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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four Christian nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Out of a Far Country

A mother and son tell their stories, variations on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Only this time both mother and son were lost: the mother to moralism and idols of achievement, the son to a life of homosexuality, drug dealing, and jail. Both needed rescue. It's also the story of a mother's proud heart being softened by the gospel, her faithful prayers for her husband and son, and God's gracious work in all their lives. Christopher Yuan explains how he came to ask: "Who am I apart from my sexuality?" At first he didn't have an answer. But he came to understand that his identity as "a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone." Well-written and worth reading.

Red Like Blood: Confrontations with Grace

Joe Coffey is a pastor and the son of a pastor. Bob Bevington was an eye doctor attending Joe's church when he blew up his life by committing adultery and divorcing his wife, a Christian schoolteacher who soon after received a cancer diagnosis. More than a decade later he came back to the church a changed man. In this book, the men describe the transforming power of grace both for the prodigal and the elder brother. With brutal honesty they lay bare their sins to show the beauty and sufficiency of Christ, and use homely topics such as garbage, math, and M&M's to talk about profound ideas. Through stories about friends and other changed people, they show how grace scrubs, flows, and multiplies.

Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China

Christie's readable biography begins with the 20-year-old Taylor, then a medical student, becoming deathly ill after helping to dissect a corpse. Through this episode and others, Christie portrays a man willing to sacrifice many worldly comforts as he prepares for and pursues his missionary calling to China. Through challenges and the death of a wife and children, Taylor perseveres. Of particular interest is the account of Taylor's spiritual crisis as he felt the "need personally . . . of more holiness, life, power in our souls," but-no matter how much he strived-was "utterly powerless." A letter from a friend gave him new eyes: "Not a striving to have faith, or to increase our faith, but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need."

The Missional Mom

Lee applies missional to moms who also pursue career callings, fight poverty or injustice, or live simply. She makes good points about keeping in mind our primary calling, to love and know God. Her repetitive use of the buzzword "missional" is annoying, as is her sense that previous generations of Christian moms didn't understand the importance of living "with God-directed intentionality and purpose, in their family life as well as in whatever other context God has placed them." Nevertheless, she rightly encourages moms to be aware of the cultural influences shaping their desires for their children, to be cultural rebels when necessary, and to train up "missionally-minded" children.

Spotlight

In Surprised by Oxford (Thomas Nelson, 2011), Christian college professor Carolyn Weber describes growing up in a troubled family in London, Ontario. Her college success earned her a full scholarship to study for a master's degree in Romantic literature at Oxford in the 1990s. This memoir describes her experiences that first year, but focuses on her relationship with a handsome theology student she dubs TDH (tall, dark, and handsome) who introduced her to the gospel. At an Oxford she describes as spiritually vibrant, Weber was surrounded by students who were open to belief. Conversations about spiritual topics flourished, although some professors were openly hostile. After she embraced Christ, she found professors who encouraged her. Readers with a literary bent will especially enjoy her references to books and writers.

In Six Stone Jars: God's Remedy for Fear, Worry, and Anxiety (Focus Publishing, 2009), biblical counselor Dan Manningham offers sound guidance for believers struggling with worry.

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