China is getting aggressive toward adversaries in the face of coronavirus criticism
Deborah Rhode, in Character: What It Means and Why It Matters (Oxford, 2019), details the lack of character in many recent presidents and other leaders. She wants adults to “model and reward fairness, honesty, empathy, and mutual respect.” She wants each school to “have a plan for character education that stakeholders can help shape, support, and assess.” Rhode, though, ignores the most important factor of all—belief in God.
Thomas Abt’s Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence—and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets (Basic, 2019) is better. Abt’s chapter on “Redemption and Recovery” includes a profile of Raymond Solórzano, who served six years in prison for carjacking, got out, and was on his way to crimes carrying a life sentence until he “checked himself into a Christian halfway and drug recovery home, where he found God and stayed for over three years.” Abt profiles Anthony Blockmon, who was in prison for selling crack cocaine and tried many ways to go straight, but “none of that helped until I talked to the Lord, then everything turned around for me.”
Abt also profiles Eddie Bocanegra, in prison for 14 years and “now a committed Christian” who helps others and says, “For a lot of people like me, we do this work to repent. … Everything I do, it’s just my way of … paying back God.” Abt concludes, “For many I spoke with … their faith in God was instrumental to their recovery. … Some sort of spiritual conversion is common among those who were once serious criminals.” That’s valuable information, but Abt later retreats to conventional public policy abstraction: “Would-be and someday shooters must be identified, engaged, stabilized, treated, and then offered opportunities to better themselves and their communities.”
I hoped for more from Campus Life: In Search of Community, edited by Drew Moser and Todd Ream (IVP, 2019): This examination of Christian colleges by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching includes essays by college administrators who I thought might defend Biblical orthodoxy. Some, though, play it both ways. For example, Messiah College Provost Randall Basinger and Vice Provost/Dean of Students Kris Hansen-Kieffer say an “orthodox Christian college could have a core belief about the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture” while preferring to hire professors who “reconcile creation with evolutionary science” and do not “affirm inerrancy.” They say each orthodox college can have “its particular faith/learning narrative.”
Hmm: How well has that worked out for the hundreds of formerly Christian colleges that followed such a strategy? Robert Lowry provided a better response in his 1876 hymn that begins with a question: “What can wash away my sin?” The answer: “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
Political scientist Clifford Bob’s Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power (Princeton, 2019) shows how advocacy groups on the right and the left have weaponized both human rights and some inhumane “rights” to achieve political objectives.
Three books about different stages of life make interesting reading. If you watch the National Spelling Bee on ESPN and want to know how kids stand up under the pressure, you’ll value Shalini Shankar’s Beeline (Basic, 2019). If you want to know what’s behind the sales pitches that leave many in their 20s indebted, Tressie Cottom’s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (The New Press, 2017) is worthwhile.
If you’re retiring soon and want a basic introduction to thinking Christianly about what comes next, Jeff Haanen’s An Uncommon Guide to Retirement might aid you in—as the subtitle says—Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Moody, 2019). If you have the time, head to the library and enjoy super-journalist Susan Orlean’s The Library Book (Simon & Schuster, 2018): It’s an ode to libraries generally and a detective story concerning the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire. —M.O.