#BookReview: On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr

I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.

This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.

If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.

This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.

Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.

This review of On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr was originally written on April 26, 2021.

#BookReview: Identity In Action by Perry L Glanzer

Not So Excellent, But Enhances The Discussion Anyway. Up front, this book had its cool moments in that it quoted from a decently wide range of pop culture for its opening chapter quotes and even at times inside the discussion itself – you don’t usually see that in a book clearly designed for the Christian Living market. But it also lost its first star because of rampant prooftexting, a practice wherein Christian authors cite seemingly random Bible verses out of context in “proof” of their claims – and a practice which I have declared absolute war on, with my automatic star deduction being my primary review-based weapon.

The other star was lost here because this book had a potentially profound premise… that it absolutely squandered in gearing its discussion only to conservative Evangelical American Christian interests and language. Within that particular subculture, this book will likely be absolutely beloved and possibly one of those destined to be handed to new high school graduates heading to college as graduation presents every year – which can be a sales bonanza, as you’re easily talking hundreds of thousands, maybe even lowish millions, of copies every year.

But this book, with its premise of looking at Identity Politics from a new and seemingly enlightening angle, could have been *so much more*. It had the potential to be one of those books that I can take into *any* political space and urge people to read it and consider its points and make a truly persuasive case no matter the reader’s own individual politics or religious beliefs, but instead Glanzer chose to focus on what he knows and lives. Which again, isn’t an *overly* bad thing.

I can still take this into many realms and use it to talk to the moderates within them, the ones who can see past the conservative American Evangelical Christian culture this book was designed for to see the larger points Glanzer is making. And this is exactly why the book doesn’t lose any *more* stars – because once you get beyond the trappings of that particular culture, the overall points here are strong enough to deserve consideration in a much wider arena.

And ultimately, that is the saddest part of this text for this reader, that so many other readers who *could* be enlightened by it *won’t* be, specifically because of the approach entailed to discussing its overall thesis. Still, this book is recommended.

This review of Identity In Action by Perry L Glanzer was originally written on February 2, 2021.

#BookReview: Solemn Reverence by Randall Balmer

Solid If Brief History Marred By No True Scotsmen. This is a seemingly comprehensive – more comprehensive than any other I’ve ever read, and I’ve read many – yet brief (around 100 pages, including all non-narrative book material such as table of contents and bibliography) look at the issue. It even manages to include several historical facts of which I was hitherto unaware. Which is not overly easy to do, given that I’ve been speaking on this exact issue, from both sides at varying times, in depth off and on for over 20 years now. HOWEVER, particularly in its later chapters when it begins to get into more modern times – the last 40-50 years or so -, Balmer allows a tinge of “No True Scotsman” to invade his narrative. Even though I largely concur with these particular points, that the Baptists of the modern era – particularly the Southern Baptist Convention post “Conservative Resurgence” – have lost much of what it historically meant to be a Baptist (*even in the SBC itself!*), it taints what is otherwise a largely strictly fact based discussion of the history of the separation of Church and State in the land now known as the United States of America. Still, I don’t find it quite significant enough to downgrade the overall rating a full 20% that the loss of one of five stars would denote (though if I were grading on a typical A-F scale, I would probably drop this into B+ territory over the issue). Very much recommended.

This review of Solemn Reverence by Randall Balmer was originally written on December 21, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Reviving The Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter

This week we’re looking at a book marketed as gothic literature but which actually tells a strong dual timeline tale of survival in the Great Depression South. This week, we’re looking at Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter.

Upfront, I want to note that this was a strong dual-timeline family mystery. It was very well written and particularly with having spent most of my life in the region, utterly believable in every facet of this story. Carpenter has truly done some outstanding work here.

Indeed, my only issue here isn’t the actual book itself, but the marketing of it, which features the word “gothic” prominently and heavily.

“Gothic literature”, per this first result on the term when doing a Google search, is:

In the most general terms, ​Gothic literature can be defined as writing that employs dark and picturesque scenery, startling and melodramatic narrative devices, and an overall atmosphere of exoticism, mystery, fear, and dread. Often, a Gothic novel or story will revolve around a large, ancient house that conceals a terrible secret or serves as the refuge of an especially frightening and threatening character.

Despite the fairly common use of this bleak motif, Gothic writers have also used supernatural elements, touches of romance, well-known historical characters, and travel and adventure narratives to entertain their readers. The type is a subgenre of Romantic literature—that’s Romantic the period, not romance novels with breathless lovers with wind-swept hair on their paperback covers—and much fiction today stems from it.

When I personally think of Gothic literature, I tend to think more in terms of Edgar Allan Poe or Kim Taylor Blakemore’s The Companion, as I mention in the Goodreads review below. Those definitely fit that first paragraph above.

Hawthorn, however, more meets the second paragraph above. There are touches of the supernatural and of romance, Billy Sunday in particular appears, and there is a fair amount of travel and adventure as it relates to the church revival circuit in particular.

So perhaps my views on “gothic” are a bit outdated? Maybe I’m weird? (Well, I know I am. :D) What do y’all think?

As always, the Goodreads review:
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#BookReview: American Messiah by M. Andrew Holowchak

Will The Real TJ Please Stand Up? Growing up as I did inside the Southern Baptist Church of the Moral Majority/ “Conservative Resurgence” era, Jefferson was one of those Founding Fathers frequently cited in defense of… well, somehow both sides of the issue of religion in the public sphere. Here, Holowchak does a deep dive into the evolving religious beliefs of the infamous Founding Father and third President of the United States of America. And y’all… Holowchak makes it crystal clear that if good ol’ TJ were alive today, he would recognize very little – if anything – of what constitutes the American Church today. Utterly fascinating read, but in a very academic way. If you’re looking for a more conversational approach to this topic… this aint it. But if you’re looking for a well documented critical examination of exactly what this infamously aloof former President actually believed based on his writings and correspondences… this is exactly what you’re looking for. Very much recommended.

This review of American Messiah by M. Andrew Holowchak was originally written on October 3, 2020.

#BookReview: Scripture First by Daniel B Oden and J David Stark

Interesting Discussion. This is a collection of six academic essays, mostly seemingly from the same basic starting viewpoint of a particular line of academic thought in a particular realm of a particular Christian denomination. So a reader not necessarily steeped in that exact line of thinking may find this a bit more dense than others, but I actually fit exactly that mold (of not being particularly knowledgeable of the intricacies of this viewpoint), and I found the discussions to be interesting if not particularly illuminating in the ways I had hoped. (For reference, I was approaching this more from being a fan of Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity and as someone who has thought and discussed much within Southern and Independent Baptist circles on the issue at hand – whether Scripture truly is the basis of Christian thought or whether the various traditions have any import whatsoever.) Ultimately this really was an interesting and informative read particularly well suited for anyone with any form of academic interest in Christian theology and practice. Very much recommended.

This review of Scripture First by Daniel B Oden and J David Stark was originally written on September 27, 2020.

Featured New Release of the Week: Modesty by Hafsa Lodi

This week we’re looking at a seemingly comprehensive look at modern Muslim fashion. This week we’re looking at Modesty by Hafsa Lodi.

I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian tradition, the Southern Baptist Church. While my church was a *bit* more moderate in dress – women were allowed to wear pants, though it was frowned upon by the senior citizen crowd, for example – I was in a region (exurban Atlanta) where knowing people who attended more conservative churches with more stringent dress codes wasn’t uncommon. On church beach trips or pool parties, for example, one piece swimsuits for females were a common requirement. Even in that era, men and boys were expected to at minimum wear pants and close toed shoes along with some appropriate top (could be just a tshirt, as long as the torso was covered, though men generally wore at minimum polo shirts to services, and often dress shirts and ties). Hell, for much of my life my dad has been a deacon (church elder, basically) in the church my parents and brothers (and their families) still attend to this day. I actually remember one infamous example where our preacher was preaching at a church in a neighboring County in August. This being Georgia, let’s just say you don’t exactly want to wear pants in Georgia, and this was a Revival service to boot – a week long (ish) event of nightly church services, seen as a way to be extra pious and encourage more people to come to church. So it wasn’t exactly like this was a Sunday morning service (the “most holy” services in at least that brand of Christianity, where standards and protocols tend to be the most stringent). My parents were insisting I wear pants. I was insisting I wear shorts because it was so hot. At this point I was in my early teens or so, young enough that I couldn’t yet drive, old enough that I could make my desires known and fight for them. I actually don’t remember how that situation turned out – I don’t remember if we made the service that night or what I wore, though there is a faint thought that I did in fact wear pants and we did in fact make it to service.

The point being, while I’ve never actively considered how hard it may be to find trendy clothes that fit the modest standards of such groups, I have been a part of a culture that at least expects it, if not outright demands it/ forces it. So I get a version of where Lodi is coming from here, even while never experiencing her exact situation.

Which ultimately leads to the one criticism I have of this book.

Lodi does an *amazing* job of documenting Generation M, the Muslim Millenial Female, and its desires for trendy yet traditional (ish) fashion. She truly does a remarkable job of showing the history of both uncovering a century ago or so and recovering over the last 50 years or so, including the various debates and schools of thought on each. For a treatise specifically on these issues, this book is seemingly damn near perfect and for that alone it was utterly fascinating – as despite having watched a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, I’m not exactly knowledgeable of that world at all really.

But the most glaring weakness of the book, the one that leaves it at just “amazing” rather than elevating it closer to “transcendental”, turns out to be that very laser focus on Muslim issues specifically. Sure, she starts and ends with an example of her childhood Mormon friend, and Christians and Jews (and specifically Mormons, whose Christianity is doubted in at least some circles) are mentioned sporadically and even no-faith reasons are mentioned even less, but are in fact mentioned. But they are almost always more as an aside and are never considered in any real kind of depth. What this book really needed was maybe just a single chapter each where Lodi stepped away from the Muslim angle and actually – if briefly – explored the same histories. thought processes, and modern issues of those specific groups. Particularly from the non-faith, skin care/ sun avoidance angle, it could have been a truly remarkable addition to the text here.

But again, even with that omission, this is truly an excellent book and particularly for those remotely interested in fashion generally or modest fashion in particular – and especially if you’re an Instagram addict with those proclivities – you’ll want to pick up this book immediately. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: Resisting Babel Edited By John Mark Hicks

Fascinating. I’m admittedly a Christian Anarchist myself, but coming from the Southern Baptist Church… let’s just say if they weren’t in the Bible and they weren’t a famous Baptist preacher, I likely didn’t hear of any other Christian leaders of the first Millenium AD. So I had never heard of David Lipscomb, a late 19th century/ early 20th century leader in the Church of Christ denomination, before reading this book. Here, Hicks, Richard T Hughes, Richard Goode, Lee C Camp, and Joshua Ward Jeffery – all seemingly very learned historians on the subject at hand – discuss and dissect Lipscomb’s beliefs and how they are reflected (or not) in the American Church today, both inside the Church of Christ denomination and within the larger community. If you’re interested in this subject for any number of reasons, it is a fairly fascinating and illuminating discussion. But if you’re not particularly interested in its subjects, you’re probably not going to enjoy this effort as much, as it does tend to get quite academic and religious in its discussions. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn’t note any overt problems with it, so let’s end with a rating of “very much recommended”.

This review of Resisting Babel Edited by John Mark Hicks was originally written on February 11, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Anchored In Jesus by Johnny Hunt

This week we’re looking at another former Southern Baptist Convention President’s latest book. This week, we’re looking at Anchored In Jesus by Johnny Hunt.

As I say in the Goodreads review below, just to be completely upfront: I’ve been in the crowd a few times when Johnny Hunt has preached. The church he has been at for over 20 years, Woodstock First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga, was where some relatives were members for several years and was not far from my grandfather’s home in nearby Hickory Flat. One aunt in particular damn near considers the guy one of her favorite preachers ever.

So I know the guy and his style, despite neither of us ever saying a single word to the other in any medium I am aware of, including face to face. And I knew what I was getting into in reading this book. And the only thing that struck me as somewhat unexpected was when he specifically speaks of showing love for everyone, no matter their sins. Some of his parishioners… well, they’re some of the reasons I began using the term “Talibaptist” many years ago, and some of them are fairly influential in local and State politics there.

But the book itself very much reads as though you are sitting in the sanctuary for his Sunday morning sermons for a month or two (twelve total chapters, but a couple of them could be combined into one sermon). And they really are pretty much exactly what he would say on a Sunday morning, all the way down to outright including the Sinner’s Prayer a couple of times. If you’re a conservative evangelical American christian, you’re going to love this book. The further you are away from that philosophy… the more you likely won’t. If you don’t want a preachy book even if you are in that mindset, I cannot emphasize enough that this book reads as though he strung several sermons together.

Theologically, I can and over the last 20 yrs have several times poked so many holes in the overall theology that it begins to resemble swiss cheese, but again, I knew what I was getting into here so I’m not overly going to lambast it in this review. Hunt is a bit more hard headed and blunt than I prefer, and absolutely old school – at one point he tells the story of talking to his daughter about the birds and the bees years ago and says that he told her “if a boy tries to get you in the backseat of a car, you better not go back there!”. Basically the dude is one of those that you listen to while letting most of his points go in one ear and out the other, because he does occasionally have a solid if not excellent point, and those are usually worth sticking around to find. Kind of like a bitter grandmother or crazy aunt. You respect them, and you’ve heard it all before, but occasionally you get an “aha” moment.

Thus, I think the three stars I decided on for this book are pretty solid for my own feelings with it. Again, someone more ardently in Hunt’s particular mindset will likely rate it higher, those brave souls who read this book despite being even less inclined to Hunt’s mindset than I will likely be a bit more harsh. But I’m comfortable with this, and this is my review and my blog. 🙂

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:

A Few Good Points. A Few Troubling Ones. Standard Johnny Hunt. Full disclosure up front: I’ve been in a few crowds Johnny Hunt has preached to, and some relatives have been members of First Baptist Woodstock, where he preaches. So I know most of Johnny’s story, what he believes, and his style. And this book is effectively sitting through a month or two of his sermons – each chapter tends to sound nearly identical to a given weekly sermon, in at least two instances complete with the Sinner’s Prayer. And that is why I can’t rate this book any higher, yet also don’t feel comfortable rating it any lower. Conservative American Evangelical Christians will likely hit this book with 5*, the further away you are from that group, the lower your rating will likely be. Overall he does in fact make some solid points, he just does it in the lazy country preacher style I’ve known him to employ for the last 20 yrs – which works well in a region that 20 yrs ago still composed a fair amount of farmland, despite being in the middle of Metro Atlanta’s northward surge. Recommended, just do your own research any time he makes a claim.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Character Still Counts by James Merritt

This week we are looking at a book of nuanced fire from a former Southern Baptist Convention President. This week we are looking at Character Still Counts by James Merritt.

Outside of my own pastors over the years, there is no single preacher I’ve listened to more over the years than Dr. James Merritt. Among those preachers I don’t personally know, he is easily the singular one I respect the most. I grew up listening to Dr. Merritt’s sermons on TV as our family was getting ready for church, and I’ve been known to download his sermons from time to time in the years since. Nearly a decade ago when I listened to him for the first time in roughly that long, I discovered that this man who had been the SBC President at the time of the 9/11 attacks and was known to be quite cozy with then-President George W. Bush had mellowed quite a bit and had developed quite a bit of nuance to his preaching.

This level of nuance continues into this book, where Merritt makes it quite clear that we are all in the same boat, no matter our stage or position in life. In speaking of integrity, Merritt does not negate his own by taking partisan sides and instead condemns the adulteries of both former US President Bill Clinton and current US President Donald Trump in the same breath. He uses jokes and anecdotes both to illustrate his points and to provide a bit of levity in the midst of some at times very hard hitting passages where he is pulling no punches… even while his fist is wrapped in a velvet glove.

One geek out moment for me, and a moment that had to be very cool for his son, was when Dr. Merritt actually quoted and cited his son Jonathan’s most recent book Learning To Speak God From Scratch at one point. Behind the scenes, Jonathan has had a bit of a situation that caused a fair amount of drama in some circles, and this moment was a very blatant case of the father publicly standing beside the son. Truly, it nearly brought tears to my eyes, and I only know the very barest of hints of the details of the overall situation. (Indeed, 90%+ of what I know comes from when Jonathan himself addresses it in Scratch.) While not a “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased” level moment, it was instead a very subtle yet public simply stepping up beside the son and making it clear that the son has the father’s support. In a book all about character it was an excellent display of the father’s character and faith in the son’s character.

On the whole an excellent book, no matter whether you agree with Merritt’s own conservative evangelical American Christian mindset or not. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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