Another round of most influential books

A good pastor friend of mine, Andy White, responded to my post about the books that have been most influential in my life with a list of books that been most influential to him.  With his permission, I am posting his list.

Reforming Marriage (Douglas Wilson) – My wife and I read this together
before we were married and have consulted it since.  It helped us to
discuss and gain a biblical perspective on a host of issues related to
marriage.  This book helped prepare a solid foundation for our
marriage, which benefits us to this day.

God Gave Wine (Ken Gentry) – The thesis of this book is simple: the
Bible does not forbid or discourage the moderate use of alcohol, but
rather, sees wine as a blessing from God for our enjoyment.  It might
seem strange that this would be high on my list, but I assure you it
is not because I am a winebibber or a drunkard.  The benefit I gained
from this book was in the broader themes that this issue touches upon.
Firstly, that God has bountifully blessed our lives with a multitude
of good things.  God is not opposed to our enjoyment of life, but
gives so many good gifts to enrich our lives, including food and
drink.  And secondly, that we are not permitted to add to God’s
commandments or be stricter than the scriptures and impose that on
other people.  Gentry does a good job dealing with the issue of
Christian liberty.  Gentry makes clear that the Bible is steadfast in
opposing and condemning drunkenness.  But not the enjoyment of wine
and other alcohol when done in moderation.

Knowing God (J.I. Packer) – It’s been a while since I read this book,
but I remember reading it with great excitement and enthusiasm as it
unfolded the character and attributes of God as revealed to us in the
Bible.

The Sovereignty of God (Arthur W. Pink) – Who’s in control of this
world, God or the Devil?  This is one of the over-arching questions
answered in this book.  Pink pulls no punches in showing how God is
sovereign over all spheres of existence, whether it be creation,
salvation, or any other thing.  He also does a good job distinguishing
God’s sovereignty over his own good works and his sovereignty over the
sinful acts of man.  He describes God’s sovereignty over the righteous
in terms of words like: quickening, energizing, directing, and
preserving, while he describes God’s sovereignty over the wicked in
terms of words like: restraining, preventing, softening, and
hardening.

Repentance in the Pulpit and in the Pew (Michael Ivey) – The title
pretty much says it.  This book is about repentance.  It is about the
importance of repentance, especially in leaders of God’s people.  I
found this book convicting and instructive.

It’s not what you think

Lee Duigon has reviewed Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions, a history of the Crusades.  It is well worth reading (both the review and the book).  Warning: this is not the textbook version of the Crusades you were taught.

Effeminate Culture

It seems I have been bombarded with articles lately about the lack of masculinity in the Church.  Most recently I read an article from Chronicles Magazine’s archive by Aaron Wolf titles, Effeminate Gospel, Effeminate Christians.  It was a doozy.  From what I can gather Wolf is a Lutheran, but not one of those bizarre Lutherans who can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman.  In fact his article punctures numerous holes in Christianity’s two-hundred plus year attempt to become easier and more user-friendly.  His opening lines immediately caught my attention:

“Every definition of masculinity into which our Lord Jesus Christ does not fit belongs in the rubbish heap. Indeed, there could be no greater example of a man than He. Contrary to modern portrayals, Jesus was neither a sensitive metrosexual nor a macho-macho man. The tenderness that He displayed toward those whom He loved (including His enemies) was paternal and sacrificial, focused not on self-gratification or expression but on the real needs of those He came to save. The Son of Man did not strut about flexing His muscles or cursing at His enemies, because He possessed the quiet confidence of One absolutely certain of His mission and did not need the approval of others in order to maintain that certainty.”

Amen and Amen!  And from there he criticizes our modern move to remake Jesus through the songs we sing about Him.  (Note: a precious hymn is about to be spoken of and it may hurt some people’s feelings.  You’ve been forewarned.)

“This is not the language of the American Christian man, who strolls, rosy-cheeked and all aflutter, ‘in the garden alone,

while the dew is still on the roses.
And the voice I hear falling on my ear—
the Son of God—discloses.
And He walks with me and He talks with me.
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there—
none other has ever known.’

These familiar strains from the popular hymn ‘In the Garden’ represent the modern American imagination of the essence of Christianity: a romantic fantasy in which a chivalric Jesus rescues me from my own loneliness and despair and fills all of my emotional needs. This effeminate picture of the Christian life, from the dramatic conversion experience to the long walks in the garden alone with ‘Jesus,’ has produced generations of effeminate Christian men who either allow themselves to be consumed by their imaginary “walks with Jesus” or else drift away from church altogether, knowing that their best efforts at spiritual courtship will fall well short of those of the women who now, more than ever, fill the pews of America’s churches.”

I’ve thought about the message in this song before but never had the courage to say anything (alas, I have a lot of room to grow in this area).  But it doesn’t stop there.  Wolf tears down all the effeminate idols within striking distance.  A few of the choicest selections follow:

“Gone are the liturgies that place the crucified Christ and His Body and Blood at the center, and gone are hymns that call God “a bulwark never failing.” In their place are the ubiquitous and repetitive choruses that distort the message of historic Christianity and replace it with a celebration of feminine emotions”

“The modern “praise and worship” experience resembles a soft-rock concert (a genre made for women), where the “worship leader” and his swooning sidekicks, the praise band, take center stage.”

“This campy environment is supplemented by something called “small groups,” … Unlike the authoritarian “I-talk-and-you-listen” environment in which Christians traditionally learned the Scriptures and teachings of the Church, small groups are a “safe” environment in which believers can take turns interpreting the Bible and sharing all of their deepest traumas and experiences while a leader guides the conversation.” 

In identifying the origin of our effeminacy, Wolf pursues another sacred cow of modern Christianity—the Great Awakening.  He cites Ann Douglas’ work, The Feminization of American Culture, to back up his claim.  This thesis is not new, as there are others who have said the same thing, but it deserves to be read and reread in order to understand what happened to us.

As much as I appreciate the message of Mr. Wolf, there are a few things to challenge.  First of all, it is apparent that he hasn’t investigated all the sources he condemns.  The most glaring instance was when he cited, “One popular conservative pastor,” who, “champions something he calls ‘Christian hedonism,’ in a book entitled, appropriately, Desiring God.”  If Wolf had read Desiring God he would know that it is anything but an effeminate book.  I will grant that “Christian hedonism” is not the best phrase to describe delighting ourselves also in the Lord, but in his book Piper calls upon men and women to sacrifice for God’s glory, not pursue selfish goals in his name.  If Wolf had read it (or even the introduction) he would know better than to cite it as an example.  Also, he uses strong rhetoric in places where it isn’t needed.  I will not quote directly, but you can reference an example in the Arnold Schwarzenegger paragraph.  I’m all for strong, even harsh rhetoric when necessary, but don’t use it when a less stringent tone would suit your purposes.

Nevertheless there are many things Christian men could learn from this article and I recommend it.  I may not please those around you, but the Church needs more men who are strong oak trees instead of tender, bendable saplings.