Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell (Crossway 2014, $15.99)

Review by Andrew J.W. Smith

Christians are storytellers. At every church gathering, we reenact in vivid, intentional ways the story of God’s redemption of his people. The best stories resonate because they prick hearts that were made for another world, and the imprint of eternal reality lies upon every soul, believing or unbelieving.

Great stories are patterned after the greatest Story, and people subconsciously long for mythic heroes “because the hunger for the Hero is written in our hearts,” writes Mike Cosper in The Stories We Tell.

Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, explores our culture’s dominant way of telling stories: movies and television.

While other books have helpfully guided Christians toward thoughtful engagement with film, few do the same with television. Cosper is conversant in a variety of TV shows and draws on his impressive familiarity with the small-screen to engender a mindful interaction with the myths of our day.

“The stories of our culture — repeated regularly in various ways — are shaping our imaginations and desires,” he writes.

Cosper encourages readers to thoughtfully enjoy movies and television rather than withdrawing from them, while being sensitive to the warnings of conscience and community.

He traces how various TV shows and movies reflect aspects of the Christian gospel — a longing for full, self-giving love drives How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men illustrates the corrosive effects of our fallenness, The Wire depicts a pattern of futility and hopelessness, Pulp Fiction and other Quentin Tarantino films demand justice and blood payment for wrongdoing.

While unbelievers don’t consciously preach the gospel through their shows and movies, perhaps, like Caiaphas in John 11:50, they say more than they know.

Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards, The Hobbit Party (Ignatius Press 2014, $21.95)

Review by Andrew J.W. Smith

In The Hobbit Party, Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards argue that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings casts a vision of political and economic freedom. Rooted in Tolkien’s conservatism, his work touches on important issues in our day, from just war theory to environmentalism to the size of government.

The ring itself is the corrupting, dominating, and unchecked power of “big government,” and Tolkien’s environmentalism is often misinterpreted, the authors argue. Tolkien seems to favor a robust biblical view that man was meant to be a caretaker of creation, to guard and cultivate nature.

Witt and Richards point out the theological character of Middle-Earth. For example, his view of human freedom is deeply compatibilistic — the characters are free to make choices and are held responsible for their actions, yet there’s an invisible providence at work to bring the story to its happy conclusion.

Andrew Peterson, The Warden and the Wolf King (Rabbit Room Press 2014, $22.99)

Review by S. Craig Sanders

The Jewels of Anneria are separated and all of Aerwiar is at war to claim the Shining Isle as the spellbinding conclusion to singer and author Andrew Peterson’s beloved Wingfeather Saga opens at a breakneck pace.

In The Warden and the Wolf King, siblings Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli race to restore their lost kingdom against the vengeful machinations of Gnag the Nameless and his horde of Fangs. Along the way, each child must overcome the necessary inner struggles of doubt and fear which precipitate the faith and hope of victory.

Meanwhile, the rest of Kalmar’s army perseveres against the Fangs of Dang, all the while clinging to the few glimmers of light pointing to the rest and comfort of the Shining Isle.

No one’s story is over, one character muses, and this gospel-saturated fantasy tale can awaken the hope of the gospel in all of us.

Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson 2014, $24.99)

Review by RuthAnne Irvin

“The work of artists often arises from suffering,” writes Karen Swallow Prior in her new biography of Hannah More, Fierce Convictions. More devoted her 88 years of life to writing, teaching, and fighting the slave trade in England. Unlike many young women in her generation, More had an insatiable desire for knowledge, which eventually led her to manage a school for young ladies. Later, she wrote and petitioned against slavery with William Wilberforce, in addition to writing devotionals and ministering to hundreds of people.

Fierce Convictions provides a window into More’s unprecedented life in a narrative biography of a faithful saint. As Prior writes, “Hannah need not have been placed on a pedestal to be appreciated. She needed only to be known.” Prior’s narrative offers that chance to get acquainted with the virtuous woman, poet, and abolitionist.