This newsletter usually emphasizes secular books, but ‘tis the season to recommend books with Christian themes. I’ll start with Christopher Hutchinson’s excellent Recovering Humility (New Growth Press, 2018), which notes that “the surest way to a greater humility is to gaze upon Christ hanging on the cross.” True, and it all starts with a baby in a manger.
Hutchinson wisely writes that “humility teaches people… to distrust their own first instincts and listen to facts.” We learn from the world around us and from other people, always checking what we’ve learned by “the facts found in God’s Word.” We often privilege our own subjective appraisals over biblical objectivity, but chapter three of Proverbs tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
We appear to be in a season of less Christian influence in America, so Hutchinson appropriately quotes Richard Baxter’s reaction to the failure of the Puritan political experiment in England and the restoration of monarchy in 1660: “I am farther than ever I was from expecting… prosperity to the Church on earth, or that saints should dream of a kingdom of this world…. Suffering must be the church’s ordinary lot, and Christians indeed must be self-denying cross-bearers.”
Hutchinson rightly sees problems when churches start “siding with particular political parties” and become “one more tribe vying for power and influence.” It’s also a mistake to emphasize the negative rather than the gospel of grace. On the first day of my 2000-2007 courses on Journalism and Religion at The University of Texas, I asked students to jot down what they saw as Christianity’s defining characteristic. The most frequent response: opposition to homosexuality.
The Bible gives many examples of humility: Abraham avoids civil war with Lot (Gen. 13:9) and Saul’s son Jonathan relinquishes his rights (I Sam. 20:13-17). John the Baptist tells his disciplines regarding Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The starting point for us should be Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”
Bonnie Kristian’s Untrustworthy (Brazos, 2022) has good advice for a time when media deceit is rampant. She shows us to rise above cancel culture, conspiracy-mongering, reliance on untrustworthy experts, and the use of personal experience to shut down conversation.
Kristian also exhibits a rare humility at a time when some writers claim to be prophets with new revelation: “Is it really likely that I… unable to read Scripture in its original languages, still inadequately informed of church history, on Twitter too much, not 100 percent certain I could steer clear of well-intended heresy if I tried to explain the interrelation of the Trinity off the top of my head?”
(I feel similarly, and if I come up with some heterodoxy I should ask what she asks: What are the odds that I “finally drew together all the thread of truth every saint before and around me failed to connect? C’mon.”)
James K. A. Smith’s How to Inhabit Time (Brazos, 2022) riffs abstractly but comes down to earth with good metaphors: “Our past is not what we’ve left behind; it’s what we carry. It’s like we’ve been handed a massive ring of jangling keys. Some of them unlock possible futures. Some of them have chained our neighbors. We are thrown into the situation of trying to discern which is which.”
Smith offers good advice to someone going through a difficult season: “You might look at the life of an older friend, which seems intentional and grounded and placid, and you imagine it was a straight path.” When he tells you how jagged it was, “You’re getting a report from the other side, which lets you know there is life beyond what presses in the now and blocks our ability to see a different future.”
Smith shows how we can look back joyfully at hard times, sometimes in this life, certainly in the next. Someone will say “Tell me about that scar, and somehow, in ways that are unthinkable to me now, I will be able to revisit my history without pain or trauma, not because the memory card of my mind has been erased but because now I can see only the unique mosaic that is redeemed.” As memory dims, Smith tells us not to “imagine that God has left us, because even the vapor is the Lord’s.”
Short stops: Kevin P. Halloran’s When Prayer Is a Struggle (P&R, 2021) has helpful hints for those who say “I can’t focus” or “I’m too busy.” Lydia McGrew’s Hidden in Plain View (Deward, 2017) brings out oft-overlooked evidence of New Testament reliability. Gavin Ortlund’s Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Crossway, 2020) is useful when some make politics ultimate. Michael Kruger’s Bully Pulpit (Zondervan, 2022) is helpful for those in a Christian organization with leaders who practice spiritual abuse by saying criticism is sinful insubordination.
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