Aaron Menikoff, Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860 (Pickwick 2014, $27)
Review by S. Craig Sanders
Despite the notion that early American Baptists were “so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good,” their commitment to piety, evangelism, and activism demonstrated “that the transformation of society was a vital goal, an essential implication of the gospel,” writes Aaron Menikoff in Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860.
Menikoff, a Southern Seminary Ph.D. graduate and pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, sought to research Baptist social reform after working for the late Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, whose deeply held Baptist convictions prompted him to labor for social reform. Though he expected to find that antebellum Baptists dismissed activism, Menikoff writes that Baptists placed primary emphasis on individual conversion as the means to social change, but also lobbied Congress and established welfare societies.
The book opens in 1845 as Southern Seminary co-founder John A. Broadus recognizes the need “not only to be virtuous but spread virtue abroad” and engages in the cause of temperance. Menikoff writes that social control, perfectionism, and evangelistic zeal each contributed to the link between politics and piety that compelled Baptists to practice their faith publicly for the promotion of social Christianity.
Menikoff provides a thorough overview of Baptist engagement on the issues of temperance, poverty, slavery, and church-state relations in regard to Sabbath observance. He also demonstrates a careful understanding of the wide array of influences on Baptist life and thought, and even notes the differences among Broadus and James P. Boyce.
With a sincere attempt at objectivity, Menikoff provides a helpful tool for studying Baptist history in an effort to inform our present response to political and social engagement.
Jared C. Wilson, The Wonder-Working God (Crossway 2014, $14.99)
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
A follow-up to his book The Storytelling God, released earlier this year, Jared C. Wilson’s The Wonder-Working God shifts from the parables Jesus told to the miracles Jesus performed. While many books about miracles focus on defending their historicity (an important goal), Wilson is more interested in showing how the miracles function in God’s big-picture plan to reveal the kingdom and its chosen king, Jesus.
The miracles are occasional intrusions of divine reality into a broken world, flashes of the spiritual conflict between the Messiah and the domain of evil, and foretastes of the fully inaugurated kingdom to come.
Wilson walks the reader through several of Jesus’ most famous miracles — turning water into wine, calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, the resurrection of Lazarus, and even the incarnation itself — and compellingly demonstrates how each of them fit into God’s cosmic plan to remake the world through Christ.
Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Brazos Press 2014, $19.99)
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
Every age of the church brings new challenges to the reliability of the Bible. Craig L. Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe the Bible? offers a thoughtful and gracious defense of Scripture, observing growing evidence supporting the truth of the Bible.
Each chapter deals with a central issue in biblical apologetics, from defending the accuracy of the Bible’s textual transmission to the historical basis for the miracles. Blomberg repeatedly demonstrates that the church’s teaching about its sacred text still withstands modern criticisms.
After each defense of orthodox church teaching, Blomberg offers a balanced call to avoid the “opposite extreme” in the debate. Blomberg argues that while the academy is full of constantly changing fads that come and go, the church’s reasons for defending the Bible largely remain the same. The Bible has remained trustworthy because the God it reveals is trustworthy.
Carolyn McCulley with Nora Shank, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home (Crossway 2014, $14.99)
Review by RuthAnne Irvin
A woman is not a woman based on her vocation, nor is her success dependent on rearing children, a promotion at work, or winning a prize for medical research. Instead, says Carolyn McCulley in her new book with Nora Shank, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, success is measured by a woman’s identity in Christ and her faithfulness to the daily task God assigns.
The Measure of Success overviews the biblical aspects of work for all women: single, married, widowed, divorced alike.
“We may be wives or mothers, but as important as these are, they are roles that end in this life,” they write. “We continue on into eternity as children of God and sisters to those who have been rescued by Christ.” This, they write, is why a proper understanding of work and womanhood is necessary for Christian women today.