The main point of Jason Helopoulos’ new book can be found in its intentionally idiosyncratic title: A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home (Christian Focus, 2013). In other words, worship is “grace,” not “law,” and thus not mandatory. Instead, it is simply a source of blessing. For Pastor Helopoulos, family worship is not “something we must do, but something we want to do.” Actually, it’s both: We want to do it because we love our Savior, who tells us to do it. In its misguided zeal to avoid heaping guilt on the guilty, Neglected Grace is built on a false dichotomy. This dichotomy does not cripple the book, but it can be hazardous to the unwary.
Helopoulos wants readers to focus on the benefits of family worship. He has gathered an impressive catalogue of these. As with all of God’s commands, obedience to His injunction for families to worship together brings many benefits. It centers the home, provides daily discipleship opportunities, and gives common knowledge that in turn creates a genuine family culture.
These are great benefits—but we can live without them, or get them from a Bible class. The bottom line of the do-it-for-the-benefits approach as applied to any of God’s commands is that obedience becomes optional rather than mandatory. This perhaps explains why Helopoulos talks so frequently (and distractingly) about how poorly his own family worships.
Neglected Grace really shines in the how-to, and in providing comfort and encouragement to those who feel inadequate to lead their families before God. The appended testimonies to the benefits of family worship from Christians of all ages are encouraging, too. Ultimately, I would give this book to someone who needed a gentle kick to start family worship—but I would add with it a warning that Helopoulos severely understates his case.
The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place, and Community in a Global Age (Potomac Books, 2012) has three messages: Love people, love places, and thank God. Author Mark Mitchell, a professor of political theory at Patrick Henry College, delivers his astoundingly good ideas in conversational English that will convince the ignorant and drag skeptics to an unwilling admiration.
Though the book is not explicitly Christian, it begins with the concept of creaturehood. We did not ask for existence, and we deserve neither it nor its benefits. Therefore, we ought to live in gratitude, both to our Creator and the generations before us who made our existence possible.
Mitchell does not attack evolution; he assumes creation. From it he draws many troubling implications. Both the left and the right in contemporary politics focus on the atomistic individual and seek to maximize his autonomy. But as creatures, we are actually not autonomous at all. We owe a burden of gratitude, and human flourishing is actually maximized by associations with people we did not choose—like our parents, our siblings, and our extended family. The atomistic individual roams the earth in search of pleasure and a high-paying job to pay for more pleasure. The individual in community, by contrast, sticks in one place and befriends the people there because they are there.
The book ends with a vast, compelling vision: We are the custodians of civilization, and we have the opportunity to enjoy and to pass down the culture we have inherited. We can read Homer and Moses, understand Bach, and do it in community with our extended family (who may actually be more important than that high-paying job elsewhere). Or we can watch TV every night. To a materialistic age, soul-ennobling activities are pointless. To Mitchell, they are life.
Saturated with Scripture and loaded with theological truth, R.C. Sproul’s The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You (David C Cook, 2012) is a popular-level book that will refresh scholarly minds. Rather than summarize, this review will sample.
Sproul takes a wide look, treating the 12 major events of Jesus’ life. He begins in eternity past with the covenant between the persons of the Trinity. The Father planned redemption; the Son purchased it; and the Spirit applied it. Though Sproul’s work is exceedingly non-polemical, its positive statement of the Triune character of salvation is badly needed today. Rather than seeing the cross as a merciful Jesus appeasing an angry Father, the Bible portrays a loving Father sending a loving Son to save His beloved people by dying the death the people deserved.
Sproul examines the hymns recorded in Luke’s Gospel and looks at Jesus in the temple. Here he points out that Christ was not subject to the mental clouding produced by sin in the rest of us. Therefore, He thought perfectly and never made any errors in logic. That is why He could astonish the scribes at the age of 12. The Work of Christ then looks at the temptation of Christ and compares it to the temptation of Adam. Adam fell in a garden with companionship and a full stomach; Christ obeyed God in a desert, all alone and ravenously hungry. At the crucifixion, meanwhile, the mental anguish was so intense that Sproul is forced to “wonder whether Jesus even felt” the physical pain.
This is just a tiny taste; every sentence of The Work of Christ is well worth reading. Sproul’s genius for presenting complex truth in simple, memorable fashion shines in this book. Read it.