Saturday, July 05, 2008

Book roundup

I've recently updated my reading list on the sidebar, but I wanted to say a bit more about each of them than the margins allowed. It's nice to be able to rediscover the joys of reading in the past couple of weeks, like tasting mum's homemade cooking after a long absence. More than I care for this year, tedium has held forth like an oppressive tyrant over the written word, locking the gates to the promised treasures that comes from getting lost in a good book.

1. You can Change - Tim Chester. If we were to trace the genealogy of this book, we would probably discover that its dad is Transforming Grace, its mum The Pursuit of Holiness, both by Jerry Bridges, its grandpa J.C Ryle's Holiness and its ancestors the Puritans. Chester has written a book that never loses sight of the basic fact that it is ultimately God, through the cross of Christ and the work of the Spirit, who changes us. Tim Keller calls this book neither quietistic nor moralistic, but still practical, and that is praise indeed.

This is a bit of a tangent, but one of the things that I've noticed is that Chester appears to have very deliberately kept things simple. Nothing is assumed, and short sentences are the norm. Chester is no theological slouch, he has written a well-regarded book on the relation of social action to the gospel after all. But he's also a hands-on practitioner as a church planter, and he has previously reflected on reaching "non-book people", i.e those who are often intimidated by the written word because of a disadvantaged educational background etc., so I wonder if that has fed into his adopted writing style.

And that's a good thing. I think a precocious 12-year old could get through this book, yet it is truly insightful even for long-time Christians. For eg., in asking "why would you like to change?", Chester offers 3 possible answers. The first two perhaps aren't so surprising: to prove ourselves to God, and/or to prove ourselves to other people. But his third answer: to prove myself to myself, i.e to feel good about ourselves, to feel as if we've not let ourselves down was an astute observation, I've never thought about before. There's more stuff like this.

I was actually going through this book at a fairly quick clip before I realised that I needed to slow down if I didn't want to be the target of Edmund Burke's sardonic remark that "reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting"! So that's what I've been trying to do. It will almost certainly be reread, and copies given away. Tim Chester talks about his book here.

2. Worshipping Trinity - Robin Parry. Wow! I really enjoyed this one, devouring it in one sitting. I've seen this recommended in more than one place as a great introductory book to the Trinity (UCCF's Mike Reeves included), so when I saw that it was available on the cheap, I gave it a go. I had previously attempted to get through Bruce Ware's Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and I know I'm in the minority here, but I found that book dull, dull, dull. Parry, IMHO, has written a much better book.

Parry's basic idea is that "worship is about God and God is the Trinity, therefore worship is about the Trinity." From there he takes us on a theological journey which is amazingly lucid and accessible. He shows us how the Trinity matters in creation, salvation, mission, and holy living, to name just a few. He also homes in on worship songs, partly because I think Parry, a self-confessed "mild charismatic", is writing for a mainstream charismatic-leaning Christian audience, and so this is an especially effective way of showing us the relevance of the Trinity. It's not exhaustive, as he doesn't discuss, say, the historical development of the doctrine, but confines it to the biblical material. Again, like Chester, Parry obviously knows his stuff (the endnotes are full of citations of academic works, not all of them evangelical), but he keeps it simple.

Definite recommendation.

3. God's Lesser Glory - Bruce Ware. This isn't on the sidebar, but I feel a bit bad about impugning on Dr. Ware's good name in the previous section, so I should say that this is very readable and nothing like his book on the Trinity. This is a defence against open theism, the view that holds that God does not exhaustively know the entire future, from a Calvinistic perspective. It's definitely more dense, since a good deal of it is exegetical discussion. In his introduction, Ware states that "this book is unkind to open theism. I hope it is not unkind to open theists" and I think he is successful in that regard. He is firm and unapologetic that open theism is a dangerous view, but I think he was always gentlemanly to his opponents. To me, and again, I read it (too) quickly, his case is convincing. Ware doesn't stop at the level of exegesis however, as he shows how devastating open theism is pastorally, applying it to areas of prayer and guidance. Ware has also written a more pastorally oriented, layperson-friendly book, Their God is Too small, that summarises his arguments here.

I'll stop for now and talk about a couple more books in my next post. :)

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