For a while, I’ve wanted to share with other Christians, especially Manna people, about some of the books I’ve read recently. But I’ve been demotivated because 1) there’s so many books I’ve wanted to share it’s been hard to decide where to start, and 2) I felt like I wouldn’t do justice to any of the books unless I gave an in-depth review of them, and I just haven’t had the time or patience to sit down and write one of those kinds of essays.
Well, to get past those hurdles, I decided to just flat out ignore both those hindrances here. Instead of choosing one book, I’m going to write about several books. And instead of writing in-depth about each of them, I’ll make my comments highly summarized – just enough to get the gist for someone not super interested in the topic. But also, perhaps, just enough to whet the appetite of a more interested person to perhaps read the book. Think of this as a sort of pseudo-bibliographic essay, but also a window into my mind recently. I’m going to call this “Some of what Jeremy’s been reading and thinking about.” So here goes.
”Some of what Jeremy’s been reading and thinking about”
“Existential Reasons for Belief in God” by Clifford Williams
The reason I read it this summer was that the title caught my attention. Esoteric book about God? COOL. I WANT IT. But also, it got to something I’ve always wondered about: Is it OK for a person’s reason for believing in God to be simply that they feel a need for God? Is trusting in Jesus without having thought deeply through rational arguments for or against God’s existence foolish or even sinfully irresponsible? Feuerbach said that God is simply the longing of the human soul personified; Freud said human beings project their repressed desire for an exalted father onto the idea of a personal, Heavenly Father. Religion is wish-fulfillment. Marx: it’s a crutch, an opiate for the needy masses. Are they right?
Clifford Williams, I think, makes a very convincing case for the legitimacy of even some of the most seemingly illogical (or at least the embarrassing ones that we Christians would usually blush at) existential reasons for faith. He argues that not only is paying attention to our feelings of need for God an important part of making sense of Christianity, but that having merely “rational” reasons for believing in God doesn’t make sense. The ideal (and, I would add, the only authentic) way of acquiring faith in God, he says, is through both need and reason – a faith that consists of both emotions and intellectual assent. In other words, we should definitely use our mental faculties to weigh the evidence to make sure that our belief in God isn’t merely a crutch, but we should also recognize that if God has indeed created us with a need for him in our inner being (Pascal’s famous/infamous “God-shaped” hole), our existential needs are something we’re supposed to pay attention to! I know I didn’t do the book justice here, because reading over what I just wrote it doesn’t seem that awesome. But it is. You should just read it. (I have it on kindle if you want to borrow it for 2 weeks!)
“Heart and Soul: A Christian View of Psychology” by William Ouweneel
Speaking of our inner feelings, I’ve been fascinated with thinking through how our heart-relationship with God/spirituality relates to our psychology. There’s a lot of complex, difficult questions that arise when you open up this can of worms. To what extent do psychological problems originate in our spiritual relationship with God? How do we tell when a psychological issue is a presenting problem arising from physiological imbalances? How do we tell when it originates in improper spiritual relationship to God? How do our thoughts relate to our emotions, and our thoughts to our beliefs? What about psychosomatic disorders? While this book (free PDF here!) didn’t provide a clear-cut answer to all these questions, it did give me some tools to start with, beginning with its treatment of how the different levels of our human functioning relates to our psychology. He explained how our human psychology arises as a composite of our physical (relationship between sensory stimulation and perception, psychopharmacology, etc.), biological (neuropsychology, physiological psychology), perceptive (psychology of sensation/perception/conditioning), sensitive (psychology of our feelings), and cognitive (psychology of thinking, deliberation) structures, but also touched on social, economic, ethical, and even religious psychology as other interrelated fields. What I found the most helpful in reading this was that it gave me a starting point to see how interconnected our psychological functioning is and to recognize that helping someone who is suffering from psychological dysfunction requires a multi-faceted approach. Even if Christians may rely on truth from God’s Word to give us wisdom for living psychologically faithful lives, it’s also important to recognize the way our psychology is interconnected with the many layers of our human existence so that we don’t naively think that helping people focus on truths about Jesus will fix all of their psychological issues. Our human brokenness and frailty extends deep into all of the structures of our human existence; while we are called to help each other live as faithfully as we can with whatever psychological constitution we’ve each been given, short of a miracle, many people will only finally experience full psychological healing when Christ finally arrives to renew all things. Thank God he is coming again. How awesome will it be when we’re no longer beset with this constant struggle in inner self? How awesome will it be when our intentions, thoughts, motivations, desires, impulses, fears, loves all work properly for God’s glory?
“Christian philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction” by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen
Zooming out a bit, let’s talk about GOSPEL WORLDVIEW. Do you remember when you first got the expansiveness of Manna’s Gospel Worldview? When you became excited about how God cares about everything, not just only our individual spirituality? Well in a way, the shift that was happening there was a philosophical shift – from viewing Christianity through some implicit form of dualism (e.g. viewing the “Spiritual” as more holy than the “material” world) to seeing that the Gospel opens us up to a more holistic way of seeing everything – a way that is consistent with the idea that Jesus is the one in whom all creation holds together – things in heaven and on earth visible and invisible, etc. etc. (Colossians 1:15-23!)
Well, this book tells a sort of history of philosophical thought unashamedly out of this very gospel worldview. The authors are forthright that their history is not unbiased; they intentionally are telling the story in a way that highlights how philosophical thinking throughout history has reflected more and less faithful articulations (in their view) of what we at Manna call this “Gospel Worldview.” For the more theologically inclined, you could say that this book is a tracing of philosophical thought as a historical examination of the relationship between common grace and idolatry in the world of…ideas. Not for everyone, but I think anyone who wants a better picture of how philosophical ideas are embedded in our worldview, this was helpful for me in sorting through that. I would put it above Creation Regained on difficulty level, but below Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.
I wanted to write about a bunch of other books, but I think I wrote too much already. So I guess I’ll have to do a second installment! For all you nerds out there (and let’s be honest…we’re Princeton grads…all of us are), be looking forward to..
“Books Jeremy owes library fines for: Recommended Christian books, Part Deux.”
And to whet your appetite:
- Purpose in the Living World by Jacob Klapwijk (Evolution, Creation, Emergence theory, Intelligent Design, etc.)
- The Economy of Desire by Daniel Bell (Spiritual disciplines + Economics, Spiritual evaluation of Capitalism)
- Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman (How the heck are we supposed to understand all that bizarre imagery? And what’s with the Kill Bill-esque violence?)
- Loves me, Loves me not: The ethics of unrequited love by Laura Smit (Think: God as our pursuing lover…etc.)
- Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton (Urban ministry is where it’s at. I’m learning about all this stuff more through my church in North Philly. Poverty, justice, God’s Kingdom, all that jazz.)
Until then, read more! And love Jesus. And love the poor.