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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!
A very good and encouraging message:
I have listened to these two talks (only about fifteen minutes each) on different occasions. Gentle and beautiful reflections on a spiritual sickness you may not be familiar with.
I’ve now read five of Smith’s books. From time to time, I also read his essays. He is a gifted wordsmith.
Since I’ve written elsewhere (see link below) about my main concern over what Smith has to say about liturgy, let me add that Imagining the Kingdom has many brilliant insights. And ones I largely agree with.
Smith does a better job clarifying his thesis in this book than he did in Desiring the Kingdom. I remain disappointed that he does not address the formative role that mindfully engaged (mindfully is crucial here) meditation on Scripture has for spiritual health.
HT: Tony Reinke
There are many things to like about this book, no matter which one of the big three traditions (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) you belong to.
Chaput is a lucid writer who has clearly done his homework. His book ranges over many significant thinkers, past and present. His analysis of our cultural moment is sobering, but never gloomy. He well understands the indispensable virtue of Christian hope.
I read Dreher’s The Benedict Option, but find Chaput’s approach much more in keeping with the entire record of Scripture.
*Have you ever heard a sermon on a developing a theology of work? If you have, did Bezalel and his buddy, Oholiab, figure prominently?
*Have you ever heard an entire sermon on a theology of rest?
*How often do Christians ask what you are learning from God’s Word?
*With respect to the previous question, how often do you ask your Christian friends?
*Has anyone ever told you that a minor prophet was formative in their spiritual development?
*With respect to the major prophets, has anyone ever mentioned Ezekiel?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on the silence of God?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on biblical rewards?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on how to obey the two commandments of Jesus in Mt. 10:16: Being both shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on not confusing the flag with the kingdom of God?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on how we ought to treat “foreigners,” especially as applied to refugees?
Excerpt from my forthcoming book:
Pascal had much to say about diversions in his classic book, Pensées. Pascal wrote how diversions can be greatly multiplied if you are wealthy. More money equals more things to get distracted by. This is still true today, but there are plenty of things all of us Americans, irrespective of income, can get diverted by. For example, most of us have computers which can transport us to all kinds of worlds which then can keep us from thinking about the most important matters of life. We may not feel very rich, but from a global or historical vantage point we are fabulously well off. Most of us take things like air conditioning, quality water, and consistent electricity for granted. As Bill Ball told a Sunday school class I was teaching, “Kings of the past would have been thrilled by owning a used Vega car and having unlimited access to petrochemicals.”
…CHECK YOUR PULSE!