Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, edited by Tim Keller and John Inazu. Thomas Nelson. 237 pages. 2020

Books in which a different author writes each chapter can be tricky. You might connect with one author and not another, and that’s just how I found this book. I found myself fully engaged with some chapters, while others were frankly a chore to get through.
I was attracted to the book by the fact that one of the editors, who also wrote a chapter, was Tim Keller, one of my favorite authors, and Lecrae, one of my favorite musical artists, also wrote one of the chapters. Among the contributors, I was also familiar with Sara Groves through her music, and Trillia Newbell through her writing and Tish Harrison Warren, through a book of hers my wife had recently read. The subject of the book caught my attention as we live in a very divided culture, including among those who identify as Christians.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of
~     The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy
~     Ben Hogan: An American Life by James Dodson
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

In the “Introduction”, the editors tell us that the book’s central question is how Christians can engage with those around us, while both respecting people whose beliefs differ from our own and maintaining our gospel confidence. The idea for this book grew out of correspondence the editors have had with each other over the past few years. Both of them were exploring how people find common ground across deep and often painful differences. They also wanted to explore how Christians might embody humility, patience, and tolerance, the civic practices that Inazu identified his book Confident Pluralism.
The editors tell us that few issues have generated more controversy or required more understanding than those related to race, an issue that comes up often throughout the book. They believe that few issues of social division today are more significant for the church and for society.
They tell us that the chapters in this book depict various parts of the body of Christ, and remind us that God engages with us by assuming each of these roles.
The book is organized as follows:
Part One: Framing Our Engagement explores the roles through which we think about our engagement with others.
Part Two: Communicating Our Engagement looks at how we speak when we engage our neighbors in an increasingly pluralistic society.
Part Three: Embodying Our Engagement turns to how we embody our engagement with others.

The editors write that we live in a culture that lacks a shared understanding of the common good. In the “Conclusion”, the editors list four practices that provide the beginning of an answer to James Davison Hunter’s call for “faithful presence”:

  1. Christians should not overidentify with any particular political party or platform.
  2. Christians should approach the community around them through a posture of love and service.
  3. Christians should recognize that the gospel subverts rival stories and accounts of reality.
  4. Christians should reach out to others with humility, patience, and tolerance.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • Christians can demonstrate tolerance for others because our love of neighbor flows from our love of God, and our love of God is grounded in the truth of the gospel. Tim Keller and John Inazu
  • The Christian calling is to be shaped and reshaped into people whose every thought and action is characterized by faith, hope, and love—and who then speak and act in the world with humility, patience, and tolerance. Tim Keller and John Inazu
  • You can only become yourself if you do what you were created to do—to serve and obey God unconditionally, to love and rejoice in him above all other things. There could not be a more countercultural idea. Tim Keller
  • We can only love and benefit our culture if we are different from it, if we maintain a Christian identity rather than adopt a secular one. Tim Keller
  • Christians should not fail to affirm the good, true, and beautiful wherever we see it, even if it emerges from sources with whom we would otherwise disagree. Tom Lin
  • Part of the Christian writer’s call to love in our era is to upset the easy categories of Left and Right, good guys and bad guys, black hats and white hats—the simplistic and self-satisfied labels that bog down our contemporary conversations. Tish Harrison Warren
  • Many of us fight to find purpose and greatness outside of God, but it is only through him that we find it. Lecrae
  • Neither we nor our heroes are as flawless as we would like to think. Nor are the villains we deplore always that much different from us, were we faced with their same life circumstances. Lecrae
  • Tolerance means a willingness to distinguish between people and their ideas. John Inazu
  • For most of us, finding common ground will mean partnering with people, institutions, and movements that diverge in important respects from our core convictions. John Inazu
  • Our dignity as humans does not come from how hard we work, or where we are from, or what we produce, or how capable we are of any activity. It comes, rather, from the fact that as God’s good creatures, we are loved and known by God. Warren Kinghorn

The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy. Harper. 656 pages. 2018

I had previously read the author’s book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, and so was looking forward to her latest book on Babe Ruth. The book is not your traditional biography. The author uses the twenty-one-day barnstorming tour of Ruth and teammate Lou Gehrig after the Yankees won the 1927 World Series as it’s framework. The author recreates that month, which she writes was the best of Ruth’s life. From there, she weaves in a fascinating biography of Ruth and the world he created. The author moves forward and backward, which at times was a bit confusing.
The book was a monumental undertaking. Eight years in the making, the six hundred plus page book was thoroughly researched, including the author’s 250 original interviews with family, teammates, friends, etc. Along the way, you read about some things you were aware of – Ruth’s incredible feats on the baseball field, his womanizing, drinking and gluttony, and you also read about much that you may not have been previously aware of, as the author tells us that the myths and misconceptions about Babe Ruth began at his birthplace.
Ruth was born in Baltimore to George Sr., a Lutheran, and Katie, a Catholic, who had been married in a Baptist church. He spent the first two years of his life in the home of his paternal grandparents. His mother had him baptized Catholic, keeping it secret from her husband, who hated Catholics. Young George saw a number of his siblings die by the time he was five. In 1902, at age seven, he was delivered into the care of the Xavierian Brothers who ran St. Mary’s. His father had decided to send him to St. Mary’s because he couldn’t make him mind at home. Ruth’s mother would be unfaithful, and his father would divorce her in 1906 on grounds of infidelity and drunkenness.
Brother Mathias would be a major influence on Ruth at St. Mary’s, serving as a substitute parent, and Ruth would identify as a Catholic throughout his life. In his dying days, Ruth would credit Brother Matt with teaching him how to play ball, and how to think. He called Brother Matthias the greatest man he ever knew. Ruth would not be discharged from St. Mary’s until 1914. The author writes that parental abandonment would become the defining and unacknowledged biographical fact of his life.
The book spends a lot of time on Christy Walsh, who is considered to be the first sports agent. Through Walsh, Ruth would become the first athlete to be recognized as an entertainer who transcended and expanded the parameters of athletic fame. In 1927, Ruth earned $73,247 in by-product (endorsements, barnstorming tour, etc.) money, $3,247 more than his Yankee salary, making him undoubtedly the first professional athlete to earn as much or more off the field as on it. The author tells us that it was Ruth’s good fortune to become famous at the precise moment in history when mass media was redefining and amplifying what it meant to be public, and when societal upheaval was creating a new caste system for celebrity. In the twenty-eight years between 1920 and Ruth’s death in 1948, his total income from salary and Walsh’s by-product money was $1,511,577, or $124,603,370 in 2016 dollars.
The author writes that no one lived bigger, faster, or looser than Ruth. Ruth was initially married to Helen, who the author describes as a mysterious and ultimately tragic figure in Ruth’s life. After a few years of a secret separation, Helen would die in a fire at the home of Edward Kinder, with whom she had been living as his wife for two years. Three months after Helen’s death, Ruth and Claire Hodgson with whom he had been having an affair, were married.
Ruth and Helen had raised Dorothy as their daughter, though it was acknowledged after Helen’s death that Dorothy was not Helen’s biological daughter. Ruth, who had called her his daughter since 1922, legally adopted Dorothy in 1930, as well as Claire’s daughter, twelve-year old Julia. The author writes that Julia never knew her biological father and Dorothy never knew for certain the identity of her father or mother.
Until Walsh took control of Ruth’s finances, he basically spent every dollar he made on gambling, partying, lawsuits, blackmail and general excess.
The author writes that there were many rumors that Ruth had both black and white blood in him, because of his nose and lips.
After Ruth retired as a player, he longed to manage, but that would never happen, much to his disappointment.
The part of the book about Ruth’s final days was very interesting, starting with him experiencing terrible headaches. A mass was found at the base of his skull. He consented to an experimental form of chemotherapy and radiation, and the knowledge gained from his case helped shape the combination-therapy approach that became standard treatment for the disease. Ruth would die at the age of 53, weighing just 150 pounds.

Ben Hogan: An American Life by James Dodson. Three Rivers Press. 544 pages. 2005 

I’ve long wanted to read this biography of Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers who ever lived, written by, in my opinion, today’s best golf writer. James Dodson (Final Rounds), tells us that Hogan, nicknamed “The Hawk”, reshaped professional golf, but kept the world that came to worship him at arm’s length. A few of Hogan’s accomplishments were:

  • Between 1940 and 1959, he won sixty-eight golf tournaments and dominated professional golf as no one before ever had, winning four United States Opens, a pair of PGA Championships, two Masters Championships, and the only British Open Championship he ever played in.
  • Out of 292 career tournaments he entered, he finished in the top ten an unprecedented 241 times.
  • His greatest moment of personal triumph came in 1950 when he won the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club just sixteen months after his collision with a Greyhound bus that destroyed the circulation in both legs and nearly killed him. At the time of the accident, it was questionable if he would ever be able to walk again, much less compete in a golf tournament.

But there is much more to Hogan’s story than the tournaments he won. Dodson tells us that as a nine-year old boy, Hogan witnessed his father’s suicide, something neither he nor his family ever spoke of. That event would lead to a lifelong struggle to overcome personal adversity
Hogan was a small man in stature. He was known for his intense concentration and his perfect clothes. He was modest, tough, brutally guarded, and absolutely unrelenting in the exercise of his will to succeed at the hardest game anybody ever played. He was also funny, honest, sentimental, engaging and generous. Dodson tells us that he was a tough guy with a tender spot for children and dogs and strangers in need, an old-fashioned American who was fanatically loyal to the people he employed and chose to reveal himself to—including, and maybe especially, his wife, Valerie.
Hogan was far more religious than anybody but a handful of people realized. His rarely-spoken-of spirituality was simply one more facet of a complex personality the public at large, and even many people who considered themselves close to Hogan, knew little or nothing about. Following his accident, though the press had no inkling of it or simply chose to ignore this aspect of his private life, Hogan also grew more visible in the exercise of his faith—or at the very least, less concerned about shielding his spirituality from view.
Hogan and Bryon Nelson knew each other when they both caddied at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth. Early in their days on the professional golf tour, the Hogans and the Nelsons would travel together. They were very close until Nelson made a comment on a radio interview that the Hogans took offense to. After that, they would be rivals, but no longer friends.
After his near fatal crash, Hogan was touched by the outpouring from his fans. His brush with death apparently helped him fully grasp, perhaps for the first time, why it was important to let his growing legions of fans and admirers see occasional glimpses of the real man within, not just the golf machine that won tournaments with intimidating mechanical precision.
The book discusses Hogan’s rivalry with Sam Snead, the film of Hogan’s comeback (Follow the Sun), and his golf club company (The Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company).
As he got older, although he was still excellent from tee to green, he increasingly struggled on the greens. That seemed to be a combination of nerves and eyesight that was damaged in the accident.
Dodson tells us that there were occasional problems in the home life of Ben and Valerie, with Ben sometimes living apart from her. Despite those issues, they stayed together until the end.
Towards the end of his life, Hogan suffered from Alzheimer’s, and Valerie increasingly kept him away from his friends at Shady Oaks Country Club, and the things he loved to do (drive his Fleetwood Cadillac, smoke cigarettes). But he received wonderful care from a caregiver until his death in 1997 at age 84.

  • Os Guinness on The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever. Os Guinness joins the Eric Metaxas Radio Show to talk about, The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever, a book that specifically addresses how a single era has tremendously influenced our culture today.
  • Nietzsche Was Right. Tim Keller reviews Tom Holland’s new book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. He writes “Tom Holland punctures common myths about Christianity and secularism in every chapter. In no way does he let the church off the hook for its innumerable failures. Nor will he let secular people live with the illusion that their values are just self-evident, the result of reason and scientific investigation. If both sides would allow themselves to be chastened by Holland, future conversations will be much more fruitful, and more tethered to reality.”
  • Introducing the ‘Institutes’. A Guide to Reading Calvin’s Classic. Shawn Wright writes “Read the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin’s magnum opus, to understand him and his thought for yourself. You can do it. And you will profit from it by being encouraged by one of Christ’s gifts to his people. Most significantly, I think, you will grow to know God better through the writing ministry of John Calvin.
  • Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice. Tim Challies reviews Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice by Scott David Allen. He writes “Its strength is not just in calling people away from unbiblical notions of justice, but in calling people toward a fully-formed worldview in which Christians care more for justice—true justice—than anyone else.”

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

The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”?  MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer.  For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges.  The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?

This week we look at Chapter 18: The Nature of True Faith. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Scriptures teach that faith is not conjured up by the human will but is a sovereignly granted gift of God.
  • God draws the sinner to Christ and gives the ability to believe. Without that divinely generated faith, one cannot understand and approach the Savior.
  • The person who has believed will yearn to obey.
  • The desire to do the will of God will be ever present in true believers.
  • A concept of faith not producing surrender of the will corrupts the message of salvation.
  • The biblical concept of faith is inseparable from obedience.
  • Obedience is the inevitable manifestation of true faith.
  • True faith is manifest only in obedience.

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.

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