Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Book Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley I recently read two books on my nook that have given me a lot to think about.

The first, What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? is by Martin Thielen, a Methodist pastor from Tennessee. Thielen sets out to answer the question posed to him from an atheist friend. In part 1 he lists 10 things that Christians do not have to believe, in other words, they are things that many Christians do believe, but one can still be a Christian if he does not accept these ideas. In Part 2 he then lists 10 things that are absolutely necessary for the Christian faith. These are the bottom-line things that matter most - Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.

Thielen discusses each of these ideas clearly, thoughtfully, and succinctly. He refers to Scripture to make his points, and acknowledges that there are good, thoughtful Christians who may not agree with all of his arguments, but what really matters is that they accept the bottom-line beliefs expressed in part 2.

What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian would be a good book for church groups to study in order to help focus their conversations with non-believers, and would be a good book to give to a non-believing friend who wants to better understand Christianity.

After finishing Thielen's book I immediately began Revelation for Everyone by N.T. Wright. Wow! Revelation is probably one of the most difficult and often controversial books of the Bible. I've read it before and just kind of shrugged my shoulders, finding it often incomprehensible. Which is why when I come across someone who claims to understand it I'm often skeptical.

What I appreciate about Wright's interpretation is that he is open about not having the final say on Revelation. At one point he says, "This is a book designed to make you ponder and pray, not one designed to answer everything to your satisfaction." And ponder and pray, I did. I found myself writing down several quotes from this book to think about later.

Wright goes through each chapter of Revelation and gives his interpretation based on previous scripture and the context of when and where it was written. At one point he says "We are not dealing in Revelation with a single sequence of events...What we are dealing with is several different angles of vision on the one single reality."

To me, the main idea I took away from this book is that I don't really need to worry about what will happen in the future. As Wright says, "When God's mystery is complete, it will be the fulfillment of creation, not its abolition." In other words, the return of Christ will happen, and how it happens is a mystery to us now. What's important for me is to live my life in a spirit of worship and repentance, with a sense of expectation.

Wright presents his ideas clearly, but because there is so much to the book of Revelation, I feel that this is a book that requires more than just a single reading; it's something to re-read and really study.

Both of these books are published by Westminster John Knox Press.