Reading Review: Spring 2012

June 21, 2012

Here are some books that I’ve read so far this year that I would recommend to others to read (in no particular order):

Generous Justice – Tim Keller. This is a very thorough look at the biblical understanding of justice and how that should fit into the Christian life. Keller takes a systematic approach and begins with the Old Testament and then develops the concept of justice all the way through to the New Testament, dealing specifically with how it finds its locus in the teachings of Jesus. If you have never done much thinking about what Scripture has to say about social justice then I would highly encourage you to read this book. Keller does a great job of framing the issues, and then developing a biblical theology of justice and how the gospel is the primary motive for any type of justice work we do. I picked the book up because I wanted to better understand the biblical understanding of social justice in regards to human trafficking, and Keller greatly helped me see the biblical picture. As always, Keller is very well read and thus incorporates, summarizes, and synthesizes the works of many of the foremost thinkers on social justice (Nicholas Wolterstorff, Michael Sandel, etc.).

Liturgical Theology – Simon Chan. The central thesis for this book is that the church is defined as the “worshiping community” of the Spirit – and thus worship is central to what the church does. How the church worships defines who she is, and thus affects her role in the world. He says, “Mission does not seek to turn sinners into saved individuals, it seeks to turn disparate individuals into a worshiping community.” The point of church is not to simply “save individuals” but rather to bring people into the people of God who will then worship God as he is –  it is about creating a community. Chan critiques evangelicals and their lack of any form of ecclesiology (theology of the church) and claims that a good ecclesiology is central to the church. Within that, how a church worships (its liturgy) will form the church, and thus “liturgical theology” is very important for the church. So Chan spends some time taking the readers through a form of liturgy and explaining the purpose behind it. Overall, I found the book quite interesting and it challenged many of my notions of what the church is. I read it for my ecclesiology class at seminary, and it really helped me think through my own ecclesiology and the importance of worship (and how we worship) for the mission of the church. If you want to think differently about church, I’d recommend you read this book.

From the Garden to the City – John Dyer. Until reading this book, I had never thought very critically or “Christianly” about technology and how it influences my life – I just used it mindlessly. Dyer provides a great introduction to a theology of technology and follows the biblical development of technology throughout the book. If you have not read much on technology, then this book will give you a good overview of many of the key thinkers (Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, etc.) and help you think critically about how and why you use technology. Dyer neither demonizes nor glorifies technology, but examines it with a biblical eye – and calls his readers to do the same. He posits that technology is not simply neutral (only good depending on how we use it) but that by simply using it technology actually changes us. Throughout the book he gives helpful illustrations and examples to help readers understand, and I especially appreciate how he looks at how God uses technology in the Bible (from the garden of Eden that Adam was called to cultivate to the final city of New Jerusalem). I will never look at theology the same after reading this, and for that I am indebted to Dyer. 

Christ and the Media – Malcolm Muggeridge. Another book along the same lines as John Dyer’s, Muggeridge (a prominent British journalist and media personality who became a believer towards the end of his life) lectures on whether Christ and the media can be compatible. He generally takes a fairly negative view of media/television and sees it as the “world of shadows” which presents a different reality from what is true. The book is a short read, and takes the form of three separate lectures that Muggeridge gave which each center around different thought experiments which are quite fascinating. The first lecture imagines if Jesus had faced a fourth temptation by the devil to go on television to proclaim his message – would Jesus have accepted? The second lecture wonders what would happen if many years from now people dug up what he calls “the dead sea videotapes” of our culture and tried to extrapolate what our core values are based on what they find in our media. And finally, his last lecture speaks about looking “through the eye,” or how television and media can paint a different picture of reality based upon whoever is controlling the “eye” wants you to see. Overall, because of his life-long experience in working in popular media, this is a very insightful and interesting look at media in light of Christianity.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be – Cornelius Plantinga Jr. I have been told by many people that this is the definitive book on sin and how we should think about it (apart from Owen, of course). Cornelius is the brother of Alvin Plantinga (one of the foremost Christian philosophers today), but leans more towards theology than philosophy. He defines sin as “the culpable vandalism of shalom.” The Hebrew concept of shalom (“peace”) is the idea of wholeness, harmony, and flourishing – how creation is supposed to be. Thus sin is ruining the harmony and peace that was originally intended by God for all of creation – it is vandalizing the created order and making chaos instead. Throughout the book, Plantinga examines different aspects of sin and how it operates in our every day lives. He uses many broad pictures to help us understand sin fully –  seeing sin as a parasite or corruption of what is good, etc. He definitely caused me to think of sin in ways that I have never done so before – which was very helpful. I will definitely have to come back and reread this book in the future to glean more from Plantinga’s insights.

Death by Love – Mark Driscoll. The basic idea of this book intrigued me so much that I bought it while browsing in the DTS library. Basically, what Driscoll does is write letters to people he has met with in his church and address their different issues by expounding on different aspects of Christ’s atonement. So in essence he is using the cross as a means of counseling and applying Christ to different problems that come up in everyday affairs within the church body. For example, he talks about how Christ is the propitiation for someone whose dad used to beat him. In other words, because Christ took the wrath of God on our behalf, we are able to get rid of our wrath towards those who have sinned against us. Or for someone who is demonically oppressed, Driscoll holds forth the concept that Jesus is the Christus Victor and has conquered all evil forces in the cross. I’m not sure I fully agree with everything that Driscoll says (or even his typically overbearing tone in the letters), but the idea of dealing with issues in the body by pointing to Christ seems very biblical to me. So it was very helpful to see someone applying biblical theology to what people wrestle with from day to day, and to see how Christ’s death can be practically applied to all sorts of things. In that light, I do very much appreciate the Christocentric teaching in this book and the constant reminder to always be pointing people back to Christ for everything.

Girls Like Us – Rachel Lloyd. A book about sex trafficking and how prevalent it is in our culture today. Rachel Lloyd was a victim of commercial sexual exploitation by her “boyfriend” (really her pimp) growing up, and the book tells her story and how she eventually came to New York to start a safehouse to help girls “like her” who were trapped in “the life” of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST). Within each chapter Lloyd weaves her story of how she was trapped being trafficked with the stories of the girls she now works with through GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services – an organization she started to help exploited girls). The result is a heart-wrenching look at the reality of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in our very own country. Being a survivor, Lloyd gives a poignant picture of what it is like to be trafficked and what is going on in the minds of the hundreds of girls who are being exploited. It is by no means an “easy” read as she tries to present an accurate account of what happened to her and what happens to the girls she works with – but it is gripping. I would definitely encourage anyone who is unaware of the prevalence of sex trafficking (or sexual exploitation) in our culture to read this book – or others like it (The Slave Across the Street, Renting Lacy, In Our Backyard, etc). Reading about this has changed my view of prostitution, strip clubs, and pornography – and has awakened me to the amount of injustice and oppression that happens right here in Dallas. If you’d like more information on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, Traffick911 (the organization I volunteer with) has a great page of resources including book suggestions, videos, and links to most anti-trafficking websites online.

What books have you found edifying recently?
Any suggestions that I should add to my summer reading list?

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  • Reply john and mary nelson June 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing…I’ll definitely have to look into some of these. While I don’t have time to provide helpful abstracts like you did, here’s some of what I’ve been reading over the past year or two. Hope something catches your eye!

    Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
    David Livingstone: His Life and Letters by George Seaver
    To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson (bio of Adoniram Judson)
    The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
    A Praying Life by Paul Miller
    The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells
    Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken
    The Essential Edwards Collection by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney

    Always working my way through some Dickens novel or other. I still have 6 more to go.

    Blessings to you and your family, Jason.
    – John N.

  • Reply Jason Custer June 22, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for the suggestions, John. I always enjoy good biographies and have been wanting to read one on Bonhoeffer for some time. I've been referred to Metaxas many times so maybe I'll just take the plunge and try to tackle it this summer. I've been wanting to read some Edwards too after reading Sweeney's biography on him.

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