12 Books You Need To Check Out In November


(REVIEW) From 1992 to 2021, my book reviews appeared in the magazine I edited, World. Probably about half came from Christian publishers. During the past two years, Discovery Institute has published a monthly OlaskyBooks column that emphasizes secular books. That column will continue, but I still read many religion-based books, and Religion Unplugged has an audience that cares about them, so I’ll report about those here.

Nadya Williams’s “Cultural Christians in the Early Church” (Zondervan, 2023) would make an excellent Christmas present for someone who idolizes Christianity’s first several centuries and thinks problems within the contemporary church are unprecedented. Not so, Williams convincingly writes that professing faith in Christ but living as if God did not exist is a constant temptation. Her evidence comes from secular sources and the Bible itself: Paul wrote about sexual sin and Peter the abuse of power for “dishonest gain.”

James K. A. Smith’s “How to Inhabit Time” (Brazos, 2022) offers good advice to someone going through difficulty: “You might look at the life of an older friend, which seems intentional and grounded and placid, and you imagine it was a straight path.” When he tells you how jagged it actually was, “You’re getting a report from the other side, which lets you know there is life beyond what presses in the now and blocks our ability to see a different future.” Amid emotional turmoil we should tell ourselves that someday “I will be able to revisit my history without pain or trauma, not because the memory card of my mind has been erased but because now I can see only the unique mosaic that is redeemed.”

READ: 7 History Books That Help Explain The Israel-Hamas War

Jonathan Bernier’s “Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament” (Baker, 2022) examines the work of scholars who think the books appeared late in the first century CE or after. Bernier presents evidence for early composition and concludes that the Gospel of Mark appeared about a decade after Jesus’s crucifixion; Matthew, Luke, and most of Paul’s letters came within another decade. Just about all the New Testament books, including Revelation, emerged before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

With the evangelical church in the United States now divided politically, Paul D. Miller’s “The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong With Christian Nationalism” (IVP, 2022) is worth reading. Miller criticizes the progressive left in the United States but emphasizes the threat from the nationalist right.  Both extremes are ready to increase governmental power to accomplish their goals, so Christians should oppose the extremes and work to maintain the rule of law, the separation of powers, limited government, and free enterprise. Together, those attributes give us “a framework of ordered liberty” that is much better than “nostalgic calls to renew Western civilization or Christendom.”

Jon Ward’s “Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation” (Baker, 2023) shows how he grew up in a devout but sometimes legalistic home, and eventually learned that threats come from both ends of the political and theological spectrum: “Twenty years ago, I thought that the biggest threats to truth were postmodern relativism and godless liberals. Today, to my shock, my own tribe of Christians has taken a battering ram to truth.”

“Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church” (Zondervan, 2022) deserves careful reading by pastors and other Christian leaders. Author Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, shows how spiritual abuse is even deadlier than other kinds because its victims have often sacrificed much for organizations they see almost as families: “abuse within a trusted relationship is significantly more traumatic than abuse by a stranger.” 

Famed New York pastor Tim Keller died in May, but his words live on. I heard Keller’s preaching for three years while living in New York City, and now listen to his “Gospel in Life” podcast sermons regularly, so the Keller basics are familiar to me — but I still learned a lot from Colin Hansen’s “Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation” (Zondervan, 2023). Hansen shows how Keller, learning from Westminster president Edmund Clowney, developed his explanations of how we are both more loved and more sinful than we imagine.

In brief: Trevin Wax’s “The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith” (IVP, 2022) is an excellent look at how churches can be both hospitals for sinners and schools for saints. Daniel Darling’s “Agents of Grace” and Brandon Guindon’s “Intentional” (both Zondervan, 2023) have good advice on overcoming political tribalism, including “Listen to understand” and “Be interruptible.” 

Bonnie Kristian’s “Untrustworthy” (Brazos, 2022) shows us to rise above conspiracy-mongering, reliance on untrustworthy experts, and the use of personal experience to shut down conversation. Cheryl Bridges Johns in “Re-Enchanting the Text” (Baker, 2023) asks how evangelicals can regain a sense of the Bible’s exquisite, wonder-filled mystery, and not view merely view it as a set of blueprints, commands, and historical records.

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