Category Archives: Books

Thinking about Christian books I’ve read

“What Christian books have you read?”

That was one of the questions on my application form for bible college (more on that here). I scanned the rest of the form and decided that the two lines provided wouldn’t be enough space.

So one night, I sat down, trawled through my memory, our library catalogue, e-book purchase history, and typed out a 3-page list of books I’ve read (book nerds go here).*

Upon reflecting on the last 13 years of reading Christian books, here are some observations:

  • Lots of books on worship, service planning and music ministry
  • A few authors are recurring favourites: for example, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Vaughan Roberts
  • I’ve only read two books on parenting (either I’m deficient in this area, or parenting isn’t learned in theory but in practice)
  • I’ve read two Rob Bell books (and found both frustrating and concerning)
  • I’ve read three biographies (I’m keen to read more)
  • I haven’t read many books by dead people (I’m keen to read more)
  • I tend to read according to immediate needs and interests rather than looking further ahead
  • For every book I read, there’s another one that I haven’t started. I’m rebuked of my wastefulness, for sucking in literary oxygen from social media feeds instead of the books in front of me.

More importantly, however, reviewing my reading list makes me thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to read. What a privilege it is to live in a generation and society where books are freely available.
  • I’m thankful for how certain books have shaped my thinking on important issues: the gospel, marriage, family, worship, music, preaching, and so on. I’ve rarely changed my mind about something over a Facebook discussion. But time and time again, I’ve changed my convictions on something upon reaching the back page of a good book.
  • Finally, I’m thankful that reading books has helped me to love God and neighbour better, by understanding his Word (the Good Book) better.

I know I’m not able to read everything out there (certainly not as much as 500 books a year like Don Carson). But I do want to love God with my heart, soul, strength and mind, as a child who delights in His world and in His Son. And one of the ways I can do that is to read more.

Right – off to read something new.


* This list is just for Christian books – I haven’t made up a list of all the other books that I’ve read.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
René Descartes

Book review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction

by Sam Allberry

is-god-anti-gay-cover

Genre: Christian living / Social Issues

Size: 93 small pages. Short and sweet.

What’s the big idea: Written by a pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction, the book explains what the Bible teaches about the good news of Jesus, marriage, sex, homosexuality and how to apply all this as individual Christians, as a church community, and how to commend all this to the world around us.

Along the way, Sam takes the time to answer the most commonly asked questions on this topic, including:

  • What does the Bible say about sex and marriage?
  • What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?
  • Can I be a Christian if I struggle with same-sex attraction?
  • Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
  • But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?
  • Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
  • What should we do if a gay couple start coming to our church?
  • What can the church do to support Christians facing this issue?
  • Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
  • What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?
  • How should I respond when my non-Christian friend tells me that they’re gay?
  • What’s the best way to share Christ with a gay friend?

Easy to read? Yes. Done in a few hours.

What I appreciated: There are plenty of books out there on this topic (and more being published each month it seems). This one is unique because it’s winsomely written by someone for whom homosexuality isn’t just an abstract issue.

The thing I appreciated the most is that within the first 3 pages, Sam explained that the gospel message of Jesus was something everyone needed:

“[The gospel is] the announcement that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be put right with God; that we are being offered a fresh start to begin to live as God always meant us to. This is his message. And it’s his message for all people. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message…

God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone.Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.” (p.9-10)

In the chapters diving into the Bible’s specific teachings on marriage and sexuality, Sam covers all the important passages. He also brings into the discussion a few other passages which I hadn’t considered before, such as Jesus’s teaching on celibacy in Matthew 19:11-12, and Revelation 2:20-21 on the issue of tolerance and whether we can just “agree to disagree” with other churches whose teaching leads people into sexual sin.

Sam is sharp on the question of whether Christians pick and choose from the Old Testament. He explains that Jesus fulfils all of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17), but fulfils the various elements in various ways. He declared all foods clean, fulfilled the requirements of all the temple-related regulations as the true Temple, and remade the people of God from nation-state to church. The Old Testament’s teaching on sexual ethics, through its restatement in the New Testament, means that it’s still binding for Christians today.

The chapter for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction is full of pastoral wisdom and encouragement. Sam reminds us that same-sex attraction doesn’t disqualify us if we’re united with Christ, and it doesn’t define us. He also has a really helpful section commending singleness for those who are unable to marry.

Sam also gives really helpful advice for churches so that they’re able to help Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction: make it easy to talk about, honour singleness, remember that church is family, deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, and provide good pastoral support.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Christian needs to pick this up to help them engage perhaps the most challenging issue in our time. This isn’t so much a book for the atheist who has no interest in an orthodox Christian view on sexuality, but for someone in the church who is, or knows of individuals who are struggling in this area.

Notable quotes:

“It is the same for us all – ‘whoever’. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying ‘no’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. It is laying down your life for the very reason that your life, it turns out, is not yours at all. It belongs to Jesus. He made it. And through his death he has bought it.

Ever since I have been open about my own experiences with homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything out of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.” (p.11-12)

“We live in a culture where sexuality is virtually equated with identity: “You are your sexuality”. We are encouraged to think that to experience homosexual feelings means that you are, at your most fundamental core, a homosexual. It is very easy for Christians to lose a healthy perspective on this. We can think that SSA is the issue in our Christian life, as though no other sins or struggles warranted serious attention … Yes, it has a significant effect on a number of defined areas of life, but it does not define your life.” (p.46)

When a gay couple start to come to your church:

“…It makes no difference if [the newcomers] are a gay couple, a straight couple, or anybody else. All are sinners, and all need God’s grace.” (p.64)

“…I want that conversation [about their sexuality] to take place in the context of the gospel, rather than start with their sexuality and try to get from there to the gospel. They need to know who Jesus is before being landed with what he requires.” (p.65)

On singleness:

“Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our fellowships need to uphold and honour singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends or need tying up. Nor should we think that every person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.” (p.68)

On a non-Christian friend coming out to you:

“Wouldn’t it be great if, of all people, it was their Christian friend they felt most able to approach? Telling us about their sexuality could be an opportunity for the friendship to deepen rather than drift apart. And taking a genuine interest is more likely than anything else to prompt questions about how we think about these matters as a believer.” (p.75)

On being an effective witness to the world:

“Key to our witness and credibility on this (or any) issue is the quality of our life together, and the clarity of our message.” (p.77)

Verdict: Highly recommended. Give it out to everyone you can at church to think through this issue with truth and love.

More info:

  • A lot of what’s in this book and more can be found on this excellent site – www.livingout.org

Half-year update on us trying to read more books

It was sometime towards the end of last year that I realised that, in comparison to the hundreds of articles, blog posts and Facebook updates that I skim through on a daily basis, I wasn’t really doing very well with old-fashioned book reading.

So this year we’ve tried to build it into our family routines more. When we’re home for dinner, we try to read a portion of the Bible (right now the girls all get to listen to Jeremiah, since that’s the book being preached at this year’s Stand Conference). In addition, we try and read as a family after meals (alternating between fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). And then I read a few books myself too (usually ones that Cheryl wouldn’t find interesting).

It’s actually nice to look back and see that God has used the time to help us engage with quite a few books. So far in the last half year, we’ve read:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) – aside from the unfortunate tale of Emeth, really enjoyed this. Cheryl had read the series as a kid, I had not. Even E was able to say Aslan after we’d gone through a few of the books.
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield – so much helpful thoughts about hospitality, parenting, evangelism, and an insightful look into the life of a former lesbian feminist professor turned Christian (I reviewed this last year – we read it together this time as a family)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – a delightful tale about a girl who loves to read and is very intelligent, but misunderstood by her parents and headmistress at school. Very humorous. We have a whole lot more Roald Dahl books to enjoy.
  • Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull – we are up to chapter 20; it’s meant to be our date night book but I often forget to pick it out and read it (perhaps because it’s an e-book)
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – we started this last night (a short book about pride,  something we both want to work on).

During the day, Cheryl has been reading to E. They’ve gone through dozens of books in this way, including Big Picture Bible, Jesus Storybook Bible, Dr Seuss’s Library, Goodnight Moon, Peepo and others (thanks, Auckland Libraries!)

In addition, here is my personal reading:

    • A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke – I’m stuck in chapter 10. It’s a really boggy book to be in… I’m determined to read more though.
    • Engaging with God by David Peterson – A biblical theology of worship. Very detailed and scholarly, some of it going over my head but lots of helpful thoughts. Very succinct big idea: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms He proposes, and in a way that He alone makes possible.”
    • Passing the Baton by Colin Marshall – A short book outlining a vision for ministry apprenticeships
    • The God Who Is There by Don Carson – Started this and got a few chapters in before getting sidetracked
    • Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith – Started this too, a little underwhelmed. I got the big idea fairly quickly (we are not containers for ideas or beliefs, but rather beings who desire a vision of the good/ultimate life, and this should shape how we think about worship, education, culture), but I don’t see why he has to take so much time and use so much complexity to get his points across.

Also, Cheryl is working through Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley with Kelli and Kat from church.

What books are you currently reading? Any suggestions on what we could read next?

What does sin have to do with my four dead girls?

Tim Keller shares a practical example of gazing at Jesus Christ for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding:

“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”

When Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.

Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:

My sin, oh, though the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”

In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.

– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-2