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David: The Divided Heart

David Wolpe. Yale Univ., $25 (184p) ISBN 978-0-300-18878-3

Giant killer, warrior, home wrecker, murderer, and adulterer, Israel's King David—whose kingdom was looked upon as the "golden age" of Israel and who is portrayed as an ancestor of Jesus—remains perhaps the Bible's most colorful and enigmatic figure. After all, how can a man who murders his lover's husband in order to cover up an adulterous affair be fit to be king? While Wolpe (Making Loss Matter) treads familiar territory and covers little new ground in this biography, he gently and gracefully explores the many facets—king, sinner, father, lover, and husband, among others—that together create David's outsized personality. As the young man who slays the enemy Philistine giant Goliath, David is "someone who does not follow the normal paths but brings into being, conjuring solutions and possibilities from the void." As a leader, Wolpe points out, David's ability to listen is as crucial as his courage. In the end, the author observes, contemporary readers identify with David so well because he is full of contradictions, and he is great because of this complexity, not in spite of it. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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You Can, You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner

Joel Osteen. FaithWords, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7571-8

Osteen (Your Best Life Now) has his cultural and theological critics even as millions of followers enjoy his television broadcasts and buy his books. The pastor of the 45,000-member Lakewood Community Church in Houston acts as cheerleader and encourager, as pastors ought to do. The newest iteration of his simple belief system offers eight maxims to help a person understand and imitate the qualities of a successful individual: commit to excellence, serve others, etc. Osteen's eight undeniable winner qualities include the quintessentially American injunction to "think positive," and the book reads as much as business advice or self-help as it does pastoral counsel. It's clearly intended to speak beyond a small Christian audience; references to biblical sources and stories are general and lack detail. The question thoughtful people of faith ought to consider in thinking about Osteen's fast-food theology is, why are people eating it up? The question for booksellers is how many copies to stock. Agents: Shannon Marven and Jan Miller Rich, Dupree Miller & Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door

Barbara Mahany. Abingdon, $15.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4267-7642-7

Always writing beautifully as a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mahany at last has a book, this one a series of essays, organized by seasons. There's also a count-your-blessings calendar, field notes of observations of nature, and a few recipes. This smorgasbord of content is perhaps a bit much, but the main dish is her writing, and she's stirred together fine words about simple things, frequently her children or life in an interfaith household (she is Christian, her husband Jewish). As a trained observer from years in journalism, Mahany is attentive to the smallest things: the sound of snow falling is "quiet squared"; her knitting group, a shawl ministry, is a place where "we knit 1, prayed 2." The prose is occasionally a little too ornate, and the title is rather generic, which could make it easy to miss what is unique about the book—Mahany's singular voice. But those who open the pages are in for a literary treat, and the recipes are a lagniappe. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age

James Carroll. Viking, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-670-78603-9

With well-researched clarity, Carroll explores the question posed by anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: who actually is Christ for us today? A former Catholic priest, Carroll (Constantine's Sword) is Christ-haunted, as Flannery O'Connor once said of the South, and he is Holocaust-haunted. For Carroll, the Holocaust is not so much a question of evil as a question of history: Christianity has defined itself as an evolution beyond Judaism, and that has justified centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. Contemporary biblical studies scholarship that understands Jesus as a Jew addresses the historically troubled question of Christian-Jewish relations, still a tender point. So who can Jesus—the distinctive figure of Christianity—be for today's secular age? Carroll nicely translates contemporary scholarship about Jesus that emphasizes his quintessential Judaism, something scholars in today's academy often stint. The author's understanding of a mass atrocity that shakes faith is unfortunately limited to a 20th-century Euro-American frame of reference, despite lamentable occurrences of genocide against other groups at other times in history. Because Christ actually is meaningful in some way to a billion Christians around the globe, this heartfelt investigation is of interest to many. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Falling Into Heaven: A Skydiver's Gripping Account of Heaven, Healings, and Miracles

Mickey Robinson. BroadStreet, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4245-4945-0

As a 19-year-old skydiver, Robinson survived a plane crash but sustained major injuries, nearly all of which should have been fatal. Yet he lived to tell the story of his near-death visit to heaven, the visions of his own future that he experienced there, and the many developments that confused and astonished doctors as his healing defied medical expectations. He also tells of a second spiritual encounter with Jesus after his accident, and weaves in much information about how the 1960s set the stage for his own journey back to faith. While Robinson's descriptions of the sociopolitical ferment of the era provide good context for understanding his spiritual journey, the historical background is heavy at times. Much of the book's success may ultimately hinge on whether readers find Robinson's descriptions of his visions and the instantaneous healings he experienced credible. Unlike other books that have become bestsellers in the genre, the focus of Robinson's story is less on the inspirational lessons of his experience and more on a recounting of what actually happened to him. This adds little to an overpublished topic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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