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Connecting the dots with graced serendipty: books that come to mind...

Maybe I inherited my father's gift and am a salesman.  (He, among other things, ran a grocery store in the 50s and then became a life insurance salesman, which he practiced as a good and honorable calling.)  Or maybe--again, as he was--I may be a born teacher.  I love to add to a conversation, help people find stuff they need, invite them to life-long learning, encouraging them to read and think and talk and care.  So I like to connect the dots.  I can hardly listen to a sermon or read a book or essay and not think---"Oooh, she ought to read..." or "Oh, man, I bet he'd love to know about...." or, sometimes, if I'm in a cranky mood, "Well, they wouldn't say that if they had just read..."

After the loud and widespread debates about the Rob Bell Love Waits book I felt like I should ramble on about a batch of stuff and found myself citing titles, referring to other books, and bringing other authors into the mix, sometimes authors who may not enjoy being found on the same list. (In our store on the new book display we have Bell right next to a new John Piper, in fact.)  Sometimes, as in the fifth and final BookNotes column about Bell, I list books that are exactly pertinent--- other books on the questions of hell, annihilationism, everlasting life and so forth. I hope that serves as a good resource of various titles in this area.   (Yesterday, I got a lovely phone call from the notable Dr. Edward Fudge, whose work on annihilation in the Bible is important, formidable, and respected even by his opponents. The first edition of The Fire That Consumes, by the way, had a forward by F.F. Bruce; an updated, third edition will come out later in the spring.  He told me that expanded edition he will interact with 17 critics and their views and will carry a forward by Richard Bauckman; we'll be sure to tell about it later.)

This list, though, is different. Not all of the books that come to mind have direct application or specific connections.  Maybe I'm a bit too stream of consciousness or to profligate with my dot-connecting.  Still, I trust that the Spirit is at work--I regularly pray that it is so---and the titles that come to mind seem like a grace-filled serendipity.

So, here are a handful of random, miscellaneous titles that seem somehow distant cousins to the posts lately.  Maybe some of these will inspire you to dig a bit more deeply or tunnel over a bit to a near-by parallel topic.  Enjoy.

DB_Will_I_See_My_Dog_In_Heaven.jpgWill I See My Dog in Heaven?  Jack Wintz (Paraclete) $14.99  You know that people ask this, that you have wondered, and if our preaching about the redemption of the whole cosmos, Christ's healing power to forgive and redeem and restore the creation is even close to being true, the role of animals in the New Earth is a good one. (And, the matter is simply sidelined by the dumb question of whether animals have souls or not, as if that is all that heaven entails, souls. Some who commented against my admittedly too brief tirade against Plato may be correct that the ancient teacher was smart.  And maybe it isn't Platonism that wants to keep animals away from God.  But this is a very common and practical application of my concern about dualism.) This is written by a pet-loving Franciscan and the editor of St. Anthony Messenger.  Friar Jack lives in Cincinnati.  This is a lovely little book.  As a gift for those in sorrow over the loss of an animal friend, they did two gift book editions, one for dog lovers and one for cat lovers.   For what it's worth, we have a nice selection of inspiring pet-related gift books, a few on mourning the loss of a pet, and some heady stuff on a theology of animals.  (For those that care, we've had a Newf, and now a Bijon Frise, and a python named Sid Vicious.)

pure-pleasure.jpgPure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?  Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99  I love books that are meaty, thoughtful, ecumenical, and easy to read.  Thomas fills the bill with his wonderfully serious evangelical vision, his insights about the interior life.  Read anything he write!  This was a touch surprising when I heard it was coming, yet makes good sense and is very nicely done, very thorough and useful.  I admit that I am challenged by it--to live into it, that is, even though I agree with it all.  In last weeks' posts I referred to the way neo-Platonism deformed our view of creation and how Gnosticism taught us to devalue the things of Earth.  We aren't suppose to like this world much and God, or so the hymn goes, draws our sight towards Him and away from creation.  This book on pleasure is a mighty antidote to this commonplace problem.   As Dr. David Jeremiah says in his rave blurb, in saying how this book helps us understand the John 10:10 abundant life, "And here is the good news: it is not life after death, but life after birth!"  I think he should have said "rebirth" but you get the point.  I really recommend this and am sure it will make you think.  And, I bet, if you like to read at all, you will really enjoy it.  Bookish pleasure.  Yay.

promise-of-despair.jpgThe Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as The Way of the Church  Andrew Root (Abingdon) $18.00  When I used the phrase "living theology" in one of my Bell posts, I had forgotten that that is the name of a series of books edited by Tony Jones and the emergent village.  There are about five so far in the set and they are all good. (I have highlighted before The Community of Atonement by Scot McKnight which offers an excellent survey of various views of the atonement and invites us into a community that understands, proclaims, lives and struggles with the implications of them all!)  So talking together about doctrine, living into it and reformulating old truths in new ways, is a fine project, and this series is one example of how it sometimes get done.  This book, by a professor at Luther Seminary, is exceptional.

In it, Root invites us to realize that we need not be (dare not be) stoics--those darn Greeks again!---and that there is gospel hope for those struggling with death and despair in their many forms.  Who doesn't have broken relationships, sadness about the state of the world, frustrations about the meaning of our faith in our contemporary context?  This is serious stuff, insisting that God shares our pain, that Christ's passion is deeply relevant, and that our darkness, while real, can be understood in helpful spiritual ways. And, that we are a community, in this, being church in the deepest way.   It is really creatively written, too, with some wit and verve.  Provocative and very important. 

holinessgod-sproul.jpgThe Holiness of God  R.C. Sproul  (Tyndale) $13.99  This is one of the most influential books for me in my journey and while I sometimes took exception with Sproul's views (ahh, how young and foolish I was, to argue with the rigorously Reformed theologian) I was decisively influenced.  These lectures taught me that in Hebrew they didn't yet have italics of exclamation points so to underscore the importance of something it was just repeated.  A deep pit was called a pit pit.  Christ used this teaching tool by saying Verily Verily.  Only once does an attribute of God get lifted to the third power: Holy. Holy. Holy.  This is a life-changing teaching and I am not alone in naming it as one of the most important books of our generation.  If he hasn't, I wish Rob Bell would read it.

Holy Holy Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God  edited by R.C. Sproul (Reformation Trust) $18.00  RT is a publishing ministry of Ligonier and they publish classy hardbacks of serious Reformed thinking, by some of the best leaders in this conservative theological tradition.  These were first offered as talks given at the 2009 Ligonier Ministries National Conference and includes excellent messages on the importance, relevance and application of the holiness of God, how it has been obscured and why it central for Biblical religion.  And what it means for us.  Chapters by Thabiti Anyabwile, Alister Begg, D.A. Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Sproul and others. 

Lectures on Calvinism Abraham Kuyper (Eerdmans) $16.00  I often say I am mostly aabraham_kuyper.jpg Kuyperian, drawing on the powerful themes of these lectures delivered famously at Princeton Seminary in 1898.  Kuyper makes the case that Calvinism ought not be reduced to merely systematic theology, but that the themes of the sovereign reign of God through Christ must be worked out in all spheres of life.  Instead of fixating on typical doctrine, let alone arcane battles about the fine-points of that doctrine, let's explore the implications of our belief in God for politics, economics, art, science, commerce and the like.  Few theologians have as much experience as pastor and social reformer, professor and parliamentarian, Prime Minister and beloved reporter of his world travels.  A bit dry and deep for me sometimes, but this is a true classic.

Four Views on Divine Providence series edited by Stanley Gundry (Zondervan) $19.99  I mentioned this "Counterpoints" series as a commendable way to study and learn about different views and that they have them on more than a dozen topics.  This is a brand new one and raises this huge question about God's rule over the world, one of the key questions as we reflect on the heartache of theodicy.  Four evangelical authors are included and they each respond to the main chapter of the other three.  Included are views that they describe as "God Causes All Things" "God Directs All Things" "God Controls by Liberating" and "God Limits His Control"  This not only is an example of meaty theological and Bible discourse but, of course, it is immensely significant for our prayers and praise, our confidence and doubts and how we talk about grief with others.  Highly recommended, even if it may be that no one is fully right. 

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Churchrediscoveringchurchfathers.jpg  Michael A.G. Haykin (Crossway) $16.99  Rob Bell noted that some of the earliest church fathers grappled with what some now call a Christian universalism.  Others rightly retorted that they may have, and they were roundly criticized for it.  Who were the often-cited church fathers? We have a handful of books old and new, complex and basic, and this new one stands out as one that is said to be wonderfully written and quite interesting.  Paul Hartog of Faith Baptist Theological Seminary says, "This gem of a study sparkles with polished clarity.  Haykin has skillfully unearthed buried treasures among early church leaders.  As an experienced guide, he has drawn from his own personal journey and decades of scholarly research."  Never heard of the patristics?  Wondering how those early guys might be understood for those of us who desire to be Biblically-faithful in the 21st century.  This is a very user-friendly and helpful place to start.

Tmelody-of-faith.JPGhe Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key Vigen Guroian (Eerdmans) $14.00  Guroian is a contemporary orthodox lay theologian and a writer of wonderful clarity and grace. We just adored his two books on liturgical gardening (Inheriting Paradise and The Fragrance of God) and his robust and kindly ways are very attractive to me.  Here he does theology---living, to be sure, but yet deeply ancient---using the metaphor of music.  As it says on the back, "In the Orthodox Christian faith, the elements of liturgy, scriptures, hymnody, and iconography are the instruments or "voices" of a melody of faith."  Orthodoxy clearly has a dogmatic foundation of a rich faith, and he explores their multi-faceted expression in six "movements."  A lovely idea.  As Stanley Hauerwas notes of it, "Guroian helps the reader understand, see, and sing the Christian mysteries, for Creation is a Trinitarian love song that envelops us all." 

Image.ashx.jpgLove as a Way of Life: Seven Keys to Transforming Every Aspect of Your Life  Gary Chapman (Waterbrook) $13.95  We used to use the phrase "love wins" when exploring the power of nonviolent direct action to protest war and nuclear power in the 70s.  Going to jail like the civil right marchers, loving the cops who'd stomp us and the judges who'd mock us was truly part of the vision of the power of Love, the essential hope that good can overcome evil (just like the Bible specifically says) Christian discipleship as resistance to the principalities and powers.  Radical writers like Jim Douglas and Dan Berrigan became long-distance mentors and we insisted on what Gene Sharp called The Power of Love, not to be confused with a song by Huey Lewis and the News. 

The subtitle of this wonderful, readable Gary Chapman book isn't completely right, as it doesn't cover "every aspect" (it is not, shall we say, Kuyperian.)  However, this does take us a good long way, and for all our talk about love, we don't really do it very well, in personal or public affairs (or am I the only one?)  Chapman became justly famous for The Five Love Languages, a book that is wise and useful if perhaps a tad overstated.  This has life stories, personal assessment tools, practical exercises and a ton of inspiration for unlocking the power of authentic love.  Good questions for book clubs, adult classes or small groups.  Would that we'd apply even a portion of this---we'd change the world, or our little corner of it.  Nice.

Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness  Andrew Murray (Bethany) $7.99  This little book by14535569.JPG the famed 19th century evangelist is a rich and thoughtful read, good for the soul, and helpful for our ruminations and behaviors these days.  Murray, of course, would not have cared for the liberal, progressive or emergent wing of the church these days, but, if this book is any indication, his firm rebukes would have been offered with gentleness and a lack of arrogance.  This is good Bible teaching and Christian living instruction that we truly need, even if the language is a bit arcane.  Or, maybe that is good, helping us slow down and pay attention and ponder the meaning.

Ha--is it pompous of me to say so?  I hope not!  Still, we think it is to be highly recommended.

Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges  JamesChrist among the dragons.jpg Emery White (IVP) $17.00  I said a month ago that White was one of my favorite speakers at the CCOs Jubilee conference and that his passion, great speaking style, knowledge about the world and Biblical fidelity was just spectacular.  This book should not be ignored---he is really talking about so much of the stuff I alluded to, without going into the details, but living into a broad vision of culturally engaged wholistic discipleship, making a difference, being both generous and non-compromising.   I like a chapter called "The World Without Us: Renewing Culture with the True, the Good and the Beautiful."  Another chapter is on evangelism, making a clear case that it is an act of love.  There are dragons--what he names as "the loss of absolutes in a wiki world" and he makes a passionate plea for orthodoxy. "The dogma is in the drama" you know.

Christ-honoring reformation for the common good is one of the large challenges of our time. And we need to live this out in ways that both the more liberal and the more conservative wings of the church haven't quite gotten right.  How did we get into the mess we're in?  (Well, I already told you that if you read my long essays, but White offers some other insights, well written and true.)  I so enjoyed this, appreciate the few illustrations and art pieces, and am glad for his dramatic visions and sensible evangelical summons.  There are a few chapters that seem very germane to the Bell conversations including some stuff on the unity within the church, a great chapter on "polarizations" as "misplaced missional energy, and a good teaching on the church as our mother: holy, catholic, apostolic.  Right on!

Large.9780732404307.jpgA Gentler God: Breaking Free of the Almighty in the Company of the Human Jesus  Doug Frank (Albatross) $25.00  Well, you can see the (troublesome) way this author pits the humanness of Jesus with the nature of God, so I smell something wrong.  Yet, this line of reasoning simply must be at least considered if we are to understand our Lord Jesus. And at 475+ pages (in an easy-on-the-eyes font) and lots of footnotes (ranging from poets to philosophers, Bible scholars to historians) this is a large contribution.  Actually, the portions that I read are as much about evangelicalism and how we are or are not welcoming, how we've talked about the character of God and the nature of faith,  than they are the Scriptures.  As I said last week, the conversation about the Bell book, especially within evangelical circles, is as revealing as the book itself. How we get at these theological quandaries (and how we handle disagreement, various interpretations, and the anxiety of contested truth) is itself part of the "living theology" process.  Brian McLaren notes that this is "the best and deepest diagnosis of what's wrong with American evangelicalism I've ever read...This book will stay with me for a long time"  Historian Randall Balmer writes, "A wonderful, troubling book that offers a gospel for the disenchanted, for whom the church is just another dead building and God a nagging presence of a painful absence."  He notes that "No one has shaped my understanding of the gospel more profoundly over the years than Doug Frank."

Novelist David James Duncan, who is not known for endorsing Christian books, writes that it is "a labor of love...Welcome to the masterwork of a huge-hearted, evangelical son."  A blurb from the author of two of my all time favorite novels does not make it correct.  But it matters, if a sensitive and passionate author/activist like Duncan cares about it.  And, Rob Bell has an endorsement of it, naming it as a rare book that he loves.  So it gives you insight into Bell, at least. 

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