Over the years I have built up quite an extensive library. Occasionally I’m informed of a potential clear-out coming my way but the threat has yet to materialise! However, if I did have to select my top 25 titles, which books would be the most important for me to keep?
I’ve thought long and hard and here is that list – these are the books which have fed my soul, impressed my spirit and directed my life as opposed to simply informing my theology.
The main 10 – in order of priority
Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster Hodder
Return of the Prodigal Son Henri Nouwen DLT
The Wonder of Worship David McKee Faith Mission
Enjoying Intimacy with God Oswald Sanders Moody Press
Border Lands David Adam SPCK
In the Name of Jesus Henri Nouwen DLT
Awake my Heart J. Sidlow Baxter MMS
The Glory Man – Billy Bray Cyril Davey Hodder
An Unfading Vision Edward England Hodder
Literature Evangelism George Verwer Authentic
Those next in significance
Unlocking the Bible David Pawson HarperCollins
Dynamics of Spiritual Life Richard Lovelace Paternoster
Knowing God James Packer Hodder
The Church on the Way Jack Hayford Chosen Books
Wisdom Larry Lee Highland
The Life God Blesses Gordon MacDonald Word Books
Circle of Love Anne Persson BRF
Ruthless Trust Brennan Manning SPCK
A Glimpse of Jesus Brennan Manning SPCK
Soul Survivor Philip Yancey Hodder
Those too hard to leave out!
Finding Sanctuary Christopher Jamison Orion
Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren Zondervan
Walking the Edges David Adam SPCK
Epiphanies of the Ordinary Charlie Cleverley Hodder
Soulful Spirituality David Benner Baker
If you were hoping to find here a Guide to the 25 Essential Spiritual Classics, that book has already been written (25 Books Every Christian Should Read : Harper One : 2011) and is in itself highly recommended. It contains all the major Christian writers from past centuries and has been put together by a specially selected group of advisors by Renovare.
As a personal exercise, why not post here which books are important to you? What titles would your own list include?
I’m delighted to review this rather striking and solid A4-size Hardback. Well produced, it’s quite simply magnificent; a Magnus Opus. It’s visually stunning and highly significant for the whole Christian community; a broad sweep of Christian endeavour through the centuries culminating in a ‘pause point’ of where the worldwide church finds itself today. In some ways its underlying thesis harks back to an earlier era and gives the impression – perhaps correctly – that the Church in the West has largely lost its mission imperative. Consequently much of the book is devoted to the unfinished task of world mission.
Patrick Johnstone has done the Christian world a very particular service both with this new title and also previously as the main compiler and editor behind six previous editions of the indispensable prayer guide, Operation World, now in its 7th edition (2010) under Jason Mandryk. OW has been translated from English into 16 languages and has sold over 3m copies worldwide.
Johnstone’s latest book attempts to make sense of our world, its history and religions through the lens of evangelical Christianity. There is an element of futurology here. Its stated aim is ‘to better prepare Christians for ministry in the 21st century’.
You will learn much. The scope of the book is immense but its structure is cleverly thought through, making it straightforward and compelling. Every page is packed full of maps, charts and statistics – all food for meditation, prayer and discussion. This is a colourful, colour-coded visual interpretation of masses of otherwise impenetrable data distilled into clear chapter and subject headings making the book a delight to browse. Throughout, shaded boxes contain ‘Food for Thought’ items and a ‘Burning Question for Today’.
As Christians, we can so often trot out ‘facts’ which are no longer true or worse still are ‘half-truths’. We become lazy because it takes effort to update our knowledge. This book means we no longer have any excuse to not understand the complexities, needs and opportunities of the planet which we call home and its people whom God created and loves. All praying individuals should purchase a copy and keep it alongside their Bible and newspaper. In my view, this is a ‘must read’ for all Christians but especially for those with any kind of responsibility in Church leadership.
‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15)
Here is a brief tour of the main sections of the book:
1. Demography – the Nine Global Challenges and Trends
- Population – by 2050, growth will be mainly in countries that are Muslim or African
- Urbanisation – the top 10 mega-cities will soon all be in Asia and Africa
- Migration – people of European origin are shrinking and the Muslim population is spreading
- Health – looks at disease hotspots, healthcare and the ongoing challenge of HIV/Aids
- Climate change – the impact of weather patterns, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis’
- Economy – considers the global distribution of wealth and the impact of corruption
- Energy resources – shortages can only increase as the gap between demand and supply grows
- Politics – issues of freedom, conflicts, civil liberties and human rights
- Water resources – access could prove the most critical factor leading possibly to ‘water wars’
2. History – 20 Centuries AD
- 2,000 years of Church and secular history displayed graphically over 42 pages – awesome!
- Significant dates, progress and setbacks for each century – all noted on one-double page spread
3. Religion – the Major Streams
- Christian 32.5%, Muslim 21%, Atheist or agnostic 15.5%, Hindu 13.5%, Buddhist 6.6%, Eastern, animist or other 10%
4. Christianity – Six Megablocs
- Catholics (48%), Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Independents and Marginal’s
- The USA and Brazil are the countries with the largest Christian majorities
5. Christianity – Renewal and revival
- Need for renewal is due to (1) nominalism and (2) attitude to the centrality of the Bible
- Seven trans-confessional systems: Traditional Churches – Sacramental, Formal, Liberal and Syncretic. Renewal movements: Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal
- Six major ‘awakenings’ are documented from the Moravians in 1728 onwards. Pentecostal growth started at turn of 1900’s and Charismatic renewal developed from 1960 onwards
- Dangers of renewal: (1) withdrawal from politics and (2) emphasis on prosperity and healing
6. Christianity – Evangelical explosion
- Explicitly, for Johnstone, this growth provides the needed thrust for world evangelisation
- Note – there are more than 70 adjectives used to describe the broad term ‘Evangelical’
- Evangelical growth globally has shifted from the North and West to the South and East
- Massive growth is forecast across Asia but ongoing heavy decline in Europe
- The Top 4 countries (2000) for Evangelical growth are: USA, China, Nigeria and India
- China is fast becoming the Evangelical giant – with numbers soon likely to exceed the USA
- Interestingly, the previous Catholic countries of South America have become Evangelical
7. The Unevangelised
- Johnstone classifies the world into 7,000 languages, 15 ‘affinity blocks’ and 250 ‘people clusters’
- ‘Preach the Gospel to all Nations’: possibly 2 Billion out of 7 Billion have never heard the gospel?
- The least evangelised countries are sub-Saharan, the Arab world and the Horn of Africa (Somalia)
8. The Future of Christian Mission
- Sending Countries: USA 95,000, India 83,000, S. Korea 21,500
- Receiving Countries: India 42,000, USA 20,000, Brazil 7,000
- UK (2010) – sent out 6,400 and received 4,100 missionaries
- There are approx. 16,300 missionaries working in Muslim countries
- Main Mission Agencies: Campus Crusade 9,900 (128 nations), Gospel for Asia 9,500 (9 nations)
Some interesting observations by Johnstone along the way:
‘The Reformation was strong on Biblical truth but light on prayer, revival and evangelisation. It had an undeveloped missiology’
‘European empires acted as a bridge for the Gospel but the full flowering and growth of indigenous biblical Christianity came only after Colonialism ended’
‘The grim legacy of the Crusades impacts Christian witness even today’
‘Muslims can view Christians in the west as pork-eating, fornicating drunkards’
‘Nearly all the unreached countries have Muslim majorities’
‘Islam will be one of the formative ideologies of the 21st century and will not just fade away’
‘The decline of Christianity throughout Europe is a great concern’
‘In the 1950’s the term ‘missionary’ was a title of honour. Now it’s a badge of embarrassment associated with imperialism and intolerance’
‘In 2011, the world population reached 7 billion. In 2006, there were 6 billion mobile phones in the world!’
‘No doctoral programmes, techniques, strategies, management styles or fundraising expertise can replace a humble godliness and dependence on the Holy Spirit’
The Future of the Global Church
Authentic Media Ltd
Hardback ISBN 978-1-85078-966-6
Earlier in February, I treated myself to a few hours in the British Library – situated next door to the beautifully restored St Pancras International Station – taking in the magnificent treasures of the permanent Sacred Texts Exhibition. That afternoon I tweeted:
Spent 20 glorious minutes gazing at stunning MSS of Lindisfarne Gospels. Face pressed to glass, just a few cm away. Moving, exquisite.
There are 78 Sacred Texts and Illustrated Manuscripts from all around the world, representative of every religion, on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery (alongside original Beatles lyrics and the actual Magna Carta). Best of all public access to the collection is completely free of charge!
For the sake of time and in line with personal preferences I spent much of the time concentrating on some of the most important texts of the Christian Faith. What follows is a snapshot of those treasures and the MSS that I most enjoyed.
Before that let me ask you this question: Have you ever wondered about the origin of paper and where in the world moveable type printing was first used? In which case, where best to start than with the Dawn of Printing display in the gallery?
The East - paper was invented in China in 100AD. We have Buddhism to thank for the arrival of printing in the 7th century. The world’s earliest recognisable book dates to China in 868AD. Moveable type printing was first used in a Buddhist text from Korea in 1377.
The West – In 1455, 180 copies of Johannes Gutenberg’s Bible were the first ever Bibles printed with moveable type. This was much later than that in Korea but Gutenberg’s method was far more suited commercially.
Included in the BL’s collection of Christian texts, these top 10 treasures stand out:
Codex Sinaiticus, 350AD – The Codex Sinaiticus is a treasure beyond price. Produced in the middle of the 4th century, the Codex is one of the two earliest Christian Bibles. (The other is the Codex Vaticanus in Rome.) It contains the complete Greek New Testament, plus parts of the Old Testament.
Codex Alexandrinus, 5th Century – Codex Alexandrinus is one of the three earliest and most important manuscripts of the entire Bible in Greek, the others being Codex Sinaiticus, also in the British Library, and Codex Vaticanus in Rome.
Lindisfarne Gospels, 698AD – This 7th century masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon art is originally from Holy Island in Northern England and the earliest surviving of the Latin Gospels. This book is truly gorgeous; a crinkly, illustrated MSS with jagged edges, about ¾ the size of a standard Pulpit Bible. The text is exquisitely handwritten but in uniform Latin lettering. There is a smaller Anglo-Saxon translation which was added between the Latin lines in 970AD by Aldred.
To be within a ‘nose’ of these Gospels – separated only by thin glass – is a thrilling and ethereal experience. These Gospels were written ‘For God and St Cuthbert’ by just one artist, Eadfrith who was the Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 – 721AD. This is one of my all-time favourite books.
St Cuthbert Gospel, 698AD – The St Cuthbert Gospel, a 7th century manuscript, is the earliest surviving intact European book and one of the world’s most significant treasures. It retains its exquisite original fine-tooled red leather binding and survives intact. This is the starting point for books as we know them today, an exceptional example of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship. This handwritten Gospel is a Latin copy of John’s Gospel. It was placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin in 698AD on Lindisfarne and later found when the Saint’s coffin was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104.
STOP PRESS (April 2012) – The St Cuthbert Gospel has now been saved for the nation (at a cost of £9m) and is now on open display in the BL Galley. It’s quite small and beautifully hand-scripted in Latin. Well worth seeing if you can.
Holkham Bible Picture Book, 1325 – 1350 This celebrated picture-book tells the Biblical story in Norman French, with the help of copious illustrations of everyday 14th-century England.
Sherborne Missal, 1400 – 1407 This early 15th-century manuscript is probably the largest and most lavishly decorated English medieval service book to survive from the Middle Ages. It came from the Benedictine Abbey in Dorset and weighs a whopping 3 stones!
Gutenberg Bible, 1455 – Probably the most famous Bible in the world and the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type.
Tyndale New Testament in English, 1526 – Tyndale’s New Testament was the first to be printed in English. The BL has one of only two copies of this earliest English translation of the Bible. It was regarded as a heretical text and Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake for his efforts in 1536. This was the Bible that Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII read, so eventually even members of the Royal Household accepted the text.
Geneva Bible, 1560 – The first Bible version divided into verses, produced by English Protestant exiles in Calvinist Geneva during the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. This was a much smaller Bible printed in legible Roman type.
King James Bible, 1611 – The King James, or Authorised, Version of the Bible remains the most widely published text in the English language. King James convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 to produce a suitable version for England and this Bible duly appeared in 1611. The 400th anniversary of the KJV was celebrated last year in 2011.
I first came across Brennan Manning as the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel. I came quickly to the conclusion that it was worth reading anything by him. I rate him highly.
In my view, his writing is up there with Richard Foster, Philip Yancey and Henri Nouwen, helping us make sense of the complexities and yet the utter simplicity of the spiritual life.
This little book, A Glimpse of Jesus is no exception. This is a small book and it should be easy to read through in one sitting. It’s not. It’s hard-hitting and therefore tough to read. Each paragraph requires thought and invites action. Spiritual writing of this quality is often quite unsettling, challenging as it does our preconceptions and long-held views.
Brennan Manning is a Franciscan Catholic but his understanding of the major Christian traditions is pretty wide-ranging although somewhat centred on his North American roots. He is clearly no fan of the moral majority nor of right-wing Evangelicalism!
Richard Manning came from a dysfunctional family. He became a monk and then took the name Brennan. His life is full of what many would consider to be failings; he was an alcoholic and he experienced divorce. But it is these very ‘failings’ that give his writings both humanity and compassion and which have led him to his main message: ‘God loves you as you are – and unconditionally’.
Read some of it here for yourself, in this, a small flavour of the book:
‘The habit of moralising spoils religion. Personal responsibility to an inviolable moral code replaces personal response to God’s loving call’ p9
‘Salvation cannot be earned or merited but only humbly and gratefully received as a loving gift from the Father’s hand’ p13
‘Christian freedom is the joyful acceptance of (an) unprecedented and scandalous reversal of the World’s values’ p27
‘Christianity is not about ritual and moral living except insofar as these two express the love that causes both of them. We must at least pray for the grace to become love’. p29
‘The love of the Father for His children plunges us into mystery, because it is utterly beyond the pale of human experience’. p45
‘There is a beauty and enchantment about the Nazarene that draws me irresistibly to follow Him. He is the Pied Piper of my lonely heart. It is not pious prattle to say that the only valid reason I can think of for living is Jesus Christ’. p49
‘It’s a tired cliché, a battered bumper sticker, an overused and often superficial slogan but it’s the truth of the Gospel: Jesus is the answer’. p50
‘The Christian’s warmth and congeniality, non-judgemental attitude and welcoming love may well be the catalyst allowing the healing power of Jesus to become operative in the life of an alienated, forlorn brother or sister’. p65
‘Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love … born of a desire to be with Jesus … to really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion’. p83
‘Why the symbol of the crucified Christ? Because it is an icon of the greatest act of love in human history …the Christian should tremble and the whole community quake when contemplating the cross on the Friday we call Good’ p90
‘With time slipping away like sand in an hourglass, the church has no more urgent priority than proclaiming the values of Jesus, preparing the way for Him, and restraining panic when He appears on the scene’ p101
‘When we ‘put on Christ’ and fully accept who we are, a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing and human respect develops. Christ’s preferences and values become our own’. p111
‘When the Crucified One says, ‘I’m dying to be with you’ and then whispers, ‘Will you die a little to be with me’? my sluggish spirit is stirred’. p114
‘The cross of Jesus will ever remain a scandal and foolishness to discriminating disciples who seek a triumphal Saviour and a prosperity Gospel. Their number is legion. They are enemies of the cross of Christ … Jesus ministry was a seeming failure, His life appeared to have made no difference. He was a naked, murdered, ineffectual, losing God. But in that weakness and vulnerability, the world would come to know the love of the Abba of the Compassionate One. p139
‘The Glory of Christ lies in this … He has called forth disciples to come after Him … they are ‘marginal’ people, not part of the scene, irrelevant to ‘the action’. In their ministry of quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. The world ignores them. But they are building the Kingdom of God on earth’ p139
‘If you call Jesus Goodness, He will be good to you. If you call Him Love, He will be loving to you; but if you call Him Compassion, He will know that you know’. p145
In so many ways, this is a beautiful book – in sentiment, content and sheer grace.
Here is the contrast between authentic faith and legalistic religion. If you too have failed, in whatever way, then this is the book for you, pointing you to experience God’s ‘lavish, indiscriminate and unconditional’ love.
A Glimpse of Jesus
HarperOne : 2004 : 145pp
Over 70 people gathered at the Science Museum in London on Wednesday 16 March to celebrate the launch of three new major publications authored by Jeff Lucas.
Having enjoyed a guided tour through the ‘Journey of Flight’ exhibition, representatives from the Christian media, book trade and major church denominations heard Jeff speak passionately of how these new resources for those seeking God, and for those new on their journey of faith came about. Here’s a taste of the evening;
These three CWR resources are:
|Life – The Journey for New Christians DVD|
|Successfully navigate the daily journey of the Christian life, for new Christians
These resources are available from your local Christian bookshop, from CWR or from www.eden.co.uk
Lent starts this week.
I don’t usually push CWR products on this blog but I’m making an exception for this really good DVD. OK – so I’m biased!
Filmed on the Wintershall Estate in Surrey – home of the outstanding ‘Life of Christ’ annual outdoor production – it’s presented by my friend and colleague, Mick Brooks and based on material written by Selwyn Hughes, the founder of CWR.
‘Jesus’ ability to heal our wounds flows from the fact that He Himself experienced our wounds. The God we see in Jesus did not study our sufferings from a distance in a cold and detached way, but wrapped Himself in our flesh and felt what we feel. These insightful sessions will increase your awareness that Jesus is committed to us and can relieve and support us through the pain we experience in life, giving us hope and strength to face whatever comes our way. You will also see afresh that God can turn what is meant for evil into good’.
The DVD contains five 15-minute (approx) sessions entitled:
- Jesus: His Wounds Answer Our Wounds
- Jesus: ‘Why Have You Forsaken Me?’
- Jesus: Misunderstood and Criticised
- Jesus: Living through Loss and Grief
- Jesus: Resurrection Hope.
It’s suitable for small-group or individual use and has subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Available from your local Christian Bookshop, from CWR or online at www.eden.co.uk
This is a BIG book in more ways than one; big in size and huge in vision. For many Christians, myself included, this latest and seventh revision of Operation World – THE definitive Christian prayer and reference guide – represents a major publishing event; one which should be applauded by all those committed to Christian mission and the advancement of the Gospel.
Such a project is either extremely foolhardy or a publishing triumph depending on your point of view, given the demise of reference material across world publishing at present! The Publisher’s blurb describes this book as a ‘must for every Christian’s library’. I think they are right in this assessment as its stated purpose is ‘to inform for prayer and to mobilise for ministry’.
The genesis of this book lies firmly within the Protestant missionary movement. Work commenced in 1974 through the auspices of the Dorothea Mission, then from 1976 its cause was championed (and still is) by George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation; and throughout it has had strong WEC International involvement. Patrick Johnstone will be forever linked with the project and without him I doubt it would have come to fruition.
I too can personally look back with a sense of privilege in my own small involvement with the distribution of the 1993 and 2001 editions whilst working with Send the Light Ltd. No-one who has been involved with Operation World can fail to have been impressed by the sheer magnitude of the task of producing this book. However, as with all reference works, it is inevitably out-of-date as soon as it is printed!
The endorsements at the front of the completely revised 7th edition read like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the global Evangelical community.
George Verwer says OW is ‘one of the most important missionary tools in the entire history of missions’. Quite a claim but I guess he should know!
Operation World was born out of the Evangelical view of the strategic importance of prayer in the conversion of nations in order to ‘Hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord’ – a missiological urgency which may not be quite so prevalent in the UK today. This view is described on the very last page of the book, where this important theological perspective – the return of Christ – is noted.
For me, what the book does is to throw into sharp focus the mystery of all such intercessory prayer. If God is all-knowing, why on earth (literally) do we need to rehearse to Him in our prayers all the points from this book concerning the 190+ countries which make up His world? One answer from the book is that every prayer we pray is described as ‘a tiny piece of a great cosmic puzzle’. We are not merely to pray ‘about’ such facts but to pray ‘towards’ something; ‘the ultimate fulfilment of the Father’s purpose’.
I suggest that you keep Operation World next to your Bible. Along with daily devotional materials, these are the primary aids for building our spiritual lives. I’m fully committed to all types of Christian literature but I regard the Bible, Operation World and a Daily Bible Reading Guide as being the irreducible minimum for our spiritual formation.
The design of the overall package is very attractive; the statistics, charts, maps and data-points are all clear and compelling. Young people will also find it practical (if you can prise them away from checking with Google!) and it presents far more realistic information for holiday and business travel than the average travel guide can provide. The sections on ‘Global Hot-spots’ and ‘Global Trends’ are extremely up-to-the-minute and read as well as anything out of The Economist.
This is truly an astonishing book and it deserves to succeed. Buy the hardback (preferably) for yourself – and as a gift for others this Christmas – from your local Christian bookshop. If that’s not possible go online to order it - but try not to use Amazon if you can possibly help it! Why? Because a project of this size, which comes around only periodically, means a great deal in terms of income generation for the struggling Christian retail trade.
‘Maranatha;, even so come Lord Jesus’
For more details, click here for the Operation World website.
Biblica Publishing : 2010 : 978pp
Hardback ISBN 978-1-85078-861-4
Paperback ISBN 978-1-85078-862-1
I must first declare an interest; I’m a total Philip Yancey fan (there – I’ve said it!). ’Grace Notes’ is drawn from the best of 30 years’ writing by the award-winning author and acts as something of a ‘Yancey Taster’; it’s therefore both good and bad. Good, as it acts as a superb introduction to Yancey’s writings, and bad, in that inevitably it cannot do complete justice to the depth and quality of those writings. For that you have to read the actual books themselves.
Even if you do own all of Yancey’s books, this one is still worth buying just for the Preface alone. If you love books and you love good writing, you’ll very much appreciate the intro; it’s his personal synopsis of what led Yancey to write, along with many of the events along the way, as well as how he deals with the considerable impact he has made on other people through his writings – wonderful, moving, powerful ‘stuff’.
The structure of this book is 366 short daily readings drawn from the three decades of Yancey’s work – from books, magazine articles and miscellaneous jottings. The real bonus is the Comprehensive Index both of the subjects covered and the source of each reading, thus enabling the reader to ‘dip in’ at random (ignoring the daily plan!) and to come across so many beautiful instances of spiritual serendipity. If you know Yancey well, this acts as great ‘memory-jogger’, but if not, it’s just a wonderful introduction to a truly inspirational and gifted Christian writer. The Descriptive Bibliography is also a delight; a short pen-portrait by the author of each of his books describing something of their genesis and background.
Philip Yancey started out as a journalist and has been writing articles for Christianity Today since 1983. Four of his books have each sold over a million copies worldwide; he is probably best known for ‘What’s so Amazing about Grace?’ He moved to Colorado from Chicago in 1992 but, unlike the often questionable certainties of many other American writers, I particularly like Yancey for his honest and down-to-earth qualities. He too finds Christianity just a little perplexing and whilst, always insightful, never seeks to bring facile answers to what are so often the major mysteries of faith.
As I get older, I have concluded that I could live with just the writings of Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, David Adam, Brennan Manning and, of course Philip Yancey. My life is made ever so much richer by being in their company as a result of reading their books. My favourite Yancey book is probably ‘Soul Survivor’ but now I’m torn by just having read his soon-to-be-published book and another certain best-seller, ‘What good is God’ which could be a strong contender for that particular spot – it is very Yancey and very good but that must be the subject of another review!
Grace Notes – Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim
Note – This book was provided FOC by Clem Jackson, Editor of Christian Marketplace magazine for the purpose of writing this review. Further details can be found at http://www.christianmarketplace.org.uk. You can download a free copy of the digital version of the magazine from the website.
Dr William Dembski, described as a gifted Christian thinker, is a mathematician and philosopher and a well known champion of Intelligent Design (ID). He’s author of a dozen plus books and has been cited in both Time magazine and the New York Times.
This book is an intellectual tour-de-force of Christian apologetics. It attempts to counter the recent rash of neo-atheism books, headlined by the likes of Richard Dawkins. Dembski is ‘pleased that Christianity is once again a live issue’ and the cover blurb describes the book as ‘provocative’. For me, in places, it was simply impenetrable!
It tackles the age-old question – termed theodicy (the problem of a perfect God in an imperfect world) – with which all of us struggle; ‘how can a good God and an evil world co-exist’?
The book attempts to deal with the ever-perplexing problem of the existence of evil and to offer new insights into God’s purposes in allowing evil.
Dembski tries to reach an understanding of what the ‘end (result) of Christianity’ really means, hence the title. He tries to change our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distortion of sin and evil.
Augustine had said, ‘God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist’. The book argues that ‘God would be unjust if he didn’t subject the world to natural evil so that it reflects the evil in human hearts resulting from the fall’. It is therefore ‘painful to accept that God bears at least some responsibility for natural evil and that he brings it about in response to human sin’.
Here are the big questions; is human sin responsible for natural evil? Is the fall responsible for famine, floods and earthquakes? Does creation predate the fall and by how long? If so, how old is the earth and how do we understand and interpret the early chapters of Genesis? Does science now trump the traditional young-earth, creationist view of Genesis?
Dembski resolutely defends the claim that all evil is ultimately traceable to human sin at the fall. It is this that is the cause of all evil, not God; ‘The essence of evil is the rebellion of the creature’, an action of created free will.
Along with other Christian thinkers, Dembski asserts that the main reason why people reject God is that they cannot believe that He is good. He states that the key mark of faith is an ability to discern God’s goodness in the face of extreme evil.
Phew – I struggled big-time with this book. I found it difficult, fascinating, challenging and stretching. I’m far from qualified to comment on the arguments and around chapter 13, I just got hopelessly lost!
Why does God allow evil? I’m afraid I still don’t know. To me it remains a troubling and disturbing mystery.
The End of Christianity – Finding a Good God in an Evil World
William A. Dembski
Paternoster / Authentic Media
Note – This book was provided FOC by Clem Jackson, Editor of Christian Marketplace magazine for the purpose of writing this review. Further details can be found at http://www.christianmarketplace.org.uk. You can download a free copy of the digital version of the magazine from the website.