The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
On this page I mostly review secular books, but here in eight categories are worthwhile ones I’ve read recently from Christian publishers.
How to govern: Michael Wagenman’s Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper (Lexham, 2019) is a good introduction to the theologian, journalist, and politician who scolded the Dutch Conservative Party for abandoning principles “in exchange for the short-term rewards of political power.” He traced “a failure of the church’s ultimate allegiance” back to the Constantinian conversation.
How to live: Alec Hill’s Living in Bonus Time (IVP, 2020) shows how Hill, president emeritus of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, USA, twice suffered from and survived rare cancers—and how that changed him. Randy Alcorn’s Giving Is the Good Life: The Unexpected Path to Purpose and Joy (Tyndale, 2019) shows how generosity pleases God but also enlivens ourselves.
How to die: Johann Christoph Arnold’s Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death (Plough, 2014) is a good book for those facing death or the death of a loved one. He quotes Leo Tolstoy: “I like my garden, I like reading a book, I like caressing a child. By dying I lose all this, and therefore I do not wish to die, and I fear death.” But Tolstoy prays for “the desire to do the will of God, to give myself to him in my present state and in any possible future state—then the more my desires have changed the less I fear death, and the less does death exist for me.”
How to keep others from dying prematurely: Wayne Grudem’s What the Bible Says About Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions (Crossway, 2020) succinctly summarizes Biblical teaching. Grudem exegetes the controversial passage in Exodus 21 that gives severe penalties for harming a woman and her unborn child. He says some mistranslate verses 22-25 to suggest that the death of an unborn child is no big deal, thus imitating a provision in the law code of Hammurabi, written in Babylonia around 1760 b.c. That’s an error: “the moral and civil laws in the Bible often differed from those of the ancient cultures around Israel.”
The problem of evil: Ronnie Campbell Jr.’s Worldviews & the Problem of Evil (Lexham, 2019) compares explanations of evil in naturalism, pantheism, panentheism, and theism. He shows that any troubling difficulties within a theistic understanding are much more troubling in the other worldviews: Christianity offers a God who loves, acts, and defeats evil.
General apologetics: Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity (Crossway, 2019) is a good book to give to millennials who believe Christianity crushes diversity, causes violence, denigrates women, condones slavery, hates gays, and is soft regarding suffering or hard regarding hell. Unquestioned Answers by Jeff Myers (David C. Cook, 2020) dissects contemporary Christian clichés such as “it’s not my place to judge” and “Jesus was a social justice warrior.”
Science: Given the improbability of Darwinian evolution, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other TV scientists speculate that we are living in a simulation created by some advanced civilization: He put the odds at 50-50 that “our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive.” Essays by 14 authors in The Story of the Cosmos (Harvest House, 2019) undermine that weird theory: The universe is so incredibly big that only a God who is—as children sing—“so big, so strong, and so mighty” could bring about such vastness. (For more on this question, see “Stimulating simulations,” March 30, 2019.)
The Bible: My favorite of many that publishers have sent during the past year is the ESV Literary Study Bible (Crossway, 2020 with new typesetting—first published in 2007). It focuses on the Bible as a unified 66 books with a protagonist, God. Studying Biblical style does not mean suggesting the Bible is fictional or denying its divine inspiration. It means observing: “The general preference of biblical authors is for concrete vocabulary. … God is portrayed as light and rock and thunder. Slander is a sharp knife. Living the godly life is like putting on a garment or suit of armor. Heaven is a landscape of jewels. … The general tendency of the Bible is toward everyday realism. The Bible displays the flaws of even its best characters (Oliver Cromwell famously said that the biblical writers paint their characters ‘warts and all’).”