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Most Christians, even if they read on a regular basis, will pretty much choose books that help them live the Christian life. Books extolling “how to” live the Christian life dominate the landscape of bookstores because that is what the market wants.
There is nothing wrong per se with giving practical suggestions for how to live the Christian life. In his terrific introduction to Puritan theology, J. I. Packer underscores how Puritan preachers gave many applications in their sermons.
Applying the truths of Scripture is critical to being a Christian who is growing. James 1:22-25 makes this crystal clear:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
The problem occurs when one’s reading is all about application. It is a problem, among other reasons, because we simply assume the author holds to a biblical framework. Sure the author may cite verses here and there, but are they handling Scripture responsibly? It takes biblical and theological discernment to determine whether that is the case.
What are the theological assumptions that the author holds? Those assumptions will inform how the author reads Scripture, and then makes his case for believers to apply his suggestions.
I am always on the lookout for thoughtful introductory books that help Christians think more carefully about their faith.
Gerald McDermott’s The Great Theologians: a Brief Guide is such a book. It covers eleven, perhaps the top eleven, most consequential theologians. The chapters are short, but meaty. The chapters are meaty, but accessible.
If you want to know more about the thinkers that are behind the “practical” books you are reading, McDermott’s book is recommended with gusto!
The Amazon link to her terrific book can be found here:
First, this book is a meaty, yet beautifully written book of 600 plus pages. I made over 550 marginal notes in my copy. I read and discussed it with a friend which made it a very rich experience.
Second, even though her book is rightfully heralded in “conservative” theological circles, there are some things that you might find objectionable like Rutledge giving room for the possibility of universal salvation.
My latest interview on the importance of philosophy and theology:
Rutledge recently tweeted the following which made me smile:
Tweet if you are an “evangelical Reformed Episcopalian” (as differentiated from Anglican)… I may be one of about 5 in the whole USA
It is common to see Christians use the 1+1+1=1 equation to describe the trinity. Their intention is good, but I think utilizing this equation as an illustration of the trinity is misguided.
When we look at the equation we conclude that the trinity is irrational. All our lives we have known 1+1+1=3 not 1. But now we are instructed that there is a heavenly math of sorts where it equals 1.
I was sharing the gospel with a Muslim years ago at the University of Texas in Dallas. He said he could never become a Christian because the trinity was irrational. I shared with him that irrational was not the right word. Mysterious to be sure, but not irrational.
Irrational would mean we are saying God exists simultaneously as one Person and three Persons. Another irrational option would be to say God exists simultaneously as one Being and three Beings. But of course, Christians don’t believe either one of these things.
We do believe that God is one in His Being or Essence, yet three in Person. Each Person is fully God not 33.333% God. That is why you can’t conceptualize the trinity. It is indeed beyond our understanding, but that does not make it irrational.
I asked my Muslim friend if he could conceptualize everything about Allah. He conceded that he could not. He could not get his head wrapped around such things as God being uncaused or self-existent. I asked if he thought uncaused or self-existent would be irrational. “Not if He is God,” he replied. Of course, it would be irrational to say God is both self-existent and dependent on someone/thing else for His existence.
So let’s drop the 1+1+1=1 for the trinity. We don’t want to give the impression that belief in the Christian God is irrational. Mysterious and beyond our comprehension to be sure, but not irrational.
My latest interview at Jesus Creed:
I am reading John Frame’s massive, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. Today, I came upon this dandy description Schopenhauer made of Hegel:
“Hegel was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.”
I would not sign it, even though I am in close agreement with the various articles. Why?
It comes across as a sterile statement from too many who were either quiet or supportive of Trump.
It is tone deaf in its timing: Charlottesville and now the flooding in Texas.
If the church in America had a better record of compassionate disagreement with gays, perhaps the statement would be okay.
I am glad, however, that this issue will force a more honest and comprehensive conversation about the Bible’s authority.
Here is a very good critique of someone who signed (HT: Peter Coelho):