Four books every student should read.

As a student, I look for ways to better my learning experience. Recently, a few books have stood out as being a real help in that process. I want to understand more of what I read, and I want to have a good philosophy for why I read what I read. These books have helped me do that.

The first of such books is John Piper’s book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, which I have read twice in the past year. This book looks at thinking (specifically reading) through a God-centered lens, typical of Piper. How can reading glorify God?—this is the question answered in Think. Piper has done a great service by helping me think of education as worship.

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. I recently finished this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Tony Reinke covers a lot of ground. He begins the book with a Theology of reading and rounds it off with some practical advice. Many topics are covered including biblical worldview, the importance of reading non-christian books, the importance of reading fiction, how to find time to read, how to highlight books, and even how to raise children who read, in addition to many others. If you want to learn to read better, this is the book for you.

Asking The Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking. This book is not as exciting as the previous two, but has proven to be valuable. Reading critically is an essential skill for students (especially for the Christian who values Truth). Browne and Keeley outline what it takes to analyze an argument.With college comes a lot of reading, and Asking The Right Questions gives you the tools to read better and not to be deceived by faulty arguments. Learning to read critically also has the fringe benefit of helping you write accurately, that is, to avoid mistakes in logic that your readers could (and should) dismiss.

Speaking of writing, students do a lot of that, too. On Writing Well is “the classic guide to writing non-fiction” as the subtitle aptly states. Though it may not yet be apparent in my writing, this book has helped me begin to write with more clarity.

If you have any book suggestions along these lines, please comment!

Recommended: “Gospel Meditations For Men”

A few months ago I recommended the woman’s devotional Gospel Meditations For Women here on the blog. Since then, Gospel Meditations For Men was released which I enthusiastically ordered and read though a couple of times (also giving it as a gift to all my groomsmen this past December)! All the while I assumed that I had already recommended it here (a quick search told me otherwise).

Without further ado I want to personally recommend this devotional to you if you have not yet picked up a copy. The book consists of 31 doctrinally rich one page devotional readings written by Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak, and is a worthy addition to your daily devotions. Personally, I found it edifying to read in the evening before bed. These daily readings will help you walk ‘in step with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal 2:14), by helping you see and live out its many implications.

PHIL JOHNSON: “A full month of meaty, masculine meditations. This is a wonderful resource for men seeking to deepen their understanding and build spiritual stamina. Each day’s reading is a rich feast. Devotional material of this quality for men is extremely hard to come by. I’m grateful for the obvious care and energy that Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak have brought to this project.”

SAM HORN: “The gospel is as necessary for daily life as it is for eternal life. This profound truth is made personal and accessible in Gospel Meditations for Men. Chris and Joe have helped us to see the glory of the Shepherd in the grace of the gospel. They have walked the trail ahead of us and left us a daily summary of the glory they discovered. The soul food they have prepared is both sweet and nourishing. Thank you, brothers!”

CARL TRUEMAN: “Chris and Joe have co-authored a delightful and helpful little book of daily meditations. This is not one of those trendy Reformed ‘the Bible says all men have to act like John Wayne or cavemen with better table manners’ kind of productions. Many of the devotions are simply gospel expositions, and those which have a male specific orientation are on topics like lust, where male psychology is important.”

ANDY NASELLI : “Applying the gospel never gets old because we always need it. These fresh meditations serve men well.”

MICHAEL BARRETT: “I’ve often said that right thinking about the gospel produces right living in the gospel and that the gospel touches every sphere of life. With all my heart I believe this to be true, but the sad reality is that it is easier to say it than to practice it. The stuff of life has easy access to the mind, and life then happens without consciousness of the gospel. Gospel Meditations for Men addresses this problem with pointed and practical applications of gospel truths that are designed to generate gospel thinking that translates to gospel living. The meditations illustrate well how the gospel provides the reason as well as the power for right living before God in this world.”

TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN: “Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak understand that the gospel is just as necessary after you become a Christian as it is before you become a Christian–that it’s not simply God’s power to save us but it’s also God’s power to grow us once we’re saved. These Gospel Meditations for Men are an invaluable tool in helping you preach the gospel to yourself everyday! I highly recommend it.”

MILTON VINCENT: “Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak have rendered Christian men a great service in writing this book.  Every page of Gospel Meditations for Men features Christ-centered truths crisply pondered and reasoned out toward helpful encouragements and applications.  A model of robust biblical thinking, this little book is gospel gold, an ample treasury for men who long to renew their minds and be transformed by the mighty themes of the gospel.”

Check out a sample.
Get the book here for $2.50 or less!

Reading “The Stranger” by Albert Cumus

Leland Ryken is professor of English at Wheaton College and is one of the foremost Christian authorities on literature. In the following weeks Dr. Ryken will be doing a chapter by chapter commentary/discussion on Albert Camus’s The Stranger at The Gospel Coalition blog. This is going to be the beginning of a series called “Commending The Classics.” I am excited about the series and excited about reading along with The Stranger in the coming weeks.

The series officially began last week with an introduction to chapter one, and will continue tomorrow with chapter two (but don’t worry about being behind, the chapters are short!). I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and read along for the next 10 weeks. A used copy of the book can be picked up on Amazon for $0.1 so it is well worth your money! For more about this series and some more incentives to follow it and read along check out Why Christians Should Read Camus, and Introducing The Stranger both by Ryken in preparation for the series.

For years now I have been glued to Christian non-fiction almost exclusively, and have, somewhat priggishly, shrugged of fiction as a waist of time. My thinking is beginning to mature (with the help of the book Lit! among other things), and I look forward to profiting from the world of good fictional literature (Christian and non) in the years to come. God has graciously given some people the artistic talent of story-telling. We would do well to accept that as a gift from God to be used and enjoyed!

Check it out! Why Christians Should Read CamusIntroducing The Stranger, and The Stranger: Part 1, Chapter 1.

Dug Down Deep

Sitting rather out of place among the Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes books in the religious inspirational section at your local bookstore is an excellent introduction to Theology. Joshua Harris’s “Dug Down Deep” is an outstanding book introducing some of the major doctrines of the Christian faith (Theology proper, Bibliology, Christology, justification, sanctification, pneumatology, the Church, and more) in an easy-to-read and enjoyable style. I would highly recommend this book to any new believer needing a basic, compelling, and heartfelt introduction to Christian doctrine and its implications on our lives.

Recommended: "Gospel Meditations For Women"

A number of weeks ago, after reading a review on Andy Nasseli’s Blog, I ordered Chris Anderson, and Joe Tyrpak’s devotional “Gospel Meditations For Women” for my girlfriend Jessica.

I actually bought two copies (one for our youth library) so I  got to read through it as Jessica was. The devotional consist of 31, one-page devotional readings on how the Gospel effects and transforms our lives. While it was written for women, most of the entries were easily understood from a male point-of-view, or were not gender-specific.

Although I don’t frequent women’s devotionals, I thought it was quite a bit more theologically rich than most of the women’s (…or men’s) devotionals on the market today!

Both Jessica and I thought it was excellent and would highly recommend it for adult, or young adult women.

If you are a women looking for a good devotional, buy this one! If you are a man, buy a copy of it for your wife, or church library here! It’s cheap enough that it could be purchased for all the ladies in your Sunday-school class, or even your church. 5-stars!

A Response to Shane Claiborne and The Irresistible Revolution (Part 3 of 3)

Questionable Beliefs and Practices
After realizing Shane Claiborne’s twisting and de-emphasis of Scripture, it is not hard to imagine why many of his practices do not line up with its teachings.

Rebelling Against The Institution of Government
As early as the second chapter Claiborne begins telling his self-aggrandizing stories about how good of a fighter he is for social justice. The problem is that while many of his stories show his heart for the poor, they also show his lack of respect for Scriptural commands. We should never do evil in oder to do good.

Beginning on page 53 Claiborne recalls a story in which a group of homeless people illegally set up residence in an old abandoned catholic church. In the story the owners of the church tell the homeless people they have to leave. This is where Shane and his college friends come in; instead of helping the homeless people get out and find them places to stay, they move into the church with the homeless and resist the authorities who are telling them to leave! Surely the church could have acted more Christlike in the circumstances, but that does not give Claiborne or the homeless the right to defy the law. The New Testament gives clear instruction to obey the government and to submit to it’s authority (Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:13-17). According to Paul, those who “resist the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:2 ESV). Claiborne never interacts with these Scriptures, or attempts any biblical justification for his actions.

Pacifism
Though no person in his right mind—much less a Christian—likes the idea of war, pacifism is naïve and takes it a step too far. On many occasions Claiborne reveals his pacifistic ideals. Pure pacifism has no potential to mesh with the teachings of the Bible. If God is really against war in all circumstances, how can we understand the scores of times that God commands nations to go to war throughout the Bible? David said,

“Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me” (Psa 144:1-2).

On the other hand I commend him for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way to protest the war in Iraq (though he never really gives any good reasons—besides the fact that he is against war!—why he is protesting it …and I personally think there are some). His views on war and peace seem to be overly simplistic and romantic.

Radical or Lazy?
Many call Claiborne a ‘radical.’ Though it may seem that going to jail for helping the poor, or holding pacifistic values is radical, I think it may also be classified as lazy. It may seem ludicrous to define these ‘radical’ actions as laziness, but when you get to the bottom of it, everything he praises himself for doing is really just a short-cut for something that could be done more legally, biblically, and effectively. Sure, squatting in an abandoned church with a group of homeless people seems ‘radical,’ but is really just a lazy way out of getting a job, or creating a fund to purchase a facility for them to stay in. Sure, being completely anti-war may seem hip and ‘radical,’ but is naïve and fails to recognize genuinely just reasons for war, such as the ones that God personally declared; to pronounce war as evil is to make God less moral than yourself! Sure, throwing hundreds of dollars worth of cash into the air in New York City (189) may seem ‘radical,’ but fails to comply with God’s commands to be good stewards. With a little bit more time and preparation, that money could have been used to feed and help the truly needy.

Inclusive Theology, and Gospel-decentralization
Probably, of Claiborne’s beliefs, the most frightening are his apparent universalism, and de-emphasis of the Gospel of Christ.
In a 2009 article on Esquire’s website Claiborne said this:

“In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, ‘I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.’ If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is” (Letter To Non-Believers).

Not only does this hint of universalism, but reveals many things about his focus. Once again, instead of using this ideal opportunity to present the Gospel, Claiborne spouts out a sentence witch not only unashamedly shows that God is not his treasure, but also makes eternity out to be a trivial thing to his non-christian friend.

Though the word “gospel” is used often in the book, little is said about the importance of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone. In fact, Claiborne is often given amazing chances to share the Gospel and simply passes them up! Besides the story in Esquire (above) we can recall his story about squatting in the abandoned church building. Instead of using this opportunity to preach the Gospel to his ‘captive audience’ Claiborne and his friends have communion with them! In Paul’s first letter the Corinthians he gives strict guidelines on how to partake in Communion:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (I Cor 11:27-32 ESV).

It is clear that Communion is a serious thing—not meant at all for unbelievers!—and to be taken very seriously by believers! What is Claiborne thinking? The New Testament contains very little outside these verses on how to partake in the Lord’s supper. It really doesn’t take a scholar to understand this simple passage. I may have gotten off-topic there, but my point is that the Gospel should always be “of first importance” as Paul says in I Cor 15:3. This is not apparent in his book.

Conclusion
Throughout all three of these posts I have tried to keep a spirit of humility, and not attack Shane Claiborne personally. Shane Claiborne’s passion and selflessness is commendable and exemplary. However, because of the reasons stated in these three parts I believe that his book falls short in many areas. As I said before, Claiborne’s lack of respect for God’s Word makes it hard to respect his book. If you have any comments or disagreements please comment!

Also: if you have any book recommendations for a biblical understanding of social issues please leave them in the comments! I have heard mixed reviews on Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love,” but can about guarantee that it would be better than “The Irresistible Revolution.”

A Response to Shane Claiborne and The Irresistible Revolution (Part 2 of 3)

Twisting of Scripture

For the Christian, there should be no greater standard in evaluating a particular author’s ideology than the Book authored by the Author of our very existence. Throughout Irresistible Revolution Claiborne demonstrates his inability (or unwillingness) to rightly handle the Scriptures.

On Christians speaking out against human suffering Claiborne writes, “Jesus says that if the Christians remain silent, then the rocks will cry out” (17-18). Obviously he is alluding to Luke 19:40 here, but the problem is that Jesus was saying nothing about social justice or human suffering, but was referring to His Lordship! In context it reads:

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, Teacher, rebuke your disciples. He answered, I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” Luke 19:37-40 (ESV).

Mishandling of Scripture to suit his purpose it scattered throughout the book.

On page 102 he claims that Christians will be judged based on “how we cared for the poor” (in reference to Matthew 25). By this Claiborne exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of Scripture; the judgment of Matthew 25 occurs at the end of the tribulation (Matt 24), and therefore after the rapture of the Church. Meaning: as Christians today, “we” will not even be there! Second, Jesus isn’t speaking of all poor people in general, but says very specifically, “the least of these my brothers” (Matt 25:40). “According to all rapture schemes” writes Charles Ryrie “[the rapture] will have already taken place by the time this judgment occurs, so the church will already be with the King. Now if the church is with the King and gentiles are before the King, the brethren must be the only remaining group, the Jews, Christ’s natural brethren (see Romans 9:3)” (Ryrie, What You Should Know About Social Responsibility, 66). Claiborne could have easily used the principle of this passage to state that God obviously cares for the well-being of people on earth.

On several occasions he flippantly dismisses doctrine and theological understanding, settling for story telling instead:

“religious doctrines just aren’t very compelling, even if they’re true. And stories disarm us. They make us laugh and cry. It’s hard to disagree with a story, much less split a church or kill people over one” (28).

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he warns of a time when people will not put up with “sound doctrine,” but with “itching ears” will desire teachers who wander off in to “myths” (II Tim 4:3-4). Sounds familiar. Even by Claiborne’s own admission, he opts not to teach doctrine (Titus 2:1, I Tim 4:11, etc) in favor of telling stories. He states that he’s, “not trying to spread a doctrine or theology” (348).  The problem here is that he is failing! I would much rather Shane Claiborne not teach doctrine and theology, than be the negative theological influence that he is. Endeavoring to or not, he is teaching a theology—its just not very good.  J.D. Greear writes,

“In the absence of good theology, bad theology will fill our minds. We don’t have a choice about being theologians…  every person, whether religious or not, will come up with ideas about God and life and eternity. In other words, we are all theologians… that’s not the choice. The choice is whether we will be good ones or bad ones” (J.D. Greear, Why Theology Matters”).

Throughout the book it seems that Claiborne views doing as more important that believing, opting for orthopraxy and the expense of sound biblical doctrine. This doesn’t make sense. Like Paul, our actions should always be based on our beliefs. Actions by themselves are meaningless if they are simply actions for the sake of actions. In Luke Chapter 6 Jesus tells the well-known story about two men who built houses; one on the Rock and one on sand. Clearly, the “Rock” in the story is Jesus, but it is important to grasp that Jesus was not saying we should build our lives on Him in some vague, merely sentimental kind of way, but on His wordssound doctrine! In verse 47 Jesus describes how one ‘builds’ his life on Christ: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them.” Obviously He mentions orthopraxy (“does them”), but orthodoxy precedes it (“comes to me and hears my words”). Orthopraxy should spring out of our orthodoxy. (See Dr. Tim White’s post “Orthodoxy Vs. Orthopraxy”)

Claiborne’s twisted theology can be understood more fully in light of the theological company he keeps and authors he reads such as:

-Steve Chalke – a Christian leader who has called the substitutionary atonement “divine child abuse”!

-Malcolm X – a violent Muslim.

-Che Gueverra – a Marxist guerrilla.

-John Dominic Crossan – a theologian who denies the bodily resurrection of Christ and is co-founder of the extremely liberal group, “Jesus Seminar.”

…just to name a few.

Furthermore, on page 98, Shane begins to quote Rich Mullins, with approval, as saying this:

“We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too.”

Quotes like this which Claiborne endorses will make any Bible student who has studied this text scratch their head and ask, “Is he serious?”. It is ludicrous and shows lopsided biblical interpretation to make Jesus’ command to the rich man in Mark 10 a universal prerequisite to salvation.

Conclusion
There are many challenging aspects to The Irresistible Revolution, but Claiborne’s failure to respect the Word makes it hard to respect his book. There is a real need for evangelicals to reach out and be more involved with the poor in our culture, but The Irresistible Revolution fails to give a biblical reason why.