Here’s a rundown of the 7 books I read in September. Happy reading!
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
I reread two works by Richard Foster in September. These are two books that I reread often and recommend every chance I have the opportunity. I find Celebration of Discipline and Prayer to be essential reading for spiritual formation.
Foster breaks down the spiritual disciplines into three categories: inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study), outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service), and corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration). Each discipline receives a tremendous chapter that provides an introduction to basic concepts. Foster’s brilliance is displayed in his humility and conversation with others. His discussion of the disciplines is dripping with personal experience that shine through success stories and words of caution. I also appreciate Foster’s ability to bring in other voices without the book turning into a term paper or academic treatise. By following footnotes, the reader is introduced to a wealth of information and sources.
If I could describe this work in one word: helpful. I can’t stress how much I value this book.
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster
I get requests for book recommendations on a regular basis. This is routinely the first one mentioned in response. Prayer is often misunderstood and regularly underused. Foster provides an insightful look into this particular spiritual discipline through a wide angle lens. He covers the types of prayers with which many are familiar: petitionary prayer, intercessory prayer, and healing prayer. He also looks into those less familiar to those often sitting in the pews: prayer of the forsaken, the prayer of examen, the prayer of tears, authoritative prayer, radical prayer. Those headings don’t give you much information ~ read the book.
Foster is enough of a mystic to make most Baptists gasp. He has real experiences of God through prayer … and he shares his story. Those with deep, meaningful prayer experiences will feel his words resonate and hear his words echo. Those without such experiences, I hope will be intrigued and moved to seek God in prayer.
Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Vol 2: The Cruciform Thesis) by Greg Boyd
I made it through this two volume work. I’m glad I did it … but it took some work. Volume 2 ends on page 1261. If you include the extremely helpful appendix sections, it ends on page 1301. That’s a boat anchor any way you slice it.
In volume 1 Boyd contends that the centrality of the crucified Christ provides an alternative view of the warrior God often depicted in the Old Testament. He argues for readers of the Bible to “discern the self sacrificial, indiscriminately loving, nonviolent God revealed on the cross in the depths of the Old Testament’s sometimes horrifically violent depiction of God.” Ultimately, his aim is for “the revelation of the agape~loving and sin~bearing crucified God” to allow for “the permanent crucifixion of the violent warrior god.”
In volume 2 Boyd puts forth his ideas of the cruciform hermeneutic which is broken down into four principles. First, the principle of cruciform accommodation is grounded in the argument that the cross reveals that “God is love” ~ the kind of self~giving love that was displayed perfectly on the cross. Boyd argues that any divine portrait that reflects the character revealed on the cross can be considered a direct revelation of God’s true character and will. Yet, any divine portrait that reflects a character that falls beneath what is revealed on the cross, must be considered an accommodation that indirectly reveals God’s true character and will. Second, the principle of redemptive withdrawal argues that on the cross Jesus stood in our place as a sinner and suffered the wrath that we deserved. Yet, Body argues that in this act of judgment God did not become angry or act violently towards Jesus. Rather, the Father merely needed to withdraw his protective presence, thereby delivering Jesus over to wicked people. Boyd uses this principle to argue that when biblical authors attribute violent actions and attitudes to God, we should not see it as violence attributed to God but violence attributed to his withdrawal. Third, the principle of cosmic conflict argues that Jesus’ crucifixion was God’s decisive battle against powers of darkness. Boyd argues that many Old Testament passages of violence reflect this cosmic conflict. Fourth, the principle of semiautonomous power is centered on the fact that the revelation of God on the cross depended on Jesus remaining perfectly obedient to the will of the Father. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the fact that Jesus believed he could have used the divine authority that had been entrusted to him to call legions of angels to his defense and that if he had done so, these angels would have come (See Matthew 26:53). Boyd also uses this rationale to discuss all the temptations that Jesus faced. On this foundation Boyd argues that whenever God grants a degree of divine power to human agents, they posses some degree of “say~so” over how this authority is used, just as they have “say~so” over how they use the free will that God has given them. Thus, Boyd argues, God cannot be held responsible when servants he endows with divine power end up using this power in destructive ways.
Those sketches are too brief to do a 1,000 page book justice. But it’s a taste. I loved volume 1. I struggled to agree with much of volume 2 on many foundational points. Far too much to dig into here. For those interested in the topic but frightened by an academic boat anchor, Boyd released a popular version (nonacademic and readable size) of the two volume set titled Cross Vision.
Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World by David Garrison
I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in New York City with David Garrison. He spent decades as a missionary in Hong Kong, Egypt, Tunisia, Europe, and India. He is now the executive director of Global Gates and is doing fantastic work brining the kingdom of God down to earth. I’m thankful that I got to discuss much of the information in this book over a conference table, around cups of coffee, and riding on subway trains all across NYC.
This work documents global church planting movements. While “church planting movements” sounds like a vague description, Garrison uses a precise definition: a rapid multiplication of indigenous church planting churches that sweeps through a people or population segment. The largest section of the book details church planting movements in India, China, other Asia movements, Africa, the Muslim world, Latin America, Europe, North America. The section that follows details lessons learned from CPMs.
This is the type of book that runs counter to commonly held beliefs. Far too often I hear church members speaking as if the world is spinning out of control and act as if our only response is to throw up hands in defeat. Obviously, that sentiments is in conflict with the biblical narrative. It is also in conflict with the narrative of CPMs described by Garrison. God is working and he’s not working in secret.
If interested in this book, also check out Garrison’s book A Wind in the House of Islam, which documents moments to Christ in the Muslim world.
The Camel: How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ by Kevin Greeson
As this book was sitting on my desk, I happened to sit down at a dinner table with Kevin Greeson. After we were introduced, the book nerd in me screamed, “Your book is sitting on my office desk.” It was next up in my TBR pile and I finished it within 24 hours of picking it up.
Greeson is a church planter with a career worth of experience leading Muslims to Jesus Christ through his time in South Asia. The Camel is a missionary “strategy” to lead Muslims to Jesus Christ by using the Qur’an as a starting point. The method uses the acronym CAMEL to explore Qur’an passages describing the Virgin Birth, miracles, and resurrection of Isa al-Masih (Arabic for “Jesus the Messiah”) as a bridge to the New Testament. The book has its fair share of critics. Some detractors fear the method is dangerous due to its treatment of the Qur’an as a credible source of divine truth. I find the criticism to be unjust. Greeson is very clear about the gospel and makes it very clear that The Camel method is merely a bridge to the gospel.
The book is filled with wonderful stories of God bringing Muslims to saving faith in Jesus Christ and provides an onramp for those seeking to have gospel conversations with Muslims.
Selected Speeches and Writings by Abraham Lincoln
I bought this book in Central Park while in NYC back in May. I love books and I love the unique ways they get acquired. I have two thoughts on this one: 1) This is a masterpiece and 2) This is a masterpiece in need of editorial work.
The selected speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln show the brilliance of principled and skillful oratory. You can read a speech or a hand written letter and Lincoln’s pathos and ethos drip off every word. I was fascinated by his Douglas debate speeches. I was wowed by his letters to war generals often offering words of encouragement and/or correction. Yet, always done with sensitivity and power. The work often includes correspondence with family and constituents which show Lincoln’s humor and sarcasm. It’s a masterpiece.
Yet, this masterpiece needs some editorial work. Besides an introduction by Gore Vidal, the work is all Lincoln. Each speech or letter is preceded by a heading and concludes with a date. This volume would be greatly enhanced with brief editorial notes providing information on the person with which Lincoln was corresponding and perhaps some historical information discussing the content of the letters. For example, a great deal of the letters, I had to put the book down and Google the name of the person Lincoln was writing. Often I recognized the name, perhaps it was a general or a member of his cabinet. Yet, many letters were written to people unknown to history or people unknown to me. A brief editorial note could clear up the confusion. Also, a bit of historical information would aide the reader as well. Numerous times in each letter I wondered “Did this ever come about?” or “Did this turn out the way Lincoln instructed?” The answers to these questions varied.
If you’re looking for primary presidential documents ~ I can’t imagine a better source. I’ve also heard tremendous things about the memoir and and personal letter of President Grant. That volume is in my TBR pile somewhere.
The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitfield, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Petersen
This is a book that peaked my interest on two fronts: a early American political figure and a influential preacher.
This book is written on a popular level and stays true to that course. You don’t get an in depth look at either Franklin or Whitfield. The book reads like a introductory biographies of both men that have been spliced apart and haphazardly mixed together to form one book. Anyone with a basic grasp on the Franklin and Whitfield story gains no new insight. On top of that, the subtitle leaves the reader wanting more. Not much attention is given to the actual friendship between the two men.
I have just started to read Ben Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father by Thomas Kidd. Be on the look out for it in next month’s log.