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Culture Books

Words with beauty and power


Words with beauty and power

Accessible theology: four new books

The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems by Leland Ryken: Dissatisfied with available anthologies of Christian poetry, Wheaton professor and ESV Bible editor Leland Ryken created his own. He explains each of the 150 poems by defining all the difficult words and phrases and then describing the work’s artistry and spiritual qualities. In every poem he finds “profundity of meaning and richness of experience.” Ryken understands the imagination and poetic sensibility of Christian life, and he lays bare the power and beauty of great English poems. The Soul in Paraphrase is ideal for those who want to get to know the rich Christian heritage of English poetry and those seeking devotional material both classic and bite-sized.

The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter: Alter is a masterful and precise translator of the Old Testament, so The Art of Bible Translation is worth reading for anyone interested in the nuances of language. He notes, for example, how “verbs for sexual intercourse are a particular challenge for the translator.” For example, Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39 is “direct, even brusque,” in her sexual intentions. Both the King James and the ESV use “lie with me,” which is probably as direct as a translator can make it without falling into obscenity. The NIV softens it to “come to bed with me,” and Alter particularly excoriates the Revised English Bible for turning it into “come, make love to me.” (It doesn’t seem that any love was involved in her imperative.)

Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God by Joe Rigney: Rigney does an excellent job of mining C.S. Lewis’ body of work for choice insights into the Christian life. He is not afraid to question Lewis’ beliefs on several thornier theological topics (free will, atonement, purgatory) that have rendered Lewis suspect in the eyes of some conservative American Christians—and his attempts are largely convincing. But, as promised by the title, the book mainly sticks to the practical side of the Christian life. It covers Lewis’ views on church, on prayer, on the Christian imagination, and on some of his special concerns like belonging versus the Inner Ring and hierarchy versus egalitarianism. Lewis fans will benefit from Rigney’s insights. Rigney makes a strong case for why those not yet Lewis fans should be.

Sanctification by Michael Allen: Sanctification is not a work of ethics that explains God’s laws on how to live. Nor is it a book exhorting toward holiness. Instead, it’s a work of systematic theology that examines the holiness of God and His people from the vantage points of other doctrines—creation, covenant, justification, and union with Christ. Allen ranges widely over the theological and exegetical spectrum, but always ends by strongly affirming the traditional Reformed position on each topic. The last chapter is the most valuable because it deals with the relationship of holiness to grace and discipline: Allen says “discipline plays out … through the voice of the law,” so grace and effort are not foes. This study offers a meaty and rewarding account of evangelical holiness.