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I’ve been reading… books on Christian living and ministry

I’ve been reading… books on Christian living and ministry

I’ve been reading… books on Christian living and ministry

 This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series 2016 Reading Review

upload_wayofrightous upload_sloggingalongThe Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life / Slogging along in paths of righteousness (Dale Ralph Davis)

I think devotional books are great – that is, books that help me meditate on what the Bible says and love Jesus more. That’s why I love Dale Ralph Davis’s books, especially those on the Psalms. Though he has a tendency to jump to illustrations much more quickly than I would (and often illustrations that are barely connected to his point!) I am grateful for his informal style, and love sitting down with a coffee and listening to him as he mediates on the meaning of the psalm, with striking attention to its original meaning and a great desire to hear the message they proclaim. When it comes to his method, I find myself simultaneously agreeing profoundly1 and disagreeing significantly 2, but they make for a wonderful time in the psalms and I strongly recommend both of these volumes. I notice that I read both of these in 2014, and have read them again; well, I guess that must be some degree of recommendation, hey?!

enemyThe Enemy Within (Kris Lundgaard)

“The flesh”, being the enemy referenced in the book’s title, is an often underestimated nemesis and is aptly described by this 1998 publication. Having sat on my shelf for the best part of a decade, I finally got round to reading it and found it to be a great success in two of its three aspirations.

As an attempt to simplify John Owen’s otherwise inaccessible discussion of the flesh, Lundgaard should be highly commended. I haven’t read Owen, but recognise it is hard to do so – and am grateful that someone more familiar with his style has managed to ‘modernise’ his text without importing a 20th Century relativism.

And as a warning of the danger of ‘the flesh’, this book aptly describes the battlefield and the particular weapons of which we ought to be more aware. Ignorance of our enemy frequently renders us subject to temptation much more than is necessary, and this book is a useful call to arms for that reason. It left me hating the flesh, and conscious of its menace.

Nonetheless, I found myself frequently frustrated by Bible passages taken out of context, used normally to teach something that was true but not from that particular reference. There was even a moment where the book seemed to warn against preaching the truth to yourself! I would have loved more on the ‘right response’, progressing beyond the threat to the means of combat. Though the end began to elucidate useful strategies, it was an underdeveloped area that left the book lacking. I’ve no idea whose fault this is; it may have been simple translation of Owen’s flaws, but it frustrated me enough to make me stop short of recommending it.

weaknessWeakness is the Way (J. I. Packer)

I purchased this several years ago but returned to it when doing some work in 2 Corinthians. Largely based around several chapters in that New Testament epistle, the book gives a sense of the book as a whole without intending to be an exposition of its entirety. This book is short, thoroughly applied, and usefully challenging in all of the right ways.

I didn’t agree with every conclusion (is anyone surprised by that?), especially feeling like he too-quickly expanded the application of the book to a model of Christian ministry. Why not prioritise the call to support and invest in faithful ministers, as Paul seems to have originally intended?

That said, it was a book that constantly drove me back to the text of 2 Corinthians and gave me much reason to reflect on what I consider most important. “Weakness is the way” may have given away its conclusion from the start, but would be a useful thing for us all to spend more time reflecting upon.

satisfactionSatisfaction Guaranteed (Jonathan Berry & Rob Wood)

Many of us will be well aware of the prominent debate circling the global church on the definition of marriage, the teaching of the Bible on same-sex relationships, and the best way of providing pastoral care to those attracted to people of the same sex. Jonathan Berry and Rob Wood are both men who are attracted to other men, but who are explicit in their affirmation of a traditional view of marriage, seeking to remain loyal to the Bible’s clear teaching on the topic. The book is therefore a combination of biblical reflection and personal narrative, seeking to demonstrate (as the title suggests!) that God’s word is not a hindrance to satisfaction, but its true source.

It’s a high target and a bold claim, that the book will prove such a counter-cultural contention. Yet, for my money, it’s successful. It clearly unpacks why satisfaction – particularly intimacy – can seem so elusive to same-sex attracted Christians, and shows how the Christian offer of intimacy is real, and better than anything offered in the gay community. This is unlikely to convince someone who isn’t a Christian, but it offers genuine encouragement to brothers and sisters who find themselves struggling in this area.

A useful read, both for those who are same-sex attracted, and for those seeking to provide support to those in our church families.

revolutionaryworkRevolutionary Work (William Taylor)

Just like its predecessor (‘Revolutionary Sex’), this book is written to demonstrate the Bible’s revolutionary teaching on the topic of ‘Work’. And it does a good job of demonstrating the controversial nature of such teaching, as the reviews of many have demonstrated!

Many of us will have heard the positive, negative and future-focused emphases of the Bible’s teaching in this area, but the clarity and biblical focus of this short book helps to equip the reader to see where in the Bible God has chosen to address the topic.

Contrary to others’ critiques, I think a careful read of the book shows Taylor to be carefully nuanced in his teaching here. Of course, he is limited by his subject; criticisms that he portrays only a limited perspective on our relationship with Christ are therefore, in my view, unfair. The book is explicitly designed to help us understand how we should view our work – and face the shocking disinterest the Bible has in many of the questions we hold most dear!

Having heard the sermons (on which this book was based) originally delivered, I was especially interested in the material that differed. For that reason, I was particularly intrigued by Taylor’s private communication with Tim Keller, and by appendix 2 (‘A special case for “the Arts”’, by David Bignell). I don’t think it is overstating the case to suggest that Bignell’s appendix alone is worth the price of the book – although I’m aware many would disagree! His perspective is desperately clear and precise, and explicitly and exclusively shaped by his understanding of Scripture. What is especially informative is the way in which Bignell describes (almost in passing) how he came to change his mind on the topic.

Whether you heard the original sermons or not, I strongly recommend getting hold of the book and giving it a read.

zealFavourite: Zeal Without Burnout (Christopher Ash)

There are few books that I have highlighted as frequently as this excellent and short book on the topic of serving Jesus enthusiastically without crashing. Where I have criticised other books for asking questions that the Bible isn’t particularly concerned to answer, this book could have easily demonstrated the same fault. However, the basic premise which underlies the entire work is a premise of which the Bible frequently speaks: God is God, and you are not.

This simple idea is applied in numerous ways, and combined with much pastoral wisdom and moving anecdote to produce a compelling exhortation to take rest. You are dust! Stop pretending to be God! I intend to return to my highlights frequently, and to re-read this book in the future if (when) I fall into the same danger to which so many of us are subject.

If you are prone to work all hours of the day, especially if you are involved in ministry, this would be an extremely worthwhile read. In many settings the practical applications would be difficult to work out (I think of brothers and sisters working in extremely lonely settings). That doesn’t stop me giving this book a hearty recommendation.

witnessStudent Witness and Christian Truth (Robert M. Horn)

Occasionally I’ll read a book that so utterly expresses my thoughts about a particular topic that I wonder if perhaps I have read it before. In fact, I have simply been taught over many years by those who have imbibed its principles – or perhaps they simply express such biblical wisdom that we have each arrived to these conclusions through our study of the Scriptures.

This short, older book considers the particular challenge facing mission teams in universities (“Christian Unions”) as they simultaneously unite a breadth of Christians and exclude many who profess to be the same. How do we draw the lines? With what principles should I approach these decisions? His answer (broadly “love” and “truth”) is an excellent and worthwhile expansion of the commonly suggested “unite over primary issues, in spite of differences over secondary issues”, expressing the importance of ‘drawing a line’ without allowing the more conservative and divisive amongst us to leave unscathed.

eutychusSaving Eutychus (Gary Millar & Phil Campbell)

I’ve not read lots of books on preaching, and I’m not an experienced preacher. You may instantly decide to ignore my verdict on this book, but fortunately its authors are vastly more experienced in the work of preaching, and have produced something highly commendable for numerous reasons.

Most significantly, the book is committed to exegetical preaching – that is, where the message of the text is the message of the sermon. (I would be grateful if they had gone further – to make explicit that the purpose of the passage is the purpose of the sermon, as well as the message; but that’s a conversation for another time.) While designed to help preachers preach interesting sermons, they’re clear that the Bible’s teaching is what matters here. I’m grateful for the numerous comments to that effect – and indeed whole chapters given over to make that obvious.

However, their advice on how to keep listeners’ attention is also immensely valuable. Considering the production of a sermon on numerous levels, the authors suggest a variety of ways in which the preacher might evaluate talks in order to improve their reception – and, ultimately, make it easier for hearers to listen to the voice of God.

This book was named after the youth in Acts 20 who, while listening to Paul’s sermon, fell asleep, fell out a window and died. Written in hope that many fewer may be driven to slumber by a boring talk, I commend it to you as a book that is well written to achieve exactly that.



Show 2 footnotes

  1. Jumping ‘straight to Christ’ every time isn’t always the right thing – the Scriptures are always ultimately directed to Jesus, but that doesn’t mean each passage is about Him, and some psalms couldn’t have been sung by Him, e.g. Ps51.
  2. Am I supposed to be able to sing all of these myself? Sometimes they speak of someone who is simply more godly than I am and whose experience is self-evidently different – hence Peter’s “true-er” application of Ps 16 in Acts 2. Incidentally, this second point is one that Ralph Davis recognises in his book, but often, though I agree with his resistance to ‘over-reading’ christologically, I find myself wanting to move to Jesus more than he does.
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