During the summer many people make a concerted effort to read a few books. If you are like me you might have a stack of books to be read beside the nightstand, desk, or various tables throughout the house. No matter how busy I find myself to be, good books are always waiting. Al Mohler once said that “summer is supposed to be a season of rest and relaxation — at least in theory. As one wit remarked, “A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” During these “perfect summer days” we can read some of those volumes that we have been waiting to read. But perhaps you would like some direction on a good book or two?
The other night I was asked by someone what books I would recommend for summer reading. Now, as a pastor I want our congregation to continue growing in their faith and understanding, so this very minimal list provides two books that I think are helpful in stimulating spiritual growth. There is one common characteristic about these books that make them uniquely valuable. Each one, in my opinion, represents the outcrop of decades of study and practice by these authors in their respected fields.
“The God Who Is There” by D.A. Carson
It is quite obvious that the level of biblical illiteracy in our Western Culture continues to grow. Even in our churches there seems to be a waning understanding of the biblical narrative. Quite frankly, very few Christians have a grasp of the storyline of the Bible and its unifying message. As Ed Clowney once said, many Christians know bible stories but they do not know the bible story. Therefore we must ask the question, how do Christian’s explain the message of the bible to someone when they don’t even understand how it all fits together?
In the theological academy there has been somewhat of resurgence in the discipline of Biblical Theology in recent years. Biblical Theology as a discipline seeks to provide a synthesis, or unity, of all biblical texts taken together. But what many people have come to realize is that most of the work in this field has been done on a scholarly level and is not readily accessible to everyone.
This is where The God Who Is There comes into play. In this book we experience the fruit of decades of biblical scholarship, Christian ministry, and campus evangelism converging to explain the storyline of the bible. One of the strengths of this work is that even when Dr. Carson labors to clearly and plainly explain difficult biblical concepts he never loses the larger storyline in the theological detail.
Dr. Carson covers fourteen biblical-theological themes in near canonical order. While The God Who Is There is written to serve as an introduction to the Bible’s narrative, it is not too remedial to benefit mature Christians or even pastors. I think one reviewer put it well when he said that The God Who Is There is well suited for pastors to pass along or study with:
- Believers who perhaps miss the forest for the trees in their Bible reading.
- Those who do not know the Bible’s content at all.
- Mature and young believers.
- Unbelievers and skeptics.
See, “Carson avoids all technical jargon and provides thorough definitions and descriptions for new ideas. Further, he shows how all biblical themes converge on the person and work of Christ.” What Dr. Carson does is make the case for the reliability and truthfulness of scripture based on the fact that it has one coherent message. I highly recommend this book, you will benefit greatly from reading, reflecting, and studying it.
“King’s Cross” by Tim Keller
I read a review of King’s Cross the day before I received in the mail. In this review the author proclaimed that “this is the book where Tim Keller hits his stride as an author.” Within just a few years Tim Keller has established himself as one of the most sucessful living Christian authors, a “C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century.”
One of the reasons King’s Cross is so good is that Keller has studied, written on, and preached from the gospel of Mark more than any of the other gospel accounts in the course of his ministry. As you read through this book you get a very well thought-out sermonic teaching of Mark’s gospel. It is very apparent that this book has been marinating in Keller’s heart for years. One reviewer noted that in King’s Cross we get the crystallized presentation of what so many of us love about Dr. Keller’s teaching:
- Religion is advice, but advice cannot save. That’s why we need to hear the good news that the King calls us to follow him.
- People who seek ultimate happiness in anything but God learn when they finally get what they want that nothing but God can truly satisfy.
- Those who condemn the self-righteous for the sake of self-discovery do so with ironic self-righteousness.
- God is powerful enough to prevent our suffering but sometimes chooses not to. Such situations call for faith in the God whose ways transcend our understanding. His timing does not usually match our expectations.
- Go to Jesus, because he can help you. But know that you’ll give more than you think you can, and you’ll get far more than you imagined.
King’s Cross is “an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives….[Its purpose is] to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.” It is neatly organized into two parts, corresponding to the Gospel of Mark’s two halves: Mark 1-8, which reveal Jesus’ identity as king, and Mark 9-16, which reveal his purpose to die on the cross. Keller writes; “if [Jesus] were only a king on a throne, you’d submit to him just because you have to. But he’s a king who went to the cross for you. Therefore you can submit to him out of love and trust.”
I would argue that King’s Cross will leave all readers, from atheist to Christian, wrestling with the beauty and implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether you read it devotionally or intensely study it, I believe that King’s Cross will prove beneficial to you.