We received some good emails in response to the previous BookNotes post sharing my frustrations with two mega-selling authors in the CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) market, and their most recent books. I noted that they were popular but lite, although my biggest frustration was the way guys who should know better—Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado–mishandled the Biblical texts that their respective new books are based upon. As I wrote in that blog entry, we have two nearly iconic evangelical authors doing what I take to be a less than honorable job in exegeting two quintessential Biblical texts, Micah 6:8 and John 3:16. Chuck’s refusal to talk about justice in his study of Micah 6:8 is the most egregious, although Max’s utterly personalistic take on the word “world”Â (kosmos), while less clearly wrong, is more interesting. I said I’d offer some positive books that might help clarify these bad boys botching of the Bible. Here goes.
I don’t think that most readers of Chuck’s book will need a serious commentary of Micah, so nearly any one would do. The best, doubtlessly, is A Commentary on Micah by the extraordinary Bruce K. Waltke (Eerdmans; $32.00.) If you are the kind of person who has a academic, Biblical studies library, you should own this one. Scholars, pastors, laypeople—anyone who cares to read carefully will cherish this mature commentary.
If one is interested, as I am, in the classic and beloved text of 6:8** you will appreciate the brief collection of three essays entitled To Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly: An Agenda for Ministers by, respectively, Walter Brueggemann, Sharon Parks and Thomas Groome (Wipf & Stock; $8.95.) This rare book, only 65 pages, is a gem comprising three moving chapters, obviously given, initially, at some pastor’s event. Don’t let the sub-title worry you, as this is a splendidly moving set of sermons for anyone. The Brueggemann one alone is worth the price and you will read it more than once, I’m sure.
The rub in my critique of the Swindoll book was how it was fine, with one exception: it didn’t deal with the word justice in the text, and didn’t even admit it wasn’t dealing with the text. How a conservative like Swindoll, on an evangelical publishing house, can, in good conscience, fail to stand honestly before the Word like that is just beyond me. Really, it is, and my essay was not a playful poke to the cheesy CBA subculture. It was a heart cry that our fellow believers, especially those of influence and status like Swindoll, be more faithful before the living Word of God. I am not a Bible scholar, and I do not pretend to be. I am confident, though, that to talk about any of the Minor Prophets without a comment on the call to do justice, is a travesty.
And so, here is one of the best little fair-minded book on what the Bible says about justice, a gem of a resource that you most likely never heard of: A Covenant to Keep: Meditations on the Biblical Theme of Justice by James W. Skillen (Center for Public Justice & CRC Publications.) $10.00 This is a bargain of a price for a well-written set of nearly devotional essays showing various usages of the word justice in the Bible. It has some practical application ideas, a few contemporary testimonials, and some helpful suggestions for helping this shape our convictions and practices about public life. Mostly, though, it is just darn good Bible study. It is highly recommended by a friend and mentor I’ve admired for most of my adult life.
Bring Forth Justice: Basics for Just Christians Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (St. Anthony Messenger Press) $5.95 Are you kidding me? Five-ninty-five? Yep, this inexpensive and very brief book is a fabulous overview of how Catholic social teaching, has described various sorts of justice. It explains what is meant by commutative justice, distributive justice, social justice, and such. It distinguishes, in clear but sophisticated way, what we mean by different sorts of social obligations, how to determine who owes whom what, and so forth. For anyone who wants to thoughtful explore social ethics beyond the rhetoric of justice, this is a helpful little guide. Of course there are more thorough resources, but this could be read by the most basic believer, even those drawn most typically to the likes of Mr. Swindoll.
As to the truncated reading of kosmos that inflicts Lucado’s mega-seller 3:16: The Numbers of Hope, I will continue to write again and again. Creation Regained by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $13) remains the best book which draws the links between creation-fall-redemption, showing how a Christian worldview will “see”Â life in terms of this cosmic scope of redemption. Michael Wittmer’s fine Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Zondervan; $16.95) is a truly lovely and very helpful guide, too, into this Kingdom vision that Christ is bringing restoration to every zone of his good, but fallen, creation. There is a great study guide, making it a very useful resource for small groups.
Simply Christian by N.T. Wright (Harper; $22.95) is a splendid antidote to the false piety that afflicts Max’s syrupy best-seller. It starts with this intuition we all have that things are not the way they are supposed to be, this yearning for the world to be made right. He not only looks at our deepest foibles and anxieties, but also names the injustices against the planet, from terrorism to global warming. We really do need things to be straightened out, don’t we? Is not the restoration, the victory over evil, the creational healing, the grand hope of a planet renewed provided in the gospel of the Kingdom? Is this not—to use just one example—what Tolkien said often to C.S. Lewis, that we are sub-creators, making stories where good wins in the end, even if in a eucatastrophy, because we deeply know that that is, indeed, the way of the truest truth? Isn’t that the message of Narnia, that the death and resurrection of Aslan brings glorious Spring, at last, to the frozen creation? Ahhh, if only Mr. Lucado had remembered that ancient truth: wrong turns to right when Aslan is in sight! That would have moved him from his sweetly safe individualistic pietism. Sure Jesus loves “whosoever will”Â and the Bible is clear that God draws His elect into eternal life. But the point is not just God’s gracious mercy for sinners, but, more, the way in which those sinners are then transformed and given gifts, like Father Christmas gives to the children in Narnia–weapons!—for the part we get to play in the full-orbed Missio Dei, the renewal of all things, to the glory and pleasure of God