Archives For Book Bites

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On Saturday, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I started a decent size book (250+ pg), and finished it the same day. I started off doing my usual, which is to say, reading a chapter in about 5-6 different books. But, when I started the chapter in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis around 3pm, I kept reading until I finished the book around 9pm. While that gives you an idea about my reading speed, it should give you an even better idea about the nature of this book, and maybe why you’d want to read it yourself.

The author, J. D. Vance, was born in Jackson, KY in late 1984. I was born 3 hours south, and a few months earlier. In some ways, our experiences growing up were opposites. He lacked an intact nuclear family, and I had one about as solid as it gets. In other ways, we at least overlapped in terms of cultural dynamics. I was a little higher middle class (maybe a lot actually), and maybe a step removed from his experience of hillbilly culture. But, I’m sure our Wal-Marts were about the same on a given weekend.

The story Vance tells involves his time growing up in a family of hillbillies. His background stories about his grandparents and their parents sounded like something that might not be far removed from my heritage, but I’d have to ask my parents for more details after they read the book. Vance ends up in Middletown, Ohio (just north of Cincinnati), and most of his memoir takes place there. It’s a story of his coming of age with a revolving door of father figures and a mother who eventually becomes an addict. It’s a story of the importance of families ties, and of grandparents involvement in raising their grand-kids. It’s a story where the church plays an auxiliary role, and when it does show up, it’s the judgy late 90’s conservative Pentecostal version that was more concerned with whether or not you listened to secular music than whether you were actually growing in Christ and your everyday needs were being met. It’s a story that could have been mine, with just a few minor tweaks. Our stories at least end similarly in that both went to and graduated from college (my dad was the first in the family to do so), then did graduate work (I think I’m alone here), and then moved to another part of the country. In his case though, it was far more dramatic of a rise than it was in mine.

While on the one hand, I can’t totally relate to Vance’s experiences growing up, I definitely went to youth group with kids who can. I think once I hit the teenage years, I was aware of a kind of class divide among the monochromatic culture we had in Knoxville (or at least my homeschool/Baptist corners of West Knoxville). I also knew I was on the upper end of that divide. We certainly lived in an area that had its fair share of white trash (sounds harsh right?), but I certainly wasn’t a part of it. But, that’s not because I was actually better. It’s because I think my parents tried to stop a cycle that they had grown up experiencing. Had they not done that, I imagine I might have related to Vance’s story even more than I did as someone one step removed.

At the end of the day, this is obviously a riveting read. I’ve read over 100 books this year so far, and this is the only book I couldn’t put down once I picked it up. It sheds light on a problem that plagues the area of the country I grew up in. It also explains, indirectly, why people find a figure like Donald Trump so attractive. It points out that large swaths of the “Bible belt” actually have large swaths of people who don’t go to church and aren’t connected to any meaningful Christian community. It sheds light on a disenfranchised segment of the population that has been mostly ignored. But, it’s a part of the population that is near and dear to me because I grew up there. And if you did as well, you might find this book just as page turning as I did.

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Shortly before there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Trinitarian theology, I had been reading Thomas McCall’s Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology. You know, just light beach reading.

The book covers a lot of ground in its 250 or so pages. The first section gives an overview chapter on recent discussions within philosophical theology, biblical foundations for monotheism, and some principles for doctrinal analysis. The second section tackles either a key theologian’s ideas, or a specific issue. The three theologians in question are Robert Jenson, Jurgen Moltmann, and John Zizioulas. The specific issue is Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS for short). Pretty timely right? Especially since this was published in 2010, and so written ever a year or more before that.

McCall brings a helpful analytic tool to the discussion that I’m not sure has been utilized in the recent online writings. He distinguishes between “soft” and “hard” EFS. The former is would be something along the lines of “The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnate and redemptive work, and this is true at all times” (176-177). McCall notes that unless you confuse temporal and logical modalities, there hardly anything controversial with this statement.

As for the latter, here McCall specifically highlights Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. Here the claim is more related to the interior divine life, how God is ad intra. In other words, it would be claim that regardless of the incarnation and redemptive work of Christ, the Son has always been functionally subordinate into eternity past.

From here, McCall raises some questions and poses a serious problem. The problem can be laid out in a serious of propositions (179-180):

  1. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.
  2. If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.
  3. If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially
  4. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not
  5. If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios

He gives a sampling of possible responses, and then gets into a section that asks whether there is a biblical basis for hard EFS (which is what Grudem claims for instance). McCall suggests that there are not any passages that push one to have to accept hard EFS, but rather are consistent with a soft approach instead.

Certainly people aware of the debate are aware that it often ties into understandings about gender roles. However, if hard EFS is true, it does not actually support a complimentarian position. Rather, as McCall relays a point from Keith Yandell in a footnote (187n37), it strongly suggests that women are inferior to men. If you look back up at the list of propositions and substitute “women” for “Son” and “men” for “Father,” it’s rather obvious that’s how the argument would work.

It seems at the end of the day, it is more consistent with the tradition of theological reflection, and not inconsistent with Scripture to affirm a soft EFS and deny its hard counterpart. Also, in doing so, the affirmation would not have a strong connection to gender roles. Or, to anticipate one of McCall’s theses below, it is an aspect of Trinitarian doctrine that is now detached from a sociopolitcal agenda.

If you’re interested in this debate, and the topic in general, I’d encourage you to read this book. It might take a while to wade through, but it is worth the effort. To give you an idea what some of his conclusions are, I’ll just close with the 15 theses he lists in his own conclusion to the book. He breaks them into categories, and I’ve done the same.

Theses on Trinitarian Theological Method

  • Trinitarian theology should attend to important issues of theological prolegomena (220)
  • Trinitarian theologians should work to see the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of the broader biblical narrative (222)
  • Trinitarian theology should not conflate Trinitarian doctrine with sociopolitical agendas (224)
  • Trinitarian theologians should be clear about the place of “mystery” (227)
  • Trinitarian theology should be clear about its goals; I suggest that attempts to deal with the “threeness-oneness problem” should offer an account that is coherent (or at least not obviously incoherent), is compatible with the biblical portraits of the distinctness of the divine persons, is in accord with the scriptural account of monotheism, and is consistent with t he major creeds of Christendom (229)

Theses of the “Threeness-Oneness Problem” of the Trinity

  • Trinitarian theology should be committed to monotheism (233)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on the full divinity of the distinct persons, and it should avoid whatever might compromise the full equality and divinity of the persons (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on an understanding of persons that is consistent with the New Testament portrayal of the divine persons, that is, as distinct centers of consciousness and will who exist together, in loving relationships of mutual dependence (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should reject ST [Social Trinitarianism] theories that relay upon merely generic perichoretic unity, RT [Relative Trinitarianism] theories that leave open the door to either moralism or anti realism, and LT [Latin Trinitarianism] (241)
  • Trinitarian theology should adopt either the constitution view (CT) or a modified version of ST (243)

Theses on the God-World Relation

  • Trinitarian theologians can, and should – although perhaps not always for distinctly Trinitarian reasons – hold that creation is continent rather than necessary (246)
  • Trinitarian theologians should maintain that creation is the free expression of the holy love that is an essential attribute of the triune God (248)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm Jenson’s “Identification Thesis” but deny his “Identity Thesis” (250)
  • If properly nuanced, the doctrine of perichoresis can be a helpful category for understanding divine purposes for creation (and the God-world relation more generally) (250)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm that the providential and redemptive actions of the triune God should be understood in light of the triune identity and purposes for creation (251)

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Every now and then, I’ll agree to do a post like this. Rather than noticing this sale on my own, I was told about in advance and received a few books in exchange for taking some time to tell you about this pretty stellar deal. That’s a pretty fair deal when it comes right down to it, I just thought I’d cut the copy for a moment in the interests of full disclosure.

Anyway, if you like getting commentaries on Kindle, and you also happen to like studying the Gospels, this sale is for you. Zondervan has selected commentaries from its NIVAC, ZECNT, SGBC, ZIBBC, and EBC, as well as Studies on the Go. If you’re not familiar with the previous acronyms they are:

  • NIV Application Commentary (very useful for what the title suggests)
  • Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The NT (one of the best series in my opinion)
  • The Story of God Bible Commentary (only one volume pertains here: Sermon on The Mount)
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary (includes the Luke-Acts volume in this deal)

I mostly use commentaries in Logos, so to be honest, I won’t take advantage of any of these deals. However, that shouldn’t stop you. I have gotten commentaries on Kindle in the past, and actually have the SGBC Sermon on The Mount volume that way. I also reviewed it once upon a time. I have several NIVAC volumes that way as well, but have since migrated to Logos. For people that don’t have or use Logos, getting some of these weightier books on Kindle might just be the way to go.

That is especially true of the big volumes on the Gospels in the ZECNT series. Currently, they are:

In addition to those, I’ve posted reviews on the rest in the series:

You might also find this post on the Logos version of Galatians/Ephesians helpful since it shows some screenshots of what a digital version looks like. I believe my James post in the list above gives the rundown on the series as a whole so you can see what the hype is about.

Anyway, if I were you, and you are a person who doesn’t already have a commitment to commentaries in Logos, I’d take advantage of this eBooks sale in order to grab the ZECNT volumes at the least. You can certainly get some more, and should probably do the Matthew all in one deal in the picture. The deals on those are hard to beat for what you’ll get in return in the next few months/years of study.

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Well, Mike Bird has done it again. “It” meaning “written a book.” This time it is a primer on The Apostles’ Creed, aptly title What Christians Ought to Believe, and Zondervan was kind enough to send me a copy. In just over 200 pages Bird introduces readers to the creed, explains why you need it, and then devotes roughly a chapter per phrase of the creed. At the end of most chapters, he summarizes the story of the creed so far, and in every chapter he offers a few resources for further reading.

While focused on The Apostles’ Creed, this volume is a good companion to Bird’s larger systematic Evangelical Theology (which I still need to post a review summary for). There is similarity here to a previous Zondervan publication, Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, and then later rewritten abridgment Pilgrim Theology (I’m more a fan of the latter rather than the former, although the price makes it less enticing). However, in that case, the small volume was covering more or less the same ground, just in a more accessible way. Here, Bird is writing about The Apostles’ Creed, but when a more in-depth discussion is warranted on certain points, he can merely direct readers to where he’s covered it in his larger volume.

As it stands, this would be a good volume to use to introduce readers to theology, but through a classic, catholic (little c!) creed. There is just enough here to get your feet wet, and then wade into the waist deep water of the beliefs that all Christians should share. It would make an excellent book for a small group that wants to study theology in an organized way, but doesn’t want to commit to a systematic. Plus, you have the advantage of Bird’s clear and at times humorous writing style. The result is an accessible engaging volume that effectively introduces readers to Christian doctrine.

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On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. While no less clear than Bird, this slim (less than 200pp) volume introduces readers to philosophical theology. Well, I suppose the two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Philosophical theology developed out of philosophy of religion as the tools of philosophy were applied to Christian theology.

Now, the preferred term is analytic theology. Quoting from William Abraham, McCall uses this definition: “it is systematic theology attuned to the skills, resources, and virtues of analytic philosophy” (16). This comes from the introduction where McCall helpfully lays out what analytic theology should be, and then clears up misconceptions about what it isn’t.

The remaining four chapters demonstrate analytic theology in practice. First, in relation to our understanding of Scripture. Second, McCall shows analytic theology’s virtues when it comes to the history of doctrine. The next chapter puts analytic theology to use in a case study concerning creation, evolution, and the historical Adam. The final, briefest chapter, is where the invitation in the title comes in, as McCall casts vision for what analytic theology can contribute and encourages readers to pursue it.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to what could easily be an overwhelming field of study. It defines the topic clearly, puts it into practice in a variety of subjects, and shows that it has value for the church and world. Hard to ask for more than that.

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Well, summer is officially over. I finished up teacher orientation last week, so school is basically back in session. As you can see, I still managed to do a good bit of reading, making a bit of progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge. That will slow down considerably this month, and probably for the fall as a whole. As I’ve though about it, I’ll probably need to write a post or two about the different approaches to reading I take in different seasons of life. I don’t want to spoil that here though. Also, if you missed it, check out my theological add-on to Challies Challenge.

Here’s what I read in July, that I won’t write on elsewhere:

And here’s what I’ll end up posting a review on sooner or later:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 66 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 104 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (10 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (14 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (33 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been a staff writer with a website called Christ and Pop Culture. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me reference it, and perhaps link to articles I’ve written. Recently, my writeup on Unashamed posted (a good companion to The Soul of Shame) and you can get it free for a brief time. You can read my full write up here.

That’s right, by being a member of Christ and Pop Culture, you can support the writers who put out pretty stellar content on the site, and get free books (and other stuff too). You can read more about membership here. In my time doing the write ups, here’s some of the books that were available:

That should give an idea of the track record of books that are offered. Recently, I was working on a write-up for David Dark’s Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, Due to a slight miscommunication, a more full length essay was already commissioned on it, and you should be able to read that here. Before I found that out, IVP had graciously sent me a hard copy of the book, so I felt like I should still post my thoughts on it.

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Dark writes in a meditative style, which makes the book a fairly easy read. However, he is helping readers reflect on their religious practices. Many of these might not seem to be so religious on the surface, and so Dark’s style helps disarm readers and move them toward reflection. In doing so, he shows that if we have entered into relationships with others and with facets of our culture, we have engaged to some extent in religious practices. Culture itself is intimately tied to religion and Dark subtly unmasks the connection. You can get a better feel for what he’s up to in the book by watching this video. Had you been a member before now, you would have just snagged yourself a copy!

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Another book that I received thanks to Crossway before I knew it would be free for members is Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley’s Conscience What It Is, How To Train IT, and Loving Those Who Differ. I liked this book so much that I immediately put it to use in class and decided to require it next year for my 11th grade Bible class. There are several diagrams within that I tried to recreate on the board (which is difficult for a lefty, but I’m a professional at this point). I am told it was helpful to several students as they prepare to navigate going away to college and starting to live by a different set of rules (or at least not having as many rules as previously).

While a short book, I think it does a masterful job of covering a much neglected topic in practical theology. D. A. Carson thought so too and that’s probably why he wrote the foreword. As try to navigate the straits between legalism and licentiousness, a book like this helps to clarify the discussion and offer a way for Christians to think about their Christian liberty and how it relates to those in their community. I would highly recommend this book, and it’s free if you’ve become a Christ and Pop Culture member by now. If not, why keep waiting?

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.

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I mentioned last month that May was a mess. June didn’t get too much better in terms of local events that became national events. However, as you can see below, I did a lot of reading. I’ve intentionally tried to read more books outside of my normal patterns (biblical and theological studies) and it has been quite rewarding. As I continue to make progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge, I’m recapturing the joy of reading one book at a time (corny, right?). Also, if you missed it, check out my theological add-on to Challies Challenge.

Here’s what I read in June:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 58 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 79 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (8 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (8 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (13 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (29 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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Apologetics is becoming more and more about finesse. Maybe it always has been. Straightforward presentations of facts and figures don’t usually cut it. There’s gotta be an angle.

I think some of this comes down to the audience. If you’re writing apologetics for other Christians, you don’t have to pay as much attention to persuasion. They’re already persuaded, but want to know the underlying foundations of Christianity. On the other hand, if you’re writing for people other than Christians, you have to pay attention to persuasion.

Along these lines, I’d recommend True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World by David Skeel. Thanks to IVP, I was able to read a copy at the beginning of summer. Skeel is S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He’s also an elder at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his book, he takes five key topics, ideas, beauty, suffering and sensation, justice, life and the afterlife, and explains how Christianity offers a better explanation of these given phenomena than materialism does. As he puts it, “My claim is a very simple one: Christianity tells us more about each of these paradoxes than you may think” (15)

While the ideal reader will be fairly intellectual, the tone and style are highly accessible. Perhaps because Skeel is a professor of law by trade, his writing is particularly clear in the midst of sophisticated discussion. It’s a short book but I’d imagine it making for many good pub discussions with an atheist friend or two. Skeel also writes as someone who didn’t grow up in a religious environment. After his curiosity was aroused in college lit classes and he read the Bible for himself that his journey toward Christianity began. Again, as he says, “The sheer beauty of the Bible is what first drew me in, and it’s still what I go back to when I’m asked over a beer late at night why I believe Christianity is true” (86).

All this to say, if you’re looking for a concise, yet compelling presentation of Christianity’s explanatory power, this is your book. I’m tempted to make it a late addition to one of my Bible classes, but I might just save it for book club.

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In a similar vein, and also at the beginning of the summer, I read through John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to The Ten Commandments thanks to BookLook Bloggers. It is a follow up to A Doubter’s Guide to The Bible, and from what I can now tell, part of an on-going series (next book is a A Doubter’s Guide to Church). Dickson seems to be primarily writing for a secular audience and tackles the idea that our ideas of ethics come from Moses and Jesus.

The opening chapter illustrate how pervasive the Ten Commandments are in the world (past and present). Next, Dickson raises the question of why we aspire to be good in the first place. He then offers three keys for understanding the Ten Commandments. These have to do with how Jesus “transposed” the commandments, that they can be divided into two tables (related to God and man), and that they are a “charter of freedom.” From here, Dickson goes command by command to finish out the book. He spends more time on the first five, and notes on the 6th that the remainder are fairly self explanatory (119). This is probably fair, and I’m sure there were certain constraints that kept the page count under 200.

All in all, I think this is great book to pass along to someone interested in ethics, law, justice, and perhaps politics. It is written with skeptics in mind (hence the title), but I would imagine many Christians would benefit from reading it as well. As a side note, I wish it had an index, but I appreciated that in the absence of footnotes, we were given parenthetical citations with publication info rather than endnotes. Combine this with the previous book I talked about and you’ve got a book skeptics book club reading list going.

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Lastly, thanks to Moody I was able to get a copy of Mark Sayers’ Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience. The subtitle gives you the two parts of the book. In the first, Sayers analyzes our current post-Christian culture and our craving for relevance. He then connects this analysis to an ancient heresy. In this case, it’s gnosticism, which he sees as a “gospel of the self.” In a perceptive chart, he compares ancient and modern versions of gnosticism to what the true gospel actually teaches. To give you an idea what he sees as contemporary gnosticism, here’s that column (65):

  • Your world is inferior [to mine]
  • The mundane is the problem
  • Turn your body into a perfect-looking body
  • Look inward to find the real you
  • Escape the mundane to the amazing life
  • Move toward the perfect life through tips, tweaks, hacks, and the secrets of success
  • You are a seeker, pursuing fulfillment through incredible experiences and pleasure
  • Move past organized religion and find spirituality
  • Move toward fulfillment by breaking past the barriers set by tradition, religion, and others
  • It’s all about you

If you ask me, that’s a pretty good snapshot of contemporary culture. This underlying philosophy gives rise to all kinds of movements and trends. With this description and critique in place, Sayers spends the second half of the book sketching the path of gospel resilience. He deals with rejecting the implicit prosperity gospel, how churches can stop catering to public opinion, and the need to deliver truth among other topics. As is often the case, the solution is only as good as the diagnosis is accurate. I think if Sayers is right about his cultural analysis (and I think he’s on to something), then what he offers in the second half of this book is probably something many church leaders need to interact with. I’ll probably need to ruminate a bit more on it, but I’m also probably gonna pass the book on to my pastor and see what he thinks.

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Well, May was a mess and for reasons I’d rather not explain at the moment. But, school’s out and it’s finally summer. I didn’t blog quite as much in May, but I did manage to post my April Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was about the same as last month, but continues to grow more varied. Some of that is the time of year. Some of that is because theology books have started boring me. I’ve started questioning my reading a little more, and may become more ruthless about it to start reading more for enjoyment rather than rote habit (which is honestly how you make it through some books in the biblical and theological categories). If this sounds a bit cranky, you’re probably right. And I should probably explain more of my thinking in a separate post. For now, here’s what I read last month:

Also, as it my custom around this time of year, I re-read some Bill Bryson books (The Lost Continent, Neither Here nor There, A Walk in The Woods). If you’ve never discovered or read anything by him, consider this my strong recommendation.

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 45 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 57 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (8 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (4 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☒ A book recommended by a family member (Batman: The Killing Joke)
  • ☐ A book by or about a missionary
  • ☐ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
  • ☒ A book written by an Anglican (Paul and The Trinity)
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☐ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ☒ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title (Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World)
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☐ A book about church history
  • ☒ A graphic novel (Watchmen)
  • ☐ A book of poetry

THE COMMITTED READER (11 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (22 BOOKS)

(image via challies)