Bill on Books

Bill on Books - January 2020

One of the tasks that I enjoy is ordering new titles for the store. In a year I pour through hundreds of publisher catalogues as well as reading thousands of reviews published in New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Christianity Today, New York Times Book Review, First Things, Englewood Review of Books, plus the endless book mentions on blogs, in op-ed columns, word-of-mouth, and it goes on. The end result is that here at Regent Bookstore it is Christmas every day and regular shipments of books arrive! All this reading tends to give a bookstore buyer knowledge that is a mile-wide and hopefully a little more than an inch deep. In thinking on this I have decided to start sharing short reviews under the heading of Three Inch Reviews. I have spent years in close proximity to so many titles that I have not actually read even if having an acquaintance with many of them, and even readily recommending them. In this last part of my bookselling career I am thinking it would be good to share some of this knowledge with brief summaries. Here is my latest installment.

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The Dearly Beloved
The Dearly Beloved
Cara Wall
Simon & Schuster, 2019
These days, a novel submitted to a New York publisher that features lifelong, faithful marriage as a theme would generally receive the kiss of death. But Cara Wall not only succeeded in getting published, she also has received a warm reception from reviewers. The title is taken from the biblical expression that begins the marriage liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God.” The lives of James and Nan McNally and Charles and Lily Barrett merge when James and Charles are both hired to co-pastor an historic Presbyterian church in New York in 1963. They come from disparate backgrounds: Charles is the son of a secular Harvard professor; Lily is an atheist who has never recovered from the death of her parents in a car crash when she was fifteen; James faced tough circumstances while growing up in Chicago; Nan, a Wheaton grad, grew up in Mississippi, the daughter of a minister. Forgiveness, faith and doubt in the context of church, marriage and family during the turbulence of the 1960s are themes that are beautifully rendered. While the Christianity portrayed here is generally of a mainline, liberal variety, this is a book that treats Christian faith and marriage with sympathy and respect and left this reader deeply moved.
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Postcards from the Middle East: How Our Family Fell in Love with the Arab World
Postcards from the Middle East: How Our Family Fell in Love with the Arab World
Chris Naylor
Lion Publishing, 2015
On Oct. 28, 2019, Chris Naylor and his wife Susanna, along with Miranda Harris, the co-founder of the Christian environmental group, A Rocha, died tragically in a car crash.  Postcards is the adventure story of the Naylor family which begins when Chris and Susanna set out for the Middle East in 1989. Their arrival in Kuwait City as young marrieds, hired to teach in a private international English school, unfortunately coincided with the outbreak of the first Iraq War. In 1994, after a hiatus in England, and now with two children in tow, they set out for Jordan as missionaries with Interserve. The following year they moved to Lebanon, which became their home for the next 14 years and where a third child was born. The Naylors’ story provides the church with a wonderful example of a family moving into a different culture, becoming fluent in another language, and following Christ’s example, investing themselves in the lives of their neighbours.  Chris, along the way and as an outworking of his Christian faith, became deeply involved in monitoring birds in wildlife areas of Lebanon. Out of this love for God’s creation came the link with A Rocha and the eventual appointment of Chris as CEO of the organization. We are grateful for this record of loving service offered to God by Chris and Susanna Naylor and we grieve the loss of three faithful witnesses.

Available for in-store purchase only.

The New Testament in its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians
The New Testament in its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians
N.T. Wright and Michael Bird
Zondervan, 2019
At a recent launch for the book in San Diego, co-author Bird described their aim as wanting to provide “something that was different from the other taco trucks down the road.” Wright and Bird have served up a different kind of New Testament intro and the result is both readable and colourful. Bird has succeeded in shaping an N.T. Wright digest of writing that begins with the material from Wright’s massive “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series, then moves through the New Testament books in chronological order beginning with the Pauline material, then the Gospels, and finally the Catholic Epistles and Revelation. The concluding section outlines a brief New Testament theology and its relation to life today. Here, one sentence caught my eye: “Doing biblical theology means learning your lines, playing your part, and discovering a new way of not only viewing the world but of acting within the world.” Tom Wright has insisted all along that our individual roles in this divine drama are located within the Church.  In his closing comments at the San Diego launch, Wright encouraged the Church to advocate memorization of passages of the New Testament and of the Psalms in which the New Testament writers themselves were deeply immersed.
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Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Tom Holland
Basic Books, 2019
Christianity, according to the author, is the “greatest story ever told.” Quite simply, Christianity was the greatest revolution in history and was so complete that today it is overlooked; it is the failed revolutions of the past that are remembered whether of the French or Bolshevik variety. This was also the personal experience of Tom Holland who, although his belief in God faded over his teenage years, in the process of writing about ancient antiquity, discovered that his own values were not found in the Greek or Roman classical sources, but rather in the values of the Christian civilization in which he had been raised!  In Dominion, Holland begins with asking how an individual who was cruelly executed circa 30AD began a worldwide religious movement. The author next moves thematically through the revolutionary ideas of the Apostle Paul, and then on through the centuries down to the present. Holland concludes with a reflection on “why the cross, that ancient implement of torture, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of the Christian revolution.” While Holland makes no confession of personal faith and he makes statements at odds with historic Christianity, there are hints here of the beginnings of a personal transformation and we pray that this may be so.

Available for in-store purchase only.