The Theology of Food
January 13, 2020
Book Reviews 2020
The Hobbit, J.R.R Tolkien
January 13, 2020
When I was a child, I remember seeing the cartoon version of J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece, “The Hobbit.” It wasn’t until my adulthood that I first read the book. In some ways, I am saddened that my childhood never had the chance to experience, firsthand, the creative expressions of Tolkien without the interference from visual filters, such as the movie I had seen. This would become akin to Harry Potter in the 2000’s; the rise of the movies totally shadowed and transformed my vision of the books each subsequent time I read them. Nevertheless, the book truly is a masterpiece of fiction writing. What we take for granted in Tolkien’s writing is the sheer brilliance at the time he wrote it. Most would be aghast to remember that Tolkien penned both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings around the 1930’s and 1940’s. One of the monumental feats of the work is the culmination of a world of fantasy that incorporated all elements of the fantasy genre that we know and love today. In other words, this is the first novel that truly featured elves, dwarves, men, and other creatures into a cohesive narrative that spawned an entire genre called “fantasy.” This is coupled with the fact that Tolkien was inspired to write these books as an outlet to his experience during the Great War. Without a doubt, one can see the battlefields that Tolkien describes in the Hobbit as a harsh duality to the war-torn, trench-ridden sites of Western Europe at the height of the conflict. In this vein, the themes that Tolkien puts forward as object lessons are obvious: the greed of men (and of dragons); the lust for power; the inability for the hearts of people to compromise in light of money and corruption; longing for the “simple life”; the terrors and tragedies of war; how strength can be misperceived in power and how the smallest person can enact radical change, etc. All of this corresponds to a tale that must be read in order to be appreciated. Starting out with Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, in the homely town of the Shire, a great wizard, Gandalf the Grey, sees in him someone to be appreciated. Gandalf leads a party of dwarves at Bilbo’s house where they proceed to make him their “burglar,” to his apparent chagrin. He sleeps in, hoping the entire thing was a dream. Instead of forgoing the potential quest, he joins the dwarves journey to the Misty Mountains to reclaim an equally mountainous treasure, guarded by the dragon Smaug. Luckily, Gandalf has provided the dwarves with a key and a map of the mountain, making their goal within reach (if only they had a burglar!). Thus Biblo, Gandalf, and the dwarves journey onward to the Misty Mountains, running into trouble along the way that will test the will of Bilbo. The strangest thing he encounters is an odd ring that makes the wearer disappear; a magical object that will have great significance in a little-known sequel to the Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings. It really is a tale that needs to be experienced via the original words of Tolkien himself. It is a classic for a reason, and it has stood the test of time and will continue to inspire and entertain. I plan on reading this to my own children; perhaps, in a way, as filling them in on a part of my childhood that I missed. In another way, to entertain and inspire!...
The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, Justo Gonzalez
July 23, 2020
Justo Gonzalez is a not only a master historian, he is an expert storyteller. On the precipice of the entire history of Christianity, Gonzalez not only weaves narratives seamlessly to provide an accurate chronology, but entertains in tandem. This book, which covers the era of Christian history from the end of the book of Acts to the Reformation, seems daunting. Very few are well informed of Church history in our day and age. Even more tragic, not many can recount why they believe the faith they believe. In other words, where their belief came from. Gonzalez understands that faith is not made manifest in a vacuum; rather it bleeds through the scope of time and history, drenching our thoughts and minds and continuing to influence us even in the 21st century. Gonzalez knows that Church history is important; something our culture, particularly our church culture in America, has taken for granted. And it is important and thus Gonzalez attempts, and succeeds, in penning an epic that has defined nations, kingdoms, and empires to explain how we ended up here. This fraught history clamors with countless iterations of brave men and women who have traversed the difficult path of philosophy, theology, and surprisingly, politics. The examples permeate Gonzalez’ book: the work of Augustine of Hippo, the great theologian, philosopher, and historian. It is Augustine fighting the battle of the Arian heresy that we, today, have a coherent and developed theology of the trinity; it was the work of Anthony that began an entire movement that would become known throughout Europe as “monasticism”; the rise of the Popes and their ever increasing power would give way to doctrines of the church such as celibacy, purgatory, and the position of Pope; the corruption of the Church would be renewed time and again, showing the purity of God’s word. All of this is a case study in this grand experiment called “The Church.” But it’s not an experiment; Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Matthew are that God’s Church will prevail and that the “gates of hell will not stand against it.” And so it goes that this is an important book. It’s important because it communicates something about who we are. But more, it also shows us what a rational faith we have. We stand on the shoulders of giants; those that have gone before us have laid a foundation that we should not only emulate, but learn from. When we read history, we are gleaning something about ourselves: how to succeed, how to fail, how to not make the same mistakes. Thus Church History should be required reading for any Christian. After all, what is more important than the success and perpetuation of Christ’s Church? Read Gonzalez for an amazing, broad-strokes introduction to Church History....
Here is a master list of all the books I read this year: