Skip to main content

Culture Books

Not just nice


Not just nice

Pursuing kindness without selling out

Do church folks sometimes choose niceness over kindness? Biola President Barry Corey’s Love Kindness (Tyndale, 2016) distinguishes well between “fierce” kindness and “cosmetic … bland” niceness: “Niceness is keeping an employee in the job, knowing he’s no longer the right fit but failing him and the company because you don’t have the courage to do the right thing. Kindness calls you to tell him he’s not the person for the position and then dignify him in the transition.” 

How this distinction plays out in politics and public policy will require lots of discussion among Christians who want to maintain biblical standards and also want gays to understand “that a biblically conservative follower of Jesus is not the same as a closed-minded, right-wing fanatic.” Corey knows that “kindness that bends to accept as valid everyone else’s viewpoint is not kindness. … Kindness frees us to hold deep moral convictions minus the vitriol.” True, but I wonder how that communicates with left-wing fanatics who believe that holding deep moral convictions against homosexuality, or abortion, is in itself vitriolic. 

What about a denomination that aspired to kindness but not niceness? In For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (P&R, 2015) Mississippi pastor Sean Michael Lucas thoroughly recounts the birth of the PCA, now “the largest conservative Presbyterian denomination in the English-speaking world” and one “committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, the Reformed theology of the Westminster Standards, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.” Lucas explains how the rise of Presbyterian “progressive” thought forced conservatives to define the mission and integrity of the church, but he doesn’t dodge discussion of the segregationist impulses of some. Politics also played a role, as L. Nelson Bell and others rightly emphasized the importance of fighting communism; yet the central issue was always biblical authority and the commitment to inspiration and inerrancy that undergirded it. 

What about a small nation, outnumbered 100-to-1, that emphasized survival over niceness, and on occasion kindness as well? Eric Gartman’s Return to Zion (Jewish Publication Society/University of Nebraska Press, 2015) traces in 330 readable pages the development of Israel from the late 19th century through the troubled present. Gartman is particularly helpful in portraying still-controversial events of the 1940s, including the Israeli killing of Arab civilians in Deir Yassin, a village near the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem highway. That terrible deed threw Arabs into a panic, and retribution—including the killing of nearly 80 Israeli doctors and nurses near Jerusalem—was also terrible. Those who live by the sword often cause others to die by the sword.


Depressed about current American leadership in a warring world? Jonathan Jordan’s American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II (NAL Caliber, 2015) readably shows how Henry Stimson, George Marshall, and Ernest King made possible military triumph, although at great cost. They really were public servants, and their carefulness contrasts powerfully with the generals and admirals described in Alistair Horne’s Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century (HarperCollins, 2015). Horne harpoons arrogant Russian, Japanese, and German leaders, and shows how Douglas MacArthur’s arrogance turned American success in stopping North Korean aggression into failure against a Communist Chinese assault that should have been avoided.

Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016) has as its fictional premise the annual reunion of 22 men to re-enact the infamous 1985 NFL play in which linebacker Lawrence Taylor broke the leg of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. Publicists describe the novel as “a moving and comic tale filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, marriage, middle age, and the rituals we all enact as part of being alive”—but the tale is uniformly depressing, and “pitch-perfect” seems to mean apehood, divorce, and despair among the walking dead. —M.O.