Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Truth About Grace by John MacArthur

The Truth About Grace is short and yet incredibly dense with scriptural references. The book covers the concept of grace from all angles. While MacArthur has a reputation for being a hard hitting preacher this book is incredibly, well, gracious. The claims he makes are firmly rooted in the Bible and he provides the evidence right in the text. Because of this, the book takes on a more conversational style as the reader joins with the author to search the Bible for truth about grace.

Growing up I viewed God as a rather vindictive character. I had no trouble understanding God's wrath but I really did not get God's grace. I still do not fully comprehend it, but this book has really helped me to locate some key scriptures that have to do with grace. While the book does get repetitive at times, it is ultimately a very helpful tool. 

I began trying to understand grace more after reading the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. One of his essays in that book really challenged my ideas about God and his character. While I am a huge fan of Donald Miller, I have become somewhat disenchanted with the hype that seems to have arisen around the idea of Jesus as "my buddy." (I am not saying that Miller states this, I am simply trying to illustrate how some people have a more relaxed view of God and others have a more strict view). I think that might be why I had such a hard time accepting grace for so long; because it seemed like it was not viewing God with proper sincerity. It almost feels as if one is taking advantage of him and thus it just can't be right. 

Anyway, all that to say, that on the spectrum of viewing God's grace I see books like Blue Like Jazz to be on one side and more conservative individuals like MacArthur to be on the other. If you have that mindset in approaching this book you may be equally surprised with me to see the way in which MacArthur deals with the topic of grace. I think MacArthur does a great job of speaking grace, truth and love in this book that will be beneficial for anyone.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Trouble With Paris by Mark Sayers

Until I read this book, the best analysis of our culture's obsession with materialism that I had ever heard went something like "buy less stuff" and "watch less tv." While this is not bad advice per se it fails to get to the heart of what drives the modern day materialist mindset. Sayers really gets to the heart of the issue in this book without getting caught up in the idea that to solve our problems we just need a list of rules and some accountability so we don't spend too much.

He begins by addressing the fact that Christians tend to be less than satisfied with their faith. They often feel they are missing something and that life needs to be more exciting. Sayers says:

"If you want to blame someone or something for your life not ending up as wonderfully as you were led to believe it would, a good place to start is the cultural phenomenon called hyperreality...meaning that we could now have things that were even better than the real thing. The media-drenched world in which we live has overextended our expectations of life" pg 5.

This is interesting since this is remarkably similar to the lie that was told to Adam and Eve in the garden. They were tempted into believing that they could be "like God." Since we have this idea of what our life should look like, we are upset and even depressed when our life doesn't look the way our culture says it should. Sayer's points out that this inevitably leads to widespread "comparison anxiety." 

Social networking pages are like advertisements for how our life is matching up with the requirements of the hyperreal culture. We compare ourselves to our friends who have traveled extensively or speak many languages and have been on multiple missions trips. Why don't our lives look like theirs? Soon "experiences" become a commodity much like any tangible product. We seek to be the most "cultured" and "experienced" individual with as much fervor and obsession as someone collecting beanie babies (I once saw a fight in a McDonalds over beanie babies!). Life becomes a competition.

Most of The Trouble With Paris discusses the issues that are presented by this subverted version of reality called hyperreality. Towards the end, Sayers engages in a discussion of what God's reality is for us as well as some helpful ideas for combating the influence of hyperreality in one's life.

I have noticed that these types of books often have an "anti-material" message. As if you should not own tv, radio, or a magazine subscription because the material world is evil. Sayer's says however, that

"The Bible does speak positively of things that are material-wine, food, clothing, houses, and land are seen as blessings. But in God's reality these things are given their proper place in the order of creation" pg. 167

Sayers ends with a discussion of what it means to live redemptively in a world consumed with hyperreality. If you aren't convinced to borrow or buy this book I would at least ask that you find it at a bookstore and read the  final chapter. This idea of living a faith which seeks to restore creation rather than condemn it is something that needs to catch on in Christian circles.