Book Title: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Author: Tim Keller
General Comments: A very rich read. This book takes a good look at the reformers and the puritans and what they have to teach us about prayer and about meditating on Scripture. He looks carefully at the contemplative traditions and I think makes sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. He critiques them well, but also challenges those of us who tend towards stopping short at careful study to press on to fixing the truth in our minds and in our hearts and to find intimacy with God in those times in his word and in prayer.
Points for further consideration and discussion: See my blog posts from Feb-May 2016! I have also attached here the reminder sheets I have typed up to keep these things in mind as I have my quiet times.
Book Title: Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God makes a Difference in our Daily Lives
Author: Wendy Horger Alsup
General Comments: A really good read. It is basic in the sense that it doesn’t assume lots of prior knowledge, but it really gets under the skin, and digs deep both in the truths it explores (without being unreadable at all) and the practical difference those truths make. Being written by a woman for women it is well applied and the voice of the author is really accessible, but this aspect doesn’t dominate the book at all.
The three sections of the book cover the following:
Part 1: What is Theology?
Part 2: Who is our God?
Part 3: Communicating with our God
Book Titles: Note to Self and Experiencing the Trinity
Author: Joe Thorn
General Comments: Two great books with short chapters that stretch the thinking and stir the soul. They work really well as a book to read with others and would work well as daily devotions. The author literally talks to himself in the way that the Psalmists sometimes do – preaching to himself as he dwells on the truth from God’s word. This tone makes it really hard to skate over well needed challenges, or sparkling truths even in the early morning fog of a first thing quiet time. Each chapter is a reflection on a verse from the bible, while taking the whole of Scripture into account as a subject is pondered. In Experiencing the Trinity the book is divided into three sections (surprise, surprise!) and different truths about each member of the trinity are reflected on in each chapter. The format is the same in Note to Self, but I can’t remember the areas covered!
Book Title: THE HOLE IN OUR HOLINESS: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.
Author: Kevin DeYoung
General Comments: I loved reading this book! I will steal a comment from the back of the book:
“This is indispensable reading material for all who desire a life of piety. Though we are fallen people, Kevin points us to our potential for godliness and how our progress in this area is of the utmost importance. Get your highlighters ready!” Kirk Cousins, NFL quarterback (!!)
To steal another phrase from the back – this is a well needed “wake up call” to us to live a life blissfully safe in grace and passionately equipped by grace to live beautifully holy lives.
In this relatively short book (about 150 pages) Kevin DeYoung gets our thinking on holiness straight, focusses our motivations* on Scriptural truths and gets to some of the nitty-gritty of holy living. Never straying from grace we are urged to get to work and strive for holy living in ever deepening communion with the Lord Jesus.
* For an amazing list of motivations for holiness check out the list on pages 57-60, Crossway, 2012
Points for further consideration and discussion:
Can I point you to a great bit on page 41 (Crossway, 2012) that takes us through the anatomy of holiness. “You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good. The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander or speak what is course or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness.”
I just want to pray this in every day!
And what about this on delight in the law:
“..the right way to go is also the best way to go. When God gives us commands, he means to help us run the race to completion, not to slow us down.”
He looks at CS Lewis’ journey to an understanding of delight in God’s law. Not simply respect or assent, but DELGHT. “Their delight in the Law [Lewis observed] is a delight in having touched firmness; like a pedestrian’s delight in finding the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut entangled him in muddy fields.” (From Reflections on the Psalms; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1958).
Kevin DeYoung also gets us looking at the idea of conscience.
Which reminds me another excellent book which looks at the subject of our consciences in greater detail is Pure Joy by Christopher Ash.
DeYoung is careful to point out the limits of our conscience. It can be evil – not turning away from sin, seared – no longer feeling bad for evil, weak – feeling bad for things that aren’t really bad and defiled – having lost its ability to discern right from wrong. He writes:
“The conscience is no substitute for the Bible and must never be in opposition to it. But a good conscience is a gift from God. As we pursue holiness we must always be mindful of God’s voice speaking to us through a tender conscience informed by the Word of God. It will lead us not into temptation and will deliver us from evil.” (Page 42)
He urges us to wisely listen to our conscience even when it is an area where Christians differ and for us to consider each others’ consciences in our treatment of each other. It is a serious matter for someone to go against their conscience in a matter – even if what they are doing is not forbidden by Scripture – because if they violate their conscience in this matter they will learn to disobey their conscience in other matters.
These are vital areas to think carefully about together.
Kevin DeYoung also gets us grappling with a right understanding of how we as Christians relate to the law. There is too much to put in here, but let me share a tiny morsel to whet your appetite: “So while we are not “under the law” in the sense that we are condemned by the law or bound to the Old Covenant of Moses we are “under law” in so far as we are still obligated to obey our Lord and every expression of his will for our lives. (Page 52)
While being aware of people worrying that we will abandon grace for legalism he insists that we can “unashamedly love, and not be afraid to land on, the imperatives of Scripture….There is nothing inherently anti-gospel in being exhorted to keep the imperatives of Scripture. There is nothing ungracious about divine demands. Just the opposite, in fact – there is grace in getting law.” (Pages 52, 53) He argues that grace leads us to the law as much as the law leads us to grace.
Ok, so maybe more than a morsel…a starter perhaps! This time I’ve jumped to pages 54, 55)
“Let’s not be afraid to land on the law – never as a means of meriting justification, but as a proper expression of having received it.” He pleads with us not to stop exhorting each other obedience. He warns us that in suggesting that godliness will just flow naturally from a grasp of grace without the need for teaching or effort of any sort we are actually turning belief in the gospel of grace into a work! We are in danger of suggesting that “if only we really believed, obedience would take care of itself.” Instead he points out the bible loves the word: THEREFORE.
Kevin DeYoung points out our tendency to “flatten the biblical view on holiness until we squeeze out the dynamic nature of life with God.” (Page 64) and urges us to see holiness as possible. If you are a Christian – holiness is not out of reach.
So let me urge you again to read this book – I’ve just dipped in to some of the areas he gets us thinking carefully about and hopefully given you a taste for the whole thing.
Book Title: A Loving Life: IN A WORLD of BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS
Author: Paul E. Miller
General Comments: A brilliant read. I wanted to highlight every page! Paul E. Miller works through the book of Ruth and presents the love found there in a messy, painful place so beautifully and so challengingly. Amazing. For some reflections on lamenting see posts on Sept 30th and Oct 6th 2015 on my home page.
Book Title: Serving without sinking: How to serve Christ and keep your joy.
Author John Hindley
General Comments: Excellent, thought provoking book. Does what it says on the tin. For more comments from me see the post Raft Building on my home page.
Book Title: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
Author: Tim Keller
General Comments: This is a great book. On a pragmatic note it is really small so it’s great to give away or take on a journey. Much more exciting though is the content – take for example this simple, but transforming idea: humility is not thinking less of yourself, but of yourself less. Humility is not just the absence of thinking of yourself too highly, but rather the absence of thinking of yourself at all! Keller paints an appealing picture of the freedom we could enjoy as self-forgetful people. We no longer need to either fear or ignore criticism, our joy needn’t be sapped by the achievements of others, we don’t need to see everything as a chance to improve our resume – we could just enjoy it! We don’t need to feel on trial all the time! The Lord has made his judgement, the trial is over! This picture is not only appealing though it is challenging. Stop thinking about yourself so much! In Christ we know what God thinks of us, we don’t really need any more feedback or information. We should have an ego that just works – “like a big toe” – it’s important and we’re glad for it, but basically it really shouldn’t be getting too much of our attention!
Points for further consideration and discussion: This book got me thinking about what we feed our identity, our ego. I found myself keen to cut the umbilical cord between my ego and my external self with all it’s good and bad points. This is part of the freedom Keller talks about. Imagine an ego that isn’t either stuffing itself on the junk food of our so called achievements and good points that give quick lived highs, but no lasting satisfaction. Imagine an ego not forced to suffer the hunger pangs that follow my frequent disappointments, failures and mistakes. No more cravings for human approval, no more emptiness when it doesn’t come, or when it doesn’t satisfy. I have the constant supply of perfectly balanced gourmet goodness that comes to those who know that God looks on them, in Christ, and is delighted. I have been reborn and the cord has been cut – why do I still scrabble around trying to get my ego-food from my old life? Why am I acting like a hunter-gatherer competing for food, expending all my energy to capture it when what my ego really needs is all there, it is all provided, all prepared – we just have to eat it! So let’s just forget about looking after and nursing our egos (they are actually fine!) and be free to love and serve and enjoy being children of God together.
Book Title: THE BIG EGO TRIP: Finding true significance in a culture of self-esteem
Author: Glynn Harrison
General Comments: A great read. An overview of the history of the self-esteem movement and its impact in our culture – including our church culture. Vigorous, but accessible. Harrison then takes us to a biblical view of self and worth and who we are in Christ. He presents us with the danger of merely ‘Christianizing’ the self-esteem movement by talking about how important we must be for God to love us. This book challenges that approach, going to the bible to acquire a right perspective on who we are in Jesus. Having done that we are then encouraged to move right away from constantly trying to rate and rank ourselves. He helpfully warns us to avoid drawing conclusions about our value as a person from evaluations of various aspects of our lives and characters. He particularly challenges us to soberly evaluate our skills/performance in various areas of our lives, but to do so without attaching our overall value and significance to the outcome of that evaluation. I love his challenges to false humility, his helpful advice about how to react to praise, and freeing teaching that encourages us to stop desperately trying to stand out, but to enjoy just fitting in as we get stuck into the Lord’s work.
Points for further consideration and discussion:
1) A challenge to our thinking about church and church gatherings
I was really struck by his section called Church for narcissists*. How far should a church gathering play to our culture’s preference for choice, individuality and casual informality? What is the impact of those preferences on our acceptance of church discipline and the authority of leadership? As many churches abandon “regimental services and predictable liturgies” (and those that keep them seem to be failing) are they swinging too far to other extreme of a ‘whatever you want, take it or leave it, if you’re itching there that’s where we’ll scratch ‘ approach? Is it wrong to offer lovely coffee and freshly baked cake, to have a variety of seating options, to leave people free to stand up and join in or just observe from a comfy seat? Should it be fine for people to get up and go to the loo in the middle of the prayers whatever the impact on others? Are we giving people too self-oriented a view of what church is? Harrison doesn’t particularly draw conclusions at this point in the book, but rather poses some great questions.
Towards the end of the section Harrison writes:
“Once churchgoers have become accustomed to a weekly Sunday service that plays to their natural inclination towards self-admiration, altruistic messages [messages that challenge that] are unlikely to impact in any significant way upon the habits of the heart that have been constructed and rehearsed for the previous six days and twenty-three hours. We need a more open, honest and challenging debate about narcissism and the cult of self in modern church life, and pastors do us few favours by simply aping our hearts’ desires.”
2) The call to stop judging ourselves and to boast biblically
We need to root out ‘junk thinking’, to dispute with ourselves – to put our thoughts to the test (biblically). Not an easy or quick process! Harrison writes: “Committing to the long, painful, effortful process of changing the way we think is hard work.”**
We need to be particularly aware of ‘globalizing’ our thinking – jumping from ‘I am a good cook to I am a great person’, or ‘I am a disorganised person to I am a bad person’. “Globalizing from specific gifts or skills to making global judgments about our significance and status as a person is profoundly illogical.”*** With hundreds of different areas in each individual’s unique life it would be crazy to try and score each one and then try and work from there to an overall score. Instead we just need to STOP trying to ‘score’ ourselves as a person at all. We need to stop staking our significance on particular successes or failures, and instead compassionately accept ourselves as a loved child of God with much to give and much to learn. Harrison helpfully points out that, biblically speaking, to boast is to take legitimate pleasure in – within proper limits – to celebrate a thing for what it is: a good and valued gift to the work of God’s kingdom. When we allow ourselves to recognise and revel in the pleasure we bring to God we will not feel the need to flaunt our deeds before others. Let’s practice self-forgetfulness and stop trying to stand out, but roll up our sleeves and fit in. Basically it isn’t about ME, it isn’t about building my ego, but God’s kingdom – so enjoy it!
* Chapter 4, page 70 in my copy
** Chapter 11 in the section ‘Touching truth’, page 175 my copy
*** Chapter 11 in the section Superman or omnishambles?, page 179 my copy
Book Title: A Week in December
Author: Sebastian Faulks
A novel which encompasses a week in the lives of various Londoners and how their lives interact., particular themes include the greed of the money makers and the journey of a young Muslim as he faces pressures to embrace extremism.
Other books I have read recently:
A Praying Life – Paul Miller
I highly recommend this book! Easy to read, but stretching to apply.
Invest in Your Suffering – Paul Mallard
Give them Grace
Compared to Her – Sophie De Witt
Old Wives Tales – Claire Heath-White
A biography of Elizabeth Prentiss