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For several years now I have aimed to read at least one book a month and in most recent years I raised my annual goal to at least twenty. Each year my list of “books read” becomes a blog post with what I like to call “micro book reviews.”
Well, in 2018 I finished thirty books, far surpassing years past. So instead of asking you, my dear readers, to trudge through all thirty micro book reviews in one post, I have decided to break them up.
Since I have read more and headier theological works this year than usual, and because my reviews on these works are more detailed due to the importance of the subject matter, this first installment covers just four books on theology. Lord willing, next week I’ll share other Mother Culture reads (books I’m reading for my own education and enjoyment rather than just for my children’s), and by the end of the month will also publish what I call Family Culture reads (books read with the boys for school or books we’ve read aloud as a family). I hope you’ll check back in for each one!
Theology reads of 2018
For most of the past year I followed a Bible reading plan for my personal devotions. It’s been wonderful to read larger sections of scripture this year, but I have also appreciated the “catch-up days” afforded in the schedule. These have mostly been taken as “off days”—and an opportunity to read from the books I’ve listed below. None of these should be elevated to the place of scripture, but they have been worthwhile to chew on about one morning a week. Maybe you’d enjoy them in such a manner, as well.
The Attributes of God by A. W. Pink (1886-1952) We acquired this book when we purchased Shai Linne’s album by the same title (containing theologically rich and deeply encouraging rap music). I read slowly through Pink’s book, often looking up scriptures referenced, for my personal quiet time last spring.
Each of nineteen chapters covers a different attribute of God and concludes with an application or encouragement to worship, trust, and adore God rather than merely chock up mental assent. These nuggets of application were some of my favorite and most quotable sections of the book. Here is a sampling:
He foresaw my every fall, my every sin, my every backsliding; yet, nevertheless, fixed His heart upon me. Oh, how the realization of this should bow me in wonder and worship before Him!
When we trustfully resign ourselves, and all our affairs into God’s hands, fully persuaded of His love and faithfulness, the sooner shall we be satisfied with His providences and realize that ‘He doeth all things well.’
Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence; yet is it often withheld from our great Benefactor simply because His goodness is so constant and abundant.
A personal aim of mine in reading this book was to examine and solidify my own views. I tested not only the words on the page, evaluating to what extent they were true or false (finding only minor disagreement and largely in argumentation rather than substance), but I also tested my own heart as it reacted to these descriptions of God. Am I willing to let God be God? Or do I have a still-sinful attitude that is uncomfortable with His rule and providence? Meditating on God’s attributes, with this or another such book (and an open Bible!), is a wonderful opportunity to clarify to oneself the truth about God and honestly assess the soul’s response to it.
The Ology by Marty Machowski, Illustrated by Andy McGuire I was thrilled to find this book at my local library after seeing it recommended by many friends. I list it here rather than with family reads because I pre-read it this year and haven’t read it with the kids yet. We now have our own copy (thanks, Mom!) and intend to go through it this year.
The Ology seeks to explain “ancient truths ever new” in a simple yet beautiful format so that kids can learn and understand the basics of Christian theology. Scriptures are included on nearly every page spread and a glossary and list of discussion questions for each section are included at the back of the book. In terms of theological particulars, this is a kind of reformed theology for kids. The issue of baptism, however, is explained with care so that those who practice infant baptism and those that wait for their children to trust in Christ before being baptized can read and enjoy this book.
There’s also a CD to accompany the book: The Ology by Sovereign Grace Kids. Encouraging songs and stylistic variety. I love it!
The Reasonableness of Christianity by John Locke I must have stumbled upon this little gem at a used book store before later finding it on my bookshelf and making it a part of my devotional reading. John Locke (1632-1704), better known for his political theory based on natural rights and characterized by limited government, argues in less than 100 pages that Christian belief (particularly that Jesus is the Messiah) is in fact reasonable. The charge he must have been responding to was this: “Is it really reasonable to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, when he didn’t speak often or very explicitly about this in the gospels?” The other less contentious question Locke seeks to answer seems to be: “If salvation is by faith and not by works, what is it that must be believed?”
While I don’t necessarily agree with Locke on every point of theology (his opening remarks about original sin are…interesting, for example, and there is some debate as to whether he held to an orthodox view of the Trinity, though that is not in view in this book) I thoroughly enjoyed following him through the Gospels and Acts as he makes his case—that everything points to the need for people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah as the central tenet of Christianity and the essential element of saving faith. Especially interesting is how Locke explains the wisdom of Jesus’ reservedness during his ministry and trial:
But he [Jesus] would not be seized for anything that might make him a criminal to the government: and therefore he avoided giving those, who, in the division that was about him, inclined towards him, occasion of tumult for his sake: or to the Jews, his enemies, matter of just accusation, against him, out of his own mouth, by professing himself to be the Messiah, the King of Israel, in direct words.
… This preserved him from being condemned as a malefactor; and procured him a testimony from the Roman governor, his judge, that he was an innocent man, sacrificed to the envy of the Jewish nation.
To sum up, The Reasonableness of Christianity is, as I see it, two things: 1) an explanation of Jesus’ rationale for not clearly stating who He is, and 2) a kind “mere Christianity” summed up in the words: “Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God” and therefore (and reasonably) to be believed and obeyed.
Where modern American Evangelicalism might reduce the gospel to a process or the Roman’s Road, Locke is “reducing” it to a Person and a call to personal faith and allegiance. While there are other important truths to mine in Scripture (and Locke affirms this), Locke does an excellent job of pointing to the main thing, the main Person: Jesus Christ Himself.
The 17th century English, complete with Roman Numerals used for scripture references in the text, make this a challenging yet rewarding read. If you’re interested, give it a go!
Future Grace by John Piper (link is to a revised edition–my copy is the first edition)
I bought this book when on a trip to Boston in my early twenties and regretfully didn’t get past the introduction at that time. Over a decade later I picked it up and have thoroughly enjoyed it (using my old plane ticket as a bookmark! Ha!). This book has 31 chapters and is intended to be read through in a month, but you could easily enjoy it at a slower pace like I did, fitting it in where my Bible reading plan allowed and completing it over the course of a few months.
The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace, as its longer title suggests, isn’t just a theology book. Piper seeks to demonstrate the powerful, sin-forsaking effect that faith in God’s future grace has on the life of the believer–and to encourage you, the reader, to live by such faith.
This is an empowering read. Not in a “you can do it” sort of way, but in a “look to Christ” sort of way.
Each section contains a few chapters defending, defining, and discussing the nature of faith in future grace and concludes with one chapter to “apply the purifying power” to a particular sin or disposition. The practical application chapters cover anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust. Piper’s aim is the heart, and the way he deals with such deep-seated struggles and sins in these chapters reminds me a lot of Jerry Bridges’ excellent book Respectable Sins.
On touchy subjects like anxiety, depression (despondency), and shame, Piper speaks biblical truth with much personal understanding and gentleness. This is not a book to beat you up for your mental and emotional problems, rather it seeks to see them clearly (and see Christ clearly) so that they can be dealt with rightly and with hope.
With the last chapter finishing up on page 399, Future Grace is a commitment, but the return on investment is high. I’ll let Piper’s own words take us out.
Unbelief is a turning away from God and his Son in order to seek satisfaction in other things. Pride is a turning away from God specifically to take satisfaction in self. So pride is one specific form of unbelief.
…covetousness is turning away from God, usually to find satisfaction in things. …lust is turning away from God to find satisfaction in sex. …bitterness is turning away from God to find satisfaction in revenge. Impatience is turning away from God to find satisfaction in your own uninterrupted plan of action…. Anxiety, misplaced shame, and despondency are various conditions of the heart when these efforts of unbelief miscarry.
…Every turning from God–for anything–presumes a kind of autonomy or independence that is the essence of pride. …pride is not so much the root as it is the essence of unbelief, and its remedy is faith in future grace.
Wait! New Feature!
What’s my top pick from this stack? I have to say Future Grace by John Piper. I’ll be revisiting this one for sure, and who knows? It may join the ranks of my “re-read every few years until I die” list along with Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot and Knowing God by J I Packer.
Have you read any good theology books this past year? What’s your favorite?