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Name Change?

Is Books & Culture contemplating a name change? Maybe to "Books & Culture: A Faith Tradition Review"? That's what Doug Howard calls Christianity in his review of The Blood of Lambs ["Mixed message," May/June]. Which puts us on an equal footing with Druids. Maybe it might be helpful for us lowly readers and serve to enhance truth in advertising if the reviewers were actually Christians and not trendy academics who worship at the altar of modernity and moral equivalence.

Michael R. Shannon
Woodbridge, Virginia

Life in a Bubble

I appreciated Philip Yancey's reflections on the Christian "bubble" he lived with as a college student ["Life in a Bubble," September/October]. Though few of B&C's readers are joined to schools a strict as the one Yancy attended, I have noticed a tendency among Christian college professors to speak derisively of the settings they teach in. I have also noticed that few—actually, none—of the profs I've heard speak this way have ever taught at a state university. I have taught at one, and I know that a greater variety of political opinion exists—or is allowed—in the small Christian school where I teach now.

More importantly, there is greater room for serious discussion at my Christian university than there was at the state school, which I remember only as a heart-breaking intellectual deathtrap. Because of sensitivities within the bubble, for instance, there's a reticence to face the overwhelming evidence for evolution, let alone to bring theological discussion to bear on what that evidence suggests. And yet it is this same reticence that makes the discussions that do take place serious, careful, and shaped by a commitment to first Christian principles as well as to scientific rigor. Similarly, inside the bubble we sometimes joke that the answer to everything is "Jesus," and yet the fact that most discussions really do revolve around this organizing principle (so to speak) has lent depth to philosophical class conversations on, for example, Aristotle's Ethics and Shakespeare's King Lear. I prefer the bubble because within it education is possible, if still difficult.

Bubbles can be problematic. I think of missionary communities where, after ten years in-country, dads speak Spanish badly, the kids barely, and the moms not at all. It's hard to know whom they're reaching. But, as far as schools go, there's a lot of junk out there, and bubbles can help with filtering.

Preston Jones
Dept. of History
John Brown University
Siloam Springs, Arkansas

Bible colleges everywhere were a reflection of what the regional culture and the regional churches were looking for. If legalism was a problem, it wasn't the schools but the Christian community in general. If Mr. Yancey didn't want the southern Bible college experience he could have gone elsewhere. While the rest of us were preparing for or actually going to Vietnam, Mr. Yancey was in the safe zone daring to read the wrong book. My, my! He went on to grad school in safety (Wheaton) and then spent his career in the safe Christian publishing world. Good grief, Mr. Yancey. How about a taste of the real world before you whine about your tough life—it's getting old. Maybe try a couple years as a truck driver or janitor (too late to serve your country), or anything except the protective walls of the religion business. Most of us your age would have given a lot to be in your shoes during those years of tumult and danger.

Dave Van Boven
[on the website]

Yea and Nay

Pick up almost any serious journal and you know what you'll read without even looking at the contents. Pick up Books & Culture and the angles and arguments fly from all sides, even from the outside. In the midst of the pervasive politicizing of American intellectual life, B&C is a wonder. "There is a huge and heroic sanity of which moderns can only collect the fragments," Chesterton declared. For so winsomely reflecting that sanity over these fifteen years—and for helping keep alive the ancient, indispensable dream of catholicity and liberality—I couldn't be more grateful. Thank you.

Eric Miller
Dept. of History
Geneva College
Beaver Falls, Pa.

I am writing to thank you, and everyone who is involved in Books & Culture, for putting out a consistently excellent magazine. I first discovered B&C about ten years ago when I was one of two Christian teens living on a small island off the coast of British Columbia (the other being my brother). Each issue overwhelmed me with new ideas, and provided a much-needed link to the wider Christian world, beyond our house church and my parents' old editions of C.S. Lewis.

Now that I am a doctoral student, it provides a welcome reminder of the world beyond 13th-century religious history. I have also come to appreciate that B&C is perhaps the only periodical in North America whose contributors have as broad a range of political views as my family and friends.

Tristan Sharp
Toronto, Ontario

While overall a phenomenal issue, your September/October offering suffered immensely from a cover done in extremely poor taste. I too am happy that Books & Culture has lasted 15 years (and hopefully many more). However, the implications raised by the cover are either nonsensical or ironic in the worst way. To begin, the schadenfreude involved in implying that B&C has "outlasted" the other publications applies only in the case of Lingua Franca (11 years in print), but is completely out of place with regard to The Washington Post Book World (37 years in print) and Partisan Review (68 years in print). I am not arguing that you should have waited until the years 2032 and 2063, respectively, to celebrate those competitive accomplishments. Rather, there is not now, nor ever will be, an appropriate time to self-congratulate based on the demise of genuinely good work such as the publications mentioned. The effect is like that of a teenager at a grandparent's funeral loudly bragging that he is still alive, unlike that sad sack in the coffin.

This leads directly to my second point: This type of chest-thumping displays—rather than combats—the ahistorical, myopic, exceptionalistic approach to culture that Noll so eloquently lampoons in his book. At most, the editors can safely say that they are continuing to offer the type of thoughtful cultural engagement that is increasingly difficult to find in the mainstream print media—either because it has migrated online or is no longer in the demand it once was. I know that doesn't make for much of a cover, which is perhaps the larger point: humility and grace would be a more befitting approach given the priorities of this magazine and your readership.

Timothy Joel Davis
Glen Ellyn, Illinois

John Wilson replies:

Thanks to Eric Miller and Tristan Sharp for your encouraging words. I will treasure the thought of Books & Culture finding its way, a decade ago, to that "small island off the coast of British Columbia." And I'm thankful to Tristan Sharp's parents for making that happen.

To Timothy Joel Davis: I'm glad that you found our anniversary issue "phenomenal" ("overall," at least). As to the "extremely poor taste" of the cover: taste in such matters is notoriously subjective. (In the judgment of a few readers, the cover of the previous issue, July/August, was "pornographic.") From my perspective, your reading of the September/October cover is tone-deaf, humorless, and (I'm sorry to say) pompous. (It's best not to use words unless you are sure you know what they mean. For starters, you should look up the word "lampoon.")

As it happens, I lamented the passing of Lingua Franca (back issues covering most of its history are in our garage), Book World (I subscribed for many years, until the day—some years before the section was killed—when I received a form letter saying that it would no longer be possible to have a standalone subscription to the section), and Partisan Review (I read the journal in its later incarnation, but what made a much bigger impact were the issues from the 1940s and '50s I discovered and devoured in the periodical stacks when I started college, in 1966).

I see that you live in Glen Ellyn, right next door to Wheaton. Perhaps we can meet sometime soon and raise a glass or two in memory of the fallen—and a hopeful toast to the continued existence of B&C.

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