TOP THREE BOOKS: THEOLOGY

Where to start?  Half my library could be shelved as theology, for crying out loud.

How about I start with disclaimers.  First, I am only dealing here with Christian theology books, although I’d like to give a shout out to The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran.  That book is . . . how can one say . . . interesting.  Second, I’m lumping prayer, devotional, biblical studies, and books about church into this category.  That might not be fair, but I have no intention of dragging this out to that level of precision.  I didn’t do it for fiction and I’m not going to do it here.  Third, I recognize that not many people read theology (at least not as many who read fiction or biographies) but since it is an important part of my reading background, I want to include it in this series.  After all, these are my top three books.

Christian Theology, Millard Erickson
Christian Theology, Millard Erickson
The Green Monster, all 1312 Pages of It

In seminary we called this thing the Green Monster, even though my copy is blue.  One should think of this work as more of a reference piece than a theology book you’d sit down and read in a day or two.  Instead, I think every home should have it on the shelf in order to do a study on the Trinity, soteriology, or the divinity of Jesus.  Erickson’s  work is huge, but the chapters are relatively bite size with precise language yet not overly technical.  I also find that he avoids the problems I have with other theologians, which is to say that he is even handed in treating subjects from differing positions without compromising where he really stands on the subject.

The Reason for God, Tim Keller

Tim Keller may well be the smartest person in North America.  He certainly has gotten everyone’s attention with his amazingly successful church in New York City.  The reason I love this book is because it is intelligent and shrewd in dealing with all of the tough questions and criticisms that those of us who believe are often accosted with–faith and science, the veracity of the Bible, and the idea of judgment just to name a few.  I almost listed C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity here instead of Keller.  Lewis, of course, is much more classical in his approach but Keller does for our age what Lewis did sixty years ago and he does it against the backdrop of contemporary culture.

Plus, he quotes Darth Vader.  How can you not love a theologian who quotes Darth Vader.  In fact, I’m so impressed by Keller he gets a line in my new novel.

Worship is a Verb, Robert Webber

Liturgy.  Silence.  Participation.  Beauty.  Time.  Scripture.  These are all foundational elements to Christian worship that are often missing form most evangelical churches.  Robert Webber teaches us that they are important and tells us how to integrate them without (and this is particularly true of my tribe of Baptists, who are petrified of contemplation and transcendence) frightening everyone.  Most churches get two things wrong:  Worship and spiritual formations which are replaced with a show and programs.  Webber saw all of this coming when he wrote this classic in 1985.  It is a little dated now, but it is still true.

I only have a couple, yea verily, maybe three more of these posts on my top three books left.  But here are three really great theology books that I love and treasure.  I’d like to know what your favorites are.

 

 

REFLECTING ON YESTERDAY’S FOOLISHNESS

So yesterday I preached that great passage from 1 Corinthians.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)

Alexamenos Graffiti:  "Alexander worships his god" which is portrayed as a crucified donkey.
Alexamenos Graffiti: “Alexander worships his god” who is portrayed as a crucified donkey.

The sermon juked and jived around the paradox of God’s foolishness compared with the world’s wisdom.  I put on display ancient Roman graffiti, read from Richard Dawkins, and swiped an idea from Tim Keller.

Warp Factor Jesus?  Engage!
Warp Factor Jesus? Engage!

By the way, Tim Keller is Captain Picard.

The real heart of the sermon, at least what I was trying to convey, is that the accepted worldview of most people rotates around power, money, and pleasure.  The wise thing to do, most people think, is to arrange their life so that they have the most power, money, or pleasure, or all three if possible.  There is a possible fourth goal for people today, and that is fame.  People will do anything to be famous, it seems but I think that is really a subset of power and pleasure.  Most people falsely believe that being famous is synonymous with the good life.  I think they are wrong.  The foolish virtues of the cross, of the gospel, are the opposite of these.  The cross calls us to worship (a laying down of power and control), sacrifice (giving away our resources) and love (wanting others to experience pleasure and joy).

I had to keep hacking the sermon like a lumberjack because it was too long.  One of the issues I wanted to address, but just couldn’t is that the power, money, pleasure business makes a mess of the world, but it also makes a mess when the church adopts it as a strategy.  I firmly believe it is the ruination of a local congregation when it begins to make decisions about its ministry based on power (size, influence), money (can we afford it, look how much we have, how much can we get), and pleasure (we do these ministries because we like them).  Time and time again  churches follow the wisdom of this age which is real foolishness.

I know that in the past I have been guilty of this trap in leading our congregation.  Our denomination thrives on telling smaller congregations that they must be bigger (power), take in more money (money), and make people feel relevant (pleasure) and I’ve bought that line far too much.  The longer I do ministry and the more I encounter people in need of spiritual vitality the more I have decided that we don’t need bigger churches with more influence, we need churches that make people spiritually bigger and spiritually connected.

If a church gets bigger doing those things, that is fine.  Likewise, a church does need to be wise about the ways of the world and update its ministry and employ tested and validated methods of reaching and engaging people.  However, the goal–the motive–and the reason–these can never ever be to be bigger, richer, or achieve self-gratification.  When those motives creep, revival and reformation is needed.

TURN THE PAGE

This week I wrote the last words to my new novel about Pastor Butch Gregory and sent it to a couple of folks to proofread and also to a friend for his opinion.  The most important reader, Mrs. Greenbean, already read it and said she loved it.  So, to me it is already a success.  After these folks get finished and I make any corrections to continuity or plausibility, I”ll have to find a publisher!

Now, though,  I’m going to take a month or two off of writing before I start my next book and catch up on all my reading that I’ve  been pushing to the side.  “Let’s see, what have I got here in the pile,” he thought to himself  as he rummaged around the large stack of hardbacks, paperbacks, and magazines lying on the floor of his study.

Oops.  My bad.  Its hard to get away from 3rd person writing.  Anyway, what is stacked on my floor?

1.  A couple of Wayne Cordeiro books.  The Irresistible Church and The Divine Mentor.  Those will be great.  I love Wayne.

2.  Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.   A friend gave that to me for Christmas.  I like Keller; and I forgive him for being a Calvinist.  Notice how much he looks like Captain Picard.  I do.

3.  Launch by Nelson Searcy.  Searcy is such a self promoting hack, but his books are always insightful.   I got that book to help me think through our Silverdale church plant.

4.  Oooh, I’ve got Dr. No, Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, sitting right over there.  I might read that one first.  I’ve made it a project to read through all the original Bond novels.  So far I’ve been very surprised at how different Bond is in print as opposed to on film.  Its not quite the same.

5.  Viral Churches.  Some book from the denomination.  Looks infectious.  By the way, why do so many church books use medical terminology, and usually yucky terminology.  Why would anyone, on the face of it, want a church that was viral?  I blame Bill Hybels.  He started it by telling all of us should be contagious Christians.

He coughed as he wondered if he might not be  getting a fever; and then he thought about how much he admired Hybels.  If only he had hair that nice, maybe he too would have a large ministry.

Sorry, there goes that pesky 3rd person again.  Now, back to the list.

6.  The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1.  A friend gave me that as a gift.  It looks delicious; but it is so big that it intimidates me.  I haven’t had the gumption to start it yet.  It feels like the kind of thing that, if I started today, I might get finished by 2015.

7.  Oh, over there is the Biblical Archaeology Magazine I started last week.  I take a lot of magazines including Newsweek, National Geographic, and Christianity Today; but above them all BAR is my favorite.  Hands down.