Chaos Under Heaven, Embodied, No Mere Mortals, and Other Recent Reads
March brought a few great books across my path. Here are some of the highlights:
Chaos Under Heaven - Josh Rogin
After listening to Rogin as he made his way through the podcast circuit, I decided this was a must-read. The relationship and rising tension between the US and China is one of the most important issues in the world, and if you want to understand what’s happening as the Biden administration begins developing its China policy, this is the book you need to read. Rogin covers China and the U.S. for the Washington Post. I’ve recently put him in my I-read-everything-they-write category.
On his podcast, “The Interview,” with Rogin, Hugh Hewitt said there are four books everyone should read to understand the US and China: On China by Henry Kissinger, The Thucydides Trap by Graham Allison, The Hundred-Year Marathon by Michael Pillsbury, and Chaos Under Heaven. I would add H.R. McMaster’s book Battlegrounds to that list. Rogin and McMaster cover similar ground, and both have been significantly influenced by the work of Matthew Pottinger, who was the Deputy National Security Advisor for the Trump administration. Of the bunch, Rogin’s is the most accessible. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it will be one of the most important books of the decade.
Embodied - Preston Sprinkle
Transgenderism is one of the most important issues in our world right now, and because of that - combined with the relentless cultural pressure of the progressive ideology - it is also one of the most important issues in the church. There will be very few churches that do not have to take a stand, explicitly through their teaching or implicitly through their actions, on the issue of gender. While it’s not a topic that any of us probably want to make a central focus, church leaders have no choice but to get on top of the research, terms, and central arguments over gender identity, dysphoria, and transgenderism.
On top of all that, this is an incredible heartbreaking movement, especially when it comes to kids struggling with their gender, parents who feel alienated from their children, schools and organizations being targeted as pawns in the culture wars, and those who have taken life-altering drugs or who have undergone irreversible surgeries who regret their decisions.
(I’ll probably do a longer review on the blog in the future, but here’s a high-level analysis.) Sprinkle certainly has the chops to tackle this topic. He aims at the most accommodating, most conciliatory possible position while maintaining a biblical view of sexuality and gender. He believes that marriage is confined to a man and a woman, for example, but he also endorses “pronoun hospitality,” using someone's preferred pronouns in order to build relationships on their terms. The strongest part of the book is the research, the weakest is the accommodation to the point that biological sex and gender may truly be different.
There are several places where I think he gives away too much, and his arguments and exegesis suffer from it, but I cannot commend him any higher for his tone, willingness to listen, and extraordinary care to love those among us who are struggling with their gender identity.
I’m loving the books in the new series, “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” from Crossway. Biblical theology traces a theme through Scripture chronologically, showing how it changes, develops, and matures through the path of revelation. Greg Beale, one of the great biblical theologians in the church, tracks the theme of irony through the Bible. Haman builds a gallows for Mordecai, but it turns out to be the place of his own death when his plan is spoiled. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery but fled to him for salvation when a famine hit the land. The devil thought he had finally achieved victory over God when Jesus went to the cross, but it is Jesus’ death that will conquer death forever. Along with Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund and The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture by Frank Thielman, I highly recommend this one to grow in your knowledge of the whole of Scripture.
No Mere Mortals - Toby Sumpter
When you’re about to get married, you get a lot of book recommendations. In the Christian book world, there is no shortage of good marriage material - and bad marriage material for that matter. Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller, The 5 Love Languages and Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Thomas are some of the best. I read this one for a different angle and because it recently came out. Sumpter may be a little bit traditional for some on gender roles in the family, but he has some great advice for building a marriage based on a love for Christ and for each other. If this is what you’re looking for, Reforming Marriage by Doug Wilson is the summa.
With a Mighty Triumph - Rhett Dodson
Every year I pick something new to read in the Easter season. Over the years, I have grown so much from devotionals like The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy and Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die by John Piper during Lent and preparing for Easter. This year I chose With a Mighty Triumph by Rhett Dodson, because I had read his book Marching to Zion on the “Songs of Ascent” in Psalms 120-134 for a series I was teaching.
Banner of Truth is the best Christian publisher for the Puritans. Their Puritan Paperback series contains some of the best Christian writing in the history of the church. If you’re looking for John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, John Newton, or Richard Baxter, check them out. I scroll through their new releases every few months to see what’s new. The books they’ve published have pastored me and challenged me so well. Dodson is a modern preacher in the style of the Puritans. These books are based on his sermons, so they read a little bit less like a book and more like a lecture. He’s excellent at hitting the cerebral side of the text without devolving into a dry commentary. To quote Paul Hollywood, it’s a bit dry but the flavor’s good.
Flint - Louis L'Amour
If you pay any attention to the news these days, you owe it to yourself to indulge in a little bit of healthy escapism. Go to Half Price Books, pick up Hondo, Conagher, or any other Louis L’Amour book out of the clearance section and take a trip to a world where justice and character win out, hard work makes the world go round, and strong women and daring men subdue the Western plains. As I’ve made my way through 10-12 of these books in the last 6 months (great reading whenever you leave town, find yourself in the mountains, or need to stuff a novel in your back pocket and wait for your first vaccine dose) I’ve been surprised by the depth of character in these books. There are plenty of strong silent types, gunfighters, and damsels in distress, but there are also deep-thinking, truth-seeking, and family-building women and men that keep the stories interesting and intriguing.
Foundation - Peter Ackroyd
The next two books may not appeal to everyone, but for my fellow Anglophiles, I highly recommend Ackroyd’s history of England and Roberts’ forthcoming George III biography. In this first of five volumes, Ackroyd does something very rare among historians. He’s figured out how to move the plot along and keep things interesting! Though he covers several thousands of years of history in this book, including the whole Roman and medieval periods leading up to the coronation of Henry VIII, this is no mere fly-by. Every few chapters, Ackroyd will zoom out for a couple of prescient insights, or zoom in to talk about everyday life. While it’s not as detailed as most historical studies, (take Blood Royal by Robert Bartlett, for example, fascinating but meticulous) it does provide valuable insights into the course of history. Marc Morris and Dan Jones have written histories in this same vein, and Robert Tombs’ one-volume The English and Their History was very good, but so far as I can tell, this is my pick for the history of England.
George III - John Cannon
With Andrew Roberts’ George III bio set for release in November, I’m staving off the excitement with a little bit of background reading. I’ll do one long and one short biography to be able to appreciate Roberts’ work. The only recent full-length scholarly bio of George III is by Jeremy Black, published in 2009. Roberts’ will immediately become the standard.
George III gets a bad rap. He lost the American colonies, Thomas Jefferson lampooned him in the Declaration of Independence, and Lin Manuel Miranda gave his straw-man lookalike quite a beat down in Hamilton. The only problem is that there’s a lot more to George III than the American Revolution, as important as that was. He was also on the throne when the British led the continental army to defeat Napoleon. He ushered in a renaissance age in British life. He also went crazy for the last few years of his life. Most importantly, he was the grandfather of Queen Victoria. His sixty-year reign spanned a constellation of changes that brought the world into the present. I’m glad to have learned a little bit more about him and looking forward to the next two books even more.
In the Stack:
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship - Pete Scazzero
Tudors - Ackroyd
Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? - L. Michael Morales
Theology Is for Preaching - Edited by Chase R. Kuhn & Paul Grimmond
Simply Trinity - Matthew Barrett
A Church Called Tov - Scot McKnight
Reading While Black - Esau McCaulley
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.