Jesus Skeptic by John Dickerson

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.  

My rating: 5/5

I was excited to read Jesus Skeptic before I even opened it, and I was even more excited about it after reading the first ten pages. I’ve read books like it before, most recently Unimaginable by Jeremiah Johnston, but this is the first book I’ve read that dealt with so thoroughly and with such attention to primary evidence.
By primary evidence, Dickerson explains that he means things like firsthand accounts or historical documents of the time period being discussed, similar to the evidence a journalist (which Dickerson is) would use in writing a story. So, the book explores the primary evidence behind science, education, hospitals, and the abolition of slavery to explore the question of whether Jesus’s teachings have helped further justice and progress, or inhibited it. It’s the question of whether Christianity has been good for the world or not, and Dickerson explores it thoroughly, diving deep into statistics and the people behind many important movements.

I knew many things that this book talked about already, but some I did not, and I enjoyed learning more about how universities were established, the origins of hospitals, and what life was like for the majority of people until about two hundred years ago. And the best part of this book is that Dickerson uses only the words of the people who were involved and facts and statistics that can be obtained by anyone. There are pictures and documents and tons of detailed footnotes. There’s even a website, which I peeked at briefly to see if it would be useful for teaching.

This book was especially helpful for times when I forget what an impact Christianity can have on people. Dickerson shared personal stories of his own, as well as stories of people he knew—again, all primary evidence that can be independently verified. And it will be especially helpful for when my students broach the exact question Dickerson is exploring in this novel. Even if you know this information already, Jesus Skeptic is a worthwhile read—but it’s a vital one if you are not aware of the evidence that is out there for Christian involvement in education, medicine, science, and the abolition of slavery.

Warnings: None

Genre: Nonfiction, Christian

Narrative Apologetics by Alister McGrath

Disclaimer: I voluntarily received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.  

My rating: 4/5

I haven’t read a really academic book in a long time, so the plunge into Alister McGrath’s Narrative Apologetics was a rough one. However, the topic is one that I am deeply interested (and invested) in, as that was the basis of my graduate school studies and something I currently teach. McGrath puts forth his arguments for presenting the Gospel as and through narrative, rather than purely reason.

McGrath introduces the topic of narrative apologetics (basically, showing people God and the Gospel through story), offers practical application, and then uses various narratives, both Biblical and otherwise, to illustrate why and how narrative is so powerful. Using several powerful narratives from the Bible, as well as mentioning narratives from C. S. Lewis, Marilynne Robison, and Dorothy Sayers, McGrath lays forth his reasoning for leaning more on story to share “the relevance, joy, and wonder” of Christianity (to borrow the subtitle), as it reaches more people.

I will admit, the language of the book really did prevent me from delving into this perhaps as deeply as I should have. It is not written for the layperson at all, but rather for the expert in the field. McGrath expects you to know a lot of things already. This is not a criticism, as this is obviously the audience of the book—I’m just trying to explain why I struggled a bit with it (I’m technically an expert, but I’m too used to more casual books). The book is rich in research and footnotes, and McGrath methodically and expertly explains everything. What I liked most about the book was the last chapter where McGrath offers suggestions for how to use Biblical, personal, and cultural narratives in teaching and showing others the Gospel. As a teacher, my mind immediately started thinking of ways to incorporate those into my classroom.

The analytical language and the academic nature of the book did throw me for a loop, but Narrative Apologetics is a book that’s worth returning to in order to take it in more deeply. I feel like I only skimmed the surface and that lots more meaning and application will come out on another read.

Warnings: None

Genre: Nonfiction, Christian

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Disclaimer: I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

My rating: 4/5

I’d Rather Be Reading is, as Annie Spence on the back of the book puts it, “a book lover’s delight.” Bogel cheekily describes a book-lover’s best and worst moments in this short book; hints of tongue-in-cheek humor are interspersed among more serious chapters of imagination, growth, and friendship. The beautiful cover is emblematic of the charm of the book, and a few illustrations are also scattered inside the pages, as well.

The mix of humor and seriousness is a good one, as Bogel lightly talks about her own problems as a bookworm, then highlights the foibles of any bookworm. The switch between “fun” and “let’s get serious” is a little bit jarring, but bookworms are probably more willing to bear with a book that describes them so perfectly. And, despite the fact that many of the books Bogel lists in this novel I was unfamiliar with, I was still able to resonate with the majority of Bogel’s words, her recollections and her confessions, her gentle admonitions and her strong declarations.

This was a fun book for me to read, and though I didn’t necessarily learn much, I’d Rather Be Reading resonated with me for nothing more than the fact that the author is a bookworm, writing for an audience of bookworms, and Bogel showed me that there are people, after all, who know what it’s like to be a voracious reader.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Nonfiction

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2pp9NCL