By Cathy Norman Peterson
CHICAGO, IL (May 13, 2014) — Book Briefs is an online feature of the Covenant Companionthat highlights new releases by Covenant authors. These reviews will supplement those provided in the magazine and are available on both Covenant Newswire and the Companion website. Both books reviewed below are available for purchase at CovBooks.com.
Funny Stuff in the Bible: A Field Trip in the Bible Library by Phil Johnson (Resource Publications)
Longtime Covenanter Phil Johnson invites readers to join him on a field trip of sorts in Funny Stuff in the Bible. The trek is a journey through the Bible to uncover the fun in the text. “Let’s part the clouds of morality and of religious seriousness that hang like smog over the Bible library and laugh a little,” he says.
Yet don’t be deceived by the title or the slightness of this book (just 137 pages). It’s no joke book with scriptural punch lines. Rather, this book could as accurately be titled “Tricky Parts of the Bible.” Johnson’s aim is to help readers see familiar texts with new eyes. He points out ironies, the jokes Jesus makes, the incongruity of the idea that a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep behind just to track down one missing lamb. He also unpacks “hard” parts—the parable of the dishonest steward, the violence inflicted upon the Philistines in the story of Samson, the bears that tear children to pieces when they tease Elisha about being bald.
Johnson is a knowledgeable guide. He turns to others—a variety of scholars, poets, philosophers—to help elucidate these stories. He also creates a couple of fictional characters named Sarah and Joseph who might have been followers of the Way and contemporaries of Jesus. Through their eyes we see Johnson’s creative depictions of life in the early church. His conversational tone invites readers to join him on this journey.
Cultural Enslavement: Breaking Free into Abundant Living by David Wenell (Wipf & Stock)
In what ways are we captive to our culture? This is the question Covenant minister David Wenell asks in Cultural Enslavement: Breaking Free into Abundant Living. Seeking a life of abundance, Wenell invites readers to reconsider their engagement with culture, specifically in areas of technology, career, entertainment, money, and external appearances. He intersperses his reflections with illustrations from pop culture—movies, music lyrics, TV shows—writers, and his own life.
Part 1 focuses on the cultural traps in which we may become embroiled. In his chapter on career he writes from the perspective of primary caregiver for his children, discussing the challenges homemakers face in finding their identity and purpose in a calling that much of our culture too often still tends to dismiss as unimportant. His chapter on selfishness focuses not only on individuals’ proclivities here, but on how churches too may become selfish. “Sometimes we can have the mindset that our church can solve all of our community’s problems on our own. We wouldn’t dare think of partnering with other ministries to increase our outreach…because we should be able to do it on our own.”
In the second half of the book, Wenell offers alternatives. One antidote to becoming overly dependent on technology is to go outside into creation—not just on perfect summer days, but all the time. An alternative to isolation is community, and Wenell makes the effort to deconstruct idealized images of community. “Community is easiest when we’re surrounded by people who look like us,” he writes. “It happens more quickly. But it’s seldom real community.”
Each chapter concludes with questions for reflection.
Scoundrels and Fools: Part One of Necessary Things by Everett Wilson (RealBooks)
“The necessary things are faith, hope, and love. Scoundrels, fools, principalities and powers are unnecessary things which…stand in the way of the will of God.”
So begins the second novel by retired Covenant pastor Everett Wilson, Scoundrels and Fools. The book tells the story of Emmet Jordan, a farm boy growing up in the 1950s in Bowl City, Nebraska. He is blessed with the opportunities and support of his well-to-do family as he makes his way from his one-room school to university education to becoming, as one newspaper called him “the most despised [lawyer] on Chicago’s north shore.”
Emmet fosters a misperception that he is naïve and inexperienced. In reality he is savvy and wealthy—until he gets caught up in two crises that change his life and the lives of people he loves.
Part Two, Principalities and Powers, is in process.