I read a fair amount. I have been accused, and probably rightly so, of unrealistically pushing books and other reading materials on people who don’t read quite as much; who don’t have the time to read as much; who don’t get “paid” to read as much (as I, in part, am). But there are ideas and expressions I have benefited from, that I am not sure I can adequately convey, and I like to share them with others. I like to hear how others are struck by the same insights, when the authors’ words are not colored by my thoughts.
I know that I will never get everyone in my church to read all the things I’d like them to read. But there are three very short books that I have begun to encourage people to read:
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
This book is subtitled: “Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith”.
Keller elaborates on the well known story of the Prodigal Son, and offers a not-so-often recognized perspective: The story is not about a wild son who receives mercy and grace from his benevolent father. This is a story about two sons. In fact, this is a story about a Father who had two very different sons. It is THE story of God the Father and how people relate to Him in two different ways.
Each son is a reflection of the respective ways people relate to God.
The younger son is the picture of all who go astray from God and his Law and, having been broken, recognize the emptiness and hopelessness of life apart from the Father. When awakened to their desperate situation they find a grace and relationship with the Father that is ovewhelming.
The older son is the picture of all who try to relate to God, and please God, by being good; by following all the rules. This is a picture of religious people, of many Conservative Christians. Yet in their own goodness there is an evident lack of heartfelt fondness for the Father, a lack of joy, obvious to all except for them.
In this book Keller helps us to discern our own tendencies in our relation to God. Using this story Keller helps us see with keener insight that the ONLY way to have a relationship with God the Father is by recognizing that we are all in need and by being recipients of His compassion, grace, and generosity. Keller shows us that at the end of the story there is only one son, one type of person, still alienated from the Father. It is not the one who seems to have been the most egregious. It is the one who seems the most righteous.
Keller has also noted: “Our churches are full of Older Brother types… Is it any wonder, then, that the Younger Brother-types don’t want to come home (come to church)?”
The Prodigal God is only 133 pages – and the pages are double-spaced.
The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
In this 85 page, pocket sized, book Mahaney helps the reader to keep the Gospel at the center of our lives. He helps us to recognize various subtle substitutes that lead us from the Cross, but ultimatley are of little or no help in strengthening the soul.
Mahaney uses a plethora of annecdotes and illustrations to convey the simple, yet often forgotten and neglected, essential truth: The Gospel is the power to give and to transform life. Understanding how we can appropriate the present benefits of the Cross is key to vibrant spirituality and joy.
The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper
I am a long-time fan of Piper’s writing. Nevertheless, I confess, for a long time I refused to read this simple book. I guess I thought this pocket sized 84 page primer of his contemporary classic, Desiring God, was beneath me. After all, I’ve read the BIG book – several times! But I was wrong.
In this little book Piper conveys the essence of the Christian life: To glorify God by enjoying him forever. It is a great introduction to what Piper calls Christian Hedonism.
Christian Hedonism may sound like an oxymoron, and even inappropriate, to those who do not undertand what is behind Piper’s message. But I am convinced that what he espouses is thoroughly Biblical. It is the recognition that we are created to have a relationship with God; that we are commanded to take delight in God (i.e. Psalm 37.4); and that we are all prone to sell out the ultimate joy we can have in life, in God, for the cheap thrills and pleasures we find elsewhere.
While I still hope everyone will read Desiring God, this little book, Dangerous Duty, serves as a great introduction that will both lay a groundwork of understanding and whet the appetite for the whole feast found in Desiring God.