Followers of my blog will notice I’ve not posted many book reviews lately. I’ve actually been reading more than usual the last few months, but haven’t been able to keep up with writing substantial reviews of everything. Since I’m hopelessly behind at this point, here are some short summaries of some recent reads:
“Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God” by John Piper
How often do we think about thinking? I know for me it isn’t often… but I do love to think! And I loved this book. It helped to clarify exactly why good reasoning and intellectual pursuits are important, as well as giving guidance to the process of that pursuit. Piper addresses the challenges of relativism and anti-intellectualism, both of which are rampant in the thinking of the contemporary church. He ends the book with an appeal to humility, which is perhaps the greatest danger of intellectual pursuit.
Incidentally, the structure of the book itself provides a great template for a logical progression of thought. The introduction and first couple chapters (which you can preview online) map out where the book is going and prepare readers for what is to come. I wish more books began this way!
You can buy this book here. Check out Piper’s video introduction as well:
“A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life’s Hardest Questions” ed. by Dallas Willard
The Veritas Forum began back in 1992 as a way for Christian students at Harvard University to explore questions related to the search for truth through a series of lectures and Q&A sessions. Two decades later, this project has expanded dramatically, with events at more than 100 universities around the world. This book is a collection of transcripts of some of the best talks in the series.
Authors/speakers include Christians from across the Liberal-Conservative spectrum (such as Tim Keller, N.T. Wright, and Francis Collins), as well as many atheists (such as Peter Singer and David Helfand). The lectures cover a broad range of topics, from theology to philosophy to music. As with any collaborative effort, there were strong and weak chapters, but each served as excellent discussion-starters for my Tuesday morning reading group!
Video and audio clips of each chapter/lecture can also be found free online. My personal favorites were the chapter by Jeremy Begbie (“The Sense of an Ending”), which “uses music and theology to explore the fundamental truths of how we understand our place in the world”, and the debate between Rodney Brooks and Rosalind Picard (“Can Robots Become Human?”), who dialogue about what it means to be human, and whether we will one day be able to create life from non-life in a godlike manner.
This is not a book that will appeal to everyone, but if you are interested in exploring these sort of hard questions (and getting a very wide range of influences that will force you to think for yourself), this is something you’ll enjoy. Buy it here.
“Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just” by Timothy Keller
Few topics stir up as much passion as that of justice. It’s hard enough to find agreement on what justice is, much less how to achieve it. For that reason, this is a book bound to make nearly anyone uncomfortable.
Keller looks to reclaim the biblical mandate to seek justice for the poor and marginalized from those who sacrifice sound doctrine in favor of a vague, highly politicized sense of “social justice”. Evangelicals are right to hold the line on gospel clarity, but this does not absolve us from our responsibility to care for the poor. However, this care, properly and biblically understood, is not what liberal theologians and social activists have long espoused. It is, rather, a type of self-sacrificing generosity that flows from a right understanding of the gospel of grace.
No matter where you stand, I guarantee this book will challenge your convictions, and force you to think through the issue of justice in a way you’ve never done before. This is something we all need: myself especially. Buy it here. Here’s an idea of the type of stuff you’ll encounter in this book:
“Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road” by Timothy Keller
I read these two books back-to-back, even though they were written 14 years apart. Keller has been remarkably consistent over the course of his ministry; his concern for addressing social justice issues from a conservative, evangelical view (particularly in urban settings) has been one of the central themes of his teaching for decades. Though his more recent books have garnered much more attention, this — his first — is just as good.
Where Generous Justice focuses more on the theological and philosophical aspects of justice, Ministries of Mercy devotes more time to practical concerns. Keller particularly calls out those in the Reformed evangelical tradition, who are not typically known for their concern for the poor (to our shame). He sets up his church (Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) as a model for others to emulate: a theologically conservative Reformed church with a racially and economically diverse congregation that is actively engaging their community in an urban environment long thought to be “lost” to secularization. The fruit of this church’s ministries in the time since this book was written are proof of the validity of Keller’s arguments.
Buy this book here.
“Future Men” by Douglas Wilson
I have read a lot of books on parenting, and particularly on parenting boys, and this is far and away the best I’ve yet encountered. Wilson’s counsel is both pastoral and practical, and always tinged with his typical witty prose.
His approach is very different from many other parenting books, mainly because he starts from a different perspective. Rather than beginning with the various challenges associated with bringing up boys, he challenges parents (and especially fathers) to give consideration to the type of men we want our boys to become. In every circumstance, he encourages us to think about how best to prepare our boys for mature manhood. This often results in a very different approach from what society typically advocates, in everything from discipline to roughhousing to education.
If you have (or may ever have) a son or grandson, this is a very worthwhile book to have available as a reference (I expect to revisit it frequently as my son grows older and enters new stages of life). It would also be a great read for school teachers, as there is much that pertains to nurturing masculinity in the classroom. Buy it here.
“Economics in One Lesson: The Surest and Shortest Way to Understand Basic Economics” by Henry Hazlitt
I’ve read this one before, but mentioning it on my blog a few weeks ago reminded me that I wanted to read it again. The first time I read it, I’d checked out the original (written in 1946) from the library. This time, I purchased the revised (in 1978) edition, which includes MUCH more.
As the auspicious title indicates, Hazlett — a philosopher, economist, and journalist — has broken economics down into one simple lesson. In fact, he further breaks it down into one sentence: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
The “lesson” portion of the book is only four pages long, but is followed up by nearly 200 pages of application of this lesson to a number of circumstances. For those who think that economics is boring, I hope you’ll take me at my word: this book is not boring! Not only does Hazlitt succeed in speaking clearly for the layman; he also makes a sometimes difficult subject truly fascinating. Given the current state of our economy, books like this are needed now more than ever! Buy it here. Here’s a ten minute crash course: