Several Short Book Reviews

Well, I’ve been doing a lot better at keeping up with the 2017 Reading Challenge than I have been keeping up with the blog. I’ve done a lot of writing in the last month, but much of it has been offline (though my biggest recent writing project will make an appearance here very soon). My original intention had been to review all or most of the books I’m reading this year, so in order to catch up here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

lesmis“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo

Book 10: A book more than 100 years old

I’m a bit ashamed I hadn’t read this book before! I’ve seen several different movie and stage adaptations, and read an abridged version many years ago, but this was my first time tackling the “real deal.” It’s so, so good! Not that I expected anything else. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told, and hopefully one I’ll have the opportunity to re-read several times in the future.

51-2b3wjprhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_“Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris

Book 11: A book about theology

Speaking of re-reading books… this is a book I read when it first came out in 2010, and it quickly became one of my top recommendations for young readers first starting their study of theology. I’ve bought and distributed many copies over the year, but decided to re-read it in its entirety this year when I assigned it to my three worship interns, so I could participate in our book discussions having seen it with fresh eyes. Still as good as I remember! You can read my full book review here.

c10832“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian” by C.S. Lewis

Book 12: A book of your choice
Book 13: A book written by an author with initials in his name

These are books I’ve read many times, but I’m more excited than ever to be reading them now with my 7-year-old son. His eagerness to devour these books (he’s asked to start going to bed earlier so he can wake up earlier and read with me before his sisters wake up) makes my heart so glad! I love seeing my children learn to love the things I love, and having the opportunity to introduce such beloved characters and stories to him—seeing them for the “first time” again through his eyes—is a great blessing.

By the way, though the edition we’re reading together (we LOVE this complete collection illustrated by Pauline Baynes) has the stories in chronological order (with The Magician’s Nephew first), we’re reading them in the order of publication, which I still stubbornly insist is the proper way to read them.

book-stateoffear“State of Fear” by Michael Crichton

Book 14: A novel by an author you have never read before

Having seen and enjoyed several movies based on Crichton’s books, I thought I might as well try out one of his novels. This one sounded intriguing, particularly the author’s statement that it’s the book he least wanted to write, and one which he felt could actually put his life in danger.

While I’m not sure about that last part, I can definitely see how he could face a lot of opposition because of the content of this novel. The characters (and Crichton himself, in an appendix that is well worth reading by itself) in this thriller challenge the status quo of “settled science” in the debate on global climate change. He writes a compelling and plausible story in which scientists and educators who dare to push back against the notion that man-caused global warming is a grave threat requiring massive government regulation & investment are ostracized and persecuted by peers, press, politicians, and celebrities.

While I wouldn’t call it a great work of literature, the audiobook was an enjoyable distraction over a few weeks’ worth of driving.

*****************************************************************

I’ll try to get back to writing more detailed book reviews going forward! I’m reading several more books right now that are really terrific. Here’s a preview of what’s on the horizon:

  • The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk — Definitely a long-term reading project… I’m slowly but surely making my way through this massive survey of conservative thought. It’ll probably take me a few more months at my current pace.
  • Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles — I’ve actually already finished this one and written a review that will be published Monday. Excellent read on customer service, with broad application in ministry as well.
  • Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura — Probably my favorite book of 2017 so far, it focuses on how Christians can steward and cultivate creative gifts, harnessing the great power of beauty to reform and renew our culture.
  • The Whistler by John Grisham — Just started reading the latest in a long line of Grisham’s NYT bestsellers.

Book Review: Humble Orthodoxy

“Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down” by Joshua Harris

Three years ago, I wrote that “Humble Orthodoxy,” the final chapter of Joshua Harris’ book Dug Down Deep, was worth the price of the book all by itself. Evidently, I wasn’t alone in thinking so!

By popular demand, Harris has finally expanded and expounded the contents of that great chapter into its own book, and I’m so glad he did! Humility is sadly lacking in modern discourse, particularly in the realm of theological convictions. While the abundance of attention being given by evangelical authors to getting our doctrine right is a good thing, far less attention has been given to how we ought to contend for the faith.

Does God care about the attitude with which we stand for truth? Of course he does! Yet, as Harris points out, “orthodoxy has gotten a bad reputation.” We Christians are not exactly known for our compassion and humility when it comes to defending our beliefs.

Something has to give. As Harris argues, that something is our pride. We need to stop seeking the approval of men, and start living for the only approval that matters—God’s. When we understand that our deeds merit nothing but damnation, and that God’s approval is based solely on the obedience of Christ, we cannot be arrogant. This is the heart of true orthodoxy, and it can only be realized in true humility.

We don’t have to choose between humility and orthodoxy. We need both, and, in fact, each leads to the other. Humble orthodoxy changes the way we relate to others. Instead of puffing ourselves up through comparisons with those we see as more sinful, we should see God’s grace as something to be extended to others. Harris writes, “Instead of looking down on the unorthodox, how can we not want to humbly lead them toward the same life-giving truth that has changed our lives?

This book is tiny—its 61 pages weighing in at under five ounces—but exhibits an incredible economy of words. Nearly every sentence is worthy of highlighting… no filler material here! Throughout its four chapters, Harris gives examples from Scripture of men who exhibited humble orthodoxy, and shows readers how to develop this godly character in our own lives.

There is quite a bit of overlap with the last chapter of Dug Down Deep, but there is easily enough new material to make this book stand on its own merits, even if you have read the “Humble Orthodoxy” chapter that led to it. Its small size and easy readability means this book lends itself to many repeat readings, something I’ll be certain to take advantage of whenever I need a good dose of conviction about my pride (which is often!).

This is also a perfect little book to give away to young Christians and new theologians, whose “newfound zeal for truth often makes them dangerous,” as Harris points out. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open down the road for deals on bulk purchases of this book to go in the giveaway box in my office. It’s important to note, though, that as this book is primarily concerned with exhorting readers toward humility rather than establishing orthodoxy, this book alone would not be sufficient to help a new believer achieve humble orthodoxy. To get a good grasp on what orthodoxy is, they will need to consult other resources. For this purpose, Harris’ earlier book remains one of my top recommendations.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Humble Orthodoxy. Reference it frequently. You won’t regret it!

Sovereign Grace Webstore Sale

The Sovereign Grace Ministries online store is having a GREAT sale right now! You can access the book sale here. At these prices, a lot of these are hard to pass up! Here are a few of my favorites that you can get cheap “while supplies last” (links are to Amazon for price comparison):

Again, all books are available here. Their music is also deeply discounted. The music sale is here. I’ll embed my favorite albums here from their Bandcamp page so you can stream the entire albums for free to see which ones you like; all of these are $5 in the webstore sale:

Favorite tracks: “O My Soul, Arise” and “Immovable Our Hope Remains”

Favorite tracks: “Alive” and “You Have Been Raised”

Favorite tracks: “In the Valley” and “Let Your Kingdom Come”

Favorite tracks: “I Will Glory in My Redeemer” and “Before the Throne of God Above”

For some reason, my very favorite SGM album (“Come Weary Saints”) is not listed on their Bandcamp page. Anyway, one last time, the music sale is here. It’s probably a good thing I already own everything I’ve listed here, or I’d be sending off a fat check! I might anyway… it’s never too early for Christmas shopping, right?

*EDIT*

How did I miss the fact that they also have some great DVD’s for sale? The video of all the sessions from the Together for the Gospel conferences in 2006 and 2008 are normally $50 each, but on sale for only $5! I just ordered both. Score!

Combing the Net – 7/29/2010

America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution — Does America now have a ruling class? How have education and economics played into the formation of a government made up of relatively like-minded politicians (regardless of political party) whose views and decisions represent a small minority of Americans? It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

Marriage State of the Union — 15 questions for married couples to use to evaluate the health of their union.

Humble Orthodoxy — Joshua Harris is now offering a free chapter of his most recent book, Dug Down Deep (see my review). It is the final chapter, and the one which I agree is by far the best. I’ve re-read it several times!

Why Teenagers are Not Excited About the Gospel — Words of wisdom from Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane. “Many parents have successfully raised self-righteous little Pharisees.”

Trash like this is one of the main reasons I’m working so hard to write good children’s choir literature in my Systematic Hymnology Project! (HT: Z)

Book Review: Dug Down Deep

“Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters” by Joshua Harris

We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

So begins the first book from Joshua Harris to hit the shelves in almost five years. Those familiar with his previous books and magazines will recognize his winsome and engaging writing style, but the content is very new for him. “Dug Down Deep” tackles some weighty theological issues in a simple, accessible way… something not easily accomplished!

Rather than approach theology from an academic perspective, Harris draws the reader into his own story of learning to dig deep into the Scriptures, the same way the man in Luke 6:48 dug deep to lay the foundation of his home on solid rock. This is a very conversational, pastoral approach to theology, and one which works very well. As we are drawn into his personal story, we encounter theological terms like “propitiation” and “penal substitution” in a way that doesn’t simply define the terms, but shows us — through parables, analogies, and personal reflections — what they mean in a real and practical way.

See, the premise of this book is that theology is for everyone, not just scholars. Furthermore, everyone has a theology of some sort; we all have knowledge and ideas about God (even that He may not exist). What matters more than anything is that what we know about God is actually true. So Harris brings these lofty terms down to ground level so those who’ve never been introduced to them can get to know them, and those who have studied them at length can encounter these Truths in a fresh new way.

Harris does all of this without compromising on sound, orthodox theology. While there may be minor points of doctrine where some would disagree with him (for instance, with regard to spiritual gifts), he does a masterful job of navigating some controversial topics in a way that promotes unity among the Body of Christ where we so often have division. In particular, I appreciated his care in explaining God’s sovereignty in our salvation and sanctification, and also the chapter on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

The reason Harris is able to make these tricky subjects so accessible is that he truly exemplifies what he calls “Humble Orthodoxy”, which is the title and subject of the final chapter. Though it is the shortest chapter, it is easily the best, and worth the price of the book all by itself. Harris addresses the way orthodoxy should make us humble, but often seems to make us (read: me) arrogant and contentious. Let me share just a few great quotes from this chapter that, while not new, are things I desperately need to hear over and over again in my life:

  • “Love for God and love for neighbor require opposing falsehood. There is nothing more unloving than to be silent in the face of lies that will ruin another person.”
  • “Many Christians, especially young ones, are running from orthodoxy, not so much because of doctrine, but because of the arrogance and divisiveness they associate with those who promote it.”
  • “The solution to arrogant orthodoxy is not less orthodoxy; it’s more. If we truly know and embrace orthodoxy, it should humble us.”
  • “Do you want to keep your orthodoxy humble? Try to live it. Don’t spend all your time theorizing about it, debating about it, or blogging about it. Spend more energy living the truth you know than worrying about what the next guy does or doesn’t know. Don’t measure yourself by what you know. Measure yourself by your practice of what you know.”
  • “The message of Christian orthodoxy isn’t that I’m right and someone else is wrong. It’s that I am wrong and yet God is filled with grace.”

Amen and amen! May we all undertake a lifelong pursuit of humble orthodoxy… starting with me.

This book may not be destined to be read multiple times by any one person, but it has just been bumped to the top of my list of books to recommend or loan to those who are just beginning their study of theology. Buy it here.

P.S. – Here is a really cool promotional video for this book that will help give you a sense of Joshua Harris’ heart for teaching theology.