I swear at some point I swore myself off of Christian inspiration/devotional books. Not all books in this genre are bad, but I think that, as a general rule, sermons or sermon series make poor books.
But somehow I ended up reading through two books in this genre by two pastors in the conservative/neo-reformed world. I thought I’d share a few thoughts about each of them here.
Tim Chaddick is a pastor in my neighborhood. I don’t know him and haven’t been to the megachurch he serves though I have friends there and appreciate their vibe and aesthetic.
Better is a collection of musings/sermons on Ecclesiastes, which is one of my favorite texts in the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures. It’s a text that, as Chaddick captures well, speaks in profound and prophetic ways to our current cultural situation, especially in a place like Hollywood.
Tim writes that he has found satisfaction and peace not through knowing all the answers but through doubt:
Yes, doubt. Most people would not associate doubt with Christian faith, but there is a kind of holy doubt, a sacred skepticism that asks hard questions about life.
I resonate with that, as Christians far too often are known for a confidence and assurance which comes across as prideful arrogance and/or close-minded ignorance. Tim writes throughout the book that he likes questions and is grateful to be part of a church and a faith that asks questions. The book weaves through a number of topics (there are chapters on money, time, community, power, envy, worry, death, etc.) in search of answers and meaning.
As the subtitle suggests, the ultimate answer the book points to is Jesus. The last paragraph in the book starts with this:
What’s the point of life? It is this: to know Jesus, be made more like him, live as he calls you to live, and be with him forever.
After reading the book, what I appreciated most were the stories and questions raised – more so than the doctrine which too quickly served as the answer/conclusion to all life’s questions. I believe, like Tim, that the answer to life’s questions is grounded in the story, life, and work of Jesus and am a lifelong student of the Christian faith but I think there’s more reason for paused and prolonged dwelling with the questions and mystery than this book may encourage and allow.
Matt Chandler is a pastor of a megachurch in Texas and the president of the Acts 29 network (formerly led by Mark Driscoll). His book is a 200+ page collections of thoughts/sermons on Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Matt explores the context of Philippians as well as stories from his own life to proclaim a gospel-centered commitment to live for the sake of Christ.
For me, the book got off to a bit of a rocky start as Matt spoke of the account in Philippians of Lydia’s conversion to the way of Jesus. Writing from his lens of Acts 29/complimentarian theology, Matt suggests that Paul came to Philippi to find “a synagogue but finds instead what is basically a women’s Bible study.” Lydia’s involvement in the early church movement, he explains, is due to the lack of spiritual presence/leadership (men, I assume he means?) in Philippi. I wished Matt had written of Lydia’s involvement in Philippi without what could be construed as a subtle denigration of the role of women in the early church.
If you’ve spent much time in the “gospel-centered” movement, the rest of the book will not be too surprising. Like Tim Chaddick’s Better, what I heard communicated through Matt Chandler’s writing is “I know it’s hard and difficult to understand but no matter what you’ve been through you need to believe that Jesus is the best thing ever. Say that over and over and stop asking questions.” “Stop asking questions” is not actually written in the book, but I wonder if it’s subtly (or not so subtly) written in between the lines of the book.
So…there you have it. Two reviews of two books by neo-reformed pastors.
If you are inclined towards (a) devotional literature and (b) this particular theological camp (neo-reformed, conservative evangelical, complementarian), I think you will like these books more than you liked my thoughts on these books.
If you are not included towards (a) and (b), you might want to read something else instead.
Disclosure for the FTC: E-copies of these books were provided by the publisher for review purposes.