Monday, January 03, 2011

Christianity 101

For a long time, Basic Christianity by John Stott was my favourite go-to book for seekers. As Christianity 101 for people with serious questions, it is credible and well-reasoned, presenting readers with a Person in whom one must decide to believe in or reject. It’s hard to imagine that the book was first published in 1958. It’s still an excellent introduction except that the venerable book may not appeal to people who are asking different questions today.

If there’s one book better suited to – if I may be bold enough to suggest – replace Stott’s volume, it’s Don Carson’s The God Who is There (not to be confused with Schaeffer's book of the same name). Like Stott’s book it focuses on the gospel, but this time, it invites readers not just to embrace the claims of Jesus, but to be a part of an eternal story.

The subhead Finding Yourself in God’s Story, is thoroughly appropriate as finding God is certainly about locating oneself in a drama-in-progress. Carson understandably tips his hat to this generation’s quest for a sticky metanarrative, and it’s possibly a rejoinder to emerging types with a fixation on story as well.

I like it for its fresh take on familiar questions, presented with knockout clarity and depth while maintaining faithfulness to big-picture doctrine. Respectful and not condescending, it is obviously written for people who have the vaguest ideas about Christianity. Carson didn’t set out to be preachy, but I thought I detected the faintest hint of smugness that might not sit well with some. Nevertheless, it’s the one book I’m more than happy to recommend to anyone who wants to know what Christians believe.

If you’ve got a sceptic who doesn’t give a toss about the claims of Christianity, but who might (and it’s a big might) want something less ‘theological’ in tone, something closer to a conversation or a spiritual journey, what then?

Here are 2 books I would suggest in a heartbeat: Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, and Philip Yancey’s Rumors of Another World. Miller’s Blue like Jazz has pop-culture street cred (for a start it has Jazz on the cover) while Yancey’s appears to be more ‘literate’, replete with references to writers and poets. Both are thoughtful and a real delight to read, but don't look for the standard presentation of core beliefs in these books. These are sympathetic accounts of a search, an exploration, a heartfelt look at the paradoxes of faith. But they're great books to have at hand.

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