Best Books of July 2018

Below are the three best book I read in July in no certain order.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce is a work of theological fiction in which C.S. Lewis challenges the modern understanding of hell. The standard view of hell, which owes much to Dante Alighieri’s famous poem, The Inferno, takes the Bible’s descriptions of hell as being strictly literal. Thus, when the Bible discusses the “fiery lake of burning sulfur,”[1] the standard view of hell pictures literal burning sulfur. According to this view of hell, we should believe that hell is a place of fire and everlasting, conscious, unrelenting torture. Lewis’s version of hell is quite different, however.

In Lewis’s idea of hell, there is no fire and there is no torment external to hell’s inhabitants. Instead, he pictures hell as a sprawling city at dusk with a perennial rain pelting the city’s miserable inhabitants. In this city, people can have anything they desire: If I desire a new home, I can have it simply by picturing it. If a new car is what I decide I need to be happy, I can have my new vehicle custom built on the spot for no charge. Nevertheless, even with the ability to meet all of their desires at a moment’s notice, the inhabitants of hell are miserable. Without saying so, Lewis implies that all of their possessions leave them feeling unsatisfied.

The main part of the story follows a group who leaves hell aboard a bus and travels to the outskirts of heaven. Once nearing heaven, they are shocked to realize how illusory all of hell actually is when compared to the ultimate reality of heaven; indeed, our group has grown so accustomed to the illusory nature of hell that they find even the outskirts of heaven to be so real as to be nearly intolerable. Soon, our group comes into contact with residents of the eternal city who tell them of the magnificence of Christ and urge them to repentance. Each person has his own reason for continuing to refuse Christ beyond the grave, however. Thus, the various characters choose to return to hell and their pet sins instead of forsaking all they hold dear in order to have their greatest needs met.

True to form, Lewis uses the narrative to teach theological lessons. For example, one recurring theme is the sin of over-valuing good things. On numerous occasions, the inhabitants of hell show that their families or their possessions, though good things, have become idols to them and have thus kept them from heaven. Similarly, Lewis teaches that hell is a choice and that all who are in hell choose to be there.

God the Father Almighty by Millard Erickson

God the Father Almighty is by far the most academic book in this list; however, it is also the most valuable resource. In this book, Millard Erickson, one of the top Baptist theologians of the twentieth century, considers the doctrine of God, or Theology Proper. To begin, he surveys major opponents to the traditional way of understanding who God is. After examining Pluralism, Process Theology, and Open Theism, he finds each one lacking for different reasons. He then shifts his focus to the main part of his book: an examination of the different issues within the orthodox doctrine of God.

Erickson lines up eight different areas of Theology Proper for examination. In each chapter, he begins by surveying the relevant biblical data and contemporary views regarding the chapter’s topic. Then, he proposes a way of understanding the Bible’s description of God that is both biblical and relevant to the modern mind.

The topics Erickson discusses are some of the most important topics in the doctrine of God. First, he discusses whether or not God can undergo change. Next, he examines two difficult questions: God’s relationship to time and God’s relationship to outside influences. Erickson then discusses God’s omnipotence and omniscience. The sixth topic is God’s simplicity. The final two topics of discussion are God’s goodness and God’s immanence and transcendence.

Overall, Erickson makes three arguments throughout this book. First, he argues that the modern opponents to the orthodox understanding of God face intractable problems. Second, and related to the first argument, he argues that an orthodox Theology Proper can successfully answer the problems which hinder its opponents. Finally, he argues that all Christians should seek to understand the Doctrine of God because of the way that this doctrine effects other areas of our theology. If we are imprecise in our understanding of God, we could develop errors in other places.

This can be a difficult book to read at times; however, this book is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to move past an elementary understanding of God.

Spirit-Led Preaching by Greg Heisler

Baptist preachers have a heavy emphasis on the word of God. In Spirit-Led Preaching, Greg Heisler argues that preachers should couple their emphasis on God’s word with a desire to have the Holy Spirit be present and active at all stages of sermon preparation and preaching.

Throughout this book, Heisler juggles two paradoxical elements. First, preachers desperately need the Holy Spirit to be active during our preaching. Left to myself, I can’t change lives, nor can I compel others to do anything which would be pleasing to God. For real results, I, and all other preachers, desperately need God to be active through our preaching. He is our only hope. Second, there is nothing I can do to make God use my preaching. God is not like the gods of ancient, pagan religions who could be manipulated; instead, God is independent of his creation. Consequently, he will act when and how he chooses, and there is nothing we can do to change that.

Since we desperately need God and yet can’t force him to interact with us, it may seem that preachers are in an impossible situation. It’s at this point that the importance of Heisler’s book appears. Heisler argues that since preachers need the Holy Spirit but can’t force him to act, we should do everything within our power to make ourselves as pleasing to God as possible as we wait on his blessing. In short, we should be faithful to God while waiting for him to use us as he sees fit. Thus, preachers should be actively working on their sanctification while seeking God’s guidance in sermon preparation. Once the sermon is written, preachers should then take the time to apply their sermons to their own lives before trying to apply them to the lives of the congregation. Heisler’s book has the ability to convey a sense of urgency to the task of seeking God’s presence in preaching.

Perhaps the best way to summarize Spirit-Led Preaching is through Heisler’s own words: “Preaching is much like an iceberg. What people see in the pulpit on Sunday is the tip of the dynamics going on beneath the surface. Beneath the surface, the Spirit of God is at work in the preacher’s life long before eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. Spirit-led preaching approaches the Spirit holistically because the spirit penetrates every aspect of our lives. Therefore, Spirit-filled living is God’s prerequisite for Spirit-led preaching.”[2]

Notes & Sources

[1] Revelation 21:8, NIV.

[2] Greg Heisler, “Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007), 68.

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