Hooray for Reading!!!

Books are great!  A couple months ago, I wrote about some of the books I have been reading.  And now, here are more of them!!!

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving The World In Christlike Humility
Duane Elmer 

If not for this book, I think my ministry and mindset here would be vastly different.  Pride is always a danger, and especially so when one tries to be a servant.  Because missionaries come to give and serve, they often start thinking or acting like the people they are serving have nothing to offer them.  For example, if I lead a Bible Study with the Malagasy people, will I listen to them, or will I assume I am the one with all the answers?  Surely anything these believers have to say will be somewhat childish, right?  Surely I will need to supplement a Sunday sermon heard here from a Malagasy pastor with a Podcast from America where I can get some real teaching.  Right?  Elmer’s premise is that missionaries, and anyone who serves cross-culturally will be much more affective, loving, joyful, and Christlike if they stop giving the impression that they are better than the people they are serving.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeff Sachs

Jeff Sachs is an economist, and a happily optimistic one.  When he talks about ending poverty, he is talking specifically about extreme poverty.  This is not a kind of poverty that exists in America; America has relative poverty, not extreme poverty. Extreme poverty exists where people have almost no access to reliable food, clean water, modern medicine, education, transportation, etc.  In extreme poverty, such that which exists in many parts of subsaharan Africa, people have almost no chance of getting themselves out.  Jeff Sachs believes we have the resources to end this kind of extreme poverty, and he explains the problem and a solution (which he says can be accomplished in about 20 years) in this book.  Perhaps it is a little too optimistic, but I enjoyed the book because Sachs does believe something needs to be done, and that something can be done.  He knows it wouldn’t be easy and that there is no simple solution, but he thinks that with patience and effort, extreme poverty can be ended.

Ethics
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This was the book Bonhoeffer thought of as his most important, however, he was not able to finish it.  Reading it is often like reading unfinished thoughts.  There are large and wonderful sections, but they lack connection.  Still, it was a great and thought provoking book. His major themes are that Christian Ethics are not about becoming the judges between right and wrong or good and evil.  Trying to determine our own set of judgements inevitably falls short and leads to Phariseeism.  This was also the origin of the fall, where Eve desired to know good and evil.  Rather, Christian ethics is about becoming reconciled to God and his will, since only God’s will is what is good.  In other words, God is the judge, and following God’s will is what we need to do.  Now this is not the same as simply saying that there is no such thing as right and wrong or that we can’t claim to know it.   What he is saying is that, as we listen to God through his Word, we let his Word be the judge and we simply follow that.  We will, in a sense, make judgements, and stive for what is right, but only as those listening to the judge, not as people who want to become the judge.  The other major theme is that God’s will is not separate from the world, but takes place in the world.  A Christian ethic must engage the world, not withdraw from it.  God created us human, and wants us to live human lives.  There were sections and chapters of this book that were so good and insightful, that I immediately reread them.

Of Temptation: The Nature And Power Of It
John Owen

 This is one of three books contained in the volume Overcoming Sin And Temptation.  This is the second of the two “real-turn-the-paper-page” books I brought with me here to Madagascar.  If you read anything about John Owen’s books, you will hear themes theme: 1) they are hard to read 2) they will change your life.  If it wasn’t for reason two, no one would bother with Owen.  His books are dense and weighty to the extent that, if one stops paying attention for only a few sentences, that reader will be totally lost.  So many pages require reading, and re-reading.  But the material is so good, it does not matter.  You want to read it all again.

This particular book deals with the danger of temptation and how to keep out of temptation.  Owen’s wisdom and insight makes it seem as though he crawled into my mind and found out all the ways in which I am deceived and tempted.  He understands the workings of temptation like no other.  Particularly good points include: it is pointless to pretend that you fear and hate sin, when you make do not hate and avoid the temptation that leads to the sin; temptations are always around, but there is an “hour of temptation” when suddenly our hearts are engaged by the tempting thing, and it is that hour we need to guard against; when we do enter into temptation, when suddenly the thing we cared nothing about grabs our attention, we must hold on to the promise that it is only an “hour of temptation” and that hour will pass if we cling to Christ—temptation lies when it claims it will never go away.

(On a side note, the edition pictured and in the link is very good and includes two other books, the most well known being The Mortification of Sin.  The editors, Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, did a fantastic job making Owen readable with helpful footnotes and section headers.  They also provide outlines for each book that help readers follow Owen’s train of thought.  This is the volume to look for.)

 Christianity and Liberalism
J. Gresham Machan

 (free on Kindle) This book was written over sixty years ago, but many of the issues it tackles are still very relevant today.  Machan’s purpose is to provide clear language to describe the differences between what might be termed Evangelical Christianity and theologically liberal Christianity.  His premise, however, is that the later has cast so many things aside that it is almost inappropriate to call it Christianity, and is rather naturalistic humanism with Christian langage.  The book surveys differences between evangelicalism and liberalism regarding God, man, Christ, the Bible, Salvation, and the Church.  I thought is was a good and readable book with very clear arguments.  I would recommend it for anyone who is curious about what exactly the differences are, and why liberalism frustrates Evangelicals.

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Francis Chan

This is a short book and is designed to be more thought provoking and devotional than exhaustive in its discussion of the Holy Spirit.  I think Francis Chan is right; the topic of the Holy Spirit is one that I don’t think about enough 1) because it can be a bit controversial and perhaps more importantly 2) the reality of Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit demands a changed life.  There are things I can ponder without having to think about immanent meaning for my own life.   God living inside me is not one that is easy to separate from day to day life and practice.  Chan wants the church to reflect the fact that it is living in the power of the all-powerful God.  I thought this was a great book and recommend it.

Is the Reformation Over?: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom

Mark Noll is a contemporary church historian, and this book deals with the history, especially the recent history, of the Catholic Church.  In particular, Noll begins by noting that many evangelicals (which might be defined as Christians believing in the inspiration of the Bible, the importance of conversion, the importance of evangelism, and the importance of the event of the crucifixion and resurrection) will find a lot in common with many contemporary Catholics, perhaps even more in common than with more liberal protestants.  I can echo this observation, since my time at Vanderbilt introduced me to some wonderful Catholics, who had a very vital faith.  Noll then documents some of the history of Evangelical-Catholic relations, noting that, until about fifty years ago, neither group was terribly fond of the other.  Protestants were not yet “brothers” in the faith according to Catholics (which happened during Vatican II) and it was not uncommon for evangelicals to refer to the Catholic church as a “synagog of Satan” or perhaps the harlot from the book of Revelation.  But since Vatican II, many Catholics and Protestants have realized that they have a lot in common and have tried to work together rather than against each other.  Noll documents the efforts that have taken place to work through differences, and highlights some of the misunderstandings between the two groups.  Notably Evangelicals and Catholic ecumenical groups have managed to agree about pretty much everything regarding justification, agreeing that yes, it is by grace through faith.  Differences obviously still exist regarding an understanding of the church and things like Mary, and there are also plenty of people in both groups who would say that different “agreements” are sacrificing truth for peace.  But perhaps, Noll would suggest, it is time to highlight similarities, not differences, and time to stop proselytizing Christ loving members of the other group.  This was a really good book for any evangelical interested in understanding Catholic Church.  Noll does a great job of documenting things from as a fair perspective as possible, acknowledging that he is an evangelical, not a Catholic.

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia
Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom

Most of the world’s Christians are not in Europe or America.  Yet we Westerners know tragically little about the church outside our cultural context.  This book is an attempt to help remedy that.  It is a compilation of 17 short biographies of influential Christians from Africa, India, Korea, and China.  Noll is much more interested in reporting what happened in these lives than commenting on them, realizing that many of the circumstances and experiences of these believers will vary greatly with the experience of Christians in the Western world.  This is a great book for anyone interested in Africa and Asian Christianity and each biography is a short twenty minute read.  It is a book that taught me a lot, and the lives in it are inspiring.

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