Book Reviews: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, A History from the 16th Century to the 21st by Alister McGrath (HarperOne)

The “dangerous idea” in the title is that every individual has the right and responsibility to interpret the Bible. With no authority to rein in “wayward” thought, opposing sides on controversial issues appeal to the same text but interpret it in very different ways. The spread of this principle has led to remarkable innovation and adaptability, and to cultural incoherence and instability.

The author takes a historical journey through this movement born in 16th century Europe on through to America, and beyond to the Southern Hemisphere. But it also is a book that explores doctrines and practices of Protestantism, its interpretation and usage of the Bible, the forms of worship and structures of the churches, its encounter with the sciences and with Western culture.

McGrath covers 500 years in 500 pages and only glides across the surface. In many sections, it leaves readers wanting to know more and go deeper. But this is still an excellent introduction to the forces that were unleashed 500 years ago by Martin Luther.

Bob Parker, pastor

First Baptist Church



The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Their Friends, Text by Harry Lee Poe with Photography by James Ray Veneman (Zondervan, 2009)

Is The Inklings of Oxford a coffeetable book to be purchased for Jim Veneman’s exquisite photographs of an extraordinarily beautiful British university? Or is The Inklings of Oxford a literary work to be bought for Hal Poe’s chronicle of the lives of two Oxford products and important 20th century writers—Clive Staples Lewis and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien—and their friends?

On the one hand, the pictures of the college town’s architecture, gardens, chapels, homes and inhabitants offer inspiration without any text. The serene landscapes suggest settings in which literary genius flourishes. On the other hand, Poe’s words trace the friendships, tragedies and triumphs of the Inklings, a group of Christian writers who met regularly in Oxford from the 1930s to the 1960s. In reality, Poe and Veneman accomplish the difficult task of marrying biographies and illustrations of places important to their lives and literature.

For lovers of Narnia, Middle-earth or both, The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Their Friends should be on their Christmas wish or gift lists.

Kathy Robinson Hillman,

former president

Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas, Waco


The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose (Grand Central Publishing)

This is about as close as you can get to a fast-read book that’s both (a) nonfiction and (b) about religion. It’s fun and fascinating, as well as provocative yet poignant.

Kevin Roose was a student at Brown University when he decided to spend his semester “abroad” studying at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He figured the schools of Europe, where his Ivy League classmates attended, wouldn’t seem nearly as foreign to a Quaker-born agnostic as Jerry Falwell’s bastion of fundamentalism.

The Unlikely Disciple no doubt attracts readers for various reasons. Atheists and agnostics can seek inside information about the Religious Right. Fundamentalists can wonder if their school is strong enough to save an unbeliever. And nonfundamentalist evangelicals most likely question to what degree “Jerry’s Kids” are like—or unlike—their own.

Roose offers an open-minded, often-sympathetic glimpse into life on the Liberty campus during the last semester of Falwell’s life. He shares both surprises and (particularly in the case of faculty) about what you might suspect.

Marv Knox, editor

Baptist Standard




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