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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Warren Smith’s Quarterly List of Books Worth Noting

Contemporary Christian Music, Elon Musk, Journalism Legend Maggie Higgins, and More

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will offer his opinion on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do. In this week’s ‘Notebook”is Warren Smith’s list of books either released in the past quarter, or those he just got around to reading this quarter. To read last quarter’s list, published in November, click here.

God Gave Rock and Roll to You by Leah Payne. I found this book both fascinating and frustrating. On the positive side, God Gave provides a solid, if not comprehensive, history of Contemporary Christian Music. Among the negatives: the book had a tendency to “nut pick.” It cites extreme examples (“nuts”) in order to make ideological points. For example, in a discussion of worship music, firebrand Sean Feucht is mentioned prominently. However, Keith Getty is omitted altogether — even though Getty is arguably the most influential figure in worship music over the past two decades. Other notable omissions: Mark Heard, Andrew Peterson, and Roger Breland’s Truth, which was a training ground for a generation of CCM artists, including 4Him, one of the biggest bands of the 90s (also not mentioned). A theme of the book is that CCM is a “white evangelical” phenomenon. Fair enough, but it barely mentions artists like Lecrae, artists who don’t fit the narrative.

All that said, this book is worth a read if you care about CCM and if mentions of such figures as Frank Boggs, Word Records first recording artist, brings a smile to your face.

Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Life by David Bahnsen. The author of this book is a force of nature. He runs a wildly successful investment firm, contributes regularly for WORLD Magazine and other publications, is a regular on the business channel CNBC, and writes books that are far better than a man this busy should be writing. Full-Time makes a spirited, biblical case for work as a gift from God. It dismantles the “sacred-secular” divide by making the simple yet profound point that – as Abraham Kuyper said – “every square inch” of life belongs to God. It’s learned without being pedantic, thoroughly biblical, and clearly written. Highly recommended.

Exiles: The Church in the Shadow of Empire by Preston Sprinkle. Is it possible to have a Christian political identity? If so, does it look like either of the two dominant political parties in American life today? Preston Sprinkle seems to think that the answer to the first question is “yes” and the answer to the second question is “no.” The virtues of this book are many, among them that it turns to Scripture to make its key points. This book will challenge both those who think America is a “city on a hill” and those who think it is a “modern day Babylon.”

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Fierce Ambition: The Life and Legend of War Correspondent Maggie Higgins by Jennet Conant. Today, women outnumber men in many newsrooms. Sports reporting is still overwhelmingly male, but most other beats are majority female. It hasn’t always been that way, and Maggie Higgins is one of the reasons things changed. She became a war reporter in World War II, when she was barely out of her teens. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Korean War, and she died of a disease she picked up covering Vietnam. During that time, she matured from a hard-living libertine, an adrenaline junkie, into a wife, mother, devoted Catholic, and Cold War ideologue. The salons she held in her Georgetown home were attended by artists, journalists, and presidents. If you are interested in the history of journalism, you don’t want to miss this overlooked figure or this lively book.

Life is Hard, God is Good, Let’s Dance by Brant Hansen. Evangelicalism is too often gloomy, apocalyptic, obsessed with catastrophe. Brant Hansen says, though, that Christians should be joyful. It’s one of the fruits of the spirit. It’s one of the ways we know and the world knows we are Christians. And if joy is absent?  Well, maybe we’re kidding ourselves about how much we believe in Jesus and how much we believe in something, or someone, else. Brant and I discussed this book on the MinistryWatch podcast, which you can find here.

Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. Don’t be put off by the heft. (It comes in at about 600 pages.) This highly readable biography provides insight into the man who – whether we like it or not – is shaping our world.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.