“Words are the progeny of the soul,” states Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215). As our bodies produce children for posterity, so do our souls. Just as we all wish to produce good children to build up the coming generation, Clement argues we should be careful to leave only the best words to those who come after us. In this way of thinking, “wisdom is a communicative and philanthropic thing.” For this reason, Clement cautions us to test ourselves to see if we are qualified to “leave behind . . . written records” or to read them. To our twenty-first century sensibilities, Clement’s concerns likely seem finicky. But his perspective may be the palliative we most need.
In the age of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and the endless parade of other “social” media outlets, the written word seems to have become a momentary trinket of visceral expression. But that is not the way we have so learned Christ. As Christians, we believe that words exist only because of the Word. God is personal and has communicated to us through the Bible and created order. Further, this communication was consummated in the Logos (divine reason), which is Christ. Because we are created in His image, we too have the capacity to communicate through ordered reason. And all of our words are derived from and intended for Christ (Col. 1:16). This makes each word infinitely valuable and gives each word eternal consequences. “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it on the day of judgment” (Mt. 12:36 NASB).
With this in mind, we fearfully would like to recommend some written words to you. Below you will find works from a wide range of sources. We hope that you find something useful and edifying in this collection. We would also like to hear some of your recommendations. So leave us a comment, telling us about your favorite books from the last quarter.
Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 242 pages.
“God’s blessing does not depend on our performance” (14) states Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace. However, we don’t often operate under this reality. We function as if God’s blessing is somehow contingent on our work, devotion, and resolve. In this work, Bridges encourages us to understand how grace is involved in our pursuit of holiness. Our devotion to God and pursuit of holiness could never purchase our salvation. This is why we need grace and mercy apart from ourselves. Exposing this need for grace, Bridges writes, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace” (19). This is a wonderful book for believers looking to find the relationship between two seemingly contradictory ideas: grace and discipline. Ministry leaders can also obtain a study guide to help them lead a small group through this important topic.
—Recommended by Zachery Maloney
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1984), 208 pages.
“We are all such escape artists, you and I,” writes Frederick Buechner in the opening chapter of his book, A Room Called Remember (5). Buechner knows we are prone to forget events in our lives, but we can’t escape memories for long. This book was my first exposure to Buechner’s work and I’ve not been disappointed. Readers will find his unique ability to link faith and the stark details of life in the Christian journey. A Room Called Remember is unique because it is a compilation of essays, addresses, and sermons interweaving areas of theology, the discipline of remembering, and life’s circumstances. Remembering God’s past faithfulness for present circumstances is essential. For this reason, Buechner’s, A Room Called Remember is a great read.
—Recommended by Zachery Maloney
Charles W. Colson, Born Again (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 1976), 351 pages.
Chuck Colson’s name still rings familiar to many Christians over the age of forty, but to a younger generation it’s quickly fading from view. This is unfortunate as Colson’s story is remarkable, and legacy significant. There’s no better starting place to getting to know this important figure in modern evangelicalism than reading the story of his conversion in Born Again.
Colson worked for the Nixon Administration as an attorney. He was something of a “hachet man,” often carrying out dirty work that made him the enemy of many. However, in the course of his time in public service his world came crashing down and he surrendered his life to Christ. He would later spend time in prison for his involvement in the Watergate Affair but went on to have a profound ministry through Prison Fellowship, the Colson Center, as well as his association with many other evangelical causes and institutions. Though there are other books of his worth one’s attention, it’s always good to start at the beginning.
—Recommended by W. Jackson Watts
Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Toronto: Macmillan, 1968), 633 pages.
Three distinct schools of thought characterize the historiography of Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror: totalitarianism, revisionism, and post-revisionism. Totalitarians approached the subject from a top-down political history perspective. However, during the 1970s, broader developments in the historiographical world made their presence felt and the revisionist school brought social history to bear on the October Revolution, Joseph Stalin, and the Terror. These two schools carried on a lively debate for several years, reflecting political and social arguments in American society. Post-revisionism appeared in the 1990s as the third historiographical school, bringing cultural analysis to bear on the subject.
Though several works on various aspects and antecedents of the Stalinist Terror appeared prior to 1968, Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror bears the standard for the totalitarian paradigm. Conquest provided an overarching structure and purpose to the Terror that had previously been lacking. His account portrays Stalin as a political genius perpetrating heinous crimes against the Soviet people via superbly devious plots—totalitarianism.
Conquest’s work with the paucity of sources available prior to the Glasnost (opening the Soviet archives) of the 1990s was quite an achievement especially as it dealt with numbers of deaths. Conquest’s primary thesis was that the Terror was instigated and directed by Stalin upon the Soviet people in order to consolidate his power. Yet, in Conquest’s thinking and later seconded by Martin Malia (1993), the Terror was also an inescapable event due to the inherent violence of the Bolshevik system. Conquest’s work remains an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the Soviet Union and global politics in the twentieth century.
—Recommended by Phillip T. Morgan
Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013), 284 pages.
I’ve heard it said that the most divisive question in any church concerns how the church, both locally and universally, should engage culture. Truly, most of the otherwise minor issues in our churches are rooted in this question. Use of music, preaching style, outreach and many other areas are informed by the church’s role in relation to culture. Throughout the years, many have tackled this question with varying degrees of success. Most notable is Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, which gave believers helpful paradigms for conceptualizing the issue.
Andy Crouch has offered his wisdom to the fold. In his 2009 Christianity Today Book Award winner, Crouch breathes new life into the question of cultural engagement. By offering new nomenclature to the historical paradigms (i.e. condemning, critiquing, copying, consuming and creating culture), Crouch has given a wonderful resource to the next generation of the Church. Furthermore, Crouch grounds his understanding of cultural transformation—what he calls “culture making”—in a sound biblical theology. For those wrestling with where to begin in the engagement with culture, I recommend this book.
—Recommended by Christopher Talbot
Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 220 pages.
I read this book on the recommendation of my fellow HSF contributor Matthew Bracey, and I’m glad I did. Mohler’s Conviction to Lead seeks to change the reader’s view of leadership altogether, rather than simply adding to the existing literature on the subject. Mohler contends that good leadership, particularly Christian leadership, is convictional in nature—leadership that is centered on a biblical worldview and driven at every moment by biblical convictions. The chapters in Mohler’s work are remarkably short and aimed at helping the reader hone his or her convictions. He also provides helpful instruction for effectively communicate convictions through speech, writing, and digital media. I genuinely believe that this book could transform the leadership philosophy and practices of Christians who will read it carefully.
—Recommended by Jesse Owens
Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 296 pages.
Cal Newport’s Deep Work has come up in many of my recent discussions with young professionals. It’s being talked about on blogs and in articles too. As of this writing, it has 560 reviews on Amazon with four-and-a-half stars. Deep Work is, in some ways, a productivity book. In others ways, though, it’s much more than that. Deep Work is not simply about being more productive; it’s also about being more fulfilled in what you do. In this world of unfulfilling distraction, Newport believes that deep work is not only better for society but also better for personal success and satisfaction. Deep work refers to “[p]rofessional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits,” (3), whereas shallow work refers to “[n]oncognitively demanding, logical-style tasks, often performed while distracted” (6).
Deep Work is divided into two broad sections, which he calls chapters and rules: the idea (chapters one through three) and the rules (rules one through four). In part one, Newport explains that deep work is valuable, rare, and meaningful. In part two, Newport sets forth four rules for reclaiming deep work: work deeply, embrace boredom, quite social media, and drain the shallows. From what I can gather, Newport does not identify as a Christian. Yet it is interesting to see that people within the church and those beyond the church are coming to the same conclusions regarding distraction and technology. This is an excellent, often challenging read. At times, you may have to adapt the principles Newport offers for your own purposes, but it’s certainly worth your time.
—Recommended by Matthew Steven Bracey
Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 384 pages.
We’ve all heard the story: Science and Christianity are antithetical to one another. As the narrative goes, one is based in reason, the other in faith; one in facts and evidence, the other in blind credulity. Even more, we point to moments in history where we’ve seen this division manifested: Galileo’s discovery, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, and so on. Thus, as a Christian, what is our role in the hard sciences? Is the fusion of Christianity and Scientific thought a disastrous chemical combination?
Vern Poythress, in his book Redeeming Science would argue the exact opposite. In a thoughtful, theologically and scientifically informed volume, Poythress challenges our assumptions on these topics. Against the prominent perspectives of our day, Poythress argues that good science—true science—cannot be done apart from the Christian worldview. Christian doctrines of sovereignty, imago Dei, the cultural mandate, along with a Christian epistemology, all set a remarkable foundation for scientific discovery in our world. For this reason, I recommend all those seeking to apply their Christian worldview to the sphere of science to read Redeeming Science.
— Recommended by Christopher Talbot
Mark Rutland, Relaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 208 pages.
Leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Yet the qualities needed to lead well and the process of leading organizational change are not so varied. Leading change in an academic setting does differ from a church, and a church from a parachurch organization, but there are a number of underlying elements that must be present to lead change, especially when you want to “stage an organizational comeback.”
In Relaunch, Mark Rutland draws from his experiences in pastoring and being president at two Christian universities and explains how to lead organizational change, especially when it is desperately needed. Though I found myself slightly put off by Rutland’s literary tone, and disagreed with him philosophically on several ministry insights, his overall program for leading change is definitely in keeping with the tradition of leadership that has revitalized churches, colleges, and companies. I took many notes as I read and felt that Rutland shared a lot of tough truths that many leaders don’t want to hear. However, until these are taken to heart and put into practice, many leaders will continue to be leaders in position only. Relaunch is an easy read but a tough sell in a world where complacency often reigns.
—Recommended by W. Jackson Watts
Pam Muñoz Ryan, Echo: A Novel, read by MacLeod Andrews, Rebecca Soler, Mark Bramhall and David de Vries (New York City: Scholastic Audio, 2015), 10 hr., 31 min., 33 sec.
In this thoroughly enchanting 2016 Newbery Honor book, Pam Muñoz Ryan masterfully composes one story out of several different plot lines. Each story features a young protagonist who finds and skillfully plays a unique harmonica as they face personal challenges and hurdles in their day-to-day lives. Part mystery, part fantasy, and part historical fiction, Echo is sure to delight readers of any age. Because music features so prominently in the story, I recommend that you find an audiobook version of this novel. The narrators are excellent, and the use of music really brings the story to life. It is a perfect companion for care rides or mundane chores.
—Recommended by Christa Hill
James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 263 pages.
What is your vocation, your calling from God in this life? Have you ever considered that the intellectual life may be part of that calling? These are the types of questions that James Sire considers in his excellent book, Habits of the Mind. This book sees the intellect not simply as something that human beings use but rather as something that is deeply important in one’s faithfulness to God. A Christian intellectual, says Sire, is simply someone who loves ideas unto the glory of God (27). To be sure, the life of the mind is not unfeeling (71). After all, Jesus was a reasoner (178). Sire also considers the intellectual virtue, and the intellectual disciplines, not anything I had ever considered until reading this book. This is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read for anyone who enjoys ideas.
—Recommended by Matthew Steven Bracey
Daniel Vickers ed., A Companion to Colonial America (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 562 pages.
Studying American history, or any history for that matter, has become increasingly complex over the past fifty years. Traditional concepts of history that detailed the political, philosophical, and religious changes of a society have been altered and/or replaced by emphases on race, gender, and sexuality. Less apparent but more pervasively, other shifts have occurred in historiography (the study of history) in recent years, drawing our focus away from the heritage of Western Civilization and Christianity. Christian historians must take seriously each of these historical critiques, drawing what is valuable from each and rejecting that which is antithetical to the Christian worldview—a difficult and tenuous task.
Daniel Vickers’ collection of historiographical essays on colonial American studies provides a superb and detailed introduction to the array of historiographical models in use today. Sexuality/LGBTQ is the only historiographical model not addressed by Vickers, but that is because this philosophical approach to history was not yet popular when the book was published in 2003.
An expert in the field writes each essay. Ned Landsman’s essay on migration and settlement, Marilyn Westerkamp’s overview of religious histories, and Carol Karlsen’s treatment of gender and women’s history are particularly well done. Each of the twenty-three essays introduces the essential works for their discipline and highlights new areas of study. This is a good read for anyone interested in understanding our culture’s changing views on American history, but it is especially helpful to history teachers and professors who have to combat those changes daily.
—Recommended by Phillip T. Morgan
Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 341 pages.
If you have followed the HSF, you’ve likely seen several posts that mention or feature the work of Donald Whitney. Having heard him speak at Welch College’s Forum15, I was quite curious about his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I was finally able to read it recently and was certainly convicted, challenged, and encouraged by the book. In it, Whitney describes the spiritual disciplines (such as Scripture reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting, and others) and gives readers very practical advice for their daily practice. Whitney does an excellent job of admonishing without condemning, and his writing is winsome and clear. Applying the principles in this book will help all believers grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
—Recommended by Christa Hill
Lian Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907-1932 (Penn State University Press, 1997), 247pages.
In The Conversion of Missionaries, which is a fascinating title, Lian Xi traces how Protestant missionaries went to China in hopes of seeing the Chinese converted to Christianity, but the reverse actually occurred. After encountering Chinese religion and moral practices, many Protestant missionaries were converted to a type of religious universalism. Having embraced religious pluralism, many missionaries then returned to the United States to propagate what was essentially Protestant liberal theology. Protestant liberal theology, which had already begun to make significant inroads in the United States, freely flowed from East to West. Many mission endeavors ceased to focus on repentance, faith, and conversion altogether. Xi’s account is fascinating, heartbreaking, and helpful.
—Recommended by Jesse Owens
 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 vol. 2 Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (American reprint of the Edinburgh Edition; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 299.
 Ibid, 300.