Recommended Books (September 2008)

Below are some books that I have recently read which I recommend.  I don’t recommend everything I read, of course.  🙂  But these are worth the time….

Devotional/Meditation.  Currently, my wife and I working through Kenneith Boa and John Alan Turner’s The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible.  The book is divided into Monday through Friday readings.  Each week is devoted to a different biblical story (e.g., creation in Genesis 1-2 for the first week).  Monday retells the narrative, Tuesday summarizes theology (Orthodoxy), Wednesday guides our affections/emotions (Orthopathy), Thursday guides our actions (Orthodpraxy), and Friday suggests four prayers related to each of the previous four days. My wife and I utilize the book like this:  we read a section of the biblical text containing the story, then we read the appropriate section for the day, and then pray the prayer tied to that section.  Each day we read a portion or all of the biblical text that contains the story for the week. So, we use the book Monday-Thursday.  We use other resources for Friday-Sunday.

The daily readings are brief (a page or two) which is managable for a daily meditation in conjunction with reading the Biblical text.  They are well-written, thoughtful, and generate discussion.  The theology is basic (which is good) and stated in a way that offers a helpful perspective in an interesting way. Sometimes the theological language may assume some background but it is generally explained in a way that most anyone can grasp.  My wife and l look forward to working through these readings in conjunction with reading the Biblical text.  It is basic, refreshing, and thought-provoking.

Marriage.  My wife and I have also read Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Their previous 1998 book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life was a wonderful book that I recently read as well.  They apply those priniciples to marriage in this more recent work.  It is filled with helfpul insights, and any marriage can benefit from working through it.

Recovery/Counseling/Men’s Groups.  Nate Larkin tells his story of sexual addiction in Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood.  Larkin is the founder of The Samson Society and this book is the story of his life and the society’s founding. But the book is about more than sexual addiction.  It describes how men can gather for mutual accountability toward the goal of spiritual formation and overcome any kind of addiction or sin in their life. The book also counsels how to begin and conduct a meeting of the Samson Society. I first learned about the society from a Christianity Today cover article on pornography addiction. Every male needs a male accountability group which can be a place to confess sin, receive support, and become a man after God’s own heart.

History.  Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayfower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.  This is a history of the Puritan migration to what we call “New England.”  It is a vivid telling of the Mayflower genesis, journey and founding community.  He takes the story into the wars between colonists and native Americans in the 1640s when the Puritans became permanently planted.  I have studied Puritan theology, but I enjoyed reading about them from this angle.  Their theology, of course, is part of this story, and we see some of its negative effects on relationships with the land and native inhabitants.  I found this book a fair treatment, pointing out the positives and negatives of the Mayflower community. The history is sobering, and reminds us how Christians be either salt or dung to their world.

I really enjoyed reading Fergus M. Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement.  From its beginnings in the Quaker communities of Philadelphia and North Carolina, the history of the Underground Railroad is told in wonderful style and with detailed information.  There were many interesting facets to this book as it gave both a sweeping picture of the story and detailed the lives of many involved, both black and white.  The deep south, for example, did not provide much opportunity for escape except–and rarely–by sea.  Rather, it was mainly the border states.  Tubman, for example, was from Maryland.  It was interesting to read about the legal as well as religious situation of African Americans–e.g., Frederick Douglas removed his membership from an integrated Boston church to an all Black church because they refused to serve the Lord’s Supper as seated but mandated that Whites eat/drink first, and how civil rights were denied to free blacks in the north (e.g., denial of the vote, inability to testify in court, etc.).  Bordewich clearly demonstrates how the Abolitionist movement in its origins and national prominence was clearly a Christian movement…though opposed not only by Christians in the south but also by almost all Christians in the north at first until after Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published and popularized. The Abolitionist movement was itself primarily fueled by the revivalists of the burned over districts of New York. This was an extremely interesting book.

Theology/Ministry.  James Choung’s True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In has created quite a stir in Evangelical circles.  His book and the controversy surrounding it received attention from Christianity Today. The book provides a simple but faithful way of telling the gospel story on a napkin!  I think he succeeds admirably.  It is a huge improvement over the “four spiritual laws.” I recommend this book for those who want to present the gospel in a clear but basic way that takes into account the “big picture” of God’s story.  This is a gospel presentation that takes account of the larger insights that N. T. Wright and Brian McClaren write about–kingdom theology, social justice, community, mission, etc. Evangelicals who critique his work do so on the basis that he does not give enough attention to personal sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and the afterlife.  I think this is the strength of his book.  He does not deny these themes, of course, but gives the gospel a wider angel through the lens of the kingdom of God–which, I think, is the message of Jesus himself (see my post on Luke).

His diagram comes in four parts:  designed for good (creation), damaged by evil (fall), restored for better (redemption), and sent together to heal (mission of the church towards eschatological renewal).  This is a wonderful summary, and it takes into account multiple levels.  It is cosmic (how we relate to creation–part of the good for which we are designed is as stewards of nature), relational (relationships among human beings–prophetic relationship toward biogtry is part of the gospel message), and relationship with God (personal, individual as well as communal).  It is an evangelistic tool that moves, as Choung describes, from mere/single individual descision to life-long spiritual transformation and discipleship, from individualism (not merely a “personal” relationship with Jesus) to community (belonging to a community), and from preoccupation with afterflife (“going to heaven”) to missional life (kingdom of God in the here and now as well as the future). See Choung’s website for further discussions of his diagram, video examples, etc. I highly recommend this book as an effective summary of the gospel which is useful for evangelistic strategy.

8 Responses to “Recommended Books (September 2008)”

  1.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Good to see what you are reading. Thanks.

  2.   mattdabbs Says:

    I am sure John Alan would love you to put a review on He and Boa really did a good job.

  3.   Q Says:

    What I find odd is the overwhelming assumption in almost everything I’ve read that the problem with pornography and/or sexual addiction is primarily a “male” problem. I’ve worked with many, many women and I’m finding that it’s really just a common *human* problem. The format may be different — written rather than photographic, maybe, though not always — but it’s no less damaging and certainly no less a problem.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    You are exactly right! It is not just a male problem. The Bethesda ministries at Woodmont Hills conducts workshops for sexuall addicted women as well as men. Marnie Ferre in No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Sin (2002) addresses this problem. Women, as well as men, need safe places for confession, support and redemption from this addiction.

  5.   benwiles Says:

    I really enjoyed True Story. I agree that the lack of emphasis on substitutionary atonement and the afterlife is “not a bug but a feature.”

    The one part I wish he had done better was in his discussion of the “parallel lines” between “damaged by evil” and “sent together to heal.” I think he undersold his position a bit. As it sits, he doesn’t have much of an argument against secular philanthropy. After all, when was the last time you saw God overtly praised on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?

    That said, there is a case to be made that real healing is impossible without Jesus. I would argue that the problems being tackled by people like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, etc. are symptomatic of an underlying fallen-ness. But apart from Jesus, all anybody can offer is a band-aid. Without the healing that is only possible in Christ, the disease remains.

    What Choung does, he does well. I only wish he’d done a little bit more.

  6.   Jim Martin Says:

    John Mark,
    I have been looking at Choung’s website this afternoon and am very impressed. I will read the book.

    This has been needed for quite sometime. I like the practical nature of his approach without sacrificing some important dimensions of the Gospel.

    Thanks for mentioning this today.

  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks Ben and Jim,

    Your concerns, Ben, have been addressed–I believe to some degree–in recent revisions to his training video and training article ( Choung’s website has lots of material that improves on the book in some significant ways, but the basics remain in the place.

  8.   Luke Says:

    Thanks for recommending the Larkin book. It looks like one I should pick up!

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