This is the first in a (hopefully regular) series on books that every Christian should try to read. I’m starting with this one because it is my favorite and by far the one that has had the greatest impact on my life. My goal is to highlight books that you won’t find on the bestsellers list in your local bookstore or the ‘new and popular’ page on Amazon, precisely because they are not new. But just because they are not new, doesn’t mean they aren’t helpful. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Screwtape Letters, “the characteristic errors of one [generation] may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.”
Author: G.K. Chesterton
First Published: 1908
One-Sentence Synopsis: Chesterton presents an apologetic for orthodox Christianity (as found in the Apostles Creed) by recounting his own journey from agnosticism to faith.
Many Christians can probably point to a particular book, sermon, or experience as the moment (post-conversion) when their faith finally ‘clicked’ for them, when the world started to make sense. It’s like someone with impaired vision putting glasses on for the first time or a mostly deaf person being fitted with hearing aids. You might not even have known there was a deficiency, but in hindsight, you can’t even believe how you ever lived that way. From casual conversations I’ve had, it appears that most Evangelicals who had that experience reading a book point to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. For me, it was Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Continue reading Books Every Christian Should Read: Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
In his book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright, director of international ministries for the Langham Partnership International, attempts to correct a deficiency he has noticed within the Church: the tendency to “cut [Jesus] off from the historical Jewish context of his own day, and from his deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures.” Believing that the Old Testament is vital to understanding Jesus, Wright has penned a book that examines how Jesus read, understood, and applied them. Although it is not a perfect book, containing several concerning weaknesses, Wright provides an interesting examination of how Jesus viewed himself, his mission, and the Old Testament and a compelling reason for Christians to embrace the Old Testament as part of their own Scriptural heritage.
Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, as a title, is something of a misnomer. The book does not deal with finding Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament so much as how Jesus interpreted the Old Testament, and how he interpreted his own ministry in light of it. Wright desires Christians to see the New Testament as the continuation of the Old Testament rather than the replacement of it, and each of his five chapters uses a different topic to demonstrate that Jesus was in agreement with this thesis. Continue reading Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament
The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places By Shayne Wheeler, Tyndale Momentum, 2013, 272 pp., $14.99 paperback.
It was a bad sign that I found myself echoing the Preacher’s lament that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) very early in Shayne Wheeler’s The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places, the latest book in the Hipster-Christian genre of publishing (where authors condemn “Holier Than Thou” Christianity only to replace it with “Cooler Than Thou” and “More Tolerant Than Thou” versions). I know absolutely nothing about Wheeler or his church so I have tried to constrain my critique to his book, without extrapolating it to his person or ministry, but I must admit that it is difficult to judge the latter without assuming that the former must logically be influenced by the views the book betrays. Continue reading Book Review: The Briarpatch Gospel
I Am Not But I Know I Am: Welcome to the Story of God By Louie Giglio, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2012, 176 pp, $13.99 paperback / $9.99 ebook.
If you don’t know who Louie Giglio is, you haven’t been paying attention. Not only is he pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Movement, but on January 8, it was announced that he would deliver the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration in recognition of his work to stop human trafficking. Two days later, he withdrew under intense criticism for preaching (nearly two decades ago) what the Bible says about homosexuality. I had mixed feelings about both his initial acceptance of the invitation and his subsequent withdrawal, but neither made me question his motivations or his love for the Lord. Similarly, I experienced mixed feelings while reading I Am Not But I Know I Am: Welcome to the Story of God, the paperback release of his 2005 title, but nothing that would make me question his passion for Jesus and his desire to make his name known.
The book’s quirky title is, of course, based on Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, where God revealed his name as I AM. From this, Giglio builds a thesis that, “God’s name is I have always been and always will be God, and my name is I have never been and never will be God. My name is I am not.” The rest of the book is concerned with how this idea should assuage our feelings of stress and meaningless. Giglio assures his readers that relegating each of us to the status of an I am not is not an insult, but a recognition of our proper place in God’s creation. This then frees us to be everything we are meant to be by relying on everything that he is: Continue reading Book Review: I Am Not But I Know I Am
Lying (Kindle Single) By Sam Harris, 2011, $2.99 Kindle Edition.
One would not typically think of Sam Harris agreeing with Christians about something. Harris, after all, is the author of books such as The End of Faith and has made a career of being antagonistic towards Christianity, the Bible, and faith in general. However, in Lying, a Kindle Single on the importance of honesty, Harris promotes an idea that is very biblical: that lies (even small, white ones) are always wrong.
This principle of total and complete honesty that Harris tries to live out was instilled in him by a college course he took at Stanford called “The Ethical Analyst,” after which he was convinced that “lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust.” The rest of this short book is devoted to explaining exactly how lying causes those damages and explaining why being honest is always the better option. Continue reading Book Review: Lying
Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction By Bryan M. Litfin, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007, 301 pp, $24.99 paperback.
Bryan M. Litfin, professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, provides a concise and cursory glance at ten pillars of early Christianity in his book Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. Writing from an evangelical perspective, Litfin targets his work specifically to an evangelical audience “because Catholics have been exposed to the fathers of the church. But evangelical Christians haven’t” (p. 11). This, he believes, is lamentable because “we are inextricably bound to the church fathers. They are our spiritual ancestors, for better or for worse” (p. 14). Too often the only exposure evangelicals have had to these leaders are quotes taken out of context to defend one theological point or another. These excerpts are wielded as weapons, rather than their work being allowed to stand as a whole, and in the process evangelicals have missed out on the rich heritage of the early church fathers.
Thus, rather than focusing on the theology of the fathers, Litfin aims to introduce readers “in a more personal way” to those who make up their “spiritual legacy and heritage in the faith” (p. 16). Litfin defines early church fathers as those who are “ancient, orthodox in doctrine, holy in life, and approved by other Christians” (p. 19). And in keeping with his evangelical perspective, while focusing on the lives and personalities of the church fathers, Litfin also hopes to dispel three prevalent misconceptions that evangelicals have regarding these early leaders: 1) that they were not biblical; 2) that they were Roman Catholics; and 3) that they represent the “fall” of Christianity from the purity of apostolic times (pp. 20-28). Continue reading Book Review: Getting to Know the Church Fathers
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First By Alister McGrath, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, 560 pp, $15.99 paperback.
Nearly 500 years after the initial events took place, the Protestant Reformation continues to be approached from a variety of angles and perspectives. In his book, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, Alister McGrath presents a new study, interpreting the movement, its founders, and its currents through its unique doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (i.e., the idea that all individuals have the ability and responsibility to interpret and teach Scripture). He attempts to retell the history of Protestantism, from its origins to the present day, through this lens, while also examining how this past can help anticipate the future. In painting with such broad brushstrokes, it is inevitable that McGrath overlooks or overgeneralizes some aspects of the Reformation and its effects, but the overall result is a refreshing glance at a frequently and copiously addressed topic and a warning to Protestants about unintended effects of one of the doctrines they hold most dear. Continue reading Book Review: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea
Previous years: 2012 | 2011
- The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton – Liked – A classic Christian apologetic that interacts with objections posed by evolution and modernism, and the book C. S. Lewis credited with moving him toward faith. Chesterton is never stronger than when he is defending Christianity in general, but he is never weaker than when he is defending Catholicism in particular.
- Roger Williams by Edwin S. Gaustad – Liked – Short, concise, scholarly biography focusing on Williams’ crusade for religious liberty. A good introduction both to Williams and his most important literary contributions. While Gaustad does not focus on Williams’ religious beliefs as much as some others do, he nevertheless does a decent job of integrating the religious aspects of Williams’ calls for liberty.
- The Challenges of Roger Williams: Religious Liberty, Violent Persecution, and the Bible by James P. Byrd, Jr. – Loved – Excellent look at how Roger Williams’ exegesis of Scripture influenced his view of religious liberty. In addition to a chapter each on how Williams interpreted the Old Testament, the parable of the wheat and the tares, the Pauline epistles, and Revelation, the book provides a short biography, a brief review of modern historiography of Williams, and a summary of Williams’ impact on American history and thought. A great book for anyone interested in history, politics, or hermeneutics.
- Roger Williams: The Church and the State by Edmund S. Morgan – Liked – Less a biography than an introduction to Williams’ thought in light of his historical context. Morgan seemed to have less of a grasp of biblical and theological topics than Gaustad or Byrd (see above), but this book was an very good, and fast-moving, introduction to Williams and his ideas of how government and the church relate.
- The Reformers and their Stepchildren by Leonard Verduin – Liked – An excellent look at the Protestant Reformation from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Each chapter looks at a different aspect of “heresy” that was incorrectly applied to the Anabaptists by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their followers (as well as those in the English Reformation). The only downside is that in defending the Anabaptists and their descendants, Verduin at times glorifies heretical groups that preceded them in order to make his point that the Anabaptists were in fact orthodox.
- America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark A. Noll – Loved – A fantastic history of American religious thought in the 18th and 19th centuries that provides much needed context for how the various Christian denominations, traditions, and hermeneutics developed.
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart – Liked – This book left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it makes biblical interpretation accessible to people who otherwise might be intimidated by the prospect. On the other hand, there are significant issues where Fee and Stuart do not fairly represent opposing viewpoints (or even mention that there are legitimate opposing views). They set out to write a book that bridge the gap between scholar and layman, but it’s difficult to recommend the book for either because the layman might be swayed by arguments that have been misleadingly portrayed as being obvious, while there are more advanced texts that go into greater detail than this one that would be more appropriate for the scholar.
- Two Views on Women in Ministry by James R. Beck (editor) – Liked – An examination of the role of women in ministry. The four contributors are divided equally between the egalitarian and complementarian positions, but even those who generally agree disagree on specifics. This book is a good way to see how the two sides interpret various passages of Scripture and apply them to the contemporary church.
- Addictions–A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel by Edward T. Welch – Liked – A good resource for anyone who loves or ministers to someone caught in addiction. While not completely dismissive of programs like AA, Welch consistently points the addict, as well as those whose lives the addiction impacts, back to the gospel as the only path through which true freedom can be found. The book focuses mainly on drug and alcohol addiction, but the principles are applied to pornography and other addictions as well.
- Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright – Liked – The book isn’t so much about finding Jesus in the Old Testament as it is a look at how Jesus read and interpreted the Old Testament and how his ministry related to the Old Testament Scriptures. Regardless, it is an interesting and informative book about the interconnectedness of God’s mission and message throughout the Old and New Testaments. You can read my full review here.
- I Am Not But I Know I Am: Welcome to the Story of God by Louie Giglio – Liked – A good book for seekers and new believers, and a good reminder for season believers that it’s all about God and not about us. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. You can read my full review here.
- Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern by John F. MacArthur, Jr. – Loved – A fantastic look at the disturbing trend within the church to trust in external authority structures (church hierarchy, tradition, etc.) and personal experience rather than God’s word. For a book that is almost 20 years old and out of print, it is remarkably pertinent to today’s church.
- Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns – Didn’t Like – Enns emphasizes the human side of Scripture, and in so doing calls the doctrine of inerrancy into question. While there are indeed some aspects to the book that could be corrective to the extremes of Evangelical interpretations of the Bible, overall it is not worth reading–especially since it is targeted toward laymen who do not know the legitimate alternative views.
- Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon D. Fee – Liked – Overall a good book that corrects the Evangelical tendency to overlook the Holy Spirit. Fee is charismatic, and this is evident in the last chapter or too, but the rest of the book makes up for whatever disagreement non-charismatics might have with that portion.
- Christian Theology by Millard Erickson – Loved – An extremely thorough and accessible systematic theology written from a Baptist perspective.
- Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem – Liked – Great book for what it is: a broad, general introduction to political issues, especially as they relate to early-21st-century America, written with a popular audience in mind. Someone who has not given thought to a biblical view of politics or who does not follow politics will find it extremely well-thought out, informative, and practical. However, someone used to reading political treatises will probably find it elementary and somewhat limited by its 21st-century American context.
- On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams by Roger Williams, James Calvin Davis (ed.) – Liked – Davis does a good job or providing a representative sampling of Williams’ writings, particularly those that touch on religious liberty, while also smoothing out Williams’ characteristic idiosyncrasies in spelling, grammar, and syntax.
- Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar – Liked – When I start a book, I usually plow right through it and finish it quickly. This is one of the few that I put down several times, only to pick it back up several months later. The history, philosophy, and personal stories of and relationships between the scientists were fascinating, but the mathematical and scientific equations were tough to get through for a lay-person more than a decade removed from a physics or high-level math class. Overall, a good book that provides a very thorough introduction to a complex subject and its philosophical roots and implications.