Over Easter I had the opportunity to volunteer on the book stall at the Word Alive event in Wales with the Christian publisher IVP. Though I was a volunteer and therefore unpaid, they nevertheless thanked me and the other volunteers with £250 worth of books, which, as those of you who know me well will know, is a pretty awesome thing for me to receive. Having that sudden influx of Christian books, I’ve tried to alternate between reading them and some sci-fi/fantasy books I’ve also picked up recently, which means I’ve managed to get through six of them since coming back from Wales. They’re all on different topics and are written by different authors, so I’ve decided to post two quick-fire review posts, each covering three books, so that you can get a bit of an idea about what I thought of each one.
Prayer by Timothy Keller
I’m just going to come straight out and say that I’m a big Tim Keller fan. I’ve read most of his books and through them, he’s definitely been one of the more influential Christian authors in my own life. In many ways, Prayer was like his other books – easy to read, rooted in the Bible, informative, and practical. If you like those qualities, read one of his books. This book was a bit different in that it contained more in the way of historical and theological thought than I remember his other books having, with whole chapters dedicated to teachings on prayer from the likes of Augustine, Calvin and Luther, and though it was easy enough to read, I have to admit that parts of these chapters did feel a little dry to me. It’s not that they didn’t contain good information, it’s just that I didn’t feel like Keller’s writing was at its entertaining best throughout parts of the book.
What’s really important in a book on prayer, however, is not the writing style, but the application, and I have to say that I have found some of the techniques suggested in this book very useful in freshening up my Bible reading and my prayer life. A lot of what Keller suggests is very meditative, and involves using the Bible very directly in prayer, which isn’t right for every situation as sometimes you need to be freer to talk to God in your own words, but nonetheless, his methods are, in my opinion, sound and helpful. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to someone interested in the subject.
Popologetics by Ted Turnau
This book was on a subject that I’ve never really considered in depth as a standalone thing before: apologetics through popular culture. Conceptually, the book fascinated me, and that’s what led me to pick it up in the first place. Turnau spends the first half of the book going through existing approaches to popular culture, then spends the second half explaining and demonstrating his own approach, which is essentially a series of questions that enable you to determine how something in pop culture relates to Christianity, and allows non-Christians to consider possible links as well.
As I said, it’s a very interesting idea, and it’s a good, comprehensive book if you want to learn a lot about the topic in a short space of time. That said, there are some drawbacks. Turnau is an academic by trade and you can tell that sometimes. Not that there’s anything wrong with academic writing, but in a book aimed at the general Christian population of the West, he can be a bit dense and difficult to read at times. The book also seemed a bit long winded, and it could possibly be improved by cutting down some of the first half and getting to the main Popologetics section more quickly.
I wouldn’t recommend this book for light reading, but I would recommend it to someone who’s interested in getting a more comprehensive knowledge on the relationship between Christianity and popular culture.
The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw
This book deserves a far longer review, but as I don’t plan to write one in the foreseeable future, I’ll have to settle for this. Shaw’s book on the church’s approach to same-sex attraction is simply brilliant, though I urge you to approach it with an open mind. The main part of the book is set out in 9 ‘missteps’ that the church has made/is making when it comes to same-sex attraction and homosexuality, such as the ideas that ‘Godliness is heterosexuality’ and ‘a family is Mum, Dad and 2.4 children’.
You need an open mind to read this book because I would be very surprised if you could read it all without having your view challenged somewhere. It’s likely that you’ll have fallen into one or more of the missteps yourself – I know I have, but what’s great about that is that if you don’t get offended by being told that you’re wrong and push on, you’ll find that Shaw has very practical solutions to those missteps.
It’s also possible that you’ll disagree with Shaw’s own view on homosexuality. He is an Evangelical pastor, and believes that acting on same-sex attraction is not in line with Biblical standards. For many people, this will be difficult to swallow, but Shaw is not another Christian bashing gay people. He himself experiences same-sex attraction (though he says he doesn’t like being labelled ‘gay’) and has chosen to live a celibate life because of this. One of the book’s biggest strength comes from the honesty that Shaw shows again and again as he writes about his struggles with God, Christians and the church as he tries to live a life according to what he believes.
This book is challenging, but also very moving. I wouldn’t hesitate it to recommend it to anyone, whatever their beliefs or stance towards homosexuality. Shaw’s writing is very easy to read, and this book won’t take long to get through considering the potential that it has to challenge and encourage you.