Matt Chandler's excellent book will help Christians avoid common errors that occur when we make assumptions about the meaning of the word gospel. His clear presentation of the content of the gospel includes good discussions of God's holiness, man's tendency to worship idols, our need for Christ's bloody sacrifice, and grace. He shows how the gospel also has cosmic implications, with the story of personal salvation fitting into God's big story of Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation, where God makes all things new. Chandler uses "on the ground" and "in the air" to describe the two vantage points from which we see the gospel, and he shows the warping that occurs when we neglect either of them.
Gabe Lyons asserts that a new generation of Christians will not make the mistakes of the older generation, which he attacks as judgmental, separationist, culture-warring, and damaging to the Christian brand. The book is filled with stories of young Christians who care about orphans, sex trafficking, clean water, and creation care. Lyons hopes their emphasis on human flourishing will make Christianity more acceptable to non-Christian neighbors. In his zeal to promote good works, Lyons glosses over the gospel of the cross of Christ. Matt Chandler's book offers a necessary corrective for the weaknesses in Lyons' approach.
For those who have followed Lauren Winner's faith journey through the books Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath, it's sad to read this series of reflections about the unraveling of her faith after her mother dies and her marriage disintegrates. At one point Winner describes a conversation during which she asks, "Don't you ever get bored with the whole thing?"-meaning Christianity. The friend says Winner spends too much time thinking and analyzing her feelings about God-and that's true. Winner's academic interests are on display-poetry, church history, and 20th-century theology-but they seem to distract her from the living God. The book ends with her hanging on to a belief that has been transformed by her experiences.
Steven James adds some fiction to his nonfiction analysis of biblical characters, with the goal of rescuing them from the pedestals upon which we sometimes place them. His first-person accounts focus on their human longings and frailties-and the temptations common to us all. Some of his portrayals challenge typical readings of familiar stories. Is it possible Joseph didn't flee quickly enough from Potiphar's wife when he first sensed her desire? He plucks from obscurity Demas, mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:9-11 as one who deserted Paul "because he loves the things of this life," and imagines his last conversation with Paul. By showing connections between the stories of biblical characters and ours, James deepens our understanding of grace.
In From Santa to Sexting by Brenda Hunter and Kristen Blair (Leafwood, 2012), the authors-a psychotherapist and her daughter, an education writer-ably cover research into the lives of middle-schoolers, including sobering statistics about sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and other risky behaviors. The authors show the importance of parents and provide practical ways to encourage faith and virtue at a time when those are under assault. Those remedies-living out your faith, teaching character, praying with and sacrificing for your children, eating meals together-are important, but those wanting to know specifically how the gospel provides hope for our kids and our parenting will have to look elsewhere.
Many churches need to improve their counseling of both parents and their children. They should invest in Robert Kellemen's Equipping Counselors for Your Church (P&R, 2011). This comprehensive volume covers the who, what, why, and how of counseling.