As a chronicle of over 40 books that I’ve read this year, we come to books that are all about living the Christian life.
Living the Christian Life
First, books that are trying to help Christians live Christianly. I hate to use the phrase ‘Christian self-help’, but if we’re honest…
Keep the Faith by Martin Ayres
This excellent book was purchased because of a seminar that I attended at the Church Student Ministries Conference in January. Martin Ayres’ brilliant approach acknowledges the topic of doubt. What I thought was especially helpful was the way it questioned the neutrality of doubt. So often the secular world we live in presents agnosticism as the ‘neutral’ position. Martin Ayres offers a biblical response to this which I found to be a great spiritual comfort and spur to faith.
Very readable, pleasantly logical, and the kind of thing I’d be happy to pass on. Read it.
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Let me issue a very caveated (and perhaps unnecessarily harsh) verdict: slightly disappointed. I would have loved this book from most other authors, but I’ve come to expect greater things from Kevin DeYoung1, so I was slightly disappointed in a book that was much more about biblically informed wisdom than an exposition of something God has chosen to talk about. In other words, I thought that what he’s written is true, wise – and, in typical DeYoung fashion, was massively readable. However, the topic of being “too busy” isn’t something the Bible is primarily concerned about. Take DeYoung’s other books, and you can quickly see the topics God has given much more attention to!
Having said all of that, his final chapter expounding Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is worth the price of the book alone, and the wisdom expressed in the book is valuable. Again, it’s a book I warmly commend to you.
Sacrifice by Simon Guillebaud
This little 10publishing book is – as with most of their titles – the kind of short read that can be split into a few short sessions, but is comfortably suited to a single sitting. And the topic is great – to be encouraged to live wholeheartedly for Jesus, even at the great cost which that will lead to.
I remember being very slightly disappointed with the direction the book leant in, but not having a copy in front of me, I can’t remember why. Watch this space for an updated review.
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
This widely praised book from the pen of a very wise and practical guy, Matt Perman, arrived with a flurry of commendations from every corner of the Christian world. It demonstrates great pragmatism and I’ve employed several of its author’s suggestions already in an effort to streamline the way that I work for God’s glory. Perman has pulled together the best of the productivity literature to explain what his title eloquently articulates: “What’s best next.” Efficiency, he says, comes not from doing the most things – what good is it to do lots of the wrong things? Efficiency comes from making the decision to do the best next thing. And he works hard to make this as easy as possible.
The best of this book, then, came from his principles of productivity and application sections at the end. What came before that were his theological reflections, in which I was disappointed. Drawing very heavily on a link he proposed between Ephesians 5:15-162 and 5:23 (of which I wasn’t convinced4), Perman goes on to broadly define “what’s best next” as the thing which is most loving. It’s a helpful starting point, but his interpretation of that perspective focused too much on meeting immediate, material needs – as demonstrated in some of Perman’s practical applications – and not frequently enough on encouragements to do the kind of gospel proclamation I would expect him to advocate. He carefully avoids an over-spiritualisation of which I know I’m in danger – where either something involves having the Bible open or it’s pointless – but I fear his broader definition of ‘what’s best’ risks being driven by pragmatics rather than biblical imperatives. If all I do is meet material needs, I’m in danger of falling foul of the very danger this book is written to overcome: doing lots of things, but not the best things, being busy but not necessarily productive.
Having said all of that, his practical suggestions of how to streamline workflow and other such tips were so good, it is a book I definitely intend on reading again. But I’d encourage people to read it with discernment.
Crazy Lazy by Alistair Begg
Another short book challenging lazyness, Begg does well to show that we tend to be forgiving of a kind of laziness which God condemns.
Drawing on just a few verses of Proverbs inevitably limits how much can be said – and Begg isn’t trying to produce a thorough theology of laziness – but his practical wisdom seems sound. I’d have loved more Bible (much of it felt like a wiser Christian giving me a well-needed kick), but I think that’s because I want the Bible to say more than it does.
Readable, short, and it might be just the thing you need to hear.
Contending for our All and Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper
I’m not a big reader of biography, but the easy introductions provided by John Piper in his series, “The Swans are not silent“, give an insight into the lives of those saints who have gone before us and shown us something of what it means to live the life of faith.
The series title draws from a line that St Augustine’s successor, Eraclius spoke when the mantle passed to him in the fifth century AD. Sitting in the presence of the retiring saint, Eraclius was overcome by his inadequacy and apparently said “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.”5 Piper’s contention in this series is that, rather than being silent, the lives (and words) of these saints go on speaking to us, and we have much to learn from them.
Piper therefore uses the lives of these men to show us important lessons for our own lives. Perhaps some of his theological lessons are tenuous – or even inappropriate in their specific historical context. However, they are frequently explicitly biblically referenced, so they are valuable to spend time contemplating. Whatismore, they provide wonderful introductions to the lives of these individuals, most of whom I’d heard of but knew little about. In these two volumes, Piper writes about Athanasius, John Owen, J. Gresham Machen, William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson and John Paton.
He continues to extend the series, and from what I’ve read so far, I commend them to you.
I think my favourite has to be Keep the Faith. Partly because of how easy it is to recommend to others, partly because of its personal helpfulness, and partly because it approached the question in a way that I simply wouldn’t have thought of myself.
It’s a really helpful read and I really urge you to make it part of your reading for 2015. Even if this isn’t something you struggle with yourself, it may well be something that others find hard, and it’s great to have guidance on how to answer them – and what you could recommend they read.
- I think his book, “Taking God at His Word” was probably the best book I read in 2014 ↩
- “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” ↩
- “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” ↩
- It seems more likely that these actually belong in separate subsections of Ephesians; having encourages the Ephesians to walk with renewed minds rather than in ignorance (4:17-24), Paul urges them to walk in love (4:17-5:2) and to walk as children of the light (5:3-14) before summarising (5:15-21). To draw tight connections between 5:15-16 and 5:2 limits ‘wise walking’ to ‘walking in love’, and ignores 5:3-14. ↩
- See http://www.desiringgod.org/biographies/the-swan-is-not-silent ↩