Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for November 2009

Top 10 Books on Culture

with 3 comments

The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington

These are books that are helpful for the Christian in better understanding their world past and present.  Some of the books are not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, but are nonetheless quite valuable.

1.  The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntingtonn  [y, l, e, p, s]

Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas.  Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.

2.  Culture Wars by James Hunter  [y, l, e, p, s]

Hunter provides acute analysis on the American cultural landscape, describing battlelines drawn over American culture of the orthodox vs. progressive.  A must read for getting a better look at hot-button issues in contemporary America.

3.  Social and Cultural Dynamics by Pitrim Sorokin  [e, p, s]

Sorokin has a mountain of historical and cultural analysis on the history of western civilization.  He describes this history as oscillating between ideational culture and sensate culture.  Ideational culture is where the Western civilization was driven by the world of ideas (typically Christian ones).  Sensate Culture is where Western civilization has abandoned ideas and been preoccupied with pleasuring ourselves (#10 on this list does a great job in explaining the latter in our present context).

4.  Intellectuals by Paul Johnson  [e, p, s]

Johnson takes a look side-by-side at the thoughts and lives of several key intellectuals over the past two centuries (specifically:  Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky).  He lets the reader come to their own conclusions… but the conclusions are obvious:  these intellectuals lived lives either horribly inconsistent with their ideas OR their horrible lives drove their suspect ideas.  Paul Johnson also happens to be a very well respected historian whose other works are standard texts at Universities everywhere.

5.  Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber  [y, l, e, p, s]

Weber’s thesis for the first half of the book is pretty shocking – the Puritans started capitalism and that no one but the Puritans could have started capitalism.  Never before had capitalism been created because no one had a Calvinistic view of the world before where work was sacred and one did not spend one’s wealth because their focus was on the world-to-come.  Capitalism required an immense amount of initial capital to begin the new paradigm and the Puritans were the first people to be able to inadvertently create the system.  Weber spends the second half of the book explaining how capitalism destroyed the Puritans four generations later as the wealth accumulated became an iron cage.

6.  Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn  [y, l, e, p, s]

Kuhn levels the idea that the history of science follows the Darwinian model of slow-and-steady progress.  He coins the term “paradigm shift” to explain how the history of science is a history of completely new-and-superior paradigms leveling older paradigms (ie.  Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Mechanics).  The thesis of the book has implications though for other fields as well.

7.  Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey  [y, l, e, p, s]

Excellent book on worldview that I have commended here numerous times.  Get it and read it.

8.  Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr  [e, p, s]

See write-up on this one here.

9.  Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark  [y, l, e, p, s]

Fascinating look on how Christianity spread from a marginalized Judean sect to the state religion of the Roman empire in under three centuries.  Stark is a well-respected historian and this book is a standard text at most Universities.  I think the implications of how Christianity was so successful in the pluralistic Mediterranean area has important lessons to teach Christendom today.

10.  Sensate Culture by Harold O.J. Brown  [y, l, e, p, s]

Brown picks up where Sorokin (#3) left off.  He takes a good hard look at Sorokin’s categories in light of modern American culture.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Advertisements

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

with one comment

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton

1.  Here I Stand:  A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton  [e, p, s]

This is the definitive biography on Martin Luther.  Luther’s life makes for fantastic reading as Western civilization and church history take sharp turns.

2.  The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards  [y, l, e, p, s]

Edwards was enraptured by young David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians.  This is his diary and biography.  It is quite good.

3.  A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden  [y, l, e, p, s]

Edwards is considered to be the greatest thinker in American history.  He started at Yale at age 14 and completed his graduate degrees at 19.  He was instrumental in the First Great Awakening.  He was a great husband and father.  He was the 2nd President of Princeton and much more.   There are a few good biographies of Jonathan Edwards, this one is brief, readable, and excellent.

4.  From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya:  A Biographical History of Christian Missions by Ruth Tucker [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Missionary biography can be quite comical.  The history of missions reads like a comedy of errors, tragedies, and crazy stories that leave you with the inescapable conclusion that God is real and He is advancing His kingdom despite us.

5.  John Calvin:  Pilgrim and Pastor by William Godfrey [y, l, e, p, s]

There are about a half dozen good biographies on John Calvin.  I can vouch that this one is quite good.

6.  Biography Set by John Piper [c, y, l, e, p, s]

This is a set of 5 books with multiple biographies each.  Brief, readable, and commendable.  The audio/text of these can also be found through a link below.

7.  John G. Paton:  Missionary to the New Hebrides compiled by James Paton  [y, l, e, p, s]

Amazing story.

8.  Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Elliot writes of the martyrdom of her husband Jim and four others at the hands of the Waodani and then recounts their conversion to Christ.  Tens of thousands of missionaries look to this event and the Life Magazine article about their death as the moment in time they decided to pursue a life of overseas missions.

9.   Autobiography of George Mueller by George Mueller  [y, l, e, p, s]

This guy lived a radical life.

10.  The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon vol. 1 and vol. 2 by Charles Spurgeon  [e, p, s]

Charles Spurgeon was a fascinating person and fantastic preacher.

I would also commend to you these biographies from Desiring God Ministries.  At their annual Pastor’s Conference, John Piper delivers a biography of some person in church history.  They are concise, excellent, moving, and I highly recommend working your way through them, either on the web or in audio format.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

with 15 comments

Darwin's Black Box: A Must Read

Let me first say that science would not exist unless it where for Christianity.  In the history of Western Civilization, one has to ask themselves, ‘the Greeks were really really smart, why didn’t they invent the scientific method?’  The answer is simple, following Platonic and Neo-Platonic thinking, they did not think this world was real or intelligible.  It was not until Christianity presented a world created, ordered, and directed by a sovereign and benevolent triune God that the scientific method sprouted.  The consensus view in the history/philosophy of science is that science required the fertile soul of Christianity in order to grow.  Christianity took this world seriously.

1.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

In my view, this book destroys the Neo-Darwinian (scientific rationalism) story of how life exists.  This book is a must read.  See also this previous blog post.

2.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal  [y, l, e, p, s]

Although not explicitly about science and Christianity, Pascal presents an epistemology that includes science, reason, and faith.

3.  Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi  [e, p, s]

Polanyi rightly challenges the objectivity and impersonality of the scientist.  Polanyi is very important in philosophy of science and is a worthwhile read.

4.  When Science Meets Religion by Ian Barbour  [l, e, p, s]

Barbour presents four possible relationships that science and religion might have.  Balanced read.

5.  The Soul of Science:  Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton  [l, e, p, s]

Great critique of naturalism.  Pearcey is solid as usual.

6.  Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson  [y, l, e, p, s]

Is there enough hard evidence to prove Darwinism correct, were it to be put on a public trial?  Creative and damning question.

7.  The Edge of Evolution:  The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

More Behe.  Good stuff.

8.  Evolution:  A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton  [l, e, p, s]

Most think that this is the book that started the Intelligent Design movement.

9.  The Reason for God by Tim Keller  [c,y l, e, p, s]

Although not explicitly on the subject of science, like Pascal, Keller presents a third way between pure science/reason and pure faith.

10a.   The Language of God by Francis Collins  [l, e, p, s]

A look at DNA, from the director of the human genome project, and an evangelical Christian.

10b.  Inventing the Flat Earth:  Columbus and Modern Historian by Jeffrey Russell  [l, e, p, s]

Russell confronts the myth that people (esp. Christians) believed in a flat earth.  Pretty damning to an annoying and ignorant argument:

On page 1 of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (that is, in the first article of the first question of the first part), he casually mentions the round earth on the way to proving something doctrinal: “the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.”  (via Between Two Worlds)

Honorable Mention:  Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

I cannot stand behind anything else he has written, but Icons shreds the silly pictures commonly put in the textbooks you had growing up, demonstrating how they do not show Darwinian macroevolution.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

ensees by Blaise Pascal

Top 10 Books on the Church

with 2 comments

The Church by Edmund Clowney

1.  The Church by Edmund Clowney

Hands down the best book examining the theology of the church.

2.  No Place for Truth by David Wells

A classic analyzing blow-by-blow how evangelicalism got intertwined with modernity.  If you like this book, I would also suggest his books, God in the Wasteland and The Courage to Be Protestant.

3.  Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr

In this classic, Niebuhr examines five different relationships the church may have to culture/world.  I would also commend two books that examine this book:  D.A. Carson’s, Christ and Culture Revisited and Craig Carter’s, Rethinking Christ and Culture.

4.  Deliberate Church by Mark Dever

Dever gives a thorough look at the structure and justification for all aspects of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

5.  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

This book has saved me from unhealthy churches for 10 years now (thanks John B.).

6.  Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame

Frame gives a thorough, balanced, and palatable defense of the regulative principle.

7.  The Safest Place on Earth by Larry Crabb

The church (and Christian community) is/are meant to be the safest place on earth.  Sadly, this is often not only not the case, but the church can be the least safe place on earth.  Crabb discourages a legalistic culture within the church and encourages gracious, authentic, and vulnerable community.

8.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll

A hilarious look at the lesson Mark Driscoll learned while planting Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

9.  Prophetic Untimeliness:  A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance by Os Guinness

A needed critique for over-contextualizers who would sacrifice the Gospel in order to be cool.

10.  Missional Church by Darrell Guder (ed.)

This book is a good introduction to the ideas and practices of the missional church movement.  Its hard to believe this book is over 10 years old.

Update:  Highly Recommended

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

See reviews here, here and here.  Looks like a worthwhile read.

Top 10 Devotional Classics

with one comment

J.C. Ryle: Bishop of Liverpool

1.  Holiness by J.C. Ryle  [y, l, e, p, s]

Put your helmet and pads on because you are gonna get trucked.  This is probably the most convicting book I have ever read.  I got to visit Ryle’s grave in Liverpool, England, he was very tall and had a large beard.

2.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal  [y, l, e, p, s]

Most do not think of Pensees as a devotional work.  I do.  Read it slow and meditate, it will warm your soul.

3.  Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Chapters 1-3 alone are worth the price of the book.  Tozer wrote this one night on a train ride!  He gets at the root of sin.

4.  Pursuit of Man by A.W. Tozer  [y, l, e, p, s]

Almost no one has read this gem.  In my view it is almost as good as Pursuit of God and better than Knowledge of the Holy.

5.  Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards  [y, l, e, p, s]

Edwards makes sense of our emotion and affection for God.  He was also instrumental in reuniting the Presbyterians who were divided on what to think about the First Great Awakening.

6.  Desiring God by John Piper  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book can be slow and awkward at times but it is well worth the read.  He defines and defends the idea of Christian Hedonism, borrowing heavily from Jonathan Edwards and #5 on this list.

7.  Devotional Classics by Foster and Smith  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

This book is on this list for the wide variety of authors/traditions you get to read over the course of church history.

8.  The Call by Os Guinness  [y, l, e, p, s]

Guinness covers systematically God’s calling on the Christian and employs several vignettes into the lives of wonderful Christians through church history.

9.  Knowing God by J.I. Packer  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Packer has written a wonderful look at the attributes of God.  If you enjoy this one check out also Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink

10.  Puritan Paperbacks by Various:  Most notably – The Christians Great Interest, The Valley of Vision, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Doctrine of Repentance, All Loves Excelling, The Sinfulness of Sin, The Bruised Reed, The Mortification of Sin, and Guide to Christ.  Entire set can be found at monergism books.  [y, l, e, p, s]

The Puritans are a treasure chest of wisdom and keen insight on the human condition.  They require patience to read but can be very rewarding.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

with one comment

Doctrine of the Christian Life... oh so good

1.  Doctrine of God/Knowledge of God/Christian Life (Lordship Trilogy) by John Frame [y, l, e, p, s]

Frame is comprehensive in laying out the foundation for how we know God and how we live in light of the Scriptures.

2.  Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem [y, l, e, p, s]

A highly readable systematic theology.

3.  Reformed Dogmatics vols. 1-4 by Herman Bavinck [p, s]

A solid Dutch Reformed work, translated well in English.  It is a pretty technical read but worth the effort.

4.  Institutes of Christian Religion (2 vol.) by John Calvin  [e, p, s]

Calvin’s classic, need I say more?

5.  Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof  [e, p, s]

Fairly readable and thorough systematic.

6.  Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame  [y, l, e, p, s]

This is Frame’s mini-systematic, a good first systematic.

7.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin [p, s]

Want to read the text that John Calvin’s seminary used?  Charles Hodge/Old Princeton also used this text.

8.  The Christian’s Reasonable Service (4 Vol) by Wilhelmus A Brakel  [l, e, p, s]

Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books you can now actually find these books in the same place.  He was a Dutch Pastor who wrote this 4 volume systematic theology for the people in his church.

9.  A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith by Robert Reymond [e, p, s]

Reymond has written a sound Presbyterian systematic theology.

10. Christian Beliefs by Wayne and Elliot Grudem [c, y, l, e, p, s]

This book is a heavily condensed version of #2 on this list.  I included Christian Beliefs because the text is understandable to all people of all ages.  I think it is important to have at least one book that covers all ages.

Honorable Mention:  Christian Theology by Millard Erickson [y, l, e, p, s]

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 5/10 Books by Topic

with 5 comments

Trinity College Library in Dublin - I've been there!

Christmas is coming up fast!  Books are a beautiful thing because they have the power to edify the soul, sharpen the mind, and stir the affections of the heart.  The next few weeks, I will post my personal top 5/10 lists of Christian books organized by topic.  If there is a particular topic or sub-genre you would like me to list, then post it in the comments section.

Written by Michael Graham

November 23, 2009 at 7:21 pm

%d bloggers like this: