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On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture
St. Maximos the Confessor
St. Maximos (580-662) was a Christian ascetic who believed that avoiding self-indulgence is the most obvious and proper approach to serving God. His watchword: “Do not love the world.” He insisted that sensory attachment to the things of this world prevents us from raising our minds to God and understanding His Word. As true as that core conviction is, Maximos uses it to find ascetic practice in every Biblical text he looks at, even when it’s not there. Yet in our current culture where self-denial is virtually unthinkable, a judicious evaluation of patristic arguments for it might be useful to Christians. —C.N.
Plain Theology for Plain People
Charles Octavius Boothe
Boothe (1845-1924), founder of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., believed that “the private members of churches … have great need for the truths that books teach,” but that few theology books were “suited to their time, their understanding, and their wants.” So he wrote one. He lays out the entire system of Christian doctrine in 140 glorious pages. The chapter titled “How Christians Should Live and Labor” focuses largely on joining the church and partaking of the sacraments, and much of the book consists of long Bible quotations. —C.N.
My Heart Cries Out: Gospel Meditations for Everyday Life
Paul David Tripp
Tripp’s poems/meditations deal with the struggles of the Christian life. Some of them are bracing, with short lines of rat-a-tat truth: “No idea can liberate, no power can save, no institution can redeem, restore, resuscitate, or recreate what sin has destroyed.” Others use repetition to underscore important truths. Illustrated with photographs by Tim Kellner, each poem brings a Biblical perspective to daily concerns: “I was anxious this morning—too many details, loose ends. … Doubt plunders faith. Anxiety decimates rest. … Anxiety is a form of amnesia. Forgetting your presence, your plan.” —S.O.
Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus
Bread is ordinary, but it’s also a Biblical metaphor conveying spiritual truth. Packiam follows the metaphor, tracing out its application to identity, grace, God’s love, sin, mission, and service. Just-right illustrations from his life clarify his message. Packiam concludes by comparing two feasts found in Mark’s Gospel: Herod’s feast, which ends in death, and Jesus feeding the 5,000. “At Herod’s feast, performance was everything.” At Jesus’ feast the people “didn’t have to perform for Him to notice them. He saw them from the beginning. And He loved them. So He fed them—with words and with bread.” —S.O.
In 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life (P&R Publishing, 2019), literature scholar Leland Ryken provides the text and background information on 40 hymns, analyzing how each one functions as poetry and interacts with Scripture. He argues that hymnic poems are an ideal introduction to poetry but also rewarding for someone like him, a professor for more than 50 years: “I did not realize what a transformation occurs when we see hymns printed as sequential poems unaccompanied by music. … I wish someone had taken me by the hand at the beginning of my career and said, ‘Look.’”
Matthew Sleeth—carpenter, emergency room doctor, and former atheist—explains in Reforesting Faith (WaterBrook, 2019) his love for trees. He calls fellow believers to appreciate trees as God does and notes how trees (seeds, sticks, leaves, vines, bushes) often mark places where God calls His people. —S.O.