• London

I’ve been reading… pocket-sized Christian books

I’ve been reading… pocket-sized Christian books

I’ve been reading… pocket-sized Christian books

 This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series 2016 Reading Review

They’re easier to read, and often cheaper. Of course, that means sometimes my reading list is determined by my wallet rather than my discernment! But here’s the range that I’ve been working through this year, organised by publisher and/or series:

amazeAmaze them with God (Kevin DeYoung)

This opening chapter from “Don’t Call it a Comeback” has wonderfully been turned into a book in its own right. Having owned the larger book for the best part of a year (I purchased it while it was on sale on Kindle), it was to my shame that I failed to read any part of it until this book was released – and such a delay was to my detriment. This is an excellent start to a pretty good book which is now out of print, and it is to 10Publishing’s credit that they have made this short work more widely available.

In spite of the book’s subtitle (“Winning the next generation for Christ”) this isn’t just about youth work (or even student work). Rather, it is about how we conceive of passing on the gospel to those who will come after us. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what Kevin DeYoung suggests we should do, although in fact his answer is fuller than you might expect. Furthermore, his simple thesis is compelling and one that I have become instantly persuaded to distribute widely. I encourage you to do the same.

Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book but was not asked for any kind of review.

politicsGod and Politics (Mark Dever)

This very short contemplation, taking Jesus’ words in Mark 12 as a springboard for further thoughts about politics, and it can comfortably be read in one sitting. While commending the work of politicians (and consequently receiving an unsurprising endorsement from an MP!) Dever addresses the simple reality that Christianity is about more than ‘this world’ or any geopolitical state. Yet, in addressing the criticism that Christians can be ‘too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use’, Dever argues that Christians should be both – and that it is because they are the former that they are the latter. Nonetheless, he is keen to push us beyond the earthly perspective to see our ultimate responsibility before God – and to push us to respond to God if we have not done already.

intentionalFavourite: Intentional (Paul Williams)

I loved this little book. Williams addresses the very real difficulty that many Christians have in speaking to others about Jesus, particularly addressing the fear that arises in many that prevents them from holding out news which they know to offer eternal life. Using 1 Peter 3 as the basis for many of his recommendations, Williams recommends a simple strategy for approaching conversations about Jesus with those who aren’t trusting Him, and the only criticism I was preparing to level against him was the lack of worked examples – until the latter half of the book, when he did exactly that.

This isn’t a book primarily designed to motivate you to evangelism – the Bible is much better equipped to do that, and as mentioned elsewhere, Rico Tice’s book is a great second option. Rather, this is designed – and well placed – to help you think practically about how you might approach conversations when any kind of opportunity arises, especially when faced with questions from friends. It’s also a short book, which makes it inevitably brief in its explanation of points; I’d love to see some of the ideas fleshed out more. However, it’s another excellent edition to the Union Theology series that I strongly encourage you to obtain, read and put into practice.

Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book but was not asked for any kind of review.

crazylazyCrazy Lazy (Alistair Begg)

I’ve read this book before, but read it again because of a talk on work & proverbs that I was giving at a CU. And, if I am honest, I still think it’s not the best book on the topic.

It’s much more ‘wisdom on laziness’ than an effort to teach the point of Proverbs (as demonstrated by the paucity of Proverbs quotes in its closing chapter – which may, of course, be the author’s intention, but that is a shame in my book.) Even beyond that, I’m not totally convinced by all the conclusions the author drew from the text of Proverbs, and its transfer to book form hasn’t always taken into account the need to change the script for the written (rather than spoken) word.

Having said all that, it’s got some sage advice – especially in the closing chapter. It’s a reasonable attempt to teach on a topic from a book that is notoriously hard to explain, and it’s great at identifying the character of the sluggard in Proverbs, and thinking about that person.

freechurchWhy Free Church ministry? (Graham Beynon)

This short book joins a 10Publishing series produced with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, and is written by the Director of Independent Ministry Training at Oak Hill Theological College – and the author is open about his perspective. He has seen the strengths of independent ministry, and writes the book to make a case for it.

Of course, such a short book would struggle to lay out the arguments for and against free church ministry in their entirety. The book is not designed to fully change your mind or convince the unconvinced, and if assessed against such a criterion it would fall short. Nonetheless, Beynon is helpful in conveying arguments in favour of taking the independent route, whilst demonstrating there are clear disadvantages. As a prompt to further thought, it’s a great contribution to the debate.


Matthias Media: Brief Books
purposeThe Everlasting Purpose (Broughton Knox)

An increasing tendency to take chapters out of longer works to increase their accessibility has led to this work by Broughton Knox becoming more widely available. That makes it a slightly peculiar work – taking little time to draw its audience in, and instead jumping straight into the debate. For that reason, “Big God” by Orland Saer is my recommendation of choice on this issue.

Nonetheless, it was a great decision to grab this chapter out of Knox’s longer book, “The Everlasting God”. With a focus on predestination, the book pays particular attention to Romans 9-11, but it covers more than that, and recognises both the intellectual and emotional objections to this doctrine.

It isn’t a thorough treatment – how could it be with only 51 small pages? But it’s a good introduction. After Romans 9-11, and Saer, this would be my ‘go-to’ recommendation.

islamCan We Talk About Islam? (Tony Payne)

I have joked to several people that the book might be summarised with the answer “Yes”. But, while oversimplifying, that is both the conclusion and the object of the book. Standing at a brief 54 small pages, it would be easy to conclude that this could not hope to assist Christians in their conversations about Islam. Nonetheless, I found it helpful in expanding my understanding of this vast and complex religion. Giving some sense of the spectrum upon which a professing Muslim may find themselves was an especially useful description.

The conclusion suggests this book is aimed at secular humanists, Muslims and Christians alike, but the last of these categories is the most obvious audience. Though I have read a couple of books on Islam before and heard several talks on the topic, I am far from an expert – so take my review of this book with a pinch of salt! In my relative ignorance I found this an extremely useful addition to give an overview – and feel that, like the author, the answer to his title is indeed ‘Yes’.

godofwordGod of Word (John Woodhouse)

How does God reveal Himself? How should I think about the Bible – and how does the Holy Spirit fit in? Are the stereotypes true – and do I need to pick between the dry intellectualism of a “Bible Christian” and the joyful exuberance of a “Spirit Christian”?

These questions are so important, we put on a weekend of talks for students at our church every year to consider these topics, and this book seeks to provide a short and accessible summary of the Bible’s teaching in this area. Matthias Media have produced a series of these short books, introducing ideas in a more readable format than many heavier works.

However, where the intention is commendable and I’m grateful for the “Brief Books” project, this joins its companions in proving slightly too complex for the uninitiated young reader. Though light, this book feels slightly too heavy; for the person who’s unwilling to read more than 60 small pages on the topic, Woodhouse uses some vocabulary that is a bit too stretching, and his dense content isn’t sufficiently broken up with illustrations.

It’s a great refresher for those who’ve already been introduced to the topic, but for my tastes it’s slightly too dense.

The Good Book Company: Questions Christians ask
churchWhy bother with Church? (Sam Allberry)

Having read various books on church in the past, it was nice find something that approaches the whole topic a little differently, and yet answers the same standard questions with the same clear position of Scripture. This is yet another good addition to the “Questions Christians Ask” series.

There were, as always, things I would change. On occasion Allberry falls into the trap of common misuses of particular verses (I would suggest Jeremiah 29:7 and Matthew 18:20 are both used out of context). His use of Acts also tends towards the prescriptive (rather than descriptive) in chapter 3, and thus concludes that ‘any church like the one he has described will grow’ (p30) – which is a dangerous conclusion given the frequent expectation that authentic ministry will often look weak and unfruitful (see e.g. 2 Corinthians, or 2 Timothy 4).

But the broader message of the book and its biggest applications are brilliant. He spots what is necessary in a church and so gives wise principles on how to look for one. He considers church governance without getting hung up on it.

It is a good book to enthuse you for church and to pass on to others. It didn’t quite stir me to the point of excitement – but it is an unpretentious and undemanding read with some lovely turns of phrase. “If you want to understand how committed Jesus is to the church, here’s your answer: He doesn’t just create it and let it be. He marries it.” Amen.

Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book but was not asked for any kind of review.

Wwhydiehy did Jesus have to die? (Marcus Nodder)

Adding to the “Questions Christians Ask” series, this little book contributes an accessible introduction to this most-important of subjects, and simultaneously makes some wonderful insights that prompted me to get my highlighter out. Even as somebody who recognises the absolute centrality of Jesus’ death, I was surprised to consider Nodder’s observation that in the book of Revelation, “Jesus is referred to once as a lion, but no fewer than 27 times as the Lamb of God” (p4). What a challenge to the Narnia books I have been enjoying so much this year!

It’s not a perfect book. It’s brief, so it can’t cover stuff in depth. Its quotes from outside the Bible were inexplicably unreferenced (at least in my eBook version). And I found myself occasionally wondering if an alternative passage could have been more persuasive (his extension of Isaiah’s unique call to all Christians at the end of chapter 1 is a common application, but in my view misses what Isaiah 6 is about).

However, it is extremely well illustrated (an illustration about a chimney sweep from Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies” being especially noteworthy) and eminently quotable (“Taking up your cross is not the path of self-fulfilment. It is the path of self-denial.”). Indeed, it is probably the best book I have read to introduce someone to this essential doctrine.

Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book but was not asked for any kind of review.

assuranceHow can I be sure? (John Stevens)

I’ve really enjoyed this series from “the Good Book Company”, and this contribution is no exception. I’m not sure if the trend in pocket-sized Christian books is a recent phenomenon, but it seems plagued by the almost insurmountable challenge of adequately dealing with often complex topics. This little book on doubt is a wonderful exception.

Of course, it doesn’t say everything there is to be said, but it is an example of a book that is both theologically precise and sensitively balanced. It seems driven by a desire to share the Bible’s teaching on the topic, rather than appease the conscience of one who needs challenging. John Stevens is decidedly practical as well as doctrinally insightful, and I was grateful for having read the book.

This book did not leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling –but I think that is testament to the pastoral responsibility of its author. It would be reckless to announce blanket comfort to any reader who happens to pick up the book. The book is also not my favourite on doubt (which remains Martin Ayres’ “Keep the Faith”, who is admittedly approaching a slightly different aspect of the topic). However, for something as short and readable as this on the topic of assurance, this book is without rival.

<< Previous: I’ve been reading… C.S. LewisNext: I’ve been reading… books on Christian living and ministry >>