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As atheists rage, some good treadmill reading about Christianity

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

Books by atheists are hitting the best-seller lists, but defenders of the faith should not miss other new books that are flying in under major media radar. One outstanding scholarly work, Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdman's, 2006), concludes that "the Gospel texts are much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship."

Bauckham, a professor at St. Andrews in Scotland, even argues unfashionably (within academia) that Mark's Gospel is indeed largely Peter's eyewitness account and John's is also from an eyewitness. One of Bauckham's techniques is to look at the psychology of remembering: He shows that unique, consequential events in which an individual is emotionally involved are those most likely to be remembered well. Along the way he criticizes the theories of James Dunn and others that the Gospels are the result of oral tradition and collective memory-of-sorts.

On to other good books: Stephen Mansfield's Ten Tortured Words (Thomas Nelson, 2007) shows how jurists twisted the First Amendment's assurance of freedom for religion into a method of demanding freedom from religion. Nancy Tischler's Thematic Guide to Biblical Literature (Greenwood, 2007) is a text-usable in secular high schools and colleges-that shows how biblical themes play out in great world and American literature (see Tischler also on p. 50).

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On to other theological questions: Gerald McDermott's God's Rivals (IVP, 2007) explains how God has used what was true in largely false religions to help prepare individuals and whole cultures to eventually receive biblical truth. That may be true even in art: Thomas Mathews' The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (Princeton University Press, revised and expanded edition 2003) shows how Christians took pagan motifs and changed them. For example, Jesus rides in as did emperors, but meekly on a donkey rather than arrogantly in a chariot.

On to applications of theology: Some brave authors refuse to bow before the established public school religion, Darwinism. Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007) is getting some good press play, and Geoffrey Simmons' Billions of Missing Links (Harvest House, 2007) is also worthwhile. Debating Immigration, edited by Carol Swain (Cambridge University Press, 2007), looks at whether we can have an intelligently designed borders policy.

On to personal applications: John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway, 2007) tells the story of one pastor/hymnwriter whom God redeemed. Jonathan Aitken, a former member of Parliament who became a Christian while serving a prison term, readably tells the story of Newton, the slave ship captain who became a Christian, mentored William Wilberforce, and penned one of the most-sung hymns.

On to the growing Christian commitment to helping the poor of other countries: For a succinct and thoroughly biblical perspective on resources, development, and the right way to offer humanitarian assistance, read The Forest in the Seed, by Scott Allen and Darrow Miller (Disciple Nations Alliance, 2006). It takes the old proverb about teaching a man to fish instead of merely giving him a fish, and extends it: "Empower a man to think about fishing in new ways and his life will be changed forever!"

Some of the projects described in Kay Strom's Harvest of Hope (IVP, 2007) are fish-giving and others are fisher-teaching, but several rise to the third level. For example, she describes how Dalit (untouchable) women in India often have a deeply ingrained sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. That can change when they learn that God created them in His image and that they are capable of starting productive micro-enterprises.

It's hard to rise out of poverty when we pour our efforts into war rather than productivity, but James L. Payne argues in A History of Force (Lytton Publishing, 2004) that coercion, bloodshed, and mayhem are decreasing. It helps when people can be aggressive on a sports field rather than a battlefield, and William Baker's Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport (Harvard U. Press, 2007) is dry but information-packed. Simon Kuper's Ajax, the Dutch, the War: Football in Europe During the Second World War (Orion, 2003) shows how soccer players continued kicking as the ships of state were sinking.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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