Archives For Books

Here’s a snip:

That liberalism, political or theological, is not enjoying good health is obvious to even the most causal observer.  The rise of religious extremism, particularly that of Islam, has present the Left with a series of choices which have pushed it towards incoherence.  Theologically, the picture is little different: liberal Christianity is in decline as it does little more than offer a vaguely religious vocabulary for expressing ideas that are, to be frank, more compelling when stated in secular terms.

In this well-written and fascinating book, Reinventing Liberal Christianity, Theo Hobson laments the parlous state of liberal Christianity and, after an extended historical narrative, offers a plea for its reinvention.

At the heart of Hobson’s book lies a fundamental distinction which he makes within liberal Christianity: there is liberal Christianity which, taking its basic cue from Schleiermacher, seeks to redefine the faith in a way that a conservative like myself would say disembowels it of its content by purging away the supernatural and redefining doctrine in psychological or social categories.  That is the definition of liberal Christianity with which most evangelicals operate.   Yet Hobson also offers another definition, that of liberal Christianity as affirming the liberal state, with its traditional values of personal freedom.

To summarise Hobson’s historical narrative, he sees John Milton as offering an account of Christianity which affirmed the liberal state and also set forth a model of the relationship between the sacred and the secular which allowed for dialogue without the kind of dogmatic universalizing of reason which actually triumphed and placed a basic dilemma at the heart of the liberal state which we live with today: individual freedom versus a totalizing vision of the truth.  What Hobson wishes to do, therefore, is not reinstate classic Christian liberalism but to call it back to its roots in people like John Milton.

There is much to enjoy in this book.  It is good to be reminded that the Roman Catholic Church only decided to jump on the religious liberty bandwagon in the 1960s (after Elvis had past his peak, if you want a pop culture marker to remind you of how recently that was).   Hobson’s treatment of Hauerwas is stimulating: he appreciates Hauerwas’s (for want of a better word) sectarianism but dislikes his repudiation of the liberal state.  It is hard to argue with that: Hauerwas only enjoys his opportunities to write as he does because he lives in a liberal state.  North Korea presumably offers less attractive opportunities for its resident Christian ethicists.

One thing that struck me, though, is that the model offered is not distinctively liberal in terms of its theological commitments.   While Milton is the poster child of the seventeenth century for Hobson, there were other voices calling for an understanding of church and state which certainly pointed towards the modern liberal state.  John Owen, for example, a high Calvinist if ever there was one, argued for toleration of Protestant sectarianism in 1660s.  That his argument served his own personal cause does not render it invalid or insignificant.   ‘Good liberalism’ can easily be held by the most theologically and traditionally doctrinaire of people.  Further, one might point today to certain branches of Reformed theology, such as that elaborated by David VanDrunen in his recent book, Divine Covenants and Moral Order, which offer a very nuanced account of the relationship of church and state, such that the identity and task of the church is not confused with that of transforming society.  Interestingly enough, it seems to me that there are a number of practical similarities between that position and that of, say, Scot McKnight.

The other matter which Hobson does not really address and yet which is so germane to the current situation is the role of the law courts.  With so many competing visions of what individual freedom actually looks like (as opposed to what it is in theory), the liberal state has arguably ceded significant power to the judicial branch of government in a manner which is set to increasingly limit democracy and also ultimately to redefine what is actually meant by freedom.  As a Christian in America today, I fear judicial rulings more than I trust in elections.

Be sure to read it all.

How many years have we been saying this at SAMP?

I’d put together a while ago a partial reading list of primarily old dead guys, with some newer, books here.

Here’s a snip:

My friends and most of my extended family are very tolerant of my antiquarian tastes. At best, it’s an eccentricity bordering on a waste of time. At worst, it’s a snobbery they’re willing to indulge. A few of the more well-meaning sort imply that I am able to digest such ponderous tomes through some exceptional mental capacity. “You’re so smart to be able to read that,” they say. “I wouldn’t be able to make it past the first chapter.”

What all of these responses have in common is that they are justifications – not just for why someone else would read an old book (eccentricity, snobbery, superhuman intelligence), but for why they won’t. My tastes are normal. I’m not a snob. I’m not as smart as he is. They’re reasons we give ourselves for not doing something. What I’d like to do in the remainder of this article is give you an antidote for this kind of thinking. You don’t have to be a snob or a literary wunderkind to enjoy “the Great Books.” What you do need to be is open to experiences beyond your time and culture.

In On the Reading of Old Books, C.S. Lewis says that one of the chief values of old literature lies in its ability to show us the blind spots of our own day and age—assumptions we take for granted at which earlier ages (and perhaps later ages) would have scoffed:

Read the rest.

From Christopher Hitchens:

I’ll mention one other gleaning from my voyages.  Beware of identity politics.  I’ll rephrase that: have nothing to do with identity politics.  I remember very well the first time I heard the saying “The Personal is Political.”  It began as a sort of reaction to the defeats and downturns that followed 1968: a consolation prize, you might say, for people who had missed that year.  I know in my bones that a truly Bad Idea had entered the discourse.  Nor was I wrong.  People began to stand up at meetings and orate about how they felt, not what or how they thought, and about who they were rather than what (if anything) they had done or stood for.  It became the replication in even less interesting form of the narcissism of the small difference, because each identity group begat its sub-groups and “specificities.  This tendency has often been satirized – the overweight caucus of the Cherokee transgender disabled lesbian faction demands a hearing on its needs – but never satirized enough.  You have to have seen it really happen.  From a way of being radical it very swiftly became a way of being reactionary; the Clarence Thomas hearings demonstrated this to all but the most dense and boring and selfish, but then, it was the dense and boring and selfish who had always seen identity politics as their big chance.

Letters to a Young Contrarian, pp. 112-113


The Diocese of the Carolina’s is pleased to announce that it will be hosting a book release for Winfield Bevins’ new book, Our Common Prayer: A Field Guide to the Book of Common Prayer on October 15-16th in conjunction with the two day retreat and conference on Thomas Cranmer and Contemporary Anglican Worship with Ashley Null. Winfield Bevins is rector of Church of the Outer Banks and Canon of Church Planting for the Diocese of the Carolinas.

Our Common Prayer is a fresh and accessible introduction to the common prayer tradition for contemporary Christians. The historic common prayer tradition has enriched the faith of millions of Christians around the world for hundreds of years and still has the power to offer a vibrant, healthy, life-giving faith for our generation and generations to come. The book is now available on Amazon. You can also watch a video trailer to Our Common Prayer here.

Several leading Anglicans have endorsed the book including, Ashley Null who says in the foreword, “Dr. Bevins is to be commended for making the riches of Cranmer’s daily prayer cycle fresh, appealing and, most importantly of all, easily available to a new generation.” Bishop Steve Wood says, In this field guide, Winfield Bevins wonderfully and helpfully re-introduces the well worn path of faith found in the Book of Common Prayer to a new generation of Christians.”

The book will be available throughout the event, which begins Tuesday, October 15 at 8:30 a.m. with worship and concludes on October 16 at 5:00 p.m. Over the course of two days, Dr. Null will deliver eight lectures on Cranmer and Contemporary Anglican Worship. For more information about the event please visit the website for the Ridley Institute.

Canyon Road: A Book of Prayer, an exquisitely designed treasury of over 300 spirit-provoking prayers, encourages you to attend to God’s presence, helping you exercise your voice in prayer and grow in your ability to hear God’s voice. The prayers, which are spoken in diverse genres, styles and languages, demonstrate how to deal with universal struggles such as healing, forgiveness, temptation, and betrayal. Written by Kari Kristina Reeves, a member of St. Andrew’s, Canyon Road recently won first place at the New York Book Show in the General Trade-Poetry category.

St. Andrew’s Rector Steve Wood notes, “Kari’s insight, reflections, and prayers give shape to the contours of our soul and words for the longings of our heart.” As the founder and principal of ATLAS Spiritual Design, Inc., Kari leads an international team that creates intuitive materials and interactive spaces to help people experience God through the power of Beauty.

Visit to learn more about ATLAS, read excerpts and endorsements, or to purchase Canyon Road: A Book of Prayer.

A nice article from The Gospel Coalition:

Editors’ Note: “When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue,” novelist Christopher Morley said, “you sell him a whole new life.” During the past 50 years more books have been sold than in any other time in history. So what type of life—or, as Abraham Kuyper would say, world-and-life view—are we buying?

As a partial answer to that question, we’ve asked several Christian thinkers to examine the worldviews presented in the top 10 most-read books.

Read the rest.

old booksI spoke last night at Year Team.  I always enjoy my time with them.  I especially enjoy the Q & A at the end my my teaching time.  Our conversation drifted to my reading preferences for “old dead guys” rather than contemporary authors (though, of course, I still read contemporary authors).  The rationale I offered was multifaceted and includes (but is not limited to) the following:

      • Their works have stood the test of time.
      • Their cultural blindspots have been revealed while ours our still shrouded.
      • Their presuppostions were different than ours.
      • They expand our vocabulary and force us to think deeply.

They asked me what I’d recommend.  Where does one start?  Seriously, looking at 2000 years of Christian literature, where do you start?  Any list is woefully inadequate.  However, I had to start somewhere – some guideposts, some books that could form a theological framework and develop a theological vocabulary.  Many of the authors below were/are prolific writers.  I tried to select those books that would give a good introduction to author’s overall theology.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  And, I’ve left off a good many books, both old and new, that have been very influential in my reading.  Below are my suggestions.  You’ll note that contemporary authors receive short shrift.  I’d be curious to know your thoughts.

Happy reading.

Martin Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms
39 Articles of Religion (in the back of the Book of Common Prayer)
The Heidelberg Catechism
The Westminster Catechism

Old Dead Guys
Augustine: Confessions; The City of God
Athanasius: On the Incarnation
Martin Luther: Table Talk
John Calvin: The Institutes of Christian Religion
John Owen: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
Richard Baxter: The Reformed Pastor
Richard Sibbes: Bruised Reed (free download with reflection questions:
Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions
George Herbert: Poems by George Herbert
John Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress
John Milton: Paradise Lost
Jonathan Edwards: The Freedom of the Will; The Religious Affections
J.C. Ryle: Knots Untied
Charles Spurgeon: Lectures to My Students
G.K Chesterton: Orthodoxy
C.S. Lewis: God in the Dock; Mere Christianity
John Murray: Principles of Conduct
Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Joy Unspeakable:Power and Renewal in the Holy Spirit; Puritans: Their Origins and Successors
Francis Schaeffer: The God Who Is There; How Should We Then Live?
George Eldon Ladd: The Gospel of the Kingdom; The Presence of the Future
Lesslie Newbigin: The Household of God
John Stott: Basic Christianity; The Cross of Christ

Contemporary Authors
J.I. Packer: Knowing God, A Quest for Godliness
Tim Keller:  The Reason for God
Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; The Gospel Driven Life
Gordon Fee: The Disease of Health and Wealth Gospels; God’s Empowering Presence; How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth
Alister McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea
John Piper: Desiring God
RC Sproul: The Holiness of God
Ravi Zacharias: Can Man Live Without God?; Beyond Opinion; Deliver Us From Evil; Jesus Among Other Gods
John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology, edited by Burk Parsons


Our staff just finished a summer study of the Rev. Dr. Richard Sibbes’ most famous work, The Bruised Reed. Dr. Sibbes was an Anglican priest and remained one for his entire life. Though his collected works fill seven volumes, The Bruised Reed is undoubtedly his most recognized book. The Bruised Reed has influenced such notable preachers and theologians as John Owen, J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, and more recently John Stott, Martin Lloyd-Jones and J.I. Packer. Tim Keller cites The Bruised Reed as foundational for ministry and requires minsters in training at Redeemer to study the book.

For our study we broke the book down into bite-sized pieces and added reflection questions for each segment of reading.  You can find a .pdf of the book, reading plan and questions on our website for your personal or staff or small group use.  Following is a final thought from Sibbes addressing the hope of the church.

If we look to the present state of the church of Christ, it is as Daniel in the midst of lions, as a lily amongst the thorns, as a ship not only tossed but almost covered with waves. It is so low that the enemies think they have buried Christ, with respect to his gospel, in the grave, and there they think to keep him from rising. But as Christ rose in his person, so he will roll away all the stones and rise again in his church. How little support has the church and cause of Christ at this day! How strong a conspiracy is against it! The spirit of antichrist is now lifted up and marches furiously. Things seem to hang on a small and invisible thread. But our comfort is that Christ lives and reigns, and stands on Mount Zion in defense of those who stand for him (Rev. 14:1); and when states and kingdoms shall dash one against another Christ will have care of his own children and cause, seeing there is nothing else in the world that he much esteems. At this very time the delivery of his church and the ruin of his enemies are in progress. We see nothing in motion till Christ has done his work, and then we shall see that the Lord reigns.

Common Prayer, Uncommon Beauty

February 23, 2012

A very nice article from Jonathan Aitken over at American Spectator celebrating the 350th ‘birthday’ of the BCP:

Last year, this column and the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. This year brings the 350th birthday of another magnificent monument of early modern English—the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP). All who savor the riches of our common linguistic heritage should rejoice in its commemoration. For the BCP’s combination of spiritual wisdom and literary beauty gives it a following far beyond the ecclesiastical frontiers of Anglicanism, Episcopalianism, and the Church of England that originally commissioned it.

The BCP was the creation of Thomas Cranmer, a Tudor statesman blessed with a genius for the writing of prose bordering on poetry. A court favorite of King Henry VIII, who made him Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer compiled the various prayers, collects, and orders of worship that eventually emerged as the 1662 prayer book. However, before it could be published in its final form its principal author was burned at the stake for his Reformist sympathies during a period of Catholic repression.

Although these power struggles have long since been forgotten, Cranmer’s majestic command of the English language lives on. In the words of his leading biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch: “Millions who have never heard of Cranmer or of the muddled heroism of his death have echoes of his words in their minds.”

These echoes of Cranmer’s gift for language ring down the centuries because he had a perfect ear for cadences that are both beautiful and eternal. He wanted “a mere ploughboy” to be able to remember the BCP’s most powerful phrases. He did not hesitate to borrow from the finest spiritual writers of his time such as Miles Coverdale, an early translator of the Psalms, and Archbishop Reynolds, who authored the prayer of General Thanksgiving. Yet the most sparkling gems of the BCP were Cranmer’s own compositions such as:

Read the rest.

kevin deyoung rob bellFound this thorough critique this morning. Well worth the time to work you way through it. In particular you will note how DeYoung restates the author’s stated premise(s) (demonstrating respect for Bell and his ideas as well as good “listening” skills – both necessary in a discussion), evaluates the author’s evidence (in Bell’s case DeYoung notes the dearth of citations – biblical and historical), challenges the author’s arguments and throughout presents – and supports – an alternative theological point of view. DeYoung, not Bell, demonstrates the proper way to “do” theology.

Love Wins, by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, is, as the subtitle suggests, “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Here’s the gist: Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.

Bell correctly notes (many times) that God is love. He also observes that Jesus is Jewish, the resurrection is important, and the phrase “personal relationship with God” is not in the Bible. He usually makes his argument by referencing Scripture. He is easy to read and obviously feels very deeply for those who have been wronged or seem to be on the outside looking in.

Unfortunately, beyond this, there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.

Read the rest.