Life-Long Learners 10.0

Tenth in an expert series on must-read books.

October 21st, 2011
Life-Long Learners 9.0 Life-Long Learners 11.0

Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God's redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and faithfully.

Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway, 2011)

At our bookstore we have dozens of books about the relationship of faith and work. It has long been a passion of mine to read about this topic since I was introduced to it in the 1970s by the Christian Labour Association of Canada. Happily, in the decades since, many Christians of various stripes have seen the marketplace as a mission field, have learned to think faithfully about the meaning of work, and have written well about "loving God on Monday" or nurturing "your soul at work" because "your work matters to God."

There are many good books offering a Christian perspective on this topic, but none as good as the brand new, visionary, and very well-written paperback by this Kansas pastor. Some who know Reverend Nelson know that he has emphasized the callings and careers of his flock for years (indeed, in a long and beautiful blurb in the book, Comment writer Steve Garber suggests that too few pastors have attempted to do this and done so well as Nelson.) When the footnotes include fascinating citations from Paul Marshall and Gideon Strauss and Dorothy Sayers, you know it will be an interesting read. Nelson balances broad, perspectival views with quite practical suggestions; he is a solid theological thinker and obviously a pastor who cares to serve his people well as they relate Sunday to Monday, worship to work. There are several very interesting two-page sidebars that allow professionals from his church (such as Comment writer and architect David Greusel, for instance) to share their stories, giving this, again, a practical and real-world feel.

Work Matters is not lofty or abstract and is ideal for workers of all sorts. And for pastors and theologians, too, who need to incorporate this approach to Christian living into their own work. Thank God for Nelson's church and their message of "common grace for the common good," even in the work-a-day world.

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . And Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker, 2011)

Kinnaman was catapulted to fame when he produced for the Barna Group the research that became the bestselling book UnChristian which explores what unchurched North American young adults thought about Christianity and church life. Kinnaman continued his research, this time documenting the views and attitudes and stories of younger adults who were, in fact, raised within Christian churches, but who have chosen to leave. Why is this? Kinnaman uses the punchy phrase (used by more than one of his millennial interviewees) "you lost me" to indicate that these folks were once open to faith, perhaps deeply involved in Christian practices and life, and at some point determined that they were no longer on the same page as their adult congregational leaders. Kinnaman is passionate that we must understand the demographics of this cohort and we must "start a conversation" about this crisis of generational loss and, more importantly, with this cohort themselves. Why are younger Christians disengaging from church? Why are they rethinking the way theology and spirituality is construed? One nice appendix to this important book is a listing of 50 suggestions for "passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith," from 50 different authors and leaders, many of whom are writers for Comment (including Steve Garber, Gabe Lyons, Charlie Peacock, Kara Powell, Donna Freitas, Derek Melleby, David Greusel, Kenda Creasy Dean).

(Editor's note: Comment will run a feature-length review of the above two books, together, in late December.)

Socrates in the City: Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics" by Eric Metaxas, editor (Dutton, 2011)

For years now, Veggie-Tale smart-aleck and truly smart evangelical author Eric Metaxas (Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer) has been inviting some of the world's leading Christian thinkers to a lecture series and friendly conversation program in the heart of mid-town Manhattan. Inviting others to seek the wisdom of Socrates in the city of man, Metaxas has held forth with remarkable guests, creating space for good dialogues and consequently doing important ministry of intellectual depth and wise apologetics.

A book loaded with some of these lectures was just released and it is a stunning collection. There are essays that were first given at his Socrates series by Sir John Polkinghorne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, Os Guinness, Peter Kreeft, and more. From the call for pluralism and civility by Os Guinness, to a great piece on Bonhoeffer by Metaxas himself, to Elshtain on the meaning of the human (drawing on C. S. Lewis), to several good speeches on the relationship of faith and science, this book is a treasure-chest. I can hardly think of any other single-volume anthology with such weighty, clear-headed pieces. Charles Colson shines in a piece about "the good life," McGrath respectfully critiques the new atheists, while the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus asks if "atheists can be good citizens." New York psychiatrist Paul Vitz movingly writes of the importance of fathers. Catholic philosopher and creative writing star Peter Kreeft reminds us of the joyous value of asking good questions, a perfect piece inspired by the Socratic tradition which summarizes much of what Metaxas surely intended for this project.

"Small topics?" These are anything but, and the editor's impish good humor is evident not only in the grand introductory chapter but in that small phrase in the sub-title. Get this book and find some inquisitive friends. Such "small topics" demand good conversations.

Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea (Oxford University Press, 2011)

In a longer review at our BookNotes column, I wondered out loud if Marshall and Shea might themselves be in danger in writing a serious book exposing those who would issue deadly fatwas against writers, repress those with the wrong religion, or imprison people who don't tow a certain Islamic party line. This book is shocking, even with the tone of a scholarly tome, as it painstakingly documents, region by region, country by country, the efforts to pass blasphemy laws, forbid religious conversion away from Islam, or enforce Sharia law. There are chilling stories of beheadings and murders—some official and others committed by vigilantes. (Think of the still-endangered Salmon Rushdie, for instance, or the brutal ritual murder of Theo Van Gogh, or the horrors promoted by jihadi forces now commonplace in many Central African nations.)

Ever hopeful, however, the authors offer positive examples of both international legal efforts to ensure religious freedom and of pro-democratic moderate Muslims who dare to oppose their radical co-religionists. Dr. Marshall, as you may know, has a vision of religious affairs and human rights rooted in a profoundly Reformed worldview (he replaced the legendary Bernard Zylstra at Toronto's ICS and helped mentor the brilliant Jonathan Chaplin who took his chair when Marshall took up a position doing international human rights research.) His realization of the profound role of religion as a foundation for views of human rights and freedoms put him early on a path to expose religious persecution and to attend to ways in which Islamic faith does or doesn't comport with notions of public justice. As a Western, Christian pioneer in this work, he has Muslim friends literally all over the world—there can be no accusation that he is Islamophobic.

Included in Silenced are three quite significant new essays by internationally known Muslim scholars insisting that there is nothing within Islam that demands Sharia or blasphemy legislation. An extended forward to the book was written by the late President of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim nation) who was a friend and advocate for Marshall's work on human rights. A large book, it is a serious and monumental contribution to our knowledge of one of the great threats of our era. Pray that it is read, discussed, considered, and heeded—and that those who dare discuss it are kept safe from those who see violence as a divinely approved method of silencing opposition.

The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger's bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.


Byron Borger owns, with his wife Beth, Hearts and Minds Bookstore in central Pennsylvania. He is also an associate staff member of the Coalition for Christian Outreach.


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