10 Important New Books for the Spring

I can’t think of anything better than reading God’s word and great Christian books to help clear the chaos of modern life from our minds.  We live in a world of distractions and one of Satan’s greatest tools is keeping us busy so that we are never quite able to focus on the things that matter for eternity.  One way to counter this is to make a reading plan and sticking to it.  This Spring many important new books have just been published and I want to suggest 10 that you might consider putting on your short list.

Bad Religion by Ross Douthat is fast becoming my favorite new book of the year.   In Bad Religion he offers a searing account of how American Christianity has gone off the rails—and why it threatens to take American society with it. Writing for an era dominated by recession, gridlock, and fears of American decline, Douthat exposes the spiritual roots of the nation’s political and economic crises. He argues that America’s problem isn’t too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.  He argues that a return to orthodoxy is not just necessary for the church by vital for America as well.  I have been deeply impacted by the depth of his analysis and hope that it is widely read.

Some people are provocative just because they want to be.  Steve Brown annoys people because he really cares about them.  This may seem strange and so does the title of Steve’s new book.  I had the chance to see him in person and listen to him discuss his ideas and have to say that he is just as eccentric in real life as he is in the book.  The main point of this book is to counteract a popular misconception in the church and mainstream culture that what God really wants from us is for us to be good. He demonstrates over and over again that our trying so hard to be good people often leads to the exact opposite and more often than not makes life pretty miserable for us and those we interact with.  Steve is a great story teller and this book is a pretty quick read and one that many guilt ridden believers and non believers need to sink their teeth into.

Love Does by Bob Goss is one of the most highly anticipated new books this year and one that I am really looking forward to reading.  I first heard about Bob in Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and was so intrigued with him as a character in that book that I wished he had written a book himself and now he has.  His subtitle about discovering a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world defines his life story and is revealed in the pages of Love Does.  As a college student he spent 16 days in the Pacific Ocean with five guys and a crate of canned meat. As a father he took his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state. He made friends in Uganda, and they liked him so much he became the Ugandan consul.   His story reveals that what fuels his impact is love and his conviction that love takes action.
Matt Chandler is a highly respected pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas.  He has become a leader in the evangelical world through his ministry at the Village Church, his involvement in the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, his teaching at multiple conferences, and most recently through his faithful witness to Jesus Christ while battling a malignant brain tumor.  In this new book his premise is that even if you go to church, it doesn’t mean that you are being exposed (or exposing others) to the gospel explicitly. Sure, most people talk about Jesus, and about being good and avoiding bad, but the gospel message simply isn’t there—at least not in its specificity and its fullness.  Pastor Chandler ministers in an area of the country where many people understand Christianity as a cultural identity but do not know the Gospel explicitly. He writes that in ministering to twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, “the gospel had been merely assumed, not taught or proclaimed as central, and hadn’t been explicit”

N.T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars.  He is widely read, discussed and debated in evangelical circles and seems to create powerful reactions depending on who you are talking to.  Some people seem to love his books and others take strong exception to aspects of his theology.  This new book will be no different as he postulates that many of us have forgotten what the gospels are actually all about.  In How God Became King, Wright reveals the surprising, unexpected, and shocking news of the gospels: this is the story of a new king, a new kind of king, a king who has changed everything, and a king who invites us to be part of his new world.
Amy Sherman was a student chaplain at Messiah College when I attended in the mid 1980’s and has gone on to become a widely respected speaker and writer on faith based community initiatives.  She is now Dr. Amy Sherman and has written this new book to explore vocational stewardship in a new way.  She uses the tsaddiqim — the people who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes — as a springboard to explore how, through our faith-formed calling, we announce the kingdom of God to our everyday world. A central concern that she deals with is the cultural trends toward privatism and materialism that threaten to dis-integrate our faith and our work.  She points out  that the church, in ways large and small, has itself capitulated to those trends, while simultaneously elevating the “special calling” of professional ministry and neglecting the vocational formation of laypeople. As a person involved in Christian ministry on a full time basis and deeply concerned about community impact, I look forward to being challenged by what she has to say.
As a dad of teenagers who are in the midst of discovering a faith of their own, I was drawn to this book by the subject itself.  Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer who has published over 350 articles in outlets such as USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com and Christianity Today.  He is highly respected and widely read by young evangelicals of various theological and denominational perspectives.  In this personal yet practical work, Jonathan Merritt uncovers the changing face of American Christianity by uniquely examining the coming of age of a new generation of Christians.  Through personal stories and biblically rooted commentary this scion of a leading evangelical family takes a close, thoughful look at the changing religious and political environment, addressing such divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage, environmental use and care, race, war, poverty, and the imbalance of world weath.
Ed Stetzer is one of the most insightful researchers, speakers and writers on the state of the church in America today.  His new book is a personal call for Christians to reorient their thinking and lifestyle to match what Jesus described of His people in Scripture, while teaming up with other believers through their churches to bring light into a dying and darkening culture. Stetzer uses the parables of Christ to unlock the “kingdom secrets” that bring this mysterious concept within understandable reach, while urging Christians to turn this knowledge into practical, everyday, ongoing missions designed to set people free from lives headed for hopelessness.  His view is that ours is not just a world to endure but a world to invade. Believers have not been stationed here on earth merely to subsist but to actively subvert the enemy’s attempts at blinding people in unbelief and burying them under heartbreaking loads of human need.
This may be the most controversial of my recommendations and is a book that is causing quite a stir in parts of the evangelical world.  In Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Winner describes how experiences of loss and failure unexpectedly slam her into a wall of doubt and spiritual despair: “My belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone.” She lays bare her experience of what she calls the “middle” of the spiritual life and explores why—in the midst of the overwhelming anxiety, loneliness, and boredom of her deepest questioning about where (or if) God is—the Christian story still explains who she is better than any other story she’s ever known.  A good book for any us who ever struggle with doubt.
I always like to include a book on my list that grabbed me just because of the title and this was it.  Andrew Palau is the son of international evangelist Luis Palau and has become an evangelist in his own right. He grew up in a godly family with two faithful parents who were amazing role models for him and his three brothers, in a highly regarded church that provided a strong backbone of faith. However, Andrew did not accept the Lord at an early age. It took him twenty-seven years before he made a commitment to Jesus Christ. In the interim, he turned his back on God and pursued a selfish, destructive path. He started taking drugs and drinking as an adolescent and increased his use of them as he got older. After years of running from God Andrew ran to Him. After his conversion, he promised God he would tell everyone what He did and this book is the result.  It promises to be one of the most powerful testimonies of the transformative power of the gospel that I have ever read and a great encouragement to all parents living with the pain of the prodigal.

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