Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview



Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson. B&H Books. 224 pages. 2019

Andrew Peterson is a talented singer, songwriter and author. I heard parts of this book, which I couldn’t put down, and to which he refers to as a “barrage of thoughts and anecdotes” at his breakout sessions at the 2018 and 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference in Nashville.  He writes that the book is a glimpse into his own faltering journey as a songwriter, storyteller, and Christian. He calls it a love song about the life that God has given him, and it’s one of my favorite books of the year.
As you read this book you feel like a friend is casually talking to you. The book includes biography – he refers a lot to failure, being a poor student and not applying himself, reading fantasy and science fiction, attending Bible College, being dropped by his record label, and getting a break by opening for the band Caedmon’s Call. He writes about the influence of Rich Mullins, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Rabbit Room community he is a part of, researching his family ancestry, the now 20 year Behold the Lamb of God tour, moving to a woodsy corner of Nashville with his wife and three children and they refer to as “the Warren” and where he built a stone wall, gardening, beekeeping, as well as the creative (songwriting, book writing, painting) process.
He tells us that we are all creative and that there is a lot of similarity in process no matter what our discipline is. He references a number of books and includes them (and others), on a helpful “Reading List” included at the end of the book.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this book. Below are 15 of my favorite quotes:

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of:

  • Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever by Kevin Robbins

BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

  1. That calling, as I understand it, is to use whatever gifts I’ve been given to tell the truth as  beautifully as I can.
  2. This is part of my calling—to make known the heart of God.
  3. The best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that it takes a lot of work to hone your gift into something useful, and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career.
  4. Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.
  5. The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim God’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too.
  6. If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing.
  7. Once again, Jesus was right all along. We are most ourselves when we’re thinking least about ourselves.
  8. Being a writer is more like being an architect or a soldier or a nurse than most people realize. It’s a craft that you’re constantly learning, a craft that is shaped by a bit of talent in submission to a great deal of work.
  9. Serving the work doesn’t mean we don’t have an agenda, but that the agenda works in partnership with the wild, creative spirit—not as an overlord. Agenda is bad when it usurps the beauty.
  10. You have to remember that the God the song is about knows more than you do about songwriting.
  11. The creative act is profoundly spiritual, and therefore profoundly mysterious.
  12. Selectivity means choosing what not to say. It means aiming at the bull’s-eye. It means making sure the song is about one specific thing.
  13. If you want to be an artist, you have to cultivate artistic discernment.
  14. Aesthetic discernment also drives you to work that much harder when you’re making your own art.
  15. That’s community. They look you in the eye and remind you who you are in Christ. They reiterate your calling when you forget what it is. They step into the garden and help you weed it, help you to grow something beautiful.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company. 400 pages. 2019

I always enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s work, whether it is his books or his excellent podcast Revisionist History. I learned a lot of interesting information in this book, but I didn’t get as many practical takeaways as I had hoped.
The author begins and ends the book with the account of a tragic 2015 traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, in which Sandra Bland, an African American, was ultimately arrested and jailed by Brian Encinia, a white police officer. Bland would commit suicide in her cell three days later. Talking to Strangers is an attempt to understand what really happened by the side of the highway that day in rural Texas. The author tells us that the death of Sandra Bland is what happens when a society does not know how to talk to strangers. He states that today we are now thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives, and backgrounds are different from our own.
Each of the chapters in this book is devoted to understanding a different aspect of the stranger problem. You may be familiar with many of the examples, as they are taken from the news. In all of these cases, the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another’s words and intentions. And in each case, something went very wrong. The author aims to understand those strategies—analyze them, critique them, figure out where they came from, find out how to fix them.
Gladwell looks at stories as diverse as Cortes and Montezuma struggling to understand each other through multiple layers of translators. CIA officers who could not make sense of their spies, Neville Chamberlain misreading Hitler’s intentions, judges deciding whether to issue bail and how a computer made better decisions than the judges, a spy for Cuba who was a rising star in a U.S. intelligence agency,  Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Madoff, Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, Amanda Knox, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, the ability to give assent to sexual activity after having consumed a large quantity of alcohol, trying to get a terrorist to give up their secrets, suicidal poets and the Kansas City police crime strategy.
Gladwell tells us that we think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. But we would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. However, he writes that if he can convince the reader of one thing in this book it is that strangers are not easy.
He spends a good deal of time looking at the ideas of psychologist Tim Levine, who Gladwell writes, has thought as much about the problem of why we are deceived by strangers as anyone in social science. The point of Levine’s research was to try to answer one of the biggest puzzles in human psychology: why are we so bad at detecting lies? Levine states that we have a “default to truth” – our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them.
Transparency is another topic that the book looks at. This is the idea that people’s behavior and demeanor—the way they represent themselves on the outside—provides an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside. It is the second of the crucial tools we use to make sense of strangers. When we don’t know someone, or can’t communicate with them, or don’t have the time to understand them properly, we believe we can make sense of them through their behavior and demeanor. When we confront a stranger, we have to substitute an idea—a stereotype—for direct experience. And that stereotype is wrong all too often. We have built a world that systematically discriminates against a class of people who, through no fault of their own, violate our ideas about transparency.
Gladwell writes that the fact that strangers are hard to understand doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But the harder we work at getting strangers to reveal themselves, the more elusive they become. Thus, we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has real limits, and that we will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that. The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.
After returning to the Bland/Encinia confrontation, the author gives us a few takeaways:

  • We could start by no longer penalizing one another for defaulting to truth. To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society.
  • We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?
  • How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?
  • Most of us aren’t very good at lie detection. Lies are most often detected only after the fact—weeks, months, sometimes years later.
  • We tend to judge people’s honesty based on their demeanor. The people we all get right are the ones who match—whose level of truthfulness happens to correspond with the way they look. We are bad lie detectors in those situations when the person we’re judging is mismatched.
  • Many of those who study alcohol no longer consider it an agent of disinhibition. They think of it as an agent of myopia, meaning that alcohol’s principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental fields of vision. It is striking how underappreciated the power of myopia is.
  • Displacement assumes that when people think of doing something as serious as committing suicide, they are very hard to stop. Blocking one option isn’t going to make much of a difference.
  • Coupling is the idea that behaviors are linked to very specific circumstances and conditions.
  • We do not understand the importance of the context in which the stranger is operating. When you confront the stranger, you have to ask yourself where and when you’re confronting the stranger—because those two things powerfully influence your interpretation of who the stranger is.
  • Coupling forces us to see the stranger in her full ambiguity and complexity.
  • There is something about the idea of coupling—of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context—that eludes us.
  • Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.

The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever by Kevin Robbins. Hachette Books. 321 pages. 2019

This book looks at two major storylines that took place twenty years ago. First, the transformation, and ultimately the death of golfer Payne Stewart in a plane accident. Second, the passing of the torch from one type of professional golfer (the shot makers), to another (the power hitters) and the related change in golf equipment. The book is well written and researched and is bookended with the detailed story of Payne’s final fatal flight from the Orlando International Airport.
The author gives an overview of Stewart’s life and professional career, from growing up in Springfield, Missouri to his home with wife and two children in Orlando, Florida, where they lived along the 12th hole on Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill golf course. Payne’s earned his PGA Tour card, won his second tournament and played his final professional tournament at Disney in Orlando.
The book primarily takes us through roughly the last year of his life, from the 1998 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, through the flight that would take his life on October 25, 1999. In between, we get a detailed look at the 1999 Pebble Beach Pro-Am and 1999 U.S. Open, both of which Payne won, and the 1999 Ryder Cup, which the U.S. won and at which Payne displayed some excellent sportsmanship.
I was most interested in Payne’s growing Christian faith. The author tells us that growing up, Payne and his family would attend Grace United Methodist Church in Springfield, but Payne would not mature in his faith until the final years of his life. In 1996, Payne and wife Tracey decided to put their children in a private school affiliated with the First Baptist Church in Orlando. Payne hadn’t been serious about his faith in years, but as he got older and saw the enthusiasm in his children about the Bible, he began to feel new interest in spirituality and the notion of returning to church. He joined a men’s group at First Baptist that filled a hole in his life he wasn’t aware that he had. Payne would attend Sunday School when he was home from the tour at First Baptist Church, and he cut back on his drinking. The author tells us that Payne’s children had no idea how much they’d changed him. They were too young to understand. I enjoyed reading about the change in Stewart’s life (peace in his life due to his growing faith, wanting to be home with family more). The author tells us that it mattered less who he used to be or how he used to be. What mattered was who he was now and who he could become.
The author looks at the 1999 golf season as a bridge, with one side having veteran golfers such as Stewart, Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara, Hal Sutton, and other players in their forties who’d learned to play winning golf with the old clubs and refined sense of feel. On the other side were David Duval, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and other players in their twenties who’d benefited the most from advancements in equipment that made golf easier through forgiveness, length, and stability.
The author tells us that the National Transportation Safety Board’s report about the plane accident that killed Payne and five others concluded that the probable cause of the accident was “incapacitation of the flight crew members as a result of their failure to receive supplemental oxygen following a loss of cabin pressure for undetermined reasons.” Like many others, I can remember where I was (at work) when I first heard about the plane that was basically flying itself, with the passengers gone long before the plane hit the ground in South Dakota. Because of the recommendations included in the report, the author tells us that flying now in an airplane like the Learjet 35 is safer because of what likely happened aboard N47BA in 1999.
Recommended for golf fans in general and Payne Stewart fans in particular.

  • Book Review: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. Sean McCausland reviews Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. He writes “While Jesus Callingmay contain a few helpful thoughts about the centrality of the gospel, the danger of idolatry and the goal of sanctification, it also has too many erroneous statements to warrant any serious recommendation. For their times of quiet study, meditation and prayer, God’s people would be better off using a time-tested and rich resource like Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. Even better is the Book through which the real Jesus calls us.”
  • New and Upcoming Books. In case you missed this article, here are 14 new and upcoming books you might be interested in.

BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

This week we look at Chapter 2: “A Look at the Issues”. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:

  • The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer.
  • Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.
  • No one who comes for salvation with genuine faith, sincerely believing that Jesus is the eternal, almighty, sovereign God, will willfully reject His authority.
  • Those who teach that obedience and submission are extraneous to saving faith are forced to make a firm but unbiblical distinction between salvation and discipleship.
  • We must remember above all that salvation is a sovereign work of God. Biblically it is defined by what it produces, not by what one does to get it.
  • Works are not necessary to earn salvation. But true salvation wrought by God will not fail to produce the good works that are its fruit.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

  1. I received a copy of The Gospel According To Jesus by John MacArthur when I visited the church he pastors in LA. I must confess I haven’t read it yet.

    I don’t read much, but I did read a free ebook from Ligonier ministries called The Legacy of Luther, it might still be available for a read and review? I might review it myself, as I don’t read and review much apart from the Bible.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

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