Summer Book Reviews

Each year I look forward to spending quality time in the summer reading books that others have recommended to me.  This year, I decided to create my own recommended reading list for your summer reading pleasure.  Please be aware that if you are looking for relaxing fiction titles that will allow you to escape from the day to day reality of your life, this is the wrong blog to be reading.  The books I am recommending this year have deeply affected my life already and are very challenging spiritually.  Several of them have the potential to make you very uncomfortable as they did for me.  One of my favorite quotes about Jesus is that he came to comfort the troubled and to trouble the comfortable.  If you are looking for stimulating reading, however, please consider the following books:

1.  The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

I had the incredible privilege of hearing this author speak at the ECPA Executive Leaders Summit in Nashville this past May.  Professor Rah as he is known to his students is a seminary professor at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and a widely sought after speaker nationwide.  The premise of this book is that the next major growth cycle in the evangelical and Christian community in America is underway and is happening amongst immigrant churches all over America.  He uses his time in Boston as a church planter as a metaphor for what is happening in many other cities.  While many mainline and Catholic churches are closing their doors and seeing declining membership and many protestant evangelical churches have fled to the suburbs, God is doing a new thing and churches are growing in our cities once again.  Many of these new churches are being started by first and second generation Korean, Latin American and African immigrants.   The book deals with the implications of this explosive growth for the evangelical church in America and these new immigrants as they begin to acclimate to their new culture.  As Professor Rah points out, many of us in the center of the suburban evangelical culture in North America (including me) are not aware of these changes and their affects on the way that we will do church in the future.

2.  Radical by David Platt

This book is by one of the youngest  Southern Baptist mega-church pastors in the nation.  Please don’t let that introduction stop you from considering reading this book.  Before accepting the pulpit in his current church, David had already traveled widely to spend time with suffering believers in places like the Sudan and China.  In addition, he had spent a number of years working with the poor and homeless in New Orleans.  Even after having had that formative experience, he was not prepared for the unsettling nature of the comfort and ease that came with his new pastorate and he experienced a crisis of faith that led to this book.  It also resulted in a new season of fruitfulness in ministry as he challenged his congregants and himself to “take back their faith from the American dream”.  One of the most challenging chapters in this book for me was entitled, “How Much is Enough?” where David challenges the reader to consider setting a ceiling on the income that they need to live on and then intentionally giving the rest away, no matter what they earn.  You will probably squirm a lot while reading this book, but it will be well worth it.

3.  Basic Christian by Roger Steer

I have always admired the writing of John Stott, particularly his well known book, Basic Christianity, but I did not know much about him as a person.  This wonderful new biography by Roger Steer was insightful and fun to read.  It deals with many things including John’s call to ministry, his time as pastor of All Souls Church in London, his friendship with Billy Graham and ultimately his world wide influence on the evangelical church.  I was surprised to learn that John had been single all of his life and that at the time of the writing of this book, he was still alive and in his 90’s.  I also did not realize John’s key role in the framing of the highly influential Lausanne Covenant.  The thing that I appreciated most about John after reading this book was his commitment to orthodox Christianity in the face of an increasing liberal Anglican church.  He did not avoid the tough intellectual and theological questions that so many of us are afraid to deal with and enjoyed discussing these issues with young people all over the world.  He is certainly a role model for many and will leave big shoes for others to fill when he finally joins his savior in the years to come.

4. The Christian Athiest by Craig Groeschel

I have to confess that I am still reading this book, but wanted to recommend it anyway.  Craig is the founder and pastor of the fast growing multicampus church called LifeChurch.tv.  This book deals with a basic issue that I and many other Christians struggle with – believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist (at least as it relates to certain areas of my life).  My pastor calls this living as a functional atheist.  We talk a lot about the idea of “preaching the gospel to ourselves” at my church and this book reinforces many of the same themes.  A particularly challenging chapter for me was entitled, “When You Believe in God, but Don’t Think He’s Fair”.  I am looking forward to reading the chapter called, “When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time”.  Craig made me wince more than once and the more uncomfortable I felt, the more I realized he had hit his point head on.  My faith has to travel from my head to my heart to my actions otherwise it is nothing more than sound doctrine and as the scriptures say “even the demons believe and tremble”.

5.  Mere Churchianity by Michael Spenser

This may be my most controversial recommendation and also the book that has impacted me the most so far.  It is written by by Michael Spenser, AKA the Internet Monk who died shortly before this book was published.  It is his first and only book. Michael is best known to some as the author of a blog post and magazine article entitled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”.  At first blush, I thought that this book was just another one in a long line of books critical of the institutional church.  Though Michael is deeply critical of many versions of the current evangelical church in America, he speaks as an insider having grown up in the Southern Baptist denomination and teaching for many years at a Baptist boarding school.  I have to confess that I had to put this book down several times while I read it as the critiques came too close to home and were extremely convicting.  The book is written to those who have left the church or are getting ready to do so.  I recommend it to all of us who are committed to seeing God’s kingdom expand through the power of a Christ centered local church.  Michael’s central point of focusing all that we do in the church on developing Jesus-Shaped disciples is dead on.  His criticism of much that the church does may be painful to hear, and somewhat harsh, but is beautiful in its honesty and sincerity.

As I close out my recommendations this year, I want to pass along a short list recommended by one of our interns in the UK – Mac Lloyd:

Books I just bought and plan on reading this summer:

  • The Shack
  • Wild At Heart
  • The Great Divorce
  • Whiter Than Snow – Tripp
  • Through A Screen Darkly – Overstreet

Books I’d recommend:

  • Reason For God
  • Know the Truth – Milne
  • The Cruelty of Heresy – Allison
  • The Next Christendom – Philip Jenkins
  • Confessions – Augustine

Have a great summer reading and being challenged by a crop of dynamic new books.

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