Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 129

BOOK REVIEWS Because it includes a number of expository digressions, Reading can also serve as a primer in Christian literary scholarship. In heavily footnoted passages, VanZanten summarizes everything from the history of literary criticism to debates about Christians’ relationship to culture. She also provides lengthy summaries of many of her own works, as well as courses she has taught. These detours, ranging from general to specific, will be more or less relevant for each reader depending on his or her interests and expertise. Young scholars will especially appreciate VanZanten’s demystification of the academic career path. She is straightforward about how she made certain decisions: she chose a dissertation advisor who would help her finish quickly; took a position at Calvin because Covenant’s teaching load did not allow research time; left Calvin for Seattle Pacific in what she calls “an abysmal instance of academic timing” in order to raise her son near family (79). These details reinforce her claim that scholarship is a vocation and an opportunity to serve more than it is a career to be advanced. In a climate rife with advice about playing the academic game, VanZanten’s experience and exhortation are both refreshing. Though it can be encouraging, the mixed genre of academic memoir a lso causes problems. Reading is not about VanZanten as an individual but as “a Christian scholar,” as the subtitle describes her. At her best, VanZanten persuades through autobiography, such as when she narrates how she became a Christian feminist in response to the intellectual and social dilemmas her female students faced. At other times, the intellectual and the personal clash, sometimes in a single sentence. For example, she writes, “An exclusive focus on the Western tradition of literature was not appropriate for Christians, I argued in a series of essays and talks; we needed to break out of our selfcentered focus on our own nation, literature, and tradition to learn more about others” (64). Is this an argumentative thesis or personal history? This question plagues the work as a whole. Criticism aside, the fact that the “Christian scholar” is even a recognizable identity is due in part to VanZanten’s life work. Her Joining the Mission (2011) helps new faculty navigate their vocations in Christian higher education. She also serves as a mentor to Christian graduate students through the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program. In everything she is a teacher, and she narrates her own journey in Reading not for the purpose of self-disclosure but because she wants others to learn from it. Reading reminds me of the rich English lectures I heard as an undergraduate at Wheaton College. It is memoir, persuasive essay, literature review, and 131