Bird on the Origins of the Gospels, A Guide to Jewish Holidays, Turner’s American God | Spirituality & Religion Reviews

These works are a reflection of the ever-changing dynamics of religion and how our faith, or lack of faith, influences our interactions with family, friends, ­colleagues, and even pets. Personal experience is a recurring theme here as is the relationship between religion and other fields such as science and nature. Whether written as narratives, personal essays, or satire, these accounts will appeal to a broad range of readers, with starred works being of most interest to historians and scholars.

redstarBird, Michael F. The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. Eerdmans. 2014. 408p. bibliog. ISBN 9780802867766. pap. $30. REL

thegospelofthelord100214Bird (Evangelical Theology) is one of the younger leading scholars in New Testament studies, and this volume is one of the outstanding literary achievements of the year. With care, clarity, and thorough scholarship, the author discusses possibilities for the origins, the genre, and the goals of the four Gospels. Also considered are their tangled interrelationships as texts and narratives, alongside their role and meaning for the earliest days of the church. Bird includes fascinating ­excursus on topics such as “Patristic Quotations on the Order of the Gospels,” form criticism, and the text of the Gospels as they were understood in the second century. ­VERDICT This work is scholarly but remarkably free of academese; it should be a perfect fit for seminary libraries, religious leaders, and scholars.

redstarFalk, Marcia. The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Brandeis Univ. 2014. 260p. ISBN 9781611686050. $24.95; ekb. ISBN 9781611686067. REL

thedaysbetween100214Poet and translator Falk (The Book of Blessings) has created a piquant mixture of the old and the new in her latest work, a refreshed and refreshing spiritual guide to the High Holidays; the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the Jewish calendar. These festivals are arguably the most important to Jewish spirituality, and Falk offers a new kind of inclusive and contemplative approach to them through original poems and liturgies, some in both Hebrew and English. Included are sections for each of the holidays, as well as poems of remembrance and personal redirection. The entirety is thorough, heartfelt, and impressive. VERDICT Exemplifying the exceptional in contemporary spirituality—open, inclusive, creative, and rooted in the past—Falk’s work should appeal most strongly to Jewish seekers and religious leaders, but its quality will attract other readers as well.

redstarTurner, Matthew Paul. Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity. Jericho. 2014. 256p. notes. ISBN 9781455547340. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781455547357. REL

ourgreatbigamericangod100214Turner (Hear No Evil) has written a fiendishly clever and meticulously sourced book on the peculiarly American takes on religion. He avers that throughout our story, we have not so much honored God as created a series of shifting Gods to reflect our experiences and our prejudices, including deities that are slave-owning, rich, warlike, homophobic, and cozily commercial, just for starters. Turner’s satirical tone is so well maintained that there is some risk that those who should pay closest attention to his writing may miss the hint that the very notion that America can or should “help” or “shape” God verges on blasphemy—but it would be their loss. ­VERDICT Combining outrage with bitter laughter, Turner’s book should be read with care by Christians across denominations.

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Engaging the Traditions

Atheists in America. Columbia Univ. 2014. 272p. ed. by Melanie E. Brewster. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780231163583. pap. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780231537001. REL

D’Ambrosio, Marcellino. When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers. Franciscan Media. 2014. 320p. bibliog. ISBN 9781616367770. pap. $19.99. REL

redstarGosnell, Peter W. The Ethical Vision of the Bible: Learning Good from Knowing God. IVP. 2014. 304p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780830840281. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780830864799. REL

Wilson, Marvin R. Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal. Eerdmans. 2014. 332p. index. ISBN 9780802871459. pap. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781467442312. REL

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. HarperOne. 2014. 240p. index. ISBN 9780062230539. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062230553. REL

ADDITIONAL TITLES

Bender, Linda. Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals. North Atlantic. 2014. 200p. ISBN 9781583947739. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781583947869. REL

MacDonald, Elizabeth. Skirting Heresy: The Life & Times of Margery Kempe. Franciscan Media. 2014. 192p. bibliog. ISBN 9781616367169. pap. $16.99. REL

Young, Malcolm Clemens. The Invisible Hand in the Wilderness: Economics, Ecology, and God. Mercer Univ. 2014. 270p. ISBN 9780881464870. pap. $30. REL

Graham Christian (MSLIS, Simmons Coll.; PhD, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst), formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Library, is an independent writer and scholar in Western Massachusetts

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