revolutionized the filmmaking industry. Hitchcock’s ability to tell a story through what he said and showed, and more so through what he left unsaid and unshowed, has made him a perennial favorite for many, myself included.

Peter Ackroyd has shown himself to be a preeminent biography with his works on Chaplin, Shakespeare, London, Dickens, and more. His short biography of Hitchcock is no different. Ackroyd leads the reader through the story of a life filled with quirk, sorrow, and success. From a child who “never cried” to a young man introduced to his beloved Alma to the young director practical-joking his way out of a less-than-enticing studio contract and many the actress almost out of her mind to the man who produced masterpieces like Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, Psycho, and Rear Window to a man in his final days, Ackroyd aptly navigates the life and, to a lesser degree, the mind of this flawed-genius. Hitchcock was far from Midas, but he certainly produced a fair amount of gold. Ackroyd examines the great films and the not-so-great, and it is fun to look at them all.

My one main criticism of Ackroyd’s biography of Hitchcock is the abruptness with which we leave the story. Hitchcock is dying and then he is dead and then later Alma dies. It was not exactly as thrown-on-the-brakes as my summary, but it was not far from it. I would have preferred to linger in that moment a bit more—a fade to black instead of a jump cut to the credits, if you will—and I would have liked to have a bit more interaction with Alma post-Alfred. Small quibbles over an otherwise good biography.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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America's Original Sin

America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New AmericaAmerica's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Race is an issue—a big one. Political campaigns and media (both of the traditional and social varieties) over the past few years have made this fact explicit. America has a problem with race relations, and the Church is not immune. Not only does America have a problem with race relations, America has had a problem with race relations since the before “all men were created equal” was canonized in the American ethos as a “self-evident” truth (all the while people of African descent were being bought and sold and Natives were being herded and extinguished). These are just a couple of reasons why Jim Wallis’s recent book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, the Bridge to a New America, is a welcome addition to book store shelves and the national conversation on race.
Wallis looks at the sinful manner in which this nation has historically engaged those of a minority race—from the treatment of Native Americans to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, and the “New Jim Crow.” Wallis does not merely seek to expose the sinfulness of America’s history; he offers a way to move forward with a non-segregated church marked by overwhelming hospitality that can be utilized to bridge a racial divide both within the body of Christ and the nation in which we reside.
This value of this work is felt most acutely in its explanation and anecdotal evidence of certain hot button issues. White privilege, implicit bias (, racism as prejudice plus power, rejection of colorblindness, white fragility, the segregation of churches, New Jim Crow, school to prison pipeline, justice and policing reform, and many other issues. There is definitely plenty to disagree with and/or question, but these topics should be those that Christians, particularly white Christians, are overwhelmingly willing to engage and, more importantly, be engaged by.

I have some concerns about the positive representations of liberation theology and the social gospel. While I would love to recommend a work of equal eloquence and passion in regards to racial reconciliation that maintains a soteriological framework with which I am more comfortable, I do not know of one. The reason for that truth is worthy of debate, but what is undebatable is the necessity and quality of this Wallis’s work. America’s Original Sin deserves a wide reading because we live in a society that desperately needs to hear and heed what the Wallis is sharing.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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Battle of Seattle

The Battle of SeattleThe Battle of Seattle by Douglas Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 I thoroughly enjoy Douglas Bond’s writing. Bond’s historical fictions are immersive and engaging. It is hard to step away from the story, and the likelihood of one of his stories consuming large segments of your time until you make it to the culminating pages is great. In The Battle of Seattle, Bond tells the story of William Tidd who “played a behind-the-scenes role as an express rider carrying dispatches in the Puget Sound Indian War” and his counterpart, Charlie Salitat, who “was known for his daring and tragic midnight ride warning American settlers of the imminent Indian uprising, a ride that earned him the title, ‘Paul Revere of Puget Sound.’”

Bond’s works of fiction have certain consistent characteristics, and The Battle of Seattle is no different. I enjoy the dialogue that Bond creates. It is interesting and seems very consistent with the timeframe he is portraying. Bond also does an excellent job of setting up a space. In this new work, Bond does this from the beginning as he recounts the tale of a main character being tracked through the woods by a Native and this immersive experience continues throughout. This story blessed me. The story of sacrificial friendship crossing racial boundaries has been particularly encouraging during this season of racial conflict that our nation is suffering through (if not full-on embracing). More than anything, I appreciate how Bond roots all of these novels in the greater story of the resurrected Christ without the hint of preachiness or a forced spirituality.

The Battle of Seattle is yet another Douglas Bond book that I heartily recommend. I know that my boys will enjoy these when they have the chance to read them, and I am rather confident that anyone who gives The Battle of Seattle a careful read will enjoy it as well.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Rhetorical Analysis of “Make America Great Again”

A Rhetorical Analysis of “Make America Great Again”
Rhetoric is an ancient art that has been utilized in many times and in many ways. Whether it is a speech in the public places of Athens or a tract run off of the Gutenberg press, the desire to convince and convert an audience has proven to be virtually ubiquitous. In chapter four of his book, Richard Toye explores the impact of rhetoric on a technologically advanced and globalized society and the impact of this sort of society on rhetoric itself. In commenting on the role of rhetoric in 20th century politics and the “rhetorical presidency” (“The ‘rhetorical presidency’ and the ‘anti-intellectual presidency’”), Toye’s work proves helpful in illuminating the slogans of the 2016 election cycle, specifically Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (Trump) and its pathetic appeal to people lamenting the loss of cultural dominance.
            In chapter four, Toye addresses the complex issue of multiple audiences and the role that both electronic media and globalization have played in exasperating this problem. Although this issue has existed since words have been put to paper, Toye notes how the culture and events of the 20th century put this rhetorical nuance into the spotlight. He points out that the role of rhetoric is often underestimated in the history of war, and that World War II, whether in reference to Churchill, Stalin, or Hitler, was a “global media war … fought alongside the military campaigns” (“Case study: the rhetorical history of World War II”). The 20th century also saw a shift to “the rhetorical presidency” (“The ‘rhetorical presidency’ and the ‘anti-intellectual presidency’”) and changes in American politics and political institutions.
            Donald Trump’s rise to prominence in this year’s presidential campaign struck many people as odd and outlandish. However, some actually viewed this sort of political upheaval as inevitable. Whether you place the responsibility at the feet of the Republican Party (Pierce) or the American political process as a whole (Ignatius), the ascension of a character like Trump seemed destined. 21st century America is not 20th century America; it is not 19th century America either. To those supporting a Donald Trump bid for the Oval Office, the shift in American culture is reason to be alarmed. The difference between progress and regress is often in the eye of the beholder, and Donald Trump’s rise to political prominence makes explicit how many feel in regards to the trajectory of this “once great” nation. More telling than Trump’s popularity is the means by which he achieved the premier position in the Republican Party. Trump’s popularity is due to his use of rhetoric, and his use of rhetoric says as much about his audience as it does about him.
            “Make America Great Again” serves as a perfect microcosm of Trump’s rhetoric and reveals much about the assumptions inherent in many who have been wooed by the Republican nominee for president. In order to make something great again, there has to have been a time when it was great, a time that it became not great, and a way to restore this item to its previous state of greatness. So, to “Make America Great Again” assumes that, at some point, America has moved from a state of greatness to a state of non-greatness—that America has endured a significant regress. 
Not only does the slogan assume a national regress, it assumes that there is someone or something that can reverse the denigration and restore America to its condition of excellence. Grammatically, as an imperative with an understood you, the slogan implies that the hearer, the American, should be and will be the one making America a great nation once again. While this is grammatically the case, what is assumed by many and made explicit in longer pieces of Trumpian rhetoric is that Trump himself will be the one making America great again: “I’m going to make our country rich again. I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones…I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and to America…I am your voice” (Trump).
            These assumptions reveal much about Trump’s audience. “Make America Great Again” assumes national regress, a country where the majority of people’s day-to-day lives are significantly less “great” than they once were. This is not the experience of many. In fact, the experience of those not in power on a national level is significantly better than it has been previously with the abolition of slaves, the right of women to vote, and the federal protection of the LBGT community serving as a few, significant examples. Great hardships still exist for minorities of all sorts, but most will agree that their voices are more respected and responded to than in generations past, and this is a sign of progress. However, when more people are allowed on the stage, there are inevitably less microphones to go around. Minorities are altering policies. Minorities are influencing elections. Minorities are affecting change and wrenching control of a nation out of the hands of the majority. For the minority, this is progress. For the majority, this is regress of the greatest sort. “Make America Great Again” is not far away from “Give me back my country” in what it is trying to convey.
For these reasons, it is perfectly appropriate that in his rhetoric Trump appeals primarily, if not exclusively, to pathos. In relation to his fitness to serve as the chief executive of a nation, Trump has no ethos upon which to stand. Trump’s experience has been limited to running corporations not nations, and the two are undeniably different. The ethical basis of why Donald Trump is the man to “Make America Great Again” is because he is not “them,” and that “they” are the ones who have made America not-great. Beyond that, his credibility is weak, and he is left to rely on the credulity of a large portion of his audience.
Trump also rarely, if ever, appeals to logos. When questioned about the viability of his grandiose plans or the manner in which he will accomplish them, his universal response is some variation of “Believe me…” (Viser). The “Make America Great Again” slogan itself is devoid of logos. It is a purely pathetic appeal. “Make America Great Again” plays on fear, pride, and prejudice. It is an appeal to the primitive, an appeal to the gut. This sort of rhetoric is as effective as it is disconcerting. While not the exclusive property of tyrants and despots, this sort of pathos-exclusive rhetoric is prime for abuse and leaves little room the discerning engagement of the mind.
The 2016 election cycle is as good an example as any of the role of rhetoric in U.S. presidential politics. “Make America Great Again” is a perfect campaign slogan. It is catchy. It is clear. It is concise. Distilled to its essence, it says this: America was pristine; some people broke it; and now it is time to fix it. Trump’s rhetorical effectiveness is a result of a series of assumptions in the minds of his audience. The rhetorical power of “Make America Great Again” is contained in its simultaneous appeal to pathos and disregard of ethos and logos. This rhetoric engages the audience from the neck down, and it is quite effective in doing so. It does not allow room for examination and contemplation, and instead it demands that the hearer simply react—react out of fear, prejudice, and pride. This sort of rhetoric is effective in winning support but powerless to make anything “great.”

Works Cited
Ignatius, David. “How America’s political decay has fueled Trump’s rise.” Washington March 2016, Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.
Pierce, Charles P. “Trump's Campaign-and His Victory-Were Inevitable.” Esquire, 11 Aug. 2016, Accessed 9 Sept. 2016.
Toye, Richard. Rhetoric: a Very Short Introduction. Epub Ed., Oxford University Press, 2013.
Trump, Donald. “2016 RNC Acceptance Speech.” 2016 Republican National Convention, Republican Party, 21 June 2016, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio. Keynote Address.
Viser, Matt. “Donald Trump relies on a simple phrase: ‘Believe me.’” Boston 24 May 2016, Accessed 9 Sept. 2016.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thesis Link

I uploaded my thesis to my Academia site. Here is the link for any who are interested.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

H.L. Mencken

Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. MenckenDamning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken by D.G. Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

D.G. Hart writes tremendous biographies and H.L. Mencken is a man worth knowing. I am tempted to end my review there, but I won't. However, if you decide that that statement is all you need to grab a copy of the book and enjoy, then have at it. For the rest of you, I'll try to offer some support of those initial points.

H.L. Mencken is not a man that you would expect to see in a series of religious biographies. Mencken did not consider himself "religious" and did much to counter the pernicious (as he saw it) influence of religion on American society. In writing on this purposefully secular man, Hart does not counter by seeking to spiritualize every aspect of the man's life. But he does expend much time and energy to dig beneath the surface of Mencken's claims into the heart and reasoning that lies below. In doing so, Hart presents a robust portrait of a man who would be far too easy and quite tempting to caricature.

Hart makes the bold assertion that the Christian culture and ideology "framed" Mencken and the time in which he lived and proceeds to support this assertion throughout his work. Simply said, there is no understanding Mencken the man without understanding the faith and culture by which he was surrounded and to which he directed such furious guile and vitriol. And, again, this man is a man of influence and import who should be known and studied by many more than he is. His writing was prolific and his influence on journalism, writing, and culture in general underrated.

What makes Hart's religious biography of Mencken stand out is that he does not turn Mencken into an object lesson. Hart presents the life of Mencken, good and bad, with an objectivity that has to be difficult to muster as a Christian reporting on a man who openly and derisively despised the Christian faith. But, in doing so, Hart is able to remind the reader that Mencken was a man, a brilliant man, and an image bearer of the one true God, whether Mencken chose to acknowledge this final fact or not.

D.G. Hart's biography of H.L. Mencken is insightful, entertaining, and heartbreaking...pretty much just like H.L. Mencken the man.

I received an ARC from the publisher.

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Thomas Cranmer

Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas CranmerEmblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer by Leslie Winfield Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leslie Williams's short biography of Thomas Cranmer is a fascinating book about a fascinating character in church history and in English history. Since it is a brief biography (about 150 pages), the pace is rapid. While the pace guarantees that "tedious" could never be used to describe the work, details and minutia do not receive the fine-tooth treatment that many would desire.

Williams guides the reader from Cranmer's birth to his infamous death. Cranmer lived in a time of tumult, and he experience much of this himself. Williams's volume describes a flawed and fallen man with whom God was able to do much. Crooked sticks and straight lines immediately come to mind when thinking of Cranmer, and Williams does a superb job of neither vilifying or exalting this man of history as his story is explored.

I received an ARC from the publisher.

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Family Devotional

Big Beliefs!: Small Devotionals Introducing Your Family to Big TruthsBig Beliefs!: Small Devotionals Introducing Your Family to Big Truths by David R. Helm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful resource for families and ministries. Leading a family in regular devotions can be overwhelming for many, and good intentions often lead to discouragement and frustration when goals are set unrealistically and inevitable failure finally rears its head. Big Beliefs! is a book that will benefit many by offering sustainable and attainable goals when beginning family worship.

It is based on the Westminster Confession and offers 3 short lessons and Scripture readings over each chapter of the confession. 3 devotionals a week will still require discipline and determination, but it is doable. It also keeps you from setting the 8-nights-a-week goal that many of us make out of sincerity but break out of reality.

The lessons are short and simple. I cannot imagine an age that would be incapable of sitting through the lesson, and it is easily ramped up for older kids, especially a family with older and younger children.

I am glad this resource is available for my family and for the church at large.

I received and ARC from the publisher.

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