Some 26 years ago, at our first meeting, I thrust a Christian book into my wife-to-be's hand and said, "You must read this." (She did, because she wanted to read me.) Some 24 years ago, when I was still new to Christianity, Edward Steele III in Indianapolis took me into a seminary bookstore, showed me some pricey but priceless volumes of systematic theology, and said, "You must read these." (Soon both my wallet and my thinking were reorganized.) I'd like to thrust into the hands of college students, bright high-schoolers, and teachers four of the new books from the big stack by my treadmill:
- Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics (Basic Books, 2000) shows why governmental attempts at economic control have left New York City with four abandoned apartments for every homeless resident. In my freshman economics class I learned that money in government's hands has a "multiplier effect" on economic progress far greater than the same money in the hands of those who earned it; Sowell punctures such nonsense.
- What Makes Charity Work? (Ivan R. Dee, 2000) is a Myron Magnet-edited selection of very readable articles from his City Journal, a quarterly that regularly shows the failures of welfare as we have known it and highlights compassionate alternatives. Editor Myron Magnet's assemblage of case studies of nonbiblical poverty-fighting brings out the need for change.
- Start the Presses! A Handbook for Student Journalists (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000) has tightly written advice on how to start a campus publication. The book grows out of the experience of the Collegiate Network, a service group for 70 publications that provide alternatives to the secular liberalism common among official campus newspapers.
- Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Crossway Books, 2001) is James Montgomery Boice's theological last will and testament. Boice, who pastored Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church for three decades up to his death last year, critiques mile-wide-inch-deep evangelical trends and shows how five doctrines that shaped the Protestant Reformation can reawaken the church today. Boice's voice from the grave makes priorities clear. For example, he explains in this way why Jesus at one point refuses to heal more people: "He knew that if He allowed the miracles to eclipse the teaching, the countryside might soon be filled with thousands of fit and healthy people, but in spite of their good health they would all die eventually and perish in hell. If, on the other hand, He focused on teaching them the Bible, though many would have less than perfect health and there would still be many physical diseases, many of these people would also believe and those who did believe would go to heaven. Jesus saw things God's way, and He would not allow anything to deter Him from His Father's business." I also recommend four books that are more suited for teachers, professors, and advanced students:
- Gary Scott Smith, in The Search for Salvation: Social Christianity and America, 1880-1925 (Lexington Books, 2000), shows how the great divide between social gospelers and traditional churchmen a century ago left both sides unfulfilled. Theological conservatives were certainly right that liberal Protestants were placing too much emphasis on social reconstruction and too little on individual regeneration and the development of a solid theological base. But conservatives sometimes allowed their dislike for liberal activities to push them to the other extreme of paying little attention to the poor.
- Will economic aid lift individuals or nations out of poverty? Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (Basic Books, 2000) should be required reading for those who think man lives by bread alone. Editors Lawrence Harrison and Samuel Huntington, along with essayists such as Francis Fukuyama, make it clear that some nations will waste anything sent their way unless their cultures change.
- Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (Ignatius Press, 2000) includes excellent papers by mathematician William Dembski, biochemist Michael Behe, and philosopher of science Stephen Meyer. Together they show how the structure of the universe and of life shout out their origin in intelligent design, not time plus chance.
- Mr. Dembski has also produced, along with Jay Wesley Richards and other one-time students at Princeton Theological Seminary, a notable record of rebellion in Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the Challenge of Theological Studies (InterVarsity Press, 2001). In 1995 Christian students at Princeton, once known for its proclamation of Christ but now fallen into liberalism, began their own weekly seminar; this book includes the best of the papers presented there. James Boice would approve of these words from Mssrs. Dembski and Richards about striving for excellence amid those who despise Christ: "Our attitude must combine two competing ideals: the desire to produce work worthy of respect, and a repudiation of any desire for actual acceptance or respectability."