Okay, I’m back with mini-reviews, this time with three books I thoroughly enjoyed:
Loving the Way Jesus Loved by Phillip Ryken
I’ve heard many sermons on the famous “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often read at weddings, quoted by people of all persuasions and motivations, and often misunderstood. But Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, approaches this chapter in a fresh new way. Taken from a series of message he preached while pastor of Philadelphia’s famed Tenth Presbyterian Church, Loving the Way Jesus Loves adds the life of Jesus as the backdrop to this chapter. And so with each characteristic of love, Ryken digs into the life of Christ and how he perfectly exemplifies this. What makes this approach so much richer is that you begin to treat the impossible demands of supernatural love as something Christ generates in you rather than something you must work hard to produce in yourself. Gaze on Jesus, Ryken seems to be saying, and you will see in him the perfect embodiment of love and will find the supernatural ability to begin loving this way.
I love Phil Ryken’s preaching and ministry. I love his gospel-centered approach and his easy, understandable writing style. This is not a book you will labor to finish. It’s not a book you’ll struggle to understand. I highly recommend it as you will begin to see love, not as some ethereal emotion, but as an act of faith.
Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden
Jonathan Edwards was someone I knew little about. Sure, I learned of his life while growing up in a Christian school and had some vague notion that he was a learned pastor/scholar. But I longed to know the man and what motivated him. He’s had such a lasting impact on the church and the nation.
Marsden delivers a well-written, in-depth look at Edwards, whose ministry may have shaped America more than we realize. Edwards perished before the American Revolution, but his intense piety and desire to see a nation shaped on Christian ideals may have sown the seeds.
Edwards was a pious, learned, devoted man. He held himself to very high standards and expected those around him to live up to them. He was not a man without flaws and sometimes his rigidity could descend into legalism and could be misunderstood by those around him. He was also not without his share of troubles, having been kicked out of his church in Northhampton and having to endure the death of a daughter. He also had a curious fascination with the end times, issuing specific apocalyptic predictions. I’m guessing these would be largely mocked in today’s evangelical church. He was also a slave-owner, a subject not given much treatment by Marsden, but broached recently by others such as Thabit Anyabwile.
At times I had to discipline myself to finish this book. Not because it was poorly written, but because the subject was so vasty and weighty. But I’m glad I finished it. It’s a worthy read. I came away in admiration for the discipline, the piety, and the awe with which Jonathan Edwards felt toward God. In spite of his flaws, his is a life worth emulating.
The Gospel for Muslims by Thabite Anyabwile
If you have a desire to see Muslim people come to faith in Christ, this is a book you must read. There seem to be two types of books published by evangelicals when it comes to Muslims. There are the sort of fear, war, and jihad type books that are full of apocalyptic fear and loathing. Much of the content of these are accurate–there is a threat of terrorism from radical Islam. Then there are the books which have a more missional intent, but are so deeply invested in encouraging the reader to learn Muslim doctrine as a way of evangelizing.
Thabite’s book is neither. A former Muslim, Thabite is now the pastor of 1st Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. He is a powerful, gospel-centered preacher. And this book reflects this. Thabite’s encouragement for the Christian with a desire to reach Muslims is twofold: don’t fear them, but love them, embrace them, seek their salvation and know the gospel of Jesus Christ well. The more you know the gospel, Thabitie’s argument goes, the better your chance of reaching Muslims. He also encourages hospitality and certain aspects of the gospel which force the Muslim to confront his own beliefs. I came away from this book encouraged that I, even I, could share Christ with Muslims.
This is a wonderfully written book, thoroughly soaked in the gospel narrative. You will want to read this book.