Reviewing Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash”

This guest review is by Dr. Miles Smith.

In 2014 The King’s College professor Anthony Bradley wrote an article on the plight of poor whites for World Magazine. That Bradley, an African American, first raised the issue seems strange, but Bradley did not downplay or ignore the racial differences between poor whites and African Americans. His argument instead transcended race, pointing out the shared socioeconomic hardships experienced by poor rural whites and blacks in modern American society. More importantly, Bradley noticed, suburban and urban Evangelicals typically joined the broader culture in shaming working class rural whites for their poverty and their culture. Bradley noted that “urban, justice-loving evangelicals easily shame white, suburban, conservative evangelicals for their racially homogenized lives, both communities seem to share a disdain for lower-class white people.”

Culturally pejorative terms for working class rural whites, “‘Rednecks,’ ‘crackers,’ “hoosiers,’ and ‘white trash’ are all derogatory terms used to describe a population of lower-class whites who have suffered centuries of injustice and social marginalization in America, especially from educated Christians.” That these terms remain acceptable in respectable society speaks to the wholesale marginalization of rural working class whites. Continue reading

Misreading Tolkien and Misreading Scripture: Responding to O’Keefe and Reno

I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. I offer a critique in two (brief) parts:


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Soma and the Silencing of Evangelicalism After Trump

In his novel Silence Japanese writer Shusaku Endo tells the story of two Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan. After initial pioneering work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century, a small native Japanese church had begun to flourish in the mid-to-late 16th century, possibly growing as large as 100,000 people. Then the government took a hard anti-Christian turn, closed the island to foreigners, and began a harsh regime of persecution against the Japanese Christians.

At the center of this persecution were small icons called fumi-e, pictured above. During the torture, the government officials told the Christians that all they needed to do to end it is agree to trample on the fumi-e, which was understood to be a way of renouncing the faith. To make sure it took, it was common practice in much of Japan to require former Christians to step on a fumi-e once a year. (Silence spoilers below the jump.) Continue reading

Reviewing Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church” Pt 1

Other Posts in the Series:

A few months ago I asked my friend Joseph Minich if he’d be kind enough to review Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church for us. He said he would. And then wrote 9000 words about it. We’re going to run his review in its entirety, but we’re doing it over two days. Today’s first part is simply going to be a summary of Leeman’s argument. On Wednesday, Minich will turn to making a critical assessment of Leeman’s work.

Before handing things off to Joe, I wanted to take one paragraph to explain why we’re running a review of such length. The answer is simple: I expect ecclesiology to be one of the defining debates of our generation in the western church.

We’re at something of a turning point in the west. The old mainline denominations are failing. In one sense we all ought to say “good riddance” as nearly all of them have long since become apostate. In another sense, however, their loss is still devastating. These institutions are the oldest Protestant institutions in North America and they are collapsing before our eyes. Rome appears headed a similar route for the most part, although I expect there will be a few regions that remain more orthodox, thanks largely to the influence of orthodox bishops. (This isn’t intended as a slur against Rome; rather it’s simply an assessment of the fact that Francis appears to be pushing the church in a more episcopalian direction not only theologically, but in terms of its polity.)

What we are left with is evangelicalism—and evangelicalism is comprised chiefly of relatively new institutions that do not know their tradition’s history, do not have discernible mechanisms for learning their history, and do not have solid answers for questions of ordinary parish ministry, church life, and church governance. If the American church has a future, it will be because God is faithful to us and aids us in finding solid answers to the vexing problems of church life and governance.

Therefore, taking the time to think about these questions and to address them faithfully is important. So yes, we’re running a 9000 word book review. But we’re doing it because, first, we need to faithfully depict Leeman’s actual argument and, second, we need to interact with it critically. Whatever one might think of Leeman’s book, one must recognize the value of Leeman’s contribution to the evangelical conversation about the church. His book will, I hope, encourage many more  people to reflect on these questions carefully and deeply. I also hope that this review by Joe will help further that work. (NOTE: If it would be helpful to you, I will be uploading a PDF of the review that will be available when we publish the full review on Wednesday. So if you would rather read a print out than read 9,000 words on a backlit screen, we’ll have that for you on Wednesday.) On that note, I’ll pass it on to Joe.


Daniel Rodgers has called our era an “age of fracture.” This expression captures the identity crises which exist among all institutions seeking to navigate their way through what is often termed “liquid modernity.” The “evangelical” community is no exception to this identity crisis. The diversity of its many self-professed adherents as well as the speed at which independent influences randomly and variously come together (or apart)  leads many to think that orthodox American evangelicalism is fundamentally ungrounded. Continue reading

Reviewing “You Are What You Love” by James K.A. Smith

I’m pleased to run this guest review by Dr. Jeffrey Bilbro of Spring Arbor University of James K.A. Smith’s new book You Are What You Love. You can follow Dr. Bilbro on Twitter @jeff_bilbro.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Verses like this one are often cited to urge the importance of Christian worldview training. They seem to indicate that the Christian life is about thinking the right thoughts. Yet in the previous verse, Paul tells the Roman Christians to “present your bodies” to God, linking the way we use our bodies to intellectual renewal. Continue reading

Reviewing “Disrupted” by Dan Lyons

About two-thirds of the way through Dan Lyons’ new book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble my mind went, as it often does, to an excerpt from a Wendell Berry essay. The essay is “Two Economies” and in it Berry begins by talking about how the great problem facing us today is that our economies are not large enough to hold all of life. If there’s a fact that looms large throughout Lyons’ darkly funny new book, that is it. Continue reading

3 Lessons from “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens”

I was planning to read Larry Taunton’s The Faith of Christopher Hitchens before reading Samuel’s review for us. His review made me push it to the top of my “too read” list. And then I got the thing and read it over two days, such was my delight with it. I’m not sure I recall the last time a book I expected to like enormously still far surpassed my expectations of it. Continue reading

Reviewing “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens”

I’m pleased to publish this guest post by Samuel D. James. You can learn more about him in his bio at the end of this post.

Larry Taunton, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. Thomas Nelson, 2016. 201 pp. $24.99.

“If Christopher Hitchens didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to invent him.” That blurb of praise from the novelist Ian McEwan may have helped to sell published collections of essays, but it turns out to be more true than its source perhaps intended. The late journalist and New Atheist kingpin was not entirely what he appeared to be, and that is the story that Christian apologist Larry Taunton sets out to tell in The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.

Taunton’s remarkable book is neither a salacious tell-all nor a craven attempt to plant a religious flag on “Hitch’s” legacy; both secularists looking for hagiography and believers seeking vindication will be disappointed. On the other hand, readers who want a remarkable account of the intellectual and—yes—spiritual journey of one of religion’s fiercest and ablest critics will be delighted. McEwan was prescient; only God could have invented someone like Christopher Hitchens. Continue reading

A Review of Theology as Discipleship by Keith Johnson

I’m pleased to publish this review by Joshua S. Hill of Keith L. Johnson’s new book Theology as Discipleship.

Following the release of The Pastor Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, and The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, both published in 2015, one would naturally expect the next book to frame theology in such a manner to follow neatly in the preceding footsteps. (Ed. Note: We interviewed Hiestand and Vanhoozer about their books on Mere Fidelity.) Continue reading

Reviewing Peter Leithart’s Traces of the Trinity

I’m pleased to run this guest post by Josiah Alexakos.

In the final chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the concluding book of The Chronicles of Narnia series, Lucy Pevensie realizes that the “New” Narnia that Aslan brings into existence is not new, but rather the real Narnia. “Old” Narnia was actually a shadow of the real Narnia, which was now fully visible. Within the shadows, one had been able to see a glimpse of the full reality of Narnia, but none of the characters were aware of this until it had been revealed to them. Continue reading