The Essentials of Christian Thought:
Seeing the World Through the Biblical Story
By Roger E. Olson (Zondervan)
At just a bit more than 250 pages, The Essentials of Christian Thought is surprisingly slim for a heavyweight. Don’t let the size fool you. This book packs a punch.
Roger Olson, professor of theology and ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, tackles big questions—in fact, this book is all about The Big Questions: What is ultimate reality? What can we know about the nature of God? How should we understand the world and humanity’s place in it?
Olson presents a compelling case for a biblical vision of ultimate reality. He challenges Christians to view reality not through filters of inherited Greek philosophy or contemporary culture’s worldview but through the story of redemption recorded in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t need to borrow a metaphysical framework from man-made philosophies—ancient, medieval, modern or postmodern. Christians should search the Scriptures and look for the underlying assumptions about the personal God who reveals himself as ultimate reality.
Forget Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. The God of Abraham and Moses who made himself fully known in Jesus Christ does not stand apart from creation but is moved by the response of those created in God’s own image.
“He is not dependent on anything outside himself and yet, at the same time, opens himself to influence by his own creatures,” Olson writes. Ultimate reality is relational, and relationships are fraught with vulnerability. God voluntarily enters into the world he created and “permits himself to be resisted and grieved” by those who bear his image—albeit a likeness damaged by their infidelity and rebellion, he asserts.
In the process of recapturing the biblical vision of ultimate reality, Olson exposes the fallacies in competing worldviews. He offers an overview of the major schools of philosophy that have influenced Western thought. He explores the difference between science and scientism, as well as the difference between secular humanism and biblical Christian humanism.
The Essentials of Christian Thought—which goes on sale March 14—is well worth your time and mental energy. Just get ready for some heavy lifting.
Ken Camp, managing editor
Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World
By Leroy Barber (IVP)
Leroy Barber wrote Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World as a pastoral epistle to the church in America on racial reconciliation. The work carries with it the rhythm of a good sermon—long sentences of explanation and background, punctuated by sections of short, profound sentences that bring everything back into focus.
Barber mentions many of the ways the world and the church are divided, and then he provides stories that offer insight into moving beyond these barriers. He begins by explaining why sometimes we need to stay in uncomfortable places, reaching beyond cultural norms in order to embrace the other.
Like an effective sermon, every chapter includes a few stories to illustrate his point, which then reinforce a repetition of what he has said and is going to say. The theme of racial reconciliation is somewhat downplayed in the earlier part of the book, but as the work approaches the final chapter, it becomes much more focused on that issue.
Embrace is worth purchasing for the final chapter alone. Throughout the book, Barber builds credibility strategically, so by the end, the reader will take what Barber has to say as legitimate and not in some way antagonistic to a peaceful world. In the final chapter, he explains the need for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as clarifying many of the myths that surround it. The chapters previous to this can demand a little perseverance to finish. But Embrace culminates in a fantastic end that could be published and distributed in churches all across the country.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is sympathetic to the problems African-Americans face and who is looking to begin working toward reconciliation.
Micah Furlong, student
The Daniel Code: Living Out Truth in a Culture That is Losing Its Way
By O.S. Hawkins (Countryman/Thomas Nelson)
The Daniel Code is the latest in a series of “Code” books by O.S. Hawkins, the president and chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. The previous three are The Joshua Code, The Jesus Code and The James Code.
The Daniel Code is a timely book dealing with culture shock. Hawkins explores the Old Testament book of Daniel and the prophet’s experiences to show readers how to react and how not to react while living in today’s culture.
Hawkins talks about the negatives of living under pressure, a prideful culture, a presumptuous culture, and promiscuous and perverted cultures.
The author asserts Christian integrity in private, personal, professional and public lives is the answer to all that is negative in the world today. Hawkins concludes with an encouraging chapter titled “You Can Survive Culture Shock.”
Like the three preceding “Code” books, The Daniel Code is well worth reading. Proceeds from the sale of books in this series benefit Mission: Dignity, the GuideStone project to assist retired ministers and their spouses living on modest means. For more information, click here.
Skip Holman, minister of discipleship
Northeast Baptist Church