In short chapters on work, integrity, friendship, and other man-topics, Nashville pastor Yawn shows that men can stop pretending to be good—because the cross frees us from self-righteousness. He shows that real manliness is not being a Jason Bourne, but paying your bills on time and knowing the location of the toilet plunger. By itself, the chapter on pornography (“Hugh Hefner Will Die Alone”) is worth the price of the book. Downside: Yawn includes some silly Man Laws and other jokes that some will find insulting to their intelligence. Upside: Good counsel on how to get beyond the “permanent adolescence” that popular entertainment and advertising sell.
Where is the gospel in the Gospels? Prolific Anglican theologian N.T. Wright begins his answer by observing that the church is stuck on Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, to the near exclusion of the largest chunk of gospel material—His life in between. What is the point of Chapters 3-26 of Matthew? Wright answers that question by focusing on the way the four Gospels interweave four themes: Christ is the climax of the story of Israel, is Jehovah in the flesh, founds a new community, and attacks the kingdom of Caesar with the kingdom of God. Through Jesus’ work, God reigns right now on earth as in heaven—and for Wright, that truth is the best news of all.
Seminary professor Carl Trueman, arguing that the church needs to have public creeds and confessions of faith, perceptively analyzes the cultural factors that generate suspicion of detailed statements of belief. His book includes a history of creeds and confessions in the early church and Reformation eras: The Creedal Imperative’s surveys are so compelling that the book could serve as a textbook for a crash course in Western culture. Essentially, he wants the church to be unashamed of its identity as an institution, and therefore willing to fight for a genuine statement of doctrine that will inevitably exclude some people.
Anyabwile’s book, a lightly edited collection of 12 sermons he preached at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, emphasizes the practical side of ecclesiology. By teaching his congregants about their corporate identity in Christ, Anyabwile encourages them to show love to each other and a watching world in ways both obvious (a chapter on giving) and surprising (a chapter on singing). He explains how doctrine helps develop true fellowship among members of the body, and shows how that works out practically. His message, in essence: Have a meaningful spiritual conversation with each person in your church at least once per year. You, he says, are members of one another. Now act like it.
Secular anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann spent four years in the field, doing anthropological work among exotic … Americans. Attending a Vineyard congregation in Chicago and another in Palo Alto, she concluded that the Vineyard, and evangelicalism in general, trains its members to interpret some of their own internal feelings as the voice of God. In When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Knopf, 2012), Luhrmann says the church focuses on teaching its congregants how to do something, rather than on how to think something. In other words, the movement lacks an explicit theology. Vineyard pastors do not worry that their congregants will believe falsehoods about God; their major concern is that their sheep will fail to experience dialogue with Him. Sometimes, the results of this doctrine are slightly bizarre: Luhrmann recounts stories of believers who would sincerely ask God what to wear each morning—and then forget to wait for the answer. —C.N.