Let's begin with something fundamental: Help: The Original Human Dilemma, by Garret Keizer (HarperSanFrancisco). Keizer, who has been an Episcopal priest and sometime teacher, writes ruminative books that violate most of the lessons they'll teach you in courses on "How to get published." He doesn't care; he goes his own way, equally at home whether he's demonstrating his unerring ear for the American vernacular, c. 2004, or quoting one of his favorites sages (and mine), Samuel Johnson. You may remember his previous book, The Enigma of Anger, an excerpt from which appeared in Books & Culture. His new book is similar in form, taking up the subject of help now from this angle, now from that with a patient intensity that kept me turning the pages to a stunning conclusion. The painting on the cover shows the Good Samaritan, and the questions posed by that parable will grip you as you read and won't let you go.

Keizer's book should be read alongside Allen D. Hertzke's Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights (Rowman & Littlefield), a case study in the complexities of "helping" that nevertheless comes firmly down on the side of action. Hertzke shows how evangelicals, galvanized by a new awareness of violent persecution of Christians, have joined in effective alliances with other advocates of global human rights. (Why was this story entirely missing from the long list of post-November 2 op-ed pieces bewailing the influence of evangelicals? It just didn't fit the script, I guess.)

Evangelicals (their forebears, at any rate) don't come off so well in Philip Jenkins' Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality (Oxford Univ. Press), but then they have a lot of company in a ...

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