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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books on Christian doctrine and life reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Your right to vote," July 31, 2010

Atonement

Seven eminent pastors and theologians, including J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Sinclair Ferguson, examine the Atonement from different perspectives. Fluhrer writes in the introduction, "The pride of our sin dilutes the simple, clear, and shocking teaching of the New Testament: God killed his perfect Son to save hate-filled rebels from the wrath they deserve." The essays cover reconciliation, propitiation, and limited atonement, but these are not exercises in abstract theology. Sproul shows how "Jesus lived out the drama of the curse." Ferguson shows how the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah formed the way Jesus thought about His life and work. There's meat here for those willing to chew.

Rescuing Ambition

Since we are "wired for glory," it is foolish to try to deny ambition. Instead Harvey wants readers to be ambitious for the right things and in the right ways. Because human beings are fallen, ambition can be corrupted in the same way that any human desire can be. Why read this book? Harvey asks in the introduction: "Read it to make connections between what you want and what you do . . . between your present opportunities and your future hopes . . . between your life and God's glory. These connections rescue us from fruitlessness, pointlessness, purposelessness, and the haunting gray twilight of wasted time and lost opportunities." This is an excellent book that focuses on rescuing ambition, redirecting it for our good and God's glory.

The Unquenchable Flame

Michael Reeves is a great storyteller, and this terrific short history of the Protestant Reformation focuses on some key figures and places. A final chapter asks if the Reformation is over-and Reeves shows that it is ongoing, since it's "about moving towards the gospel." Our culture, he says, "jettisoned the idea that we might ever be guilty before God and therefore need his justification." Instead we practice secular versions of a religion of works-"we will be more loved when we make ourselves more attractive"-but Reeves writes, "The Reformation has the most sparkling good news. As Luther put it: 'Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.'"

Welcome to a Reformed Church

Daniel Hyde has written a useful introduction to the Reformed branch of Protestantism, explaining history, doctrine, and worship. The book contains a mini systematic theology that explains concepts like covenant, justification, sanctification, and the marks of a true church, including discipline. It gives the basis for believing in an authoritative Bible and explains the sacraments. In a clear style meant for laymen, Hyde "hopes to clear up any misunderstandings you might have about what Reformed churches believe and even begin to open your eyes to a new world, a new way of looking at 'the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.'" The book contains ample footnotes and Scripture references for further study.

Spotlight

Since 1982 San Jose State University has awarded a prize for the best opening "for the worst of all possible novels." The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest-named after the writer who wrote "It was a dark and stormy night . . . "-recently announced its 2010 winner: Molly Ringle of Seattle, Wash. Her sentence: "For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss-a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Rick Cheeseman of Minnesota grabbed the Fantasy award for this beauty: "The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced in the morning light past the glistening dewdrops on the meadow thistles by the Old Mill, ignorant of the daily slaughter that occurred just behind its lichen-encrusted walls, twin 20-ton mill stones savagely ripping apart the husks of wheat seed, gleefully smearing the starchy entrails across their dour granite faces in unspeakable botanical horror and carnage-but that's not our story; ours is about fairies!"

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