Archives For Recommended Reading

One of my summer sabbatical goals is to read widely. Below is a book I would recommend for those looking for Christian beach reading. It is written at a level that is easily followed and offers a fresh look at apologetics.

Skeel, David. True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2014.

Skeel argues that the Christian worldview offers the best explanation of significant areas of human experience.

Specifically, Skeel compares Christianity to materialism where materialism or naturalism is the belief that the material is the ultimate reality and that there is no supernatural God, gods or spirit(s) (13).

Skeel focuses on five different phenomena or paradoxes as areas in which to compare Christianity and materialism.

  1. Idea Making / Human Consciousness – Human beings have a consciousness and the ability to think abstractly about ideas. How did we come to be creatures who think abstractly? What is the origin of the “ghost in the machine”?
  2. Beauty and the Arts – “This perception that beauty is real and that it reflects the universe as it is meant to be, but that it is impermanent and somehow corrupted, is the paradox of beauty (65).” Why are we so moved by beauty?
  3. The Problem of Evil – “If a good God oversees, the universe, why would he allow [suffering] (90)?” If there is nothing more than the material and the evolution of life, why are people concerned about evil?
  4. The Justice Paradox – Humanity devises systems of law they believe they can follow, but then societies fail to follow those laws. Marxism is one infamous example. Why do we view justice as so important?
  5. Life and Afterlife – “Christians believe in both a life and an afterlife (137).” Yet, other worldviews argue that once the physical lights go out, existence ceases. Which view best fits the data?

Skeel is a law professor and this shows in his ability to outline clear, well-reasoned positions. Indeed, his explanation of the lawyer’s vocation as “navigating complexity” offers a fascinating insight into the legal profession (148).

Skeel is not a trained theologian. He does not attempt sophisticated theological explanations nor does he interact a great deal with the biblical text. That is not his purpose. Rather, his goal is to encourage people to think deeply about human experience and the worldviews that make the most sense of life.

Skeel’s lack of theological depth is most notable in the chapter 5, “Life and Afterlife.” There he seems to give N.T. Wright more credit than he deserves asserting that “the contemporary theologian who has done more than any other to explain [the hope of the new earth] is N.T. Wright.”  At the same time, Skeel unfairly characterizes dispensationalists as believing that only physical bodies will be resurrected (155).

Skeel’s offers four excellent strategies for people interested in thinking deeply about life after reading his book:

  1. Keep reading. Investigate more.
  2. Attend church.
  3. Find a Christian whom you respect and who is willing to answer questions you have about Christianity and what Christians do and do not believe.
  4. Read the Bible itself.

For those wishing to consider apologetics (the case for Christianity) on an introductory level, Skeel’s True Paradox offers a worthwhile place to begin.

See also:

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Do You Ever Hum, What’s Forever For?

Plugging Into God’s Power

Chris —  February 17, 2017

In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines David Mathis helps Christians understand how they can grow by God’s grace rather than wearing out in their own strength.

The key to growing as a Christians is to understand how to grow through God’s strength rather than by merely “white-knuckling” the Christian life through sheer force of will. 

David Mathis illustrates the idea cooperating or receiving God’s grace. He is careful to show that God supplies the power, but that we need to receive God’s grace. 

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There be no light and no liquid refreshment without some else providing it. And so it is with the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.

Mathis’ book, then, is about how we open the “pipes” and wait expectantly for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

In brief, the way that open the pipes or plug into the power is through God’s appointed means of grace: hearing from God in His Word, praying, and growing together in community. There are vast riches to be discovered on this topic. I highly recommend Mathis’ book.

You hear more in the below video where Justin Taylor interviews David Mathis:

Crossway provided time-stamps of the conversation

00:00 – What do the endorsements for the book tell us about what you were trying to do in Habits of Grace?
02:21 – What are you getting at when you talk about “habits of grace”?
04:39 – In your experience, what are some of the main challenges that Christians face with respect to the “habits of grace”?
07:48 – When it comes to our intake of God’s Word, why is it important to emphasize both breadth and depth?
09:51 – How do we ensure that our understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines is biblical and not unduly shaped by non-Christian influences?
13:04 – Where and how is the Holy Spirit present in your understanding of living the Christian life?
16:30 – With the multitude of books already in print related to the spiritual disciplines, why did you feel the need to write another one?

For more see:

Is Growing as a Christian a Result of God’s Grace or My Strength?  

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Enjoying Jesus: A Review of Habits of Grace by Joe Harrod 

 

Why Read Great Literature?

Chris —  January 27, 2017

Read this article by Philip Yancey and your motivation for reading great literature — especially Dostoyevsky — will grow.

Many are aware that there is a collection of “great books” and that our minds and hearts benefit from reading them. We’ve heard comments like, “Everyone should read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I haven’t for the record. But few get around to actually reading the great books. It’s just easier to read John Grisham.

Some of the reason we don’t follow through on reading great literature is that we have not understood why it is so important to do so. In short, we should invest time reading the great books because they consider the most important questions we face. The Brothers Karamazov (Signet Classics), for example, is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written because it faces, head-on, the problem of suffering. And the problem of pain is unquestionably the most difficult question Christians face. (See point #6 here).

I don’t have the time — nor the expertise!! — to explain more in this post. But if you if you are interested in further motivation for reading great works of literature, then I would encourage you to read this article by Philip Yancey that reflects on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and “The Sermon on the Mount.” You will come away knowing more about Russian literature and more about the gospel.

Both of the below books are excellent resources for those who wish to make better use of their reading time.

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness: Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)

Tony Reinke’s: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

The Radical Book for Kids by Champ ThorntonIf you have grade school age children – – or if you buy presents for them — The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith order this book and check one item off your list. It JUST came out. So chances are the family you have in mind doesn’t already own a copy.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for, The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith:

Champ Thornton’s book shows families how to grow a root system in the Christian faith. It offers a broad base of rich content in meal-sized portions readily accessible to families. The content ranges from an introduction to Scripture, to biblical theology, to historical theology. The elephant jokes and knot tying lessons are a nice bonus. I am putting this on a short list of books I recommend that all our church families own.

A few other reasons this is an excellent choice for families:

  • Great pictures and illustrations!
  • The Radical. includes an excellent introduction to understanding the Bible. Champ helpfully explains the different types of literature in Scripture and then shows how the parts relate to the whole.
  • Champ explains why Christianity is “good news” rather than good advice. And the difference is eternally important.
  • As I mentioned above, Champ includes important stories from church history. If you don’t know the story of Polycarp or Athanasius or why they are important today, you can enjoy learning together.
  • But along with this basic information about Christianity, families will enjoy the practical lessons included. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of what it looks like to clean our rooms? Or why manners matter. You will be amazed at how Champ weaves different strands of content together into one tremendous resource.

This morning, as we conclude our time in 2 Peter by considering Peter’s admonition to grow in grace, I am recommending to our flock that they consider reading the book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

I hope to post more on this book in the near future, but for now I will simply point to it as an excellent resource for growing in the Christian life.

Early Book Gift Ideas

Chris —  November 23, 2015

Hopefully, you are buying a present for at least one reader this Christmas. Here are a few ideas to consider.

 

More from Jerry Bridges:

As I have said, one of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

To behold the glory of Christ in the gospel is a discipline. It is a habit we must develop by practice as we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. As I have repeatedly said, although sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is a work which involves us.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

One of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

Grace the personal discipline require to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

Robbi Cary’s new book, No Matter What, It’s A Good Day When, is out. It features Patricia Hunter’s beautiful photography.

If you are someone who struggles to find time in the day to relax and think of God’s goodness, you will enjoy this book.
I just received a copy today. Tonight we looked at it together as a family and then talked about ways we see the glory of God in Creation.

Painted buntings have long been Patricia’s poster child and her tradition continues with this book.

A Patricia Hunter picture of a male painted bunting.

No Matter What, It’s a Good Day When is a perfect book for your coffee table, family devotions, or to give as a gift.

You can find out more about the book at thegooddaybook.com.

Christian books on pain and suffering shouldn’t give simplistic answers. Yancey is right, “Why?” is a question that doesn’t go away.

I am preparing for a series on Job this fall at the Red Brick Church– – and I’m a pastor – – and a person living in a fallen world – – all of which means I read a great deal on suffering. Today, I’ve been encouraged by reading Philip Yancey’s honest, raw interaction with the Japanese Tsunami, the murder of children at Sandyhook elementary in Newtown, Boston and other awful tragedies.

Did you know?

  • The earthquake that struck Japan and caused the Tsunami released 600 million times more energy than the atomic bombs that fell on Japan (Yancey, 45).
  • 410,000 automobiles were destroyed in the Tsunami.
  • Approximately 19,000 people were killed or are missing.

Why?

There are no trite answers to suffering. In fact, simplistic answers are insulting. But there is real comfort in Yancey’s book.

Thankfully, there are a number of thoughtful Christan books on pain and suffering.

I will soon be reading carefully reading Tim Keller’s highly recommended Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

I have previously recommended Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil.

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, is also excellent.