Book Briefs

2 Apr

Here are a few books I have read in the last couple of months which I found interesting, informative and/or inspiring.

Generous Justice

by Timothy Keller

Keller, the Pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, writes brilliantly on the biblical call to social action and love of neighbor. Avoiding the extremes of the social gospel crowd and the evangelize only crowd, Keller shows from the Scriptures how the call to care for the poor is an integral part of our lives as disciples of Christ. Keller is especially adept at making Gospel connections and that is the strength of this book. Keller powerfully explains how our own need for salvation met by Christ should compel us to care for others in physical and spiritual need. Apart from all the other excellent material herein, it is worth having this book just for the second to last chapter on Doing Justice in the Public Square. At 186 pages, it is not a long read due to its compact size (the hardcover edition is 7.5″ x 5.4″). Highly recommended for anyone seeking a biblically-informed view of serving those in need.

 

Gospel-Centered Family

by Ed Moll and Tim Chester

This is one of the best books on the family I have ever read. It is immensely practical and would be a great resource for parents to discuss and apply through a small group. What I most appreciated about this book was that it was thematic rather than prescriptive. It did not come across as a heavy-handed, “I’ve discovered the only biblical way families can function” kind of approach so common with books on the family. Instead, there was a refreshing honesty as struggles were shared. I especially appreciated how Moll and Chester focused on the heart, both of the parent and the child, as the key area to which we should give our attention. This book is short (just 93 pages) but it will be a go-to resource for me in the years to come.

 

Against Calvinism

by Roger Olson

Sometimes it is good to read a book from a different theological perspective as a way to guard against complacency. Olson’s Against Calvinism is a good book for such an exercise. Olson spends the bulk of his book arguing against four of the five points of Calvinism (the TULI of the TULIP). He does not scorn all Calvinists or all Reformed believers but it most concerned about those whom we might call insistent or high Calvinists (those who push the five points to their “logical” conclusions). He would include men like John Piper, RC Sproul and Jonathan Edwards in this group. Olson’s main concern seems to be that if we carry out Calvinism to its logical conclusion then we end up with a God who is not worthy of worship, for He is a God who ordains evil. There are arguments against this view, but Olson does not accept these arguments, viewing them simply as logically untenable. Olson often argues well when he makes the case for his view and criticizes high Calvinism.

My problem with Olson’s argument is that, taken to its logical conclusion, Piper, Sproul and Edwards worship a false God. Olson comes dangerously close to being like the student who spoke to him in the beginning of the book, saying, “I don’t think you’re a Christian because you are not a Calvinist.” I came away from the book hearing him say, “I don’t think you worship the true God because you are a high Calvinist.” At what point then does Olson have to use the “H” word and call out high Calvinism as a heresy?

 

The Deep Things of God

by Fred Sanders

A strong view of the Trinity, while upheld as a tenet of orthodoxy in evangelical life, is rarely taught, preached and modeled in evangelical churches. But Fred Sanders has written a book intended to address that lack. In the introduction, Sanders writes, “Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong and experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father’s love. Personal evangelism, conversational prayer, devotional Bible study, authoritative preaching, world missions, and assurance of salvation all presuppose that life in the gospel is life in communion with the Trinity . . . Christian salvation comes from the Trinity, happens through the Trinity and brings us home to the Trinity.”

Sanders’ book is a real gem. It gives the theological boundaries of a right understanding of the Trinity but it is not obsessed with defending the Trinity so much as explaining it and applying the truth of the Trinity to the Christian life. This is where the book really shines: it is really a Practical Theology of the Trinity and in that way makes a valuable contribution, taking an important but challenging doctrine and showing its worth in every area of life. I highly recommend this book.

 

Is God a Moral Monster?

by Paul Copan

In our day, the New Atheists are more aggressive than ever in attacking the Bible. A favorite target of Dawkins, Harris and the like is the Old Testament, that strange and difficult text from centuries past. The late Christopher Hitchens and others like him love in their writings to call God maniacal, egotistical, murderous, and oppressive based on what they read in the Old Testament. Paul Copan is addressing these concerns in his book,Is God a Moral Monster?While not solving every difficulty in an air-tight, no questions asked way, Copan nevertheless does effectively deconstruct many of the straw men put forth by militant atheists. He does so by a careful study of the text itself, combined with a consideration of the cultural background in which the text was written. This proves to be critical in many cases, as what appears in the case of some laws to be oppressive was actually liberating in light of the realities of Ancient Near Eastern culture.   One of the most important sentences in the book comes on page 221, where Copan writes, “To stop with Old Testament texts without allowing Christ, the second Adam, and the new, true Israel to illuminate them, our reading and interpretation of the Old Testament will be greatly impoverished and, in certain ways, misrepresented.”

This book probably won’t convince many aggressive atheists (if you are committed to misrepresent, you will misrepresent) but it will help many who are seeking to really understand the character of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

 

Evangellyfish

by Douglas Wilson

I don’t read much fiction but when I saw this novel by Doug Wilson I thought I would give it a try. I was not disappointed. This satire hits all the right notes while not ending up as simply a scathing rant but as a redemptive story. Pastor Chad Lester of Camel Creek Community Church is embroiled in a scandal but not one he ever believed he would face. Meanwhile Reformed Church Pastor John Mitchell toils away in his obscure ministry  jealous/peeved at Lester from afar. The way the lives of these two pastors intersect becomes the heart of this very entertaining fun book. Wilson does a great job of bringing his characters to life and his descriptions of the awkward situations that arise in the story are uniformly humorous. The book is entertaining and enriching and I can’t ask much more from a good novel than that.

2 Responses to “Book Briefs”

  1. Petra Hefner April 2, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Thanks for the list. Roger Olson’s book does look like it would cure our complacency… I’ve not read his book but now wonder what one would call a person who makes such strong accusations against Calvinism, a High Arminianist? It might be a good idea to guard against inflexible isms all in all, and let God be God (if he truly is sovereign, and He is!) I have embraced the Tulip because I find its evidence in scripture, but I do not embrace scripture because I find its evidence in the Tulip. 🙂

    • jsf08 April 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      I agree Petra. Let Scripture speak and seek to understand it as clearly as possible and let the chips fall where they may.

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