Here are some new and noteworthy books we’re reading these days:
Jason Helopoulos, A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home. I grew up with family worship: Scripture reading, discussion, catechetical instruction, prayer, and singing every night. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like not doing it, and thought every Christian family did it. I was wrong. Family worship really is a neglected grace in the church these days. Helopoulos’s book is a wonderful tool for those who need to learn what family worship is and how to do, and also for those who are doing it and want to do it better. A Neglected Grace is full of grace, so spouses and parents can read it and find encouragement instead of a guilt trip. The book explains what family worship is, why it is vital, and how to do it (including great testimonies of families telling what it looks like in their home). There is also a great list of resources, including sample structures, questions to start discussions on a Scripture passage, and guides to prayer structure. And very kindly, Helopoulos has condensed all of this into a slim paperback, which even parents with a crowd of preschoolers can read in an evening or two.
Iain D Campbell and William Schweitzer, ed., Engaging with Keller: Thinking through the theology of an influential evangelical (Evangelical Press, 2013) Including essays by William Schweitzer, Kevin Bidwell, Peter Naylor, D.G. Hart, and others, this is a careful and thought-provoking work. Each theologian, while appreciative of much of Keller’s ministry, engages specific areas of concern with his presentation of Reformed evangelical theology, including the doctrine of sin, judgement and hell, the “divine dance” and the Trinity, mission and justice, hermeneutics, theistic evolution, and ecclesiology. The tone ranges from concerned to more firmly critical; Ian Hamilton’s foreword is a masterful example of gracious criticism and sets the tone for the entire book. The authors do not throw out the baby with the bathwater, so Engaging with Keller proves an excellent companion piece for Keller’s own books, providing a steadying, biblical balance. It is fitting reminder that our choice of concepts/language, our emphases, and interests–along with what we don’t say in our gospel proclamation–shapes our message and influences the trajectory of the church. While some may not agree with every argument, this is the kind of “iron sharpening iron” effort that ought to be part of vibrant life of every congregation, presbytery and denomination, helping us discern whether our life and doctrine are coming together for healthy growth, or drifting towards decline.
Francis J. Bremer, First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in an Atlantic World (University of New Hampshire Press, 2012). What high school student in America has not heard of Anne Hutchinson? But how many realize that her struggle with the New England authorities was not tolerance vs. intolerance, but persistent illegal activity vs. careful judicial procedure? Bremer’s volume is a series of mini-biographies of the men and women who shaped New England. A rich depth of knowledge, scholarship, and an unusually balanced interpretation of events make for a valuable read. Bremer’s insight and wit give a fresh take on well-known people and dates. First Founders surprised me at every turn with connections, events, letters, and voyages that corrected and broadened my perspective of early New England, where people did not yet think of themselves as Americans, and Puritanism did not mean that witch-hunting was a colonial pastime. The focus is not on politics or religion, but on the people who made politics and religion such forces in the new land.