5 Books I'm Reading Right Now
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 1:22PM
Ben Simpson in Allen Verhey, Books, Charles Duhigg, David Gushee, Kyle Idleman, Media, Reading, Speakeasy, Timothy Keller, work

Reading in Solitude.

1. Timothy J. Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

As with most of what Dr. Keller has written, this book is fantastic. Biblical, theologically grounded, incredibly practical, and filled with delightful illustrations from literature, film, and life, Every Good Endeavor helps Christians understand their work as a meaningful contribution to community life, whether one works as a janitor or CEO of a major corporation. It is common within Christian discourse to consider only a narrow range of activities as "spiritual," while work is thought to be a necessary toil or a consequence of the curse. Dr. Keller's work is a corrective, and a building block. It is possible to find true joy in one's work, no matter your occupation, when understood rightly in light of human nature, the gospel, and the eternal hope of the redemption of all things. I can't wait to recommend this to working professionals I know.

2. David P. Gushee, Editor, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good

In the post-election cycle, there has been a great deal of discussion on the future of evangelicalism and American politics. The first article I read in the fallout reflected grief and panic. Others were more hopeful. A New Evangelical Manifesto strikes a different tone. There is a fair share of diagnostic work on the state of the church in America, as well as laments for where Christianity has gone wrong. And in light of the problems, some constructive work for a theology that might move us forward is undertaken. But the latter half of the book, which addresses a broad range of issues from an evangelical Christian perspective, is what drew my interest. Essays on sex-trafficking, women's concerns, the abolishment of nuclear weapons, a strong statement against torture, and peacemaking compel me toward engagement, not only in theory, but in action. For evangelicals, the chapters are written by a familiar cast of characters: Brian McLaren, Glen Harold Stassen, Jennifer D. Crumpton, and Richard Cizik. I don't agree with everything written in this collection of essays, but I'm glad to see other Christians engaging in public life, working for the good of all.

3. Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus

This book is a bit of a phenomenon. Marketed aggressively by Zondervan and used as a rallying point for many churches, Not a Fan is a call to discipleship, not simply belief. And for this reason, it is a book to be lauded. Calling on the name of Jesus should not lead to lukewarm lives, but radical transformation. Jesus' words are challenging, his commands are clear, and the cost of following him is high. To many observers today, the gospel that has been preached has yielded a shallow Christianity, and an impoverished witness to the power of God.

I'm still working my way through Not a Fan, and thus far Idleman reads like a preacher. Unfortunately, as is common in church leadership circles, it appears to me that Not a Fan uses broad generalizations and overstatement in order to move people. By saying, "No one is really following Jesus and taking his words seriously! Everyone is depending on Jesus for the merits of his blood without really entering in to the transformation he offers!", one overlooks the fruitful lives of many humble, quiet Christians who walk with Jesus as parents, employees, and church members. There appears to be an expectation within evangelicalism that those truly following Jesus will "win" many to Christ, that churches will, as a consequence, grow numerically, that the culture will someone be transformed through means of power rather than service, and that zeal will be evident everywhere we look. Though the research is a bit dated, Christian Smith showed in 1998 that evangelicalism at that time expressed a similar angst, yet was growing and healthy. Bradley Wright has also written that many who lament the decline of Christianity are simply not reading the data correctly, or are producing research tools that are designed to paint a dire picture, so as to set up a stark contrast for leaders crying out for increased zeal.

Idleman's basic point--that Christianity is filled with challenges and that discipleship to Jesus is required of all who believe on him--is well taken. And for some Christians, this book might help them get off the couch and in to the game. But there is an alternative tack to take, I think, and that is discovering an articulation of the gospel that helps people realize and enter in to the love of God, taking up the "easy rhythms of grace." The evidence for truly following Jesus is not an excess of trying hard to improve, but rather a plain and visible communion with the Master.

I'll keep reading this book. I have a friend to discuss it with.

4. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

I'm just beginning this book, but am already impressed. This is the type of creative nonfiction I love to read. Drawing from personal interviews, psychology, sociology, and other fields, The Power of Habit demonstrates that we can engineer our lives to move us toward a desired result through rhythms and routines. Habits truly make us who we are, and thus should be considered carefully and chosen with wisdom. If you're a social science or leadership junkie, I recommend this book strongly. And for those who lead in the area of discipleship, this book will provide plenty of grist for thinking about how people are formed, how they change, and how we can introduce tools that establish habits leading to holiness.

5. Allen Verhey, The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus

Death and dying are not popular topics of conversation among Christians, and this is tragic. We do not have a sound vision for dying well. I'm reading The Christian Art of Dying for an essay I'm composing, and have been reading this alongside Fred Craddock's Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church's Voice in the Face of Death, a wonderful book in its own right.

This book is more on the scholarly end, so it is not for the faint of heart. But Verhey's meditations on modern medicine, dying, and Christian practice is enlightening and theologically complex. I'm 32 years old, so death, ideally, is thought to be "far off." But as Verhey notes in his opening sentence, "People have been dying for a while now." My day will come, as it will for us all. Preparation for dying well, and for helping others to experience God in their dying, is increasingly important within a culture that idolizes youth, and denies death. If I may be so bold, youth is a modern god, worshipped at many unnamed altars. But if this is so, the youth cultus, which denies death as primary dogma (or keeps it hidden in hospitals), is but a new incarnation of something old. The Greeks called her Hebe, the Norse, Idun. N.T. Wright observed in one of his works that the difference between ancients and moderns is this: the ancients named their gods. We simply worship them while denying their existence, and thus preserve our ignorance, as well as the potential to reject false gods for the One True God.

That's what I'm reading. What are you reading?

Article originally appeared on Benjamin A. Simpson (http://benjaminasimpson.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.