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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books of popular theology reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

Big God

Britt Merrick, young pastor of the California church Reality, unpacks the stories of the Old Testament saints mentioned in Hebrews 11. He may sprinkle his chapters with surfer slang (he is a surfer and former surfboard maker), but Merrick is biblically solid. He sets the saints in their historical context and describes the faith they exercised, drawing parallels between their lives and ours. This is not an account of exemplary people who have great faith: As Merrick explains in his epilogue, "We can lead lives that are pleasing to God, not because we are great people, but because by faith we can connect with a great God."


Tchividjian does for the book of Jonah what Tim Keller did for the parable of the Prodigal Son in Prodigal God, finding in Jonah a story of "God's relentless pursuit of rebels." Jonah, we learn, isn't so different from religious folks today. Somewhere in the back of our minds we think that God saved us because we aren't as bad as those Ninevites. Tchividjian peels back the layers of the story to show Jonah's sin and cultural blinders, God's grace both to Jonah and the great city of Ninevah, and the connections between this book and Christ. He also shows how Jonah's story has inspired artists throughout the ages (the book includes many color plates).

Jonathan Edwards: On Beauty

This slender introduction to Edwards' theology of beauty is part of the five volume The Essential Edwards Collection. Each book in the series takes a topic and explores Edwards' approach to it. The volume on beauty begins with the beauty of God and moves on to the beauty of creation, Christ, the Church, and the "trinitarian afterlife." The authors quote chunks from Edwards' writings so the reader gets a feel for his exuberant, poetic style. They also offer clear explanations and applications for modern readers. If you are like me and haven't read Edwards, these books will serve as little bites of Edwards' meaty and God-centered theology. Each volume comes with a foreword by John Piper.

A Gospel Primer for Christians

In the short testimony at the end of this useful little book, Milton Vincent writes, "I labored for most of my life to maintain my justified status before God, and I was always left frustrated in my attempts to do so." God used Romans 5 to reach Vincent with the gospel of grace. Convinced that Christians need to hear and live by the gospel as much as non-Christians, Vincent has compiled reasons (along with proof texts) believers need to preach daily the gospel to themselves, and added two short narrative presentations of the gospel. Think of this book as a catechism that captures the power of the gospel to deal with sin, foster love toward God and our neighbors, cultivate humility, and help us live the Christian life.


If you want children to memorize something, put it to music. On Teach Them The Faith (, musicians Dan and Karen Vitco set the questions and answers of the "Catechism for Young Children" to classically styled music. Karen Vitco sings the questions and various children sing the responses.

Stylistically Seeds Family Worship ( couldn't be more different. The group's fifth CD is The Power of Encouragement. I first heard their music about eight months ago and the songs (and Scripture verses) are still rattling around in my head. You can sample songs from both groups at their websites.

In Amazing Dad: Letters from William Wilberforce to his Children (Xulon, 2010) Stephanie Byrd, who wrote her Master's thesis on the British parliamentarian, offers an engaging short biography that includes excerpts from letters that Wilberforce wrote to five of his six children (the remaining child stayed at home). The letters range over topics including education, friendship, money, and true faith. In all of them he shows a deep concern for the spiritual life of his children-and he offers much wise counsel.


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