Book blurbs

In the interest of “something is better than nothing,” here are a few blurbs and comments on some books I’ve recently completed reading:

Title: Atheism Remix

Author: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Publisher:  Crossway, 2008, 108 pp., $15.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Summary: This book is based on a series of four messages that Mohler gave at Dallas Theological Seminary for the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures in 2008.

The four chapters address the following topics:

  • The New Atheism and the Endgame of Secularism
  • The New Atheism and the Assault on Theism
  • The New Atheism and the Defense of Theism
  • The New Atheism and the Future of Christianity

The book is important because it assists the reader in understanding the aim of this reinvigorated movement (he demonstrates that it is not really new).  Mohler effectively exposes the worldview of the movement and the background and history of it.

This is not light reading.  While Mohler is a compelling speaker, this short volume is challenging (it might be worth listening to the lectures along with reading the book), not so much because of the complexity of his argument but because of the convoluted thinking of those he is exposing.

Representative quotes:

The New Atheists are, in their own way, evangelistic in intent and ambitious in hope.  They see atheism as the only plausible worldview for our times, and they see belief in God as downright dangerous — an artifact of the past that we can no longer afford to tolerate, much less encourage. [p. 12]

In terms of our own evangelistic and apologetic mandate, it is helpful to acknowledge that only a minority of those we seek to reach with the gospel are truly and self-consciously identified with atheism in any form.  Nevertheless, the rise of the New Atheism presents a seductive alternative for those inclined now to identify more publicly and self-consciously with organized nonbelief.  The far larger challenge for most of us is to communicate the gospel to persons whose minds are more indirectly shaped by these changed conditions of belief. [p. 106]

Read this book if  you want to be better acquainted with the worldview of atheism.

Title:  The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

Author:  Douglas Bond

Publisher:  Reformation Trust, 2011; 151 pp., $26.00

Recommendation (4-star scale): 

Summary: This book is not a traditional biography.  In one brief chapter, Bond summarizes the entire life and ministry of the Scottish Reformer, John Knox.  All the following chapters serve to demonstrate the source of Knox’ power and success.

Knox served Christ in a time when church leaders suffered direct persecution.  Additionally, his own health was frail, and he buried his first wife after only about five years of marriage.  How was this weak and “insignificant” man used so significantly in the church of Christ?  That’s what this book is about.

Representative quote:

Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world.  Knox is eminently relevant to all Christians who have ever been forced to come to face with their own littleness.…Knox’s life teaches that the most timid saint becomes a formidable giant when strengthened by the almighty power of God in Christ alone. [pp. xx, xxii]

Read this book if you want to know more about one of the Scottish Reformers and particularly to be encouraged in God’s use of those who are weak and lowly.

Title: Note to Self:  the Discipline of Preaching to Yourself

Author: Joe Thorn

Publisher: Crossway, 2011, 136 pp., $10.99

Recommendation (4-star scale): 

Summary:  Self-examination is one of the hardest thing a believer does because we are so prone to deceiving ourselves about our own nature and character.  We, who have the greatest insight into our own hearts and motives, are most likely to attempt to delude ourselves into thinking our life with Christ is more vibrant and Christlike than it is.

And that’s the very tendency to which this book speaks.  Building on the premise that most people need to be more directive in counseling themselves, Thorn provides 48 2-page devotionals that connect the gospel to daily life.  These devotionals are grouped around three primary themes:  the gospel and God, the gospel and others, and the gospel and you.  In each of those sections, Thorn provides instruction that is appropriate for us to preach to ourselves — to direct ourselves to living the implications of the gospel more accurately.

Maybe not every chapter will be needed and useful to every reader, but at least several of the chapters will score a direct hit on a wandering heart, and serve to lead you back to more Christ-exalting living.

Representative quote:

Preaching to yourself demands asking lots of questions, both of God’s Word and especially of yourself.  You will have to ask and be honest about your motives, struggles, and needs. You will need to clarify to yourself what God’s law means in principle, but also what it requires specifically of you.  You will need to ask how the gospel meets your needs and heals your brokenness.  To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth.  It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget. [p. 32]

Read this book if you want to be challenged to examine your heart more carefully.

Title: The Next Story:  Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion

Author: Tim Challies

Publisher: Zondervan, 2011, 204 pp., $19.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Summary:  This is one of the best (and most important) books I’ve read this year.

In this book, Challies examines the influences of recent changes in digital technology on the hearts of believers.  Is the technology we so readily use a benefit to be used and enjoyed without any significant reflection or discrimination?  Is technology inherently evil and to be avoided?  Or is technology a tool that can be used for good and evil and when used must be used with much discrimination and care?

Challies follows the third of the aforementioned premises, and takes great care to demonstrate dangers, both obvious and subtle about our use of technology.

For example, I have noticed for years that when I am having particular trouble writing coherent and articulate thoughts about a particular subject, that I am often helped by pulling out a pen or pencil and a pad of paper and writing by hand.  While I’ve understood that tendency in myself, I’ve never really thought about why that is true about me.  Challies gave me some help:  one of the problems with our communication technology is not only that it tends to keep us distracted and unfocused, but that it also trains us to think in short bursts of thought and inherently works against thinking through complex arguments and thoughts.  “Writing by hand,” he suggests, “requires greater focus because it demands a constant sense of what has already been said and what must still be said.”

The book is filled with similar nuggets and helps, as well as providing an insightful history of the movement of technology in our lives (this is not the first time we’ve experienced significant growth in the availability of information).  The book actually reads as a very clear application of Challies’ previous book (The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment) to the topic of technology.

Representative quote:

We need to seek to understand how a technology will change and shape us before we introduce it to our lives.  We cannot afford to be so shallow as to think that we can enthusiastically embrace a new technology without eventually suffering from at least some of its drawbacks.  We can almost always see the immediate benefits but we are wise to dig deeper, looking for the inevitable consequences. 

What we need to be willing to do is to ask questions of our devices.  We need to talk to our technology, to ask questions of it and not rest until we understand the answers.…

  • Why were you created?
  • What is the problem to which you are the solution, and whose problem is it?
  • What new problems will you bring?
  • What are you doing to my heart? [pp. 61-64]

Read this book if you own technology or ever use technology.  (Which means we all will benefit from reading this book!)

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