This Month's Book Reviews

CS Lewis, A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

Alister McGrath // Hodder & Stoughton

This is a thorough and engaging biography that attempts to remove the veneer often applied to CS Lewis’ life out of reverence for his work. Alister McGrath manages to reveal the golden strands of thought running through Lewis’ work, while making it clear that these weren’t always so apparent at the time.

In many ways it’s a bit of feat to find something new to say about Lewis, but one of the significant contributions of this book is McGrath’s re-dating of Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. McGrath proposes that it may not have been in Trinity Term 1929 (as Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy), but later in Trinity 1930. From extensive research, McGrath suggests that the death of Lewis’ father might have prompted him to explore the question of God, which has some bearing on his later writing.

This biography doesn’t shy away from some of the more confusing aspects of Lewis’ personal life ? not least his relationship with Mrs Moore, the mother of his friend who died in the war, with whom he lived for much of his adult life. Similarly, his assessment of Lewis’ marriage to Joy Davidman is free from Hollywood sentimentality. He makes some interesting observations about the effect of Lewis’ service in the First World War, a subject rarely addressed in his writing.

Alongside the biographical detail, McGrath lights on the themes and critical reception of each of Lewis’ works, pausing to dwell in more detail on some. The narrative is a little repetitive at points, though this is perhaps unavoidable when weaving together complex biographical and literary histories.

As a scholar of theology and culture, McGrath authoritatively tackles both the literary and apologetic aspects of the Lewis canon. He situates Lewis’ role in Christian culture within a contemporary context and demonstrates that 50 years after his death, Lewis’ legacy is alive and well.LBJ

More: Discovering the God of More When Life Gives You Less

Benny Perez // Authentic

A thought-provoking contribution to discussing the age-old problem of pain and suffering. Based on Benny Perez’s personal story of loss, he takes the reader on a journey of discovery ? the outcome of which isn’t to focus on the ‘why’ of circumstances but on the ‘who’ of a sovereign and gracious God. Perez, the pastor of a large Las Vegas church, argues that when life delivers less, God can deliver more.

He dismisses some well-worn explanations for suffering, looks away from speculating causes and towards God as the cure. Perez’s approach necessarily contains dichotomy: a fallen world and God’s supremacy. If the reader can hold these two things in tension this could prove to be a very helpful resource. MP

Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Soul

Kyle Idleman // Zondervan

If ever we think that the biblical critiques of idolatry are irrelevant then we are failing to recognise the rival gods that surround us. This is the substance of this fun, easy-read book in which the idols of food, sex, entertainment, success and others are addressed. The book is enlightening and certainly entertaining, but ultimately I was disappointed. It doesn’t really say anything new and it remains focused on identifying the idols rather than telling us how to get rid of them.

 It also doesn’t tackle the religious idols to which evangelicals are prone ? idols of worship, Bible, preaching, doctrine and so on. This then is a good light read and will give preachers some nice quotes and facts to share, but something more is needed to properly address this issue. JT

Carnival Kingdom: Biblical Justice for Global Communities

Marijke Hoek, Jonathan Ingleby, Andy & Carol Kingston-Smith // Wide Margin

This is a collection of mini-treatises and reports, demonstrating the biblical case for justice and other egalitarian themes being central to the application of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Some are semiacademic. Some are quirky. Some are reports written by authoritative voices rooted in global communities. Important theology and truth expressed carefully and rationally; thekind of book that people who already agree will pick up and enjoy because it gives them more statistics, anecdotes and contexts in which to think what they think. As such, I enjoyed the content, but I believe academics need to learn to write in a more populist style if they want anyone else to bother. If this matters, then it needs to be communicated to the masses and to those who disagree. HA


The Utter Relief of Holiness

John Eldredge // Hodder & Stoughton


A book with an intriguing title that delivers, as the best-selling US author explores the theme of holiness in a way that is both challenging and enticing.

Arranged in two parts, The Surprise of Holiness and The Way to Holiness, this scripture-rich book looks at a biblical understanding of holiness, exploring the wonder of the grace and acceptance of God, what holiness looks like, and how we canchange.

 Early chapters focus on the captivating character of Jesus, which contrasts so sharply with the supposed holy living urged by some churches. Eldredge revels in the wonder of forgiveness and the new heart received, stressing our identity in Christ as redeemed people. But he doesn’t flinch from reflecting on how we can be deceived by sin, and its wretched work in our lives. Especially biting is a chapter focusing on our motives, and how our self-protection postures mask underlying sin. We excuse our behaviour as ‘our personality’ rather than take our need and pain to God.

For every insight into how we may be tempted, there is wise and practical advice and encouragement on how we may be set free. Eldredge quotes the Bible liberally and includes prayers he uses daily and at particular times when the battle with sin seems especially fierce. He’s careful to acknowledge that some may need the tender care of someone who can uncover the true areas of bondage.

So Eldredge shows that holiness is a ‘relief’ as we learn to be the people God calls us to be. Both the novice and seasoned saint will find value in a book that compares favourably with the many classics on this challenging but glorious theme. AP

Jesus the Son of God

Donald Carson // IVP

I have been a fan of Donald Carson’s writing ever since I read his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. As an academic theologian, Carson has the unusual but welcome gift of writing simply and succinctly.

The book is meant to foster clear thinking among Christians who want to know what we mean when we make the creedal statement declaring our belief in God’s only Son, Jesus, our Lord. Carson carefully exegetes the various texts in the Old and New Testaments that refer to the term ‘son(s) of God’. He explains that the term is used in a variety of different ways and has a number of meanings. It refers to angelic beings, humans, Davidic kings and the nation of Israel etc. However, it has a unique meaning when it is applied to Jesus. It is used in a unique way because Jesus (as the Son) has a unique relationship with God the Father. It is more than a divine title or status that is given to Jesus. As God’s Son, Jesus has a divine ontology.

What I found particularly helpful in this book is that Carson does not duck the difficult aspects relating to our understanding of the Trinity, or Jesus’ place in it. For example, he addresses the criticism made by some that as Christians we believe in three gods (tritheism). Carson also suggests that it would inappropriate for Christians to compromise their belief in the unique nature of Jesus’ Sonship in order to smooth over difficulties in inter-faith dialogues with Islam.

This is a book well worth reading, particularly if you are unclear as to what it means when we say: ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. AGP

I Recommend...


The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible

Scot McKnight // Zondervan

Pitched at a popular level, it’s an introduction to thinking about how we read the Bible. The author supports women in ministry.


Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice

Rabbi Wayne Dosick // Harper One

I think it’s important to read Jewish interpretations of the text ? it includes basic stuff you should know. I’ve found it incredibly helpful.


Women’s Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition

Carol A Newsom and Sharon H Ringe // Westminster John Knox Press

Probably the one I referred to the most in researching my Year of Biblical Womanhood. It isolates just about everyinstance where women are spoken about in the Bible, analyses it and discusses it.


Women in Scripture

Carol Meyers (ed) // Houghton Mifflin

I love learning about women you didn’t grow up hearing about in Sunday school, such as Huldah, who was a really important prophet that I’d never heard about. Any exploration of obscure or less-talked-about women in the Bible is fascinating to me.