Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. Hazelden Publishing. 156 pages. 2010
***

This self-help book by Brené Brown, a research professor, is outside of my normal genre of reading. It was highly recommended by a few family members, so my wife Tammy and I decided to read and discuss the book.
The book is comprised of ten short chapters, each one covering a “Guide Post” toward living a wholehearted life. Each chapter ends with a “DIG Deep” section, including suggestions on how to “Get Deliberate”, “Get Inspired” and “Get Going”.
Brown writes that wholehearted living is not a onetime choice. It is a process, and she believes that it’s the journey of a lifetime. Cultivating a wholehearted life is not like trying to reach a destination. Brown writes that it is like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction. She tells us that at the heart of wholeheartedness is worthy now. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Courage, compassion, and connection are the tools that we need to work our way through our journey.
The book covers a wide variety of subjects, such as vulnerability, belonging, shame, fear, courage, authenticity, perfectionism, resilience, spirituality, gratitude, creativity, play, work and laughter. Although the book is not written from a specifically Christian perspective, there is much to consider and ponder in the book. Being a perfectionist, that particular section was eye-opening for me.

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Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 98 pages. 2021
****

Pastor and author Alistair Begg tells us that secularism pushes back again and again against what the Bible says about sexual ethics, about salvation, about education, about the role and reach of the state, and about matters of public welfare. Public opinion has turned against Christians in America. Christians are suddenly a minority group within an increasingly secularized nation. We are finding out how it feels to be outsiders, and we don’t like it.
He tells us that the message of the book of Daniel is incredibly relevant for us in our generation. The message of Daniel is this: don’t be discouraged. You have not reached home. This isn’t it. And Jesus shall reign.
Begg uses the familiar first seven chapters of the book of Daniel to teach American Christians what it looks like to live as a Christian in a society that does not like what Christians believe, what we say, and how we live. He writes that we will be able to navigate our present moment to the extent that we realize that the God of the exiles in the sixth century BC has not changed in the intervening two and a half millennia. God is powerful, and God is sovereign, and even in the face of circumstances that appear to be prevailing against his people, we may trust him entirely.

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Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally by David B. Calhoun. Banner of Truth. 360 pages. 2016
****
I enjoyed two wonderful church history classes with Dr. Calhoun, who recently went home to be with the Lord, at the beginning of my time at Covenant Seminary.  For twenty-five years he taught a course on Calvin’s Institutes at Covenant Seminary. The Institutes of the Christian Religion is a manual, a book of basic instruction in the Christian religion. It is a book about Christian piety, about Christian discipleship, about loving and serving God.
The goal of the book is to help students, especially beginning students of Calvin’s Institutes to better understand what they are reading and to encourage them to persist in working through that important, but challenging book. Overall, Dr. Calhoun’s goal is to help the reader understand Calvin. Each chapter begins with the pages in the Institutes to read, a scripture text, a notable quote and a prayer. Each chapter ends “Knowing God and Ourselves”, a short application and meditation on Calvin’s content. Dr. Calhoun tells us that reading the Institutes devotionally is not merely one way of reading Calvin’s book, it is the only way to read it. Calvin intended his book to be a guide and a theological companion to the Bible.

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Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie Baucham. Salem Books. 271 pages. 2021
****

This book about Critical Social Justice (CSJ), by a respected pastor, is a book that I recommend all Christians read. Better yet, read and discuss it with others as I did. It’s the most important, and one of the best, books I’ve read so far this year.
Baucham begins by defining some of the important subjects of the book. He tells us that Critical Theory is not just an analytical tool, as some have suggested; it is a philosophy, a worldview. Critical Race Theory (CRT), is a subject that is in the news a lot lately, as we see parents at school board meetings, angry that their children are being taught CRT. CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. Intersectionality is about the multiple layers of oppression minorities suffer.
Baucham tells us that a fault line has been quietly forming underneath our feet for a long time around the area of social justice, and the Church must be awake and aware of what it means and where it comes from. Otherwise, we will fall victim to it—as many leading Christian voices – many (individuals and organizations) which he names in the book – already have. He chose the fault line metaphor because he believes it not only describes the catastrophe, but also the aftermath. He tells us that the current moment is akin to two people standing on either side of a major fault line just before it shifts. When the shift comes, the ground will open up, a divide that was once invisible will become visible, and the two will find themselves on opposite sides of it. That is what is happening in our day. He wrote the book to clearly identify the two sides of the fault line and to urge the reader to choose wisely. He would like to say that the book is meant to help us avoid the impending catastrophe, but it is not. He believes the catastrophe is unavoidable. The ground is already shaking. Relationships are being ruined, reputations are being tarnished, careers are being destroyed, and entire denominations are in danger of being derailed. He writes that if we are to survive this catastrophe however, we must understand it. We must understand what the fault lines are. We must also know where they lie.

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Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller. Viking. 256 pages. 2010
****

I’ve gone through this book twice, once as an audiobook and once as a participant in a book club. Though written in 2010, the book is perhaps even more relevant now than it was when first published.
Keller tells us that the book is both for believers who find the Bible a trustworthy guide, and for those who wonder if Christianity is a positive influence in the world. He also wants to challenge those who do not believe in Christianity to see the Bible not as a repressive text, but as the basis for the modern understanding of human rights.
Keller begins each chapter with a call to justice taken directly from the Bible to show how those words can become the foundation of a just, generous human community. His aim is to introduce many to a new way of thinking about the Bible, justice, and grace.
Keller writes that our society is deeply divided over the very definition of justice. It is not only Bible-believing people who care about justice or are willing to sacrifice in order to bring it about. Nearly everyone thinks they are on justice’s side. He writes that no current political framework can fully convey the comprehensive Biblical vision of justice, and that Christians should never identify too closely with a particular political party or philosophy.

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What is the Gospel? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 109 pages. 2020. 
****

In this new book in R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series (all of which are free in the Kindle edition), he looks at the important issue of the gospel. We often talk about the gospel, but if asked, would we be able to tell someone just what the gospel is? The gospel isn’t our personal testimony, for example.
Sproul indicates that there is perhaps no more important question for us to answer than what the gospel is, because the answer we give will help to determine our eternal destiny. The gospel tells us how we can be saved from our sin. It is therefore crucial that we search the Scriptures carefully in order to clearly articulate what God tells us about how we may be saved.

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One Line Drive: A Life-Threatening Injury and a Faith-Fueled Comeback by Daniel Ponce de Leon with Tom Zenner. FaithWords. 225 pages. 2021
***

This book, written by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon is about how his life changed after being hit in the head by a line drive by the Iowa Cubs’ Victor Caratini on May 9, 2017. In an instant, his life changed forever. He had no idea that almost dying that day would be a gift from God. He writes that as strange as it sounds, the injury he suffered was, in some ways, the best thing that has happened in his life. He now thinks of his injury as a wake-up call. It showed him just how far he had to go to grow in his journey as a Christian.
The book takes us through that horrific incident – he had a large epidural hematoma and skull fracture, the hematoma being what turned it into a life-and-death situation, his recovery, his battle to make it to the major leagues – his path took him through four colleges and five minor league towns – and his transformation and the spiritual growth that took place during that period.
Daniel’s head absorbed the full force of the impact of the batted ball, with excessive bleeding taking place on the inside of his skull near his brain. If it wasn’t for the quick decisions and actions of trainer Scott Ensell, Daniel could have died.

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Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. 343 pages. NavPress. 1991
****

I’ve read most of the books written by Jerry Bridges, who went home to be with the Lord in 2016. I first read this book in a class at Covenant Seminary about eight years ago, and I recently read and discussed it again with a friend.
Bridges writes that the Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. He tells us that it is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians. A key point is that many of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. That is, if we have performed well (had our “quiet time”, etc.), then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. Bridges tells us that though we are saved by grace, we are often live by our own performance. The realization that our daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on our own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

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Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter by Tim Keller. Viking. 272 pages. 2021
****

Tim Keller tells us that he began this book on the resurrection and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Writing in such dark times helped him see in the resurrection new depths of comfort and power.
In this book, Keller looks at what Christ as the resurrected one gives to us for life now. He focuses on the resurrection as a key to understanding the whole Bible and to facing all the challenges of life—suffering, personal change, injustice, moral clarity, and the uncertainty of the future. I read with particular interest his five case studies of people who met Jesus after his resurrection and his discussion of unrest and dissatisfaction regarding all social relationships (between economic classes, the races and nationalities, and the sexes). He tells us that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians have the resources for a transformation of social relationships that can be a powerful sign to the watching world.
A key theme throughout the book is what he refers to as “The Great Reversal”, an idea which he writes is at the heart of the gospel. Keller tells us that the cross and resurrection is the Great Reversal. Christ saves us through weakness by giving up power and succumbing to a seeming defeat. But he triumphs—not despite the weakness and loss of power but because of it and through it. His basic thesis of the book is that the resurrection, the Great Reversal, brings us both the power and the pattern for living life now connected to God’s future new creation. The way up is down, that the way to strength is through weakness, and that God has a plan and walks with us in the midst of our suffering, fragility, and helplessness.

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Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 184 pages. 2021 
****

 

I’ve enjoyed several of Paul Tripp’s devotionals over the past few years, my favorite being his New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. His latest devotional gives us 40 readings, some in poetry form, leading up to Easter. Each reading begins a short statement, which may have originally been one of the author’s tweets. He suggests using this devotional as your stimulus and guide as you stop, consider, mourn, confess, pray, and give your heart to thanksgiving.
Through these readings, and the “Reflection Questions” included at the end of each selection, we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross. The author writes that the horrible, public sacrifice of Jesus should ignite not only our celebration, but also our mourning.

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