Some say non-fiction books are like tools—resources for getting a job done. Others say they serve as eyeglasses, refining our vision. Certainly those of us who care about God’s world and want to be faithfully engaged in deeds of cultural renewal need to be life-long learners and read widely.
Here are a few choice selections, resources to help us see.
Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church and World by Nicholas Wolterstorff, edited by Mark Gornick & Gregory Thompson (Eerdmans)
A new book by Wolterstorff will be glad news for many Comment readers, and I suspect that those who know of his work and reputation will need no convincing: Wolterstorff, the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, is truly one of the great philosophers of our time. In the mid-1970s, his Until Justice and Peace Embrace brought renewed conversations about social justice to those with an intentionally Reformed worldview, and it remains a significant contribution to culturally-engaged public theology. Last year, Princeton University Press released his heavy text Justice: Rights and Wrongs (a companion volume will be published by Eerdmans later this spring).
This new book of 450 pages includes essays, articles, sermons, and shorter pieces, a compendium of good stuff from years of his semi-scholarly journal articles and popular magazine pieces. He has long been engaged with issues of liturgy and justice and how faithful worship can compel faithful living in (global) culture. Here, he looks at a wide range of topics: from the role of worship, church hymnody, and liturgical space to his own journey to justice (via the deep pain amongst black scholars in South Africa and an ever-heightening sense of the pain of the Palestinians). There are pieces on lament, a study of women in the Bible, and a few on a truly Christian view of politics and the state. Again and again, he comes back to the Biblical theme of shalom and the need for a just sense of human rights. An interview with him—”How My Mind Has Changed About Justice”—is especially illuminating. Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World is a coherent and wisely arranged anthology, a volume that astute readers will return to again and again.
Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry by Hans Boersma (Eerdmans)
Boersma is a fine writer and an exceptional thinker; it is always a delight to discover an author (or meet a friend) who is so very clear about his own rooted tradition, and yet aware of and eager to learn from other viewpoints. Boersma is certainly just such a writer, drawing on wide reading and considerable ecumenical thinking. He is now a professor at Regent College in Vancouver where he holds the J.I. Packer Chair.
In this new book, he builds a serious case that to understand and experience a nearly sacramental sense of God’s creation, we ought not dismiss talk of heaven, but, indeed, should be profoundly otherworldly. This seems counter-intuitive to those of us who feel called to expose the dualistic influences of neo-Platonism or new kinds of nearly gnostic pietism. We want to affirm the goodness of the creation! We want to point to Christ’s Kingdom come on earth. We truly believe that we are to anticipate a renewing of the whole cosmos, so we dare not be distracted by talk of other realms.
Well, Boersma is part of our tribe: he affirms these classic aspects of a “down to Earth” spirituality. Yet he draws on wisdom of early church writers—and up to scholars like de Lubac and John Milbank—and explores serious implications of a true incarnational theology, cultivating a greater awareness of eternal mysteries. Blurbs on the back from gracious writers and thinkers such as Baylor’s David Lyle Jeffrey suggest that this is an urgent and refreshing contribution—to see the world truly ablaze with God, we must, necessarily, first seek our union with Christ, in heaven. Very interesting!
Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace by Kenman L. Wong & Scott Rae (IVP Academic)
This is the fifth volume in the recent “Christian Worldview Integration Series”—a major project exploring “integration” of faith and scholarship in college-level paperbacks, and a reflection on foundational Christian perspectives and faithful practices in various academic disciplines. (Others in the series so far include serious volumes on education, politics, psychology, and communication.) I am thrilled with this one, and while it is, like the others in the series, not simply a collection of inspirational sermonizing, it does shine with great passion at places. (How many business books have a chapter on spiritual formation?) This new one can take its place next to the good work of authors like Van Duzer (Why Business Matters to God) or R. Paul Stevens (Doing God’s Business) or the authors of Business Through the Eyes of Faith as an essential read in this field. Happily, it offers a wide-ranging survey of most of the important topics, from questions of daily ethics to the use of wealth, from management issues to marketing. There is a balanced look at the current language of sustainability, and all of this proceeds from a good opening chapter called “your work is an altar.” Very highly recommended.
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller (Dutton)
Most savvy readers of uniquely Christian journals of public affairs (like Comment) know who Timothy Keller is. His church in the well-heeled and culturally savvy sub-cultures of Manhattan and its plants are known as shining examples of faithful and relevant contemporary ministry. Redeemer Presbyterian’s support for thinking about work, their encouragement of artists, and their commitment to urban flourishing is vital. And Keller’s recent writing ministry has caused not a few journalists to note his effective way with words, making compelling cases for Biblical truth and a Christian worldview.
In this brand new book, Keller brings his clear and insightful approach to a study of the life of Jesus (mostly told through the eyes of the fast-paced gospel of Mark). Yet this is not a traditional commentary, exegeting line by line, but a broad and sweeping overview of key themes that relate particularly to his urbane audience—and, perhaps, anyone wondering if the New Testament documents about Christ are not only historically reliable, but also keys to unlocking our deepest human longings and our culture’s deepest social needs. The chapters are each titled with a poignant word: “The Dance,” “The Waiting,” “The Turn,” “The Sword,” or, in the second-to-last chapter, “The End.” The last chapter? “The Beginning,” of course. A great new resource for good conversations exploring the basics of the life of Jesus, and an invitation to live into the world His gospel creates.
The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips by John Dickson (Zondervan)
Comment (and its publisher, Cardus) is very good at reminding us of the larger picture, of how our deepest convictions shape our engagement with contemporary culture, colouring the texture of our lives in ways that lead us to care about the common good. We like to network with others who are doing innovative work based on renewed and Biblically-informed thinking. We are always hoping to serve our neighbours by being God’s light in a too often dark world. But we are sometimes a bit (understandably) reticent about talking about our faith in public.
So we sometimes need a bit of help thinking about what appropriate evangelism is—how to talk about Christ’s truths with others and live our lives not just as witnesses to good ideas, but as witnesses to our living Lord. This book can help. It is solid, Biblical, interesting, and, of course, explains in lovely ways how the gospel is many-sided, nuanced, and ever-interesting. It explores the thorny questions of the relationship between social outreach and verbal proclamation. It invites us all to get involved. Esteemed Bible scholar Christopher Wright, the international director of the Langham Partnership (U.K.) calls it “brilliant.” Richard Bauckham—himself a renowned public theologian interested in human rights and the common good—says it is “refreshing and inspiring.” I’m fond of its plainspoken tone and good stories, and how it holds up the ordinary lives of ordinary folks as a key to reaching a lost world with the gospel. The best kept secret? Well, the saving power of the gospel, of course. But also, this: the wide range of ways our very lives point to the coming Kingdom. Very nicely done.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger’s bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.