The Blessed by Lisa T. Bergren (Berkley Books)
She’s done it again. Lisa T. Bergren’s The Blessed, the thrilling conclusion to the Gifted Trilogy, is definitely worth the read.
In this classic tale of good versus evil, the fellowship of the Gifted has grown stronger. But so has their enemy. Against great odds, they continue their journey into the heart of Christendom, the papal palace itself. It’s a dangerous journey, and their losses are great. Can this motley group of 13 really influence the future of the church? Can they stand up against an enemy who so easily confuses and confounds them? Can they keep their faith when it looks as if their very lives are at stake?
Don’t miss this exciting conclusion to the Gifted Trilogy. You’ll be thrilled and blessed—and possibly challenged to walk more boldly in your own faith. If you’ve already read The Begotten and The Betrayed, you’ll love The Blessed. If not, put them at the top of your reading list for 2009.
First Baptist Church
Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America by Garry Wills (Penguin Books)
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills asserts two strains of religion have shaped America’s character throughout the nation’s history. Evangelicalism and Enlightenment—religion of the heart and religion of the head—each have enjoyed periods of ascendancy and suffered times of decline. Wills maintains America has benefited from that tension and from the occasional exceptional individuals—such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.—who embodied both disparate aspects.
Most Texas Baptists resonate with one of Wills’ major conclusions—separation of church and state has resulted in a vibrant, thriving religious presence in the United States. Christianity was weakest and church attendance lowest under an established church. Since disestablishment, a free church in a free state has flourished. Perhaps Wills’ greatest contribution lies in his sentence-by-sentence exposition of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. His careful scholarship and tightly woven rational arguments should put to rest revisionist claims that the founding fathers wanted anything less than total institutional separation of church and state.
One might wish Wills had given more credit to the positive roles of early Baptists John Leland and Isaac Backus in guaranteeing religious liberty, considering how much blame he rightfully lays at the feet of some latter-day Baptists in the Religious Right for undermining separation of church and state. When it comes to recounting the genesis of separation of church and state in the United States, Wills pays due tribute to the role of Enlightenment figures such as Jefferson and Madison while generally neglecting or downplaying the contributions of Baptists. Still, the book stands as an important contribution to ongoing dialogue about the proper role of religion in American society.
Ken Camp, managing editor
A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test by Kenneth Richard Samples (Baker Books)
Everyone has a worldview—a way of seeing the world and a philosophy of what life is about. Kenneth Richard Samples refers to this “world-and-life view” as a pair of glasses with an “interpretive lens” that a person wears to gain a perspective on reality.
Samples divides his book into three parts. The first section discusses reality and truth, providing a beginner’s guide to logic and testing truth claims.
Part 2 explores the basic Christian worldview and delves into biblical theology and ethics. Part 3 evaluates the other main categories of worldviews—naturalism; postmodernism; pantheistic monism, or Eastern mysticism; and Islam.
While crediting the non-Christian perspectives with some positive summaries, most of Samples’ evaluations highlight their negative aspects and differing beliefs and practices from Christianity. The book would have been stronger if Samples had presented more commonalities these other worldviews may share with Christianity. Such an approach would have helped readers discover discussion ideas for personal evangelism with everyday holders of these religious perspectives and lens-wearers. But this book, as indicated by its title, is mainly about the differences among “worldview competitors” in a pluralistic society.
Greg Bowman, minister to students
First Baptist Church