New blog added to our Blogroll

We recently have gotten to know Kyle Owenby and have added his blog to our Blogroll (see the list on the right). Kyle is a Reformation historian and instructor in history at a small college in North Georgia, and you can learn more about him on his blog site. Kyle has recently been reviewing some interesting books and has given us permission to link to them here. As we see reviews that may be of interest, we will add notices for you. Maybe we can even get Kyle to write some pieces for this site in the future. Hope you enjoy getting to know his work as much as we have.

Happy reading!

Reading Martin Luther King

Yesterday we celebrated the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Radio talk show host Dennis Prager posted the text of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” dated April 16, 1963. King had an amazing way with words, both written and spoken, and the whole text of the letter is worth reading, I was particularly struck by the prophetic nature of the excerpt below in light of the first book on our 2011 reading list.

“…In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

This begs the question “Where are we on this?” What do you think?

Reading List for 2011

This year’s reading list begins with two books that will challenge readers to re-evaluate their understanding of what Christian faith demands of them. Platt’s and Chan’s books are hard-hitting looks at what Christianity has come to be in American culture and the implications for our lives individually and in the church of getting it right. Wright’s book is an opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of who Jesus Christ is from the perspective of the Scriptures that were available to the early church. (See my review of the book here.) Piper challenges us to think about thinking, arguing against the anti-intellectualism that has become a part of our culture, particularly in evangelical Christianity. The shelves of bookstores are full of how to books arguing for techniques for improving our prayer lives, but Packer and Nystrom’s book points to the why, which is so much more important and if understood in light of some the earlier readings will naturally help us with the how. Finally, Stott’s classic work will help clarify the significance of the cross to our lives, faith, and ministry.

  • Jan-Feb: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt
  • Mar-Apr: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
  • May-Jun: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright
  • Jul-Aug: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
  • Sep-Oct: Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by Packer & Nystrom
  • Nov-Dec: The Cross of Christ by John Stott.

Hope you enjoy these recommended books and that reading them will help you take the next step in becoming disciple-making disciples.

Some comments on The Shack

Although it has been out for some time now, I have not yet read William Young’s book The Shack.  A friend of mine, Chris Terry, was recently prompted to read it by two different people, one who liked the book and another who did not.  His response to these folks after reading it is, I think, a good example for us of how we as Christians ought to engage with all forms popular culture.  We need to first appreciate the artistic merit of the work, then look at things we speak positively about before we offer criticism.  I hope you will enjoy reading Chris’ reaction to the book and that it will prompt you to want to read it thoughtfully.

“Fluffy” is the word…even for The Shack.

I really enjoyed reading the book, and found myself reading aloud to [my wife] some segments of the author’s thoughts.  BUT…this book, as a whole is not something that I can wholly agree with or wholly disagree with.  We have a big God, and The Shack only shares a limited view of one dimension…unconditional love.  This book downplays important concepts like Sin and Justice, but more importantly, it pulls most of its imagery from the author’s imagination and little of its content from the Bible.  God is simply too big to be crammed in this little book.  Although the author gives Mack new eyes before revealing a small piece of God, and clearly explains that this image is a small and limited picture of what is to come for the faithful, it still seems very presumptuous to put human limitations on Mack’s experience in the presence of God (although it is all the author could possibly have to work with).

There are some parts of this book that I can dismiss entirely, but my fear is that many people will not be able to discern the bad theology from the good message or from the good fiction.  There are also some points made in this book, that speak to having an intimate relationship with God that could help expose a whole new group of people who are seeking…and that is good.  It is also leading people to confront their anger, their fear, and their broken relationships in ways that could lead toward forgiveness and renewal, while steering people away from an Oprah religion that encourages them to look inside themselves for all the answers…and that is also good.  My hope is that people who are seeking answers do not stop searching for answers after reading The Shack, and that their quest for answers takes them beyond other “fluffy” published materials.

People are the reason this book is so popular.  We need to understand, but not be mired in, the crazy society in which we live (this includes our own Church Families).  It is my observation that our society is intellectually lazy and overly emotional about things that have little impact on our lives.  We, as people, are either seeking further skepticism or seeking God, we are seeking fear and anxiety or we are seeking peace and joy, but either way, most of us are not turning to deep or heady reading for our answers because we are lazy…I know because I’ve been there.  Look at the most popular books and media to see where we invest most of our time, and you will see that on a good day some of us are turning to books like Wild Goose Chase, and The Shack because these books, while better than TV shows and movies, will provide some answers, but will never take us deep enough to fully address our laziness and indifference…they won’t hold us accountable…they are just books consumed in the privacy of our living rooms.  They offer us nothing more than a good inspirational message that makes us feel warm and emotionally “fluffy” for a few days before the message fades.  Sadly, most of us will not find the drive or effort in ourselves or in our leaders to work smartly toward questioning, studying, and proving the truths that are evident in the infallible word of God.  We will turn everything upside down and on its head in order to remain in control of what is easy.  We prove to each other every day that most of our valiant efforts are misguided and misused.  That said, at least William P. Young’s valiant efforts resulted in a best-selling and entertaining book that makes you go hmmmmm.  In summary:

  • We need to move people from just reading best-selling books in the privacy of their living rooms and into His Church.    Hebrews 10: 25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
  • William P. Young’s intentions are noble and are leading us into good discussions, questions, and debates for God’s purposes.  Philippians 1: 15-18 – It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…   But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.
  • We the people…are crazy…and it is worth spending just a little time understanding this…but not judging it.  Ephesians 4: 29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
  • Finally…after reading The Shack…and enjoying many parts of it…I am off to do some heady reading so God can transform and renew my mind for the purposes of discipleship and equipping…a couple of key things on which The Shack will fall short.  Romans 12:2 – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what  God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Another Book List for Growing Your Library

Our friend Jeffrey Breshears has compiled a list of books to enrich your personal library and add depth to your reading.  He has organized his list into seven categories.

  1. Biblical Studies
  2. Christian History
  3. Christian Apologetics
  4. Christian Spirituality
  5. Christian Life and Discipleship
  6. Church Life, and
  7. Eschatology

The books in the Christian Spirituality category reflect his interest in the contemplative aspects of Christian Spirituality.  There is a brief abstract of each book’s content that will guide you in prioritizing your acquisitions.  The list can be viewed at at this link.  Note that he also includes some classic non-Christian works so that we can be familiar with what those who do not share our worldview are using as foundations for their ideas.

These would be a great addition to your Christmas gift list or as gifts for someone who is, or should be, an avid reader.  We think that should apply to every Christian!

A Book Recomendation

One of the purposes we envisioned for this site was making recommendations for building a good library of resources.  Our reading lists have been the main way we have made suggestions for your acquisitions.  Last spring I read a book as a part of a course on the Life and Teachings of Jesus that I highly recommend.  The book is Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  My review of this book can be viewed here.  Though I have not read them, there are two companion volumes that are I expect are equally good, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament and Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament.  Get all three and dive into the Old Testament.

Some hardy morsels …

 I came across these quotes while reading a book by George MacDonald entitled Dish of Orts (Orts means a scrap or morsel–I had no idea either:).  He actually used these passages in his own essay on forms of literature and I was so taken with them that I scoured the Internet until I found a scanned-in 1853 edition of Mr. Lynch’s book.  I downloaded it and, using “economy” mode on the printer, printed all 166 pages. 

The first quote brings to my mind the moments of warm recollection, often caused by a simple scent or the fading sun or a cup of coffee, of times spent with brother-books, the ones  we remember as fondly as we do our faithful dogs;  the second, that reading should exist reciprocally with all other parts of life;  and the third, which doesn’t so much make me want to begin reading a biography (it kinda does) as it does review my own story in light of what Mr. Lynch says here.  After all, the payment of self-sacrifice is non-refundable, is it not?  [Read more…]

A Divine Cordial

I recently finished reading All Things For Good (A Divine Cordial was the original title) by Thomas Watson, who was a 17th-century Puritan preacher. I realize that books written by Puritan authors probably don’t take up much shelf-space in the average modern library. This particular book had banded together with Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor and hunkered down on a corner shelf, bravely representing their brethren among the more glamorously-inked lumber that retains the majority in my own library.

However, Watson’s book providentially made it’s way into my hands not long ago and I was surprised at how forcefully relevant it was to me. Watson lays his expository case out in a logical, easy to follow way, just as you should expect from a preacher. But it’s his recognition and use of rhythm and balance that gives the reader so many truth-encapsulating sentences, sentences that stay with him long after the book is closed. I’m posting some of these very sentences here in hopes that you’ll see what I mean, and perhaps go lug a Puritan out from your own shelf.

Though a Christian has not a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Gospel, yet he has a certain knowledge.  … Let us then not rest in skepticism or doubts, but labor to come to a certainty in the things of religion.

Mercy does more multiply in Him than sin in us.

If God does not give you that which you like, He will give you that which you need.

God will not be an inmate, to have only one room in the heart, and all the other rooms let out to sin.

He who is in love with God is not much in love with anything else.

What shall we think of such as have never enough of the world?

… may not Christ suspect us, when we pretend to love Him, and yet will endure nothing for Him?

Was His head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses?