Book Review: New Girl at Church

Questions. We all have them. About life, about our world, about why things are the way that they are. Asking questions is an important part of life and an integral part of learning about something new or unfamiliar. This is especially true when it comes to questions about faith. There are a lot of truth claims out there about God, the world, and where we’re all headed. How do we know which claims are right? And what does it mean to follow this Jesus guy?

In New Girl at Church, Stacey Martin offers a questions-based explanation of Christianity from the perspective of a new believer. This is not your standard-fare work of apologetics determined to overwhelm questions with philosophical answers, nor is it a fluffy account of how someone very different than you had a crazy Jesus experience that miraculously transformed their life. No, New Girl at Church is a story how someone with real questions found real answers in Jesus. It’s a story that’s happening all around us—a story that can happen to you too.

Short, accessible, funny, and engaging, New Girl at Church speaks from the perspective of someone who was a skeptic of organized religion for over 30 years. Most chapters center around a specific question that those unfamiliar with Christianity or new to the whole following Jesus thing often ask. It’s a refreshingly honest approach to speaking about faith, an honest articulation of questions, struggles, ups and downs, and the realities that face anyone hoping to find answers to their questions.

One of the best parts about New Girl at Church is how Stacey largely avoids Christianese or delving into secondary issues that might distract from the core of faith. She poses and addresses real questions asked by real people. Throughout the book, she weaves in her own story of God’s grace and transformation, making this more than just an explanation of faith—it’s a personal story of God’s faithfulness and pursuit too.

The first half of the book is probably best suited for those who are not currently following Jesus, as it addresses questions like “who is Jesus?” and “how does following Jesus change your life?” It’s a real, sometimes raw account of how Stacey asked these questions and came to answers. The second half of New Girl at Church is best intended for those who’ve made the decision to give Jesus a try. These chapters focus on connecting to a church community, the importance of baptism, how family life changes when you follow Jesus, the centrality of forgiveness, and the importance of digging in and living our faith.

I highly recommend New Girl at Church for anyone asking about Jesus or what it means to follow Him. Especially if you’ve tried more formal apologetics books and found yourself looking for a more real and authentic perspective, give New Girl at Church a try. One final thought is that this book would make a particularly valuable tool for churches who are looking to provide relational resources for those exploring faith.

Mere Christianity for Today

Or Reflections on the Realities of Big Tent Christianity

“As Christians, we are seekers after truth, not merely its custodians.” Michael Bauman1

The Situation

“Christianity is in trouble,” everyone seems to be saying, for a variety of reasons. The rise of the “nones.”2 Increased dissatisfaction with institutional religion.3 The forthcoming disintegration of American evangelicalism over politics.4 The growth of the “spiritual but not religious” worldview.5 The general failure of the American Church’s members to reach millions of their friends, neighbors, and coworkers.6 The COVID shutdown that threatens some churches with the prospect of never reopening.7

Of course, from one point of view Christianity is not truly in trouble;8 these are largely problems with the American Church, and some may even be viewed as corrections of centuries-old corruptions within the Church. Yet on the other hand, these troubling trends may be fairly interpreted as indicators of the Church’s decline. More and more people see Christianity as boring, antiquated, and even harmful to personal happiness and ongoing social progress. Year by year, the Church becomes more irrelevant for individuals and its cultural influence deteriorates.

Now, I am hardly the first to point out the increasing darkness that surrounds the future of the Western Church. Potential solutions are as common as explanations of what is wrong. Some say we need to double down on our evangelism efforts; others call for a more culturally engaged church and a return to the politically fraught culture wars of years gone by; and still others call the Church to return to the monastery and weather the coming storm.9

Whatever the proposed solution, more and more leaders in the Church see the gathering storm and recognize that something has to change.10 It is no longer enough to thoughtlessly embrace existing patterns of Christian life, worship, and service; it is no longer enough for the Church to proceed as normal. Denominational politics, inward-looking country clubs, ineffective institutions, and church bodies more concerned with money or power than reaching future generations—none of this is enough.11

Fortunately, some Christians have long recognized these realities. The non-denominational reformation12 is a trend that speaks to this awareness, as are the growing number of new, smaller, more historically centered denominations such as the Anglican Church in North America.13 Pushback against “Church Inc.” has grown in recent years with the preaching and teaching of people like Francis Chan, David Platt, Skye Jethani, and others.14 Similarly, the megachurch movement, growth of multisite churches, many church planting movements, and a variety of parachurch organizations exist in large part due to the conviction and awareness that the Church must proclaim the gospel in fresh and engaging ways to a changing and tumultuous culture.

In addition to these existing something-needs-to-change movements, I wish to submit another approach: the establishment of mere Christian churches. Let me explain.

What is Mere Christianity?

The term “mere Christianity” has enjoyed popularity since C.S. Lewis titled one of his most famous works by the same name. In Mere Christianity, Lewis describes the kind of plain Christian faith he believed this way:

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter…. We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.15

Lewis himself did not coin the term, but instead built upon Puritan Richard Baxter’s use of the term and concept. In “On the Reading of Old Books,” Lewis provides his most succinct summary of mere Christianity, saying that it is “a standard of plain, central Christianity which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.”16

Baxter and Lewis, of course, were far from the first Christians to call for a focused and unified faith. Even within the New Testament, we see calls for the unity of the Church (John 17.20-26; Ephesians 4.1-6) as well as the necessary precondition for such unity: a discerning and nuanced articulation of faith (1 Corinthians 10.5; 2 Timothy 3.1-5; 1 Peter 5.7-9). Fifth-century theologian Vincent of Lerins advocated for the standard that, “in the universal Church… we should hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”17 In historical usage, then, mere Christianity is not a desire to return to a golden age of Christian faith and practice (as if there were such a thing); rather, it is a call to major on the majors and minor on the minors when it comes to belief and praxis.

Perhaps the best articulation of the mere Christian approach comes from the statement, “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.”18 That is, in necessary things unity, in doubtful things freedom, in all things love. In other words, mere Christianity focuses on the core, central facets of the Christian faith while allowing for differences of faith or practice on non-central things, all surrounded by charitable understanding where disagreements occur.

Such an approach to faith obviously pushes back against the situation that the Church finds itself in, by positing that a focus on the central necessities of the faith can help limit the infighting, divisions, and distraction of non-essential issues that far too often prevent people from hearing the Good News of Jesus and following Him. Mere Christians contend that Christianity’s image problem—the all-too-common perception that the Church is composed of divisive, sheltered, sexually-repressed, judgmental, political, hypocrites19—is in large part self-inflicted, and can be mediated by the mere Christian approach that emphasizes what Scripture (and Tradition) contend are important, while refusing to divide overe other issues.

Remaining Christian While Being Mere

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about mere Christianity, but another to actually put it into practice. One question that mere Christianity immediately raises is that of boundaries: how are we to distinguish between “plain, central Christianity” or “necessary things” and non-central doctrinal points or non-essential issues? In many instances, this is where mere Christianity runs into trouble.

The mere Christian perspective inherently pushes back against the rampant problem of divisive and sectarian Christianity that has dominated the global Church, and especially the Western Church, since the dawn of the Protestant Reformation.20 Yet adopting a mere Christian approach can easily become fodder for a number of other problematic approaches to faith. In his excellent book Finding the Right Hills to Die On, Gavin Ortlund classifies such viewpoints under the banner of “doctrinal minimalism,” where any doctrine or practice should be treated with skepticism and avoided altogether.21 Using this as a cautionary standard for what to avoid, this means the mere Christian approach should not devolve into theological liberalism, where the theology, history, and morality of Scripture are viewed as negotiable rather than norming.22 Likewise, mere Christianity should not stand in for ecumenical approaches, which are often high on intellectual camaraderie but low on practical unity. The mere Christian approach is also not the same thing as postmodern Christianity, where faith is exclusively personal, service to the world need not be done in the name of King Jesus, and the institutions of the past are viewed as something to be torn down rather than learned from.

As I am describing it, mere Christianity should not take any of these forms, because the mere Christian approach can also affirm that “many doctrines are significant even if we don’t divide over them.”23 Mere Christianity continues to recognize the norming status of Scripture and the Great Tradition of the Church. The central core of the faith and its attendant authorities—Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason—are still recognized as valid by the mere Christian approach (though not all such structures are necessarily of equal validity or value). In short, those adopting mere Christianity must be able to equally label themselves as “mere” and as “Christian,” a test that many doctrinally minimalist viewpoints struggle to pass.

Characteristics of Mere Christianity

How else may we describe and explain the mere Christian approach? I propose the following seven characteristics:

Gospel-Centered. The Good News of the Kingdom of God—that King Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, has come to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead to defeat death and inaugurate the reign of God, and will soon come again—stands at the heart of mere Christianity. Without the proclamation of this news as the guiding principle and central focus of this approach, mere Christianity would be worse than useless (1 Corinthians 15.1-19). Mere Christianity starts with and focuses on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who God is, what God has done, and what God is continuing to do in creation. Bringing the good news to a dark and distorted world is the whole point. The gospel must always stand at the center of the mere Christianity.24

Creedal. As we express, proclaim, and seek to live out the gospel, mere Christianity takes its definitional leads from the great creeds of the Christian tradition, namely, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. The particulars of what we confess and believe are important—so important, in fact, that the creeds formulated by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in faith serve as better guides for the boundaries of our understanding of what is central to faith than any novel statement of faith or clever articulation we devise.25 On the question of what counts as necessary or unnecessary, the creeds instruct us: who God is, what He has done, and life in Him are the essentials. Beyond those issues—and even, quite frankly, in the minutia of those issues—we may (and at times, must) find nuance and theological dialogue. But creedal Christianity forms the core of mere Christianity.

Balanced. Mere Christianity is neither lax nor dogmatic; it finds its place between the polarities of dividing over everything and dividing over nothing. In the spirit of Romans 14, both conviction and charity must bear out. To restate what was said above, mere Christianity recognizes that all theology is important, but not all theology is essential, urgent, or worth breaking community or communion over. Accordingly, when disagreements do occur, they are confronted in a spirit of dialogue and mutual submission, not division or condemnation.26

Embraces Particulars. Mere Christianity is not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of theology and life. This is not the approach of “avoid disagreement at all costs” or even “let’s just talk about where we agree.” Mere Christianity embraces, converses about, and even celebrates theological and practical distinctives. Differences on non-necessary or tertiary issues are not not important; to the contrary, they are worth talking about and learning from.27 The distinction, however, is that the mere Christian approach engages those divergences and does not divide over them. Perhaps the best example of this aspect of the mere Christian approach today comes in “views on” books like the Zondervan Counterpoints Series. In these volumes, Christians of different convictions and viewpoints come together to discuss issues while continuing to affirm each other’s status as a follower of Jesus.28 This is the kind of embrace of particulars that the mere Christian approach celebrates.

Intellectually Humble. Mere Christianity emphasizes rejects legalistic approaches to faith while encouraging Christian freedom and recalling our own human fallibility.29 This approach highlights the fact that we—the saints of God and members of the bride of Christ—cannot determine with full certainty the precise articulations of every theological issue or question. We all have our biases; we all have our soapboxes; we all have our experiences; we all have our sin and tendencies toward distortion to overcome. Accordingly, the mere Christian approach champions holding much of what we believe with open hands and takes a spirit of humble submission and speaking the truth in love.30 Truth is contextual, contested, and often difficult to find; thus, while we seek after the Truth, we do so with the knowledge that we might be wrong. Mere Christianity embraces teachability; in the words of Michael Bauman, “The Church rarely prospers more than when its teachers are teachable.”31

Drawn from the Great Tradition. Rather than rejecting wholesale the particulars, lessons, or emphases of denominational Christianity, mere Christianity seeks to learn from the best parts of the Great Tradition of the Church. While mere Christianity does not necessarily embrace (for example) a Baptist view of baptism, a Catholic view of communion, or a Methodist’s view of church governance, mere Christians learn from these particulars. Functionally, this means that many mere Christians find themselves connecting, gathering, growing, and serving alongside Christians from other backgrounds and denominations.32

Faithful and Practical. The mere Christian approach is never just about faith, belief, doctrine, or what’s in your head; neither it is only about practice, praxis, or what you’re doing with your hands. In the words of James 2:16, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. Mere Christianity seeks to balance faithfulness and practicality with a living faith that rejects cheap grace and embraces sacrifice and the servant-hearted life. Mere Christians live out their faith and show it by what they do.

Mere Christianity in Practice

At this point, it is natural to ask what the kind of mere Christianity described here looks like in practice. There are a number of churches that can easily be described as having adopted this approach, even some which have self-consciously used this language.33 Below, I provide only the briefest examples of what the mere Christian approach may look like in practice.

Rooftop Church is a nearly twenty-year-old mere Christian church located in St. Louis, Missouri. Rooftop’s take on mere Christian characteristics manifests in its simple doctrinal statement, baptismal practices, emphasis on service to its community, commitment to working with other area churches, interdenominational make up, embrace of skeptics, apolitical posture, and ability to address “disputable matters.” More often than not, Rooftop calls this approach “big tent Christianity,” which is a fitting image of everyone involved gathering under a big tent. This is a useful image to draw on, as it conveys the approachability of such a church, as well the reality that boundaries do exist and the fact that there is a core—the ring where everyone should be focused.

It is this core that Rooftop constantly points people toward: “We take Jesus seriously, but not ourselves” is a constant refrain at Rooftop, particularly when disputes occur. A couple of years ago, the oft-contentious issue of creation and evolution came up. As people joined this side or that, leadership at Rooftop stayed a course of framing the issue as that of a disputable matter: an important theological conversation that Christians should engage, understand, and come to conclusions on, but one that should not divide the church or cause people to break fellowship with one another. Rather than taking one position or another, and rather than saying that this issue didn’t matter, Rooftop took the mere Christian route: they focused on the core of faith, embraced the messiness of the moment, and continued to pursue unity while not denigrating the importance of the non-central doctrine.

Another example of a mere Christian church is Arise Church, a church plant coming to the St. Louis metro area later this year. Obviously, as a plant, Arise hasn’t had the practical experiences that Rooftop has. From a planning and articulation standpoint, however, Arise positions itself as a mere Christian church. Its statement of faith, for example, is very mere, simply saying, “We believe in biblical and historical mere Christianity as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed…” followed by the Apostles’ Creed. When further clarification on a doctrinal or practical question is required, for instance on the question of who may lead in the church or how baptism should be undertaken, Arise begins its explanations with the following statement:

Scripture was written in and for diverse contexts and situations. Accordingly, within the New Testament there exist affirmations of “mere Christianity”— a focus on the core proclamation of the Risen Jesus while simultaneously allowing for freedom when it comes to non-essential beliefs and practices.34 We see this applied to various issues, including baptism, communion, eschatology, leadership structures, how to interpret the Old Testament, and the like. In each of these areas, there is a core idea that allows for a relatively diverse expression of practice. Following the New Testament model for the Church today, then, is not so much about discerning the single way to understand what Scripture says, so much as discerning what is core to faith in the Lord Jesus. Put another way, gospel freedom, when properly focused on the Good News of Jesus Christ as the redeemer of creation, allows for a certain amount of diversity on non-essential issues. Thus, an appropriate guiding principle for Christians is, “In necessary things, unity; in unnecessary things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Although this brief overview of some key aspects of two mere Christian churches by no means exhausts the characteristics of this approach, Rooftop and Arise do stand as helpful examples of this perspective and its workability in our current context.

Summary

Mere Christianity commits itself to focusing on the core, central aspects of the Christian faith while allowing for differences of faith and practice on non-central things. It’s gospel-centered, creedal, balanced, embraces particulars, intellectually humble, drawn from the Great Tradition, and both faithful and practical. Is this approach perfect? Will it solve all of the problems that contemporary Christianity faces? Probably not. But it does represent a path forward, one that I believe can provide a sound, helpful way forward for a Church that is focused on bringing the good news of Jesus to our world.


Notes

1 Michael Bauman, Pilgrim Theology: Taking the Path of Theological Discovery (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries, 2007), 11.

2 Nathaniel Peters, “The Rise of the Nones,Public Discourse, 18 August 2019.

3 Peter Beinart, “Breaking Faith,” The Atlantic, April 2017.

4 The best example of this is probably the Donald Trump-Christianity Today-Mark Galli kerfuffle from December 2019 and its ensuing fallout.

5 Barna Group, “Meet the ‘Spiritual but Not Religious,’” Barna Group, 6 April 2017.

6 Derek Thompson, “How America Lost Its Religion,” The Atlantic, 26 September 2019. See also Noah Meyer, “The Failed Influence of the American Church,” The Meyer Standard, 10 June 2018.

7 Charles F. McElwee, “Easter’s Empty Basket,City Journal, 10 April 2020.

8 Nor will it ever be—at least, insofar as something labeled Christianity follows the Christ who promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16.17-19).

9 For Exhibit 1A, see Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World (New York: Penguin Random House, 2017).

10 This is literally the title of a David Platt book sitting on my desk right now: Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2019).

11 Please note that this is not a condemnation of all forms of Christianity in America, simply a statement of the general malaise and ineffectiveness of a Church that’s supposed to be advancing the kingdom.

12 Jacob J. Prahlow, “The Non-Denominational Reformation,” Conciliar Post, 11 April 2018.

13 See the ACNA website.

14 See Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2018); David Platt, Radical (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010); and Skye Jethani, Immeasurable (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017) for three prominent examples.

15 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 54, 55-56.

16 C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books.”

17 Vincent of Lerins, “Commonitory,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 11, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1894), rev. Kevin Knight, II.6

18 Often attributed to Augustine, this quote likely originated with Marco Antonio de Dominis (d.1624) and was popularized by Lutheran theologian Peter Mederlin in his 1626 work, Paraenesis votiva pro pace ecclesiae ad theologos Augustanae.

19 For a helpful overview of this perspective, see David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).

20 For a brief history of denominationalism, see Roger Olson, et al, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 14th Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018). Also helpful is Michael Patton’s article, “Why are there so many divisions in the Church?” Finally, for a helpful review of the problems of the sectarian approach, see Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 27-43.

21 Ortlund, 45-59.

22 Kevin DeYoung, “Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology,The Gospel Coalition, 26 September 2017.

23 Ortlund, 47.

24 On the hermeneutic appropriateness of gospel centered approaches to scripture (a key interpretive underpinning of this approach), see Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2012), 93-126.

25 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 45-62. See also McKnight’s ongoing conversations about what is central to the gospel on The Jesus Creed.

26 For more on what this approach to balance requires in terms of scriptural interpretation, see Christian Smith, 127-148.

27 In the words of D.A. Carson, “Every generation of Christians faces the need to decide just what beliefs and behavior are morally mandated of all believers, and what beliefs and behavior may be left to the individual believer’s conscience.” D.A. Carson, “On Disputable Matters,” Themelios 40.3 (2015): 383.

28 In theory, I’d be willing to suggest this as a useful test for determining what a necessary issue is or is not. The actual core of Christianity would be things that never get a “views on” book. I’m reticent to make this any sort of test, however, not because I don’t think it’s useful, but because I’m reasonably certain that Zondervan (and other publishers) will eventually extend into the territory of “necessary things” to make some necessary money.

29 Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016). See Gilbert Meileander, The Freedom of a Christian: Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of Our Humanity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 57-88. See also, Bauman, 35-48.

30 See Ruth Koch and Kenneth Haugk, Speaking the Truth in Love (St. Louis: Stephen Ministries, 1992).

31 Bauman, 15.

32 Mere Christianity thus has strong parallels to interdenominational or trans-denominational churches, though the approach is not strictly limited to those particular manifestations.

33 N.T. Wright immediately springs to mind as someone who, especially in recent years, has intentionally adopted this posture. In Simply Christian, for instance, he writes that “the book isn’t ‘Anglican,’ ‘Catholic,’ ‘Protestant,’ or ‘Orthodox,’ but simply Christian. I have also attempted to keep what must be said as straightforward and clear as I can, so that those coming to the subject for the first time won’t get stuck in a jungle of technical terms.” See N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), xii.

34 1 Corinthians 15.1-34; Romans 14.1-23. See also C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Work and Rest

As Americans, we’re obsessed with being busy. Even during a pandemic, we’re preoccupied with how much we’re getting done. Our culture fixates on and rewards efficiency and productivity, even at the expense of our own health and relationships. It’s even how we talk to one another. People always ask, “What are you doing this week?” or “What have you been busy with?” I’ve never once been asked, “Did you get nine hours of sleep last night?” … or “Did you get enough vacation time this year?” The reality of life is that we’re busy—we’re tired—and we simply don’t get enough rest.

But we know rest is important. Countless studies show that there are all sorts of mental, physical, emotional, and relational benefits to rest. Whether it’s getting the right amount of sleep, standing up from your computer every hour, using your vacation days, taking a recovery day from your workout routine, or simply breaking up the monotony of your work, rest is good for us. Forbes recently wrote, “You can only work so hard and do so much in a day. Everybody needs to rest and recharge.” Whether you work 9 to 5, work from home, stay at home, or are retired—we all need to rest!

Before we dive into this article, I want to encourage you to stop for a moment and just breath…. Enjoy a moment of rest…. Alright, that’s enough. Back to reading and thinking about rest.  Why? Because Scripture reveals that everyone was made for purposeful rest!

Purposeful Rest

How do I know? Well, in addition to the significant number of scientific reasons for rest, I know that we were made for purposeful rest because Jesus said so. As it turns out, Jesus was pretty good at purposefully resting. In the language of his day, he was a master “Sabbath-keeper.” The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew Shabbat, which marked the designated day of rest for God’s people. In Jesus’ time, the day of rest had become pretty ritualized. There were whole libraries of literature devoted to discussing how to rest on the Sabbath. In fact, the religious leaders of the day had determined there were thirty-nine kinds of work that were prohibited on the Sabbath.

It’s in that context that we hear from Jesus about rest—and that all of us were made for purposeful rest. In the words of Mark 2, One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions. Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.23-27, NIV)

So Jesus and his disciples work on the Sabbath, the religious leaders aren’t pleased with it, and what does Jesus do? He quotes the Bible to show that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is, human beings were not created for the explicit purpose of observing the holiness of the Sabbath day; rather, the Sabbath was created for our benefit. The day of rest is important—Jesus agrees—but the Pharisees forgot why it was important. They thought the Sabbath was a sacred day, something that was special because of itself. But Jesus says that the Sabbath is special because of what it provides for us: a time to stop and rest.

When God created humanity, He made rest part of the order of things. Indeed, the seven-day week is the only non-physical unit of time that we regularly use? Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds—they’re all based on the sun, moon, earth’s rotation, or (in modern calculations) the rate of decay for two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom…. But not the week. The week doesn’t have a physical origin—it has its origins in scripture, which in the words of Eugene Peterson, says that every seven days we should take some “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing.”

We Were Made for Purposeful Rest

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We were made for purposeful rest. And both parts of that statement are important—that we were made for rest and that rest is meant to be purposeful.

In the desire to rid ourselves of the strict Jewish legalism about Sabbath-keeping, many followers of Jesus have actually gone too far: we don’t rest at all. Lauren Winner, who is a convert to Christianity from Judaism, writes that, “There is something in Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart….” Many of us simply don’t rest.

To be honest, that’s the way I am. Several weeks ago, I got toward the end of my work week and realized that I was only going to work 50 hours that week—and a wave of guilt washed over me for not working more. There was so much more to be done that I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll just work a little on my normal day off to get more done….” If that resonates with you—if you’re thinking similar things—you need to repent, you need to stop living and thinking that way. Because we weren’t made to work all of the time; we were made for purposeful rest.

Some of you are workaholics like me; and others of you are unequivocally not workaholics…. Rest is something that comes naturally to you; no one needs to remind you to clock out after your forty hours. No one needs to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. The lesson here for those folks is that they need to be more purposeful with their rest. Rest does not mean doing nothing—it doesn’t mean binging Netflix for 15 hours on your day off or watching whole seasons of Game of Thrones every weekend. No, the kind of rest that the Bible describes is more intentional than that.

Purposeful rest is rest that is God-focused and refreshing. It’s rest with intentionality, rest that’s restorative. It’s rest from work, but it’s also rest for work. Some of us have physically demanding jobs—maybe you’re a mechanic, plumber, or nurse. If so, at the end of your week, you need to refresh yourself by resting physically. When I was working as a handyman over the summers while I was in grad school, at the end of the week I needed a nap—I was physically exhausted. If that’s you, rest! Other work isn’t necessarily physically demanding, but is draining mentally, emotionally, or relationally. Perhaps you’re a teacher, counselor, or work in an office. Rest in those vocations may involve taking a nap too… but it may actually involve some physical exertion, like going to the gym or working on a project around your home. We are all made for purposeful rest—rest that is truly restorative for who we are and what we do.

Several Scriptural Suggestions for Successful Sabbathing

For the rest of this article, I want to share three ways to purposefully rest. Or, as the lead pastor at church might label them: “Several Scriptural Suggestions for Successful Sabbathing.” As we think about these practical ways to purposefully rest, I want to make clear that doing these things isn’t going to make Jesus love us any more—He already loves us! These are simply ways to live in love and obedience as a response to what Jesus has already done for us.

The first way to purposefully rest is to Plan to Rest. Whether you have trouble with resting or with being purposeful in your rest, it’s not going to happen without intentionally making the choice to purposefully rest. Every one of us has to decide when and how to Sabbath.

When God told Israel to Sabbath, he didn’t just leave it up to their whims, wants, and busy schedules. He actually gave pretty clear guidelines. Exodus 20 says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20.8-10, NIV)

Those are some pretty clear directions on when and how to rest. Notice how Israel was expected to set aside the time for Sabbath. Their rest was clearly planned.

My mom has always been a good example of planning her Sabbath rests. Even as a homeschooling mother of five kids who ran a farm, she would plan her life around rest and spending time with God. Mom would routinely get up at some ungodly hour of the morning to call and pray with her friends, to spend time searching the scriptures. She took intentional, restful time for herself and God amidst the busyness of her life. When my parents built their house, she actually had her closet specifically designed to be large enough to store her Sabbath-keeping books and journals. Mom didn’t just expect her resting to happen—she planned her Sabbaths and made sure they happened.

That’s what each of us needs to do as well: intentionally plan our rest. Years ago, I heard Pastor Eugene Peterson say that in order to make sure that he rested, he had to put it on his calendar. So that’s what I do. Months out, I schedule “rest” on my calendar. And then when something “important” comes up, I treat that scheduled rest like any other appointment or meeting—“Sorry, I’m not available then.”.

The second thing to do is Protect Your Rest. This goes hand in hand with planning our rest, because once we plan it, we have to protect it—that is, prevent it from being overrun by other seemingly important things.

In the Old Testament, there are some pretty serious protections placed around the Sabbath. Exodus 31.15 (NIV), for example, says For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. Sounds like the Sabbath is pretty important, huh? Similarly, Leviticus 23.3 (NIV) says There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

The Old Testament makes the significance of Sabbath rest quite clear—it’s something serious and needs to be treated as such. Likewise in the New Testament, the author of the letter to the Hebrews entreats followers of Jesus to continue observing the Sabbath: There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (In other words, the Sabbath is still important, because God set the example of rest for us in his work of creation.) Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4.9-11, NIV) Let us make every effort to rest, the author of Hebrews writes. Let’s do whatever it takes to protect our rest.

The Practicalities of Rest

The world’s greatest fast food restaurant (don’t @ me) is a testament to this fact. Chick-fil-a is famously closed on Sundays. But few people know the explicit reason why Chick-fil-a is closed on Sundays. According to founder Truett Cathy, it’s so that “employees [can] set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose.” In other words, Chick-fil-a recognizes the importance of rest—so they protect that rest for their employees by simply not opening on Sundays.

We can all learn from Chick-fil-a on how to protect our rest. I have three really practical suggestions for how to do this.

  • First, protect your rest by making it so you cannot work. Some of us need to turn our phones off, mute our text conversations, and make it so we cannot check email on the weekend. Leave your computer at the office; use the mute function on your phone. Give it a try sometime—make it so you can’t work. You’ll find that the world can go on without your constant work.
  • Second, protect your rest with accountability. Tell others when you’ve planned your rest so that they can help keep you accountable to that. One of the former elders at my church does a good job of this. He knows that my Sabbath typically takes place on Mondays, so he checks in with me from time to time about how I’m resting—and he very intentionally does not call, text, or email me on Mondays. Find a few people who can help you remain accountable to your plans for purposeful rest.
  • Third, protect your rest by encouraging rest in others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—especially when it comes to rest. Don’t always expect other people to always be working. Give people grace when they don’t immediately respond to your messages. Be understanding when people take time for themselves and don’t attend your social event. Encourage the people in your life—your boss, coworkers, spouse, friends, anyone—to be purposeful with their rest.

In her book, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath, Priscilla Shirer writes that, “God always and eternally intended the Sabbath to be a lifestyle—an attitude, a perspective, an orientation that enables us to govern our lives and steer clear of bondage.” Protecting our planned times of purposeful rest is a crucial part of making God-honoring rest part of the fabric of our lives.

The final way for us to purposefully rest is to Rest in Jesus.  One of my favorite things Jesus says comes in Matthew 11, where He says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11.28-30, NIV)

Jesus knows that life is hard. He knows that we’re weary and burdened by our work. He knows that we need rest. So he invites us to follow him, to take up his yoke. In the ancient world, a yoke was a symbol of servitude—something that represented the hardships and oppressions of life. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that following Him will make all of our work or troubles disappear. Rather, when we follow Him we have our heavy burdens replaced: first with rest and then with the yoke of Christ—the expectations of following Jesus.

Amidst all our busyness and work, don’t forget to stop and rest. Because we were made for purposeful rest.

What about you: What are your patterns of rest and Sabbath? How do you make sure you’re getting enough regular rest?

Endgame and the End

A version of this post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

Disney+ is something of a temptation, especially for those of us who are Star Wars and Marvel nerds. Want to binge your absolute favorite shows? Now, I don’t even have to find my DVDs–they’re right on my phone or TV in HD perfection. This had lead (as you might expect) to my watching (and re-watching) my favorite films from the MCU. I only saw Endgame once in theaters, but have probably watched it four or five times now.1

On each subsequent rewatch, something stands out quite clearly during the first half of the film: Endgame says quite a bit about the process of grieving. Many of the film’s other tropes and lessons have been rigorously discussed (often in concert with other MCU films), but I have yet to see any substantive discussion about what Endgame communicates about how people grieve and respond to loss.2 In this article, I want to explore what Endgame tells us about the end and the various ways that people respond to death and loss.

The OG Avengers and Grief

It’s well noted that the six original Avengers survive Thanos’s snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. While many of the newer rising stars of the MCU crumble into dust, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all survive the snap. Each of the original Avengers (along with some other, albeit lesser,3 members of the team) is left to pick up the pieces of their shattered world. In the aftermath of their revenge visit to Thanos and the realization that their friends are really gone, the behavior of each OG Avenger follows a grief-type.

Captain America, whom we first see facilitating a support group in New York, uses his pain to help others come to terms with what has happened. Cap casts the grief of the snap as an opportunity for redemption, encouraging people to do the hard work of finding their “new normal” amidst loss (although he privately confides to Black Widow that he’s personally struggling to follow his own advice).

Similarly, Black Widow throws herself into her work, although it’s less of a support group than mission control for those who are left.4 We are not given much insight into Natasha’s interior life, but her focus on the ongoing mission and her desire to fix things (even seemingly unfixable under-ocean earthquakes) suggests that she’s throwing herself into her work to keep her from fixating on what has happened.

Although we don’t see Hawkeye’s reaction until later in the film, once he appears we learn rather quickly that he has chosen the path of anger. Clint expresses his grief through murderous rage (though directed only toward cartels and organized crime). He has lost his family and, since he cannot fix that, he lashes out against those who have survived who were not worthy of survival.

In response to the snap and (especially) the loss of Peter Parker, Iron Man doubles down on his commitment to family, devoting his life to the family he has left. In what are undoubtedly some of the more touching scenes of an already-emotional movie, we witness his clear love for his daughter Morgan. Tony realizes that he’s lost someone important, and he’s (initially, at least) not willing to risk what he has left.

Bruce Banner, a.k.a The Incredible Hulk, takes the path of self-betterment following the snap. He remakes himself, creating through hard work and dedication his new life as the “Credible Hulk.” Banner becomes a mix of the best parts of his two personas, maintaining his appearance as the muscled Hulk without the accompanying personality of the enormous green rage-monster.

And finally, we have Thor. After decapitating Thanos in a fit of rage, the God of Thunder manifests his feelings of failure and loss by trying to escape reality, very nearly losing himself in gluttony, entertainment, and the abandonment of responsibility. Although much of the pop culture response to “Fat Thor” has been one of approval, the character is clearly teetering on the edge of self-destructive tendencies and tremendous grief.

Some Takeaways

Our OG Avengers thus respond to their grief through the paths of helping others, immersing themselves in work, anger, recommitment to what’s important, self-improvement, and escapism. These portrayals are far too clear to be unintentional; clearly, we are meant to learn that there are many ways forward through the grief journey that follows trauma and loss. Each of these approaches are real ways that people deal with loss, pain, grief, and death in real life. Our favorite superheroes stand in our places for a moment, but these are paths that each of us can choose when we face loss in our lives.

Of course, we are also expected to see that not every manifestation of grief is a positive one. Although there is little explicit explanation, values are certainly being communicated. Cap’s desire to help others and Tony’s commitment to family are clearly models to be followed. The Hulk and Black Widow follow paths that are largely positive, although they may veer too close to clichés to be a real help to most grieving people. Finally, the routes of rage and escapism taken by Hawkeye and Thor only lead to negative consequences—roads that even superheroes ought not walk down for very long.

There are, of course, many other lessons that we can take from Avengers: Endgame when it comes to grief, loss, and the healing process. For instance, one extremely significant lesson that the film’s time-hop unfortunately obviates is that grief takes time. Five years after the snap, some people are on the right track—but everyone is still bearing the scars of what happened. There are no magic “get over it” moments with grief. Loss is loss. Death is death. Heartbreak is heartbreak. Time helps, but it doesn’t fully heal.

Similarly, the way that our heroes emerge from their various grief journeys is telling, as it’s only together that they can make sense of what happened and do something to fix it. This is, of course, one of the major themes of the entire MCU and Avengers franchise: we should face challenges to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness together, whether that togetherness entails winning or losing. And it’s in their togetherness that the Avengers truly make their last stand against Thanos—one imbued with the power of sacrificial love. From the Marvel-Trinity of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor tag-teaming Thanos to the climactic moment of the critical final battle, where everyone has a role to play, everyone supports one another, and one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of all the others, love for one another is what brings an end to the grief of the snap.

There’s a lesson to be learned there too; not that movies based on comic books can’t deliver truly meaningful lessons or messages to a complex and contentious world. Things like love for another other can make our world less complex, less contentious, and less grief-filled than they are today. Now, isn’t that a story worth thinking about?


Notes

1 For the sake of full disclosure, I have long been a fan of Marvel’s creative storytelling, from their early use of intertextuality (or inter-screen-ality) to their character development (for heroes at least), and from their encapsulation of important moral lessons to their pop culture hilarity. Others have said it better than I, but the MCU is truly an impressive technical, storytelling, and economic accomplishment.

2 Here I should note that I have trawled the depths of the internet for any possible source. Additionally, of course, we must note that Spider-Man: Far from Home is itself in many ways an extension of this reflection on grief, as a major trope of the film is how Peter comes to terms with Mr. Stark’s death.

3 Deus ex Captain Marvel not withstanding.

4 The “throw yourself at your work” approach also seems to be the preferred option of the non-core Avengers as well, as each prioritizes focus on their mission during the grief stage of Endgame.

Book Review: Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace

Paul’s letter to the Galatians has long held a place of importance for those seeking to understand the power of the Gospel. One of the first books of the New Testament to be written, Galatians forcefully presents many of the Apostle Paul’s most central ideas and themes of grace and justification, displaying in brief, impassioned terms the theological categories and concepts that would find later expression in his letters to Rome and Corinth. If one hopes to understand the message of Christianity, Galatians offers a worthy starting point.

It was therefore with eager anticipation that I engaged Phillip Long’s Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace. And indeed, I walked away informed, encouraged, and impressed.

This is no technical commentary thickly layered with Greek exegesis, nor is it the kind of sweeping systematic commentary that one might expect a preacher to regularly consult. Rather, this is a reader’s commentary, the kind of book that any inquisitive Christian mind can bring with them as they thoughtfully engage Galatians.

Long’s prose is clear and compelling; his structure, simple and easy to follow. Readers are informed, without being overwhelmed, by historical details, the nuances of Greek, and the history of scholarship. Long includes snippets of those things, of course, but in ways that illuminate the text rather than insulate it from understanding.

The commentary proceeds section by section, with each section’s chapter including an introduction, conclusion, and discussion questions. Each section is divided into pericopes, and important aspects of each pericope are commented on. Footnotes to secondary literature are limited, but helpful when included. As with other commentaries, this one is best read next to an open Bible; unlike many other commentaries, however, you can actually consult this book section by section alongside your reading of Scripture.

Especially noteworthy is Long’s treatment of the chronology of Galatians and Acts. For those invested in understanding any biblical writing, there are few pieces of context more important than the audience and setting of a writing. In a reasoned but non-argumentative manner, Long suggests that Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. While this is not a majority position among contemporary New Testament scholars, the book’s argument is clear and compelling, and Long suggests a chronology that provides useful answers for some of the otherwise difficult parts of Paul’s letter.

In short, I want more commentaries like this; commentaries that are at once brief and helpful for the busy academic or pastor, while also accessible for the lay reader. This is the kind of slim book that’s worth its weight in gold for those who are engaging Galatians, whether for the first time or the hundredth. In terms of audience, this is not a commentary for the technical preacher or graduate student working in the minutiae of Galatians. However, it is an exceedingly helpful volume for the vast majority of people who want to better understand Galatians, be they pastors, small group leaders, or new Christians. I plan to use this commentary in the future as I lead groups through Galatians, and I know readers of all backgrounds and purposes will benefit greatly from Long’s insights.

Phillip J. Long, Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019), 156 pages. I received a complimentary copy of this volume in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Difficult Dialogue in Distressing Days

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

Another week, another round of things for people to vehemently and caustically disagree about. Whether it’s politics, economics, social issues, or religious news, we can’t seem to disagree with one another fast enough. We’ll pick up a cause and champion it for a time, only to have something else catch our attention and demand our outspoken criticism or support. Why can’t we seem to see eye to eye?

Obviously, worldview divergences stand at the heart of some disagreement. You and I (and everyone else) see the world in differing ways, which leads us to come to different conclusions or explanations for the various crises occurring in our time.

But I wonder if there’s a deeper issue at work too. An anonymous quote came across my newsfeed the other day, one that I think summarizes our current predicament well:

“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding about politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.”

We’ve been taught to avoid having difficult conversations for so long that we’ve actually forgotten how to have those conversations (or never knew how to have them in the first place). We fight and quarrel amongst ourselves so readily because we don’t have the ability to have productively difficult conversations with one another. Now, I’m not the first person to point this out. Indeed, one of the major reasons that Conciliar Post was founded was to provide a space for thoughtful, faithful people to have difficult discussions. Promoting “meaningful dialogue across traditions” is what we’re all about.

But this leaves open the question of how. How do we have meaningful dialogue in today’s world? How can we make sense of our world while challenging other people in loving ways? I want to offer eight suggestions:

  1. Listen in order to understand. Instead of hearing what someone else has to say for the primary purpose of defeating their position, we must learn to listen to others in order to understand what they are actually trying to communicate. Only then can we productively explain our own viewpoint.1
  2. Listen to people with whom you disagree. Pay attention to people who think differently than you.2 Read their books. Listen to their podcasts. Subscribe to their blogs. Follow them on social media. Take them seriously. Don’t offer strawmen—engage what real people really have to say.
  3. Reflect. This might be the hardest thing to do in our social media age. Everyone wants news and reactions immediately. Immediately. Eschew the fixation on immediacy (and the posturing that comes along with it) and take a moment to reflect on what is actually going on before making a judgment about it. As human beings, we’re mostly terrible at making complex snap judgments. Take a moment to think before you engage.
  4. Verify your facts. I take it back—this is the hardest thing to do in our social media age. It’s so easy to share something that gets our blood boiling without ever pausing to see if that information is true. Last week, in the wake of the horrible violence in El Paso, Dayton, and other places, my social media feeds filled with people spouting statistics about gun violence (from both sides of the aisle, mind you). Almost no one provided any sort of verification. Sure, saying that there has been more than one mass shooting in America per day sounds enticing and horrible—but is it true? No one wants to be disseminating fake news, so make sure that you’re verifying your facts.
  5. Commit to civility. Make the decision not to debase people, engage in ad hominem attacks, interact disrespectfully, or otherwise use the relative anonymity of the internet to say horrible things about other people. Just don’t. Seek a more excellent way and communicate with other people respectfully. And on that note….
  6. Have face-to-face conversations. Don’t just interact with other people online—have face-to-face conversations with people. Get out of your bubble. Grab coffee with someone. Have people over for dinner (have your neighbors over for dinner!). Have conversations with people with whom you agree—and with whom you disagree.
  7. Do something. Don’t just share a post on social media and think that you’ve meaningfully contributed to the resolution of a problem. Do something about it. Hashtag activism that doesn’t lead to actual action is nothing short of hypocrisy. Now, you obviously can’t fix every problem; but you can do something about some issue or issues. So do it. Get involved.
  8. Pray. In my less charitable moments, I wonder how many of us say things like “you’re in my thoughts and prayers” and then never give the person or situation another meaningful thought—let alone pray for what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong; I understand and appreciate the sentiment. But as followers of the risen Jesus, our prayers must not be meaningless platitudes. We must actually throw ourselves before God in prayer. You think abortion is evil? You think mass shootings need to end? You’re not pleased with a government official? When was the last time you prayed about those things? Are you consistently bringing them before God? The people of God must bring their concerns to Him in prayer, not just in platitudes.

Will these practices and approaches solve all the world’s problems? No. Only the Second Coming of our Lord will do that.3 But committing ourselves to having productively difficult conversations in these ways will help us make better sense of our world—and enable us to serve as faithful and fruitful lights within it.

What about you: what practices and approaches help you productively dialogue with other people?


Notes

1 Relatedly, much of our media intentionally perverts this idea. Dramatic films or shows are often all about perceived (rather than real) problems that could easily be solved through conversation. Even our sports news is now filled with dramatic talking heads whose sole purpose seems to be shouting at one another rather than having an actual conversation with another person.

2 This doesn’t mean that you have to listen to everyone of course. But finding a couple of well-respected voices from “the other side” is an excellent discipline. Robert P. George and Cornel West are a fantastic example of this.

3 A fact that, it seems, Christians must do a better job of remembering in the public square when we promote this or that cause as the thing that will turn society around. As Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, in this world there will be trials and tribulations.

Books I Read in 2020

As many of you know, I love reading. So each year, I commit to reading as much and as widely as possible and (as a means of remembering everything I’ve read and holding myself accountable to my reading goals) I track the books I’ve read each year. (Click here to see what I read in 2019)

Now, a couple of notes before my list. First, I read a fair amount of churchworld and theology, so don’t read this as a “what you should read” list. Second, I continue to push myself to read more fiction, so those works are separated from non-fiction in my reckoning.

Third, please note a couple of special markers. My favorite books (and the one’s I recommend you consider reading) are marked with an asterisk and hyperlinked. Additionally, the books I’d read prior to this year but re-read are marked with a [re-read] notation.

Finally, my goal the past several years has been to read 150 books (~3/week). There were moments this year when I was not sure that was going to be possible (I worked more hours in 2020 than in 2019, at least in part due to COVID). However, I’m pleased to say that this year’s list of books read includes 170 titles completed.

So, without further ado, what I read in 2020 (presented in chronological order of reading):

Non-Fiction

  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
  • The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Crazy Busy, DeYoung*
  • Talking to Strangers, Gladwell*
  • How to Lead in a World of Distraction, Scroggins*
  • The Rise of Rome, Everitt
  • The Parables of Jesus, Jeremias
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo
  • Short Stories by Jesus, Levine
  • Something Needs to Change, Platt
  • The Benedict Option, Dreher*
  • Hope in the Dark, Groeschel
  • The Point of It All, Krauthammer
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Unfreedom of the Press, Levin
  • Color Outside the Lines, Hendricks
  • The Case for Jesus, Pitre*
  • The Infinite Game, Sinek
  • Cur Deus Homo, Anselm [re-read]
  • The Secret Lives of Color, St. Clair*
  • Preaching Parables to Postmoderns, Stiller
  • Our Father, Pope Francis
  • Who Was Jesus?, Morgan
  • Fifty Great American Places, Glass
  • Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Lamott
  • The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis
  • The Parables of Jesus, Schottroff [re-read]
  • Speaking Parables, Buttrick
  • Preaching the Parables, Blomberg
  • A Diary of Private Prayer, Baillie [re-read]
  • The Devil in the White City, Larson*
  • The Right Side of History, Shapiro
  • Divine Direction, Groeschel
  • The Big Short, Lewis
  • You Are Not Special, McCullough Jr.*
  • Love Does, Goff
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Channing Brown
  • Everything Happens for a Reason an Other Lies I’ve Lived, Bowler*
  • Purple Cow, Godin
  • The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren *
  • Erasing Hell, Chan and Sprinkle
  • How to Hide an Empire, Immerwahr*
  • K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Kepner
  • Parables for Preachers: Year A, Reid [re-read]
  • Out of the Treasure: The Parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Lambrecht [re-read]
  • Failing Forward, Maxwell
  • Sitting at the Feed of Rabbi Jesus, Spangler and Tverberg
  • Planting: Principles for Starting New Churches, Bustle and Crocker
  • Follow Me, Platt
  • The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell
  • Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us, Sprinkle*
  • Liar’s Poker, Lewis
  • Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus
  • Rooting for Rivals, Greer and Horst*
  • The Explicit Gospel, Chandler and Wilson
  • The Road to Character, Brooks
  • The 5 Levels of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Passion: The Bright Light of Glory, Giglio et al
  • Range, Epstein
  • The Bomb, Kaplan
  • 360 Degree Reading, Esler
  • The Oxford Handbook of Prayer, ed. Appleton
  • Boundaries: Updated and Expanded, Cloud and Townsend
  • The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington
  • Streams of Living Water, Foster
  • The Externally Focused Church, Rusaw and Swanson
  • Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Steinke
  • Euthyphro, Plato [re-read]
  • Apology, Plato
  • Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis, George
  • Crito, Plato
  • Phaedo, Plato
  • Leading Change, Kotter [re-read]
  • The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius
  • 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, McKnight
  • The Apostles’ Creed: Together We Believe, Chandler
  • The Creed, Bauman [re-read]
  • Finding the Right Hills to Die On, Ortlund*
  • Surprised by Scripture, Wright*
  • Call Sign Chaos, Mattis
  • A Little Book for New Preachers, Kim
  • The Lean Startup, Ries
  • Friendship, Denworth
  • The Lost Art of Scripture, Armstrong
  • To Be a Christian, Approved Edition*
  • Dark Agenda, Horowitz
  • The MVP Machine, Lindbergh
  • 1, 2, 3 John (NAC), Akin
  • Old Testament Legends, James
  • The Great Bridge, McCulloch
  • A Brief History of Time, Hawking
  • United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, Newbell
  • 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus For Everyone, Wright
  • The First One Hundred Years of Christianity, Schnelle
  • Educated, Westover*
  • The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass
  • Waco: A Survivor Story, Thibodeau
  • The Splendid and the Vile, Larson*
  • Inspired, Held Evans
  • The Next Evangelism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah
  • Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger*
  • Jesus among Other Gods, Zacharias
  • The History Buff’s Guide to the Presidents, Flagel
  • Until Every Child Is Home, Chipman
  • You’ll Get Through This, Lucado
  • The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Gospel Allegiance, Bates*
  • Crossing the Ling: Culture, Race, and Kingdom, Burns
  • Just Mercy, Stevenson*
  • God is Not Great, Hitchens
  • The Drama of Scripture, Bartholomew and Goheen [re-read]*
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Tippett
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer*
  • The Screwtape Letters, Lewis [re-read]*
  • Compassion and Conviction, Giboney, Wear, and Butler*
  • Genesis: A Translation and Commentary, Alter
  • Happiness in This Life, Pope Francis
  • Genesis 1-15 (WBC), Wenham
  • The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robertson
  • The Soul of Science, Pearcey and Thaxton
  • An Unconventional God, Levison
  • Raising White Kids, Harvey
  • Boundaries for Leaders, Cloud
  • Recreatable, Scott [re-read]
  • Survive or Thrive, Dodd
  • The New Testament: A Translation, Hart
  • 3000 Questions about Me, Piccadilly
  • The Need for Creeds Today, Fesko
  • God Wins, Galli
  • Isaiah: Life Change, NavPress
  • Boomerang: The Power of Effective Guest Follow Up, Smith and Hofmeyer
  • Isaiah (TOTC), Motyer [re-read]
  • The Book of Isaiah, Young
  • Isaiah: NIVAC, Oswalt [re-read]
  • The History of the Ancient World, Wise Bauer
  • Letters to a Young Pastor, Peterson and Peterson*
  • Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, VanHoozer
  • The Maxwell Daily Reader, Maxwell
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Butterfield*
  • The Forgotten God, Chan

Fiction

  • Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck
  • Dave Berry’s Greatest Hits, Barry
  • Thrawn: Alliance, Zahn
  • Lost Stars, Gray
  • Beowulf, trans. Gummere
  • Thrawn: Treason, Zahn
  • New Dawn, Miller
  • Tarkin, Luceno
  • Remembering, Berry*
  • Lords of the Sith, Kemp
  • Star Wars: Aftermath, Wendig
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling [re-read]
  • Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Rice
  • World War Z, Brooks
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling [re-read]
  • The End of October, Wright
  • The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis [re-read]
  • Prince Caspian, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Horse and His Boy, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Collins
  • The Silver Chair, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Last Battle, Lewis [re-read]
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Martin
  • Till We Have Faces, Lewis

Acts of Baptism

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

As anyone even somewhat familiar with Christianity knows, various Christian denominations have different, specific approaches to baptism—that all important rite involving water and the Holy Spirit.

Depending on its theological commitments, a church may expect the person being baptized to be an adult (or, at least old enough to make a conscious decision to be baptized), to be fully immersed in water (rather than sprinkled or poured upon), to be triple immersed (rather than once), to have undergone rigorous catechesis prior to baptism, to manifest miraculous spiritual gifts (before or after), or to fulfill any number of other practices. It really depends on the church. I once spoke to someone who seemed to believe that the only true way to be baptized was to be triple immersed while wearing a white gown in the cool running water of the river near their church.

In principle, Christians taking Jesus’ command to baptize seriously should be celebrated; in practice, however, our obsession with making sure that everyone is baptized our way—the right way—poses some problems.

Some Problems with Right Way Obsession

In the first place, there is the problem of rebaptism. Many people enter a new church having already been baptized. Or at least, under the impression that they were already baptized. That is, until someone convinces them their previous baptism was invalid and they should be baptized the right way. While there are probably some circumstances where a serious discussion about rebaptism may be permissible, making rebaptism commonplace seems to oppose the very unity that the Apostle Paul calls the Church to in Ephesians 4:1-6.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [Emphasis added]

Second, a focus on making sure that everyone has been baptized the right way potentially corrupts what baptism is. Romans 6:1-4 closely identifies the effects of baptism with the salvific work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Orthodox Christians of all denominations confess that salvation comes through this work of Jesus and is granted to humanity by God’s grace. To then turn around and assume, as certain denominations do, that baptism must be undertaken in a highly specific manner undercuts that message of grace. It’s like saying, “Yes, Jesus graciously offers you life, but only if you do the right (baptismal) works to get there.”

Finally, a focus on making sure everyone has been baptized the right way tends to be utterly confusing for congregants. This is particularly true for those who are new to faith, on the fringes of belief, or in the process of changing churches. In some contexts, the emphasis on being baptized the right way can even lead people to question their relationship with God—or to doubt someone else’s relationship with God. Beyond the differences in how different denominations baptize, such confusion can lead people to question the value of baptism itself.

Right Way versus Big Tent

Although nothing apart from the Second Coming is likely to get Christians on the same page when it comes to baptismal practice, I think there is an approach to baptism that is scriptural and can help cut through some of the problems fostered by a right way approach to baptism. I call this perspective the big tent approach to Christian baptism.

The big tent approach to baptism recognizes the internal diversity of baptismal practices recorded within scripture and recognizes as valid differing contemporary baptismal practices when they conform to the diversity of these scriptural models. This approach fits best in a big tent approach to Christianity more generally; but it is also tenable in ecclesiastical contexts that work with the diversity of contemporary Christian instruction and practice.1 Indeed, many denominations already practice this kind of big tent thinking when it comes to baptism.

Acts of Baptism

The book of Acts serves as the best example of the big tent approach. Luke records about ten distinct narratives of baptism in Acts2 and, although there are clear theological parameters governing these baptisms, no two are precisely alike. Consider that:

  • Some baptisms occur “in the name of Jesus Christ” (8.5-13; 10.44-48; 19.1-5), others appear to be “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (8.36-38), and still others are silent on the matter of “in whom” people are baptized.
  • At least one baptism narrative is preceded by repentance of sin (2.37-41), another seems to make confession of faith central (8.36-38), another baptismal narrative is preceded by speaking tongues (10.44-48), and still others focus on the importance of belief (8.5-13; 16.13-15; 16.27-34).
  • Some water baptisms precede the baptism of the Holy Spirit (19.1-5), other times the Holy Spirit is poured out before water (9.17-19; 10.44-48), and many times water baptism is not explicitly connected to the baptism of the Spirit.
  • Finally, some passages record individual baptisms (8.36-38) while others use household language (10.44-48; 16.13-15; 16.27-34; 18.5-8) that, if nothing else, set the stage for infant baptism.

Clearly Acts records significant diversity of baptismal practice in the early church. Why then are contemporary Christians so committed to picking-and-choosing a handful of these examples (or other New Testament references to baptism) and interpreting them as the right way to baptize? A big tent approach better reflects the diversity of practice within the New Testament itself—as well as Christ’s prayer for unity among His followers.

Conclusion

The New Testament consistently portrays baptism as an essential3 part of what it means to follow Jesus—as a matter of obedience to the command of Jesus (Matt. 28.18-20), as a sign of entrance into God’s new covenantal family (Gal. 3.27; Col. 2.12; 1 Cor. 12.13), and as a seemingly salvific act of God’s grace (1 Pet. 3.21; see also Mark 16.16). What the New Testament does not portray as essential is the precise method of baptism; to the contrary, a variety of specific practices seem to be affirmed. Accordingly, Christians should baptize new believers in a manner consistent with New Testament models and recognize as valid baptisms by other Christians that fit these big tent parameters.

God’s work through baptism is a gracious gift, one we should continue to celebrate, practice, and reflect upon. In the spirit of Christian unity, however, we should adopt a big tent approach to recognizing the validity of baptism at the hands of others. For scripture itself suggests that we make our acts of baptism a little less about us and a little more about the God who is at work in His people.


Notes

1 For instance, the increasingly common practice by many denominations to recognize the seminary degrees, communion practices, or theological perspectives of other denominations.

2 Depending on how you subdivide narratives.

3 Here, of course, we must draw the distinction between essential and required. If we take Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross seriously, then we cannot expect that no one who has not been baptized belongs to the family of God. Still, exceptional theology should not undermine normative theology. Accordingly, it’s appropriate to confirm the long-standing practice that every person who is able who follows Jesus should be baptized.

300 Books for the Educated Christian Mind

As a follower of Jesus, I believe it’s important to love God with all of who we are: our hearts, souls, and minds. Much has been said about this last aspect of our humanity, most of it better than I could say it here. But as I pursue veritas with my life and mind, some of my most constant and fruitful conversation partners have been good books.

The more I learn and experience, the more I’m convinced that you cannot know where you are or who are without knowing where you come from. To those ends, I find it absolutely vital to read, to engage with the great minds and thinkers of our world. So I’ve compiled a list (I’m big into lists) of key books for the educated Christian mind.

Before diving in, a couple of caveats: first, this is a specialized list, one tailored for a particular worldview that’s interested in the life of the mind. I don’t think that everyone should read all of these books (though there are quite a few that I think everyone would benefit from engaging). Second, this is a list for American Christians. As such, at points it touches on particular viewpoints or issues that are of particular importance in the context of contemporary American Christianity. Finally, this list takes seriously the great tradition of liberal arts and broad learning. Accordingly, while clear emphasis is given to particular realms of inquiry, the hope is that by completing the list, one will have both breadth and depth on many subjects.

One final framework before the list: there are three major influences on the creation of this list. First, there are the Great Books of Western Civilization. Scholars will continue to debate the canon and it’s ongoing relevance or evolution. Here, we’re interested in learning from the greats. The second influence are the Classics of Christian Orthodoxy. These are the great books and works of the Christian Tradition, of which there is certainly some overlap with the general Western canon, but which here includes a more intentional theological bent. And finally, there are some Key Contemporary Texts. These are works that, while they may not possess the staying power of the great traditions, nonetheless are informative and indicative for particular questions or topics facing the Christian mind today.

Those frames in mind, here’s my list of 300 Books for the Educated Christian Mind.

TITLEAUTHOR
1984George Orwell
20,000 Leagues Under the SeaH.G. Wells
A Brief History of TimeStephen Hawking
A Christmas CarolCharles Dickens
A Conflict of VisionsThomas Sowell
A Farewell to ArmsErnest Hemingway
A History of the English Speaking PeoplesWinston Churchill
A Little Exercise for Young TheologiansHelmut Thielicke
A Long Obedience in the Same DirectionEugene Peterson
A Tale of Two CitiesCharles Dickens
A Wrinkle in TimeMadeleine L’Engle
Against HeresiesIrenaeus of Lyons
AgamemnonAeschylus
Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll
AlmagestPtolemy
An Experiment in CriticismC.S. Lewis
Analytical PsychologyCarl Jung
Animal FarmGeorge Orwell
AnnalsTacitus
Antiquities of the JewsJosephus
Apologia Pro Vita SuaJohn Henry Cardinal Newman
ApologyJustin Martyr
ApologyPlato
As You Like ItWilliam Shakespeare
BeowulfUnknown
Beyond Good and EvilFrederich Nietzsche
BoundariesHenry Cloud and David Townsend
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley
BreviloquiumBonaventure
Brothers KaramazovFyodor Dostoyevsky
Catch-22Joseph Heller
Catching FireSuzanne Collins
Celebration of DisciplineRichard Foster
Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryRoald Dahl
Charlotte’s WebE.B. White
Christ and CultureRichard Niebuhr
Christianity: The First Three Thousand YearsDiarmaid MacCulloch
City of GodAugustine of Hippo
Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell
CloudsAristophanes
Commentary on the Our FatherTertullian of Carthage
ConfessionsAugustine of Hippo
ConfessionsJean-Jacque Rousseau
Consolation of PhilosophyBoethius
CosmosCarl Sagan
Crime and PunishmentFyodor Dostoyevsky
Critique of Pure ReasonImmanual Kant
CritoPlato
Das CapitalKarl Marx
David CopperfieldCharles Dickens
De AnimaAristotle
Democracy in AmericaAleix de Tocqueville
DialoguePope Gregory the Great
Discourse on MethodRene Descartes
DiscoursesEpictetus
Don QuixoteMiguel De Cervantes
DuneFrank Herbert
Early History of RomeLivy
East of EdenJohn Steinbeck
Ecclesiastical HistoryEusebius of Caesarera
Ecclesiastical History of the English PeopleVenerable Bede
ElementsEuclid
Emotional IntelligenceDaniel Goleman
Ender’s GameOrson Scott Card
Epitome IVJohannus Kepler
EssaysMichelle de Montaigne
EssaysRalph Waldo Emerson
EuthyphroPlato
Faerie QueenEdmund Spencer
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
FaustJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Fear and TremblingSoren Kierkegaard
Finnegans WakeRunyard Kipling
Four Hundred Chapters on LoveMaximus the Confessor
Four QuartetsT.S. Eliot
Foxes Book of MartyrsJohn Foxe
FrankensteinMary Shelley
Go Down, MosesWilliam Faulker
Good to GreatJim Collins
GorgiasPlato
Great ExpectationsCharles Dickens
Guide for the PerplexedMaimonides
Gulliver’s TravelsJonathan Swift
HamletWilliam Shakespeare
HamletWilliam Shakespeare
Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneJ.K. Rowling
HatchetGary Paulsen
Help, Thanks, WowAnne Lamott
HippolytusEuripides
HistoriesHerodotus
How Then Should We Live?Francis Schaeffer
How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie
Huckleberry FinnMark Twain
Imitation of ChristThomas a Kempis
In Cold BloodTruman Capote
In Memory of HerElizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
In the Name of JesusHenri Nouwen
Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace
Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin
Intellectuals and SocietyThomas Sowell
Interior CastleTheresa of Avila
Introductory Lectures on PscyhoanalysisSigmund Frued
Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte
Jesus of NazarethPope Benedict XVI
King Jesus GospelScot McKnight
King LearWilliam Shakespeare
Les MiserablesVictor Hugo
Letter from a Birmingham JailMartin Luther King Jr
Letters and Papers from PrisonDietrich Bonhoeffer
LeviathanThomas Hobbs
Life of AntonyAthanasius of Alexandria
Life of MacrinaGregory of Nyssa
Life of MosesGregory of Nyssa
Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer
Little WomenLouisa Alcott
Liturgy of the OrdinaryTish Harrison Warren
LivesPlutarch
Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding
Love WinsRob Bell
Man’s Search for MeaningViktor Frankl
Mere ChristianityC.S. Lewis
MetaphysicsAristotle
MiddlemarchGeorge Eliot
Midsummer Night’s DreamWilliam Shakespeare
Misquoting JesusBart Ehrman
Moby DickHerman Melville
MockingjaySuzanne Collins
Nicomachean EthicsAristotle
Novum OrganumFrancis Bacon
Oedipus RexSophocles
Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck
On Christian DoctrineAugustine of Hippo
On DutiesCicero
On Faith and WorksCardinal Cajetan
On First PrinciplesOrigen of Alexandria
On InterpretationAristotle
On MusicBoethius
On Nature and GraceAugustine of Hippo
On the Development of Christian DoctrineJohn Henry Cardinal Newman
On the Freedom of the WillErasmus of Rotterdam
On the IncarnationAthanasius of Alexandria
On the Nature of ThingsLucretius
On the Revolutions of the SpheresNicholas Copernicus
On the Unity of the Catholic ChurchCyprian of Carthage
On WritingStephen King
OrthodoxyG.K. Chesterton
OthelloWilliam Shakespeare
Paradise LostJohn Milton
Peloponnesian WarThucydides
PenseesBlaise Pascal
PersepolisMarjane Satrapi
PhaedoPlato
PhaedrusPlato
Philosophy of HistoryFrederich Hegel
Pilgrim TheologyMichael Bauman
Pilgrim’s ProgressJohn Bunyan
PoemsGerard Manley Hopkins
PoemsJohn Donne
PoeticsAristotle
PoliticsAristotle
Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
Prince CapsianC.S. Lewis
Principia MathematicaIsaac Newton
PrometheusAeschylus
ProslogiumAnselm of Canterbury
Ready Player OneErnest Cline
Relativity: The Special and the General TheoryAlbert Einstein
Rerum NovarumPope Leo XIII
Revelation of Divine LoveJulian of Norwich
Robinson CrusoeDaniel Defoe
Romeo and JulietWilliam Shakespeare
Screwtape LettersC.S. Lewis
Second Treatise of GovernmentJohn Locke
Sense and SensibilityJane Austen
SilenceShusaka Endo
Simply JesusN.T. Wright
Sir Gawain and the Green KnightUnknown
Sit, Walk, StandWatchman Nee
Slaughterhouse-FiveKurt Vonnegut
Social ContractJean Jacques Rousseau
SonatasWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Song of Fire and IceGeorge R.R. Martin
SonnetsWilliam Shakespeare
Summa TheologicaThomas Aquinas
Surprised by HopeN.T. Wright
Swiss Family RobinsonJohann David Wyss
SymposiumPlato
Tarzan of the ApesEdgar Rice Burroughs
The AeneidVirgil
The BacchaeEuripides
The Blue ParakeetScot McKnight
The Book of Common PrayerThe Church of England
The Book ThiefMarkus Zusak
The Bridge to TerebithiaKatherine Paterson
The Call of the WildJack London
The Canterbury TalesGeoffry Chaucer
The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
The Closing of the American MindAllan Bloom
The Complete Adventures of Sherlock HolmesArthur Conan Doyle
The Cost of DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer
The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas
The CreedMichael Bauman
The Cricket in Times SquareGeorge Selden
The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames Cone
The Dark Night of the SoulSt. John of the Cross
The DaVinci CodeDan Brown
The Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireEdward Gibbon
The Diary of Anne FrankAnne Frank
The Divine ComedyDante
The Drama of ScriptureBartholomew and Goheen
The EnneadsPlotinus
The Epistle to the RomansKarl Barth
The Federalist PapersAlexander Hamilton
The Fellowship of the RingsJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Five Levels of LeadershipJohn Maxwell
The Four LovesC.S. Lewis
The Gift of FireRichard Mitchell
The GiverLois Lowry
The Gospel Comes with a House KeyRosaria Butterfield
The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck
The Great DivorceC.S. Lewis
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great OdesJohn Keats
The Handbook of the Christian SoldierErasmus of Rotterdam
The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood
The Hiding PlaceCorrie Ten Boom
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyDouglas Adams
The HobbitJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Horse and His BoyC.S. Lewis
The Hunger GamesSuzanne Collins
The IliadHomer
The Intellectual LifeA.G. Sertillanges
The Jungle BookRunyard Kipling
The Last BattleC.S. Lewis
The Life of Samuel JohnsonJames Boswell
The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeC.S. Lewis
The Living ChurchJohn Stott
The Long LonelinessDorothy Day
The Looming TowerLawrence Wright
The Magician’s NephewC.S. Lewis
The MartianAndy Weir
The Martyrdom of Perpetua and FelicityUnknown
The MessageEugene Peterson
The MetamorphosisFranz Kafka
The Mind of the MakerDorothy Sayers
The OdysseyHomer
The OresteiaAeschylus
The Origin of SpeciesCharles Darwin
The Phantom TollboothNorton Juster
The Politics of JesusJohn Howard Yoder
The Practice of the Presence of GodBrother Lawrence
The PrinceNiccolo Machiavelli
The Purpose Driven LifeRick Warren
The Red Badge of CourageStephen Crane
The RepublicPlato
The Resurrection of the Son of GodN.T. Wright
The Return of the KingJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Rule of Saint BenedictBenedict of Nursia
The Scandal of the Evangelical MindMark Noll
The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen Covey
The Seven Storey MountainThomas Merton
The ShiningStephen King
The Silver ChairC.S. Lewis
The Sound and the FuryWilliam Faulkner
The TempestWilliam Shakespeare
The Things They CarriedTom O’Brien
The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas
The Twelve CaesarsSuetonius
The Two TowersJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderC.S. Lewis
The War of the WorldsH.G. Wells
The Wealth of NationsAdam Smith
The Wind in the WillowsKenneth Grahame
Theological OrationsGregory Nazianzan
Theologico-Political TreatiseBaruch Spinoza
Three TreatisesMartin Luther
TimaeusPlato
Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyJohn Le Carre
To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee
Tom SawyerMark Twain
Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson
Treatise of Human NatureDavid Hume
Two New SciencesGalileo
UlyssesJames Joyce
Uncle Tom’s CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe
UtopiaThomas More
Veritatis SplendorPope John Paul II
Walden PondHenry David Thoreau
War and PeaceLeo Tolstoy
Wars of the JewsJosephus
Watership DownRichard Adams
Winnie the PoohA.A. Milne
Wuthering HeightsCharlotte Bronte

Well, there it is. I’m about 76% percent of the way through, so there’s much more learning to be done. What about you: What else should be on this list? What are the great books that have formed you?