Though the author is right to find moral bearings in the teachings of Jesus, his argument that one can follow Jesus yet not...

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CONFESSIONS OF A SECULAR JESUS FOLLOWER

FINDING ANSWERS IN JESUS FOR THOSE WHO DON'T BELIEVE

How to follow Jesus without believing in him.

USA Today columnist Krattenmaker (The Evangelicals You Don't Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians, 2013, etc.), the communications director at Yale Divinity, sticks close to his self-identity as a nonbeliever. Though he does not proclaim himself an atheist, he is indeed a secularist. Despite this, he finds in Jesus a role model of the highest order, and he attempts to convince his fellow secularists that Jesus is worth listening to, even worth following, so long as you don’t call it “religion.” Krattenmaker comes across as an almost stereotypical coastal liberal, working at Yale, with roots in Portland, Oregon, and a view of Christianity as something steeped in myth. Though he pokes fun at himself in this vein, the reality remains that he comes to his topic with a very defined worldview. He prides himself on having gotten to know some evangelical Christians, who were not as bad as he feared, but he still thinks they are wrong to have religious faith in Jesus. As a teacher of ethics and morality, however, Jesus is an unsurpassed example for the human race. Jesus’ words in the New Testament are not sacred to Krattenmaker but are indeed worth utilizing for daily ethical dilemmas. “When it comes to a secular engagement with Jesus,” he notes, “we can pick and choose, accept and reject, mix and match, however we wish.” The author stands in a difficult position. To nonbelievers, he will come off as a Christian. No matter how much he protests, the reality is that many self-professed Christians are just as unconvinced as he is of the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ story. Yet to many committed Christians, he will seem to be appropriating what they hold dear for his own purposes.

Though the author is right to find moral bearings in the teachings of Jesus, his argument that one can follow Jesus yet not believe in him falls flat.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90642-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Convergent/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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