As you know, I am an avid reader. I get most of my information from the printed page, and I like my books printed so I can make marginal notes, underline, and dog ear them. I don’t worry about preserving the binding. I CONSUME books.
Since I came to Christ I have been reading Christian books a whole lot. I will discuss a few below. But now and then I try to take a break and read something completely different. So, the last time I was at Sam’s Club a book by Dean Koontz popped out at me. I like Dean Koontz a lot. He has replaced Steven King as my favorite horror author. I like his Odd Thomas series and have read most of those. But this book is called “The City,” and Koontz hasn’t written much about urban environments. Most of his settings are suburban or rural. So I thought it would be interesting.
It is. It’s a fun read, which I won’t bother describing here. Except for one thing – I may try to escape Jesus, but He won’t let me. Not that this book is explicitly Christian, but one of the essential characters is an angel called Miss Pearl by the protagonist, a boy named Jonah Kirk. She feeds him prophetic dreams, leads him to his gift, which is piano playing, and bolsters him when he needs it most. Here’s an example –
She sat silently beside me for a while. Then: “If you trust me, believe what I’m about to say, it’ll help you in the darkest times.”
Speaking into my hands, I said, “What is it?”
“No matter what happens, disaster piled on calamity, no matter what, everything will be okay in the long run.”
I spread my fingers to filter my words. “You said you can’t see the future.”
“I’m not talking about the future, Ducks. Not the way you mean. Not tomorrow and next week and next month.”
Frustrated, I said, “Then what are you talking about?”
She repeated, “No matter what happens, everything will be okay in the long run. If you believe that, if you trust me, nothing might happen in the days to come to break you. On the other hand, if you won’t take to heart what I’ve just told you, I don’t expect things will turn out as well as they could.”
This is a conversation that might have taken place between Jesus and Paul before he set out to convert the Gentiles. It is a truth known by the Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. It is true for all of us believers. No matter what happens, everything will be okay in the long run.
This was supposed to be a break from my Christian reading. Oh, well. So what are the Christian books I was taking a break from?
Well, I read Charles Colson’s “The Sky is Not Falling.” This was Colson’s last book before his death. It is meant to buck up Christians as they deal with the growing secular attacks on Christianity in the United States. I learned a lot here, especially about some of the recent court decisions. One example was a 2006 ruling by a federal judge against Colson’s Prison Fellowship. The judge decided that evangelical Christianity is somehow not protected by the First Amendment because it is a fringe cult distinct from other Christian faiths such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Greek Orthodoxy, and other denominations such as Lutheranism, and Presbyterians. He said it tends to be “anti-sacramental” downplaying “baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, (and) ordination…” Colson comments that his Baptist friends will be quite surprised to hear this.
Colson urges Christians to reassert orthodoxy, work to change the culture and the political climate, and most of all live fruitful lives within their own communities. These sound like pretty thin remedies, except for the knowledge, as Dean Koontz wrote above, that everything will work out in the end. God guarantees it.
But Colson references quite a few other books and that is how I came across “God’s Battalions,” by Rodney Stark. This is a detailed history of the Crusades and my reading it was timely given President Obama’s citation of the Crusades as equivalent to Islamic terrorism at the National Prayer Breakfast. He was, of course, wrong as I describe in my write-up in The Federalist.
Then I needed something more uplifting. Fortunately my wife, Nancy, had bought me “The Grave Robber,” by Mark Batterson for Christmas, and that was just what I needed. It is very well written and uses the seven miracles of Christ as described in John’s Gospel as a jumping off point. He then describes how reflections of these miracles still happen all around us today. I talked my men’s group into studying this book, so I get to read it again.
Speaking of Nancy, I also read her new book Mikha’el several times as she was writing it. This is the best thing she’s ever written. It is the story of a young girl who has prophetic and disturbing dreams that seem to come true too often. As she grows, she comes to realize that she is being guided by the Archangel Michael who has protected her from harm her entire life so she can play a critical role in the coming battle between good and evil.
I then turned to “Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand. Here’s another book I didn’t expect to be particularly Christian and I thought I would check it out since the movie was so well reviewed. It is, of course, the heroic story of Louis Zamparini, an Olympic running star who becomes a flier in the Pacific Theater in World War Two. He is captured by the Japanese and has a horrific experience in their POW camps. I haven’t seen the movie, but I understand it omits what is the most important part of the book. After the war, he has a terrible time adjusting to civilian life and becomes am abusive drunk until his wife gets him to go the a Billy Graham revival where he turns his life over to Jesus and spends the rest of his life ministering to troubled teens in California. This is easily the best non-fiction work I’ve ever read and, while it is thoroughly documented, it reads like an action-adventure thriller.
Finally I read Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections.” (There are many, many editions of this book, Here is a link to Amazon’s list, though the edition I read doesn’t seem to be included) This is an abridged edition published in 1984 by Multnomah Press and edited by James M. Houston as part of a series of “Classics of Faith and Devotion.” The editor has updated archaic language and shortened sentences and paragraphs to make it more readable to today’s reader. The result is really wonderful, though still not an easy read. It was written to moderate some of the fervor that came out of the Great Awakening of the 1740s and restore a more Biblically-based spirituality among believers. Edwards’ meaning of the term “affections” is not how we use the term today. He means something like passion, but less intense and emotional.
If , like me, your knowledge of Jonathan Edwards was a brief mention in school of his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” this work is an eye opener. Far from a fire and brimstone preacher, Edwards was thoughtful and gentle. The greatest religious affection in his view is love. He writes, “The Scripture speaks of no real Christians who have an ugly, selfish, angry and contentious spirit. Nothing can be more contradictory than a morose, hard, closed, and spiteful Christian.” But even here, he is kind and forgiving, and adds, “Yet allowances must be made for our natural human temperament with regard to this as well as to other things.” We are all far from perfect, but with grace we are growing to be more Christ-like all the time.
He also anticipates some of what Bonhoeffer would write 200 years later, “But a true Christian can delight in religious fellowship and conversation, yet he also delights to retire from all fellow men and converse with God in solitude.” He notes that even Jesus (or especially Jesus) needed to often step away from the disciples and the crowds to spend time alone with the Father.
I also read an e-book published by Modern Reformation and edited by Michael Horton on “The Many Faces of John Calvin.” This was frustrating because it seemed the various contributors each had their own axe to grind and were trying to stuff Calvin into their own boxes. So, my next project is to tackle John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” (Again, there are many editions available) Wish me luck.