Quite a while ago, I mentioned a few books I thought might be good to share. If you missed that, you really should go back and read the suggestions. But now, over two years and many books later, I have some more to offer. The target audiences for these books might be somewhat diverse, so just go with it until you see something you like. So here’s what I got:
Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ
By Thomas F. Torrance
My rating: 4.5/5
T. F. Torrance, once a student of Karl Barth, was a minister in the Church of Scotland for many years, and he became an excellent theologian. After his death, several of his lectures were collected and published in two major volumes which represent the essence of his theology. They are Incarnation and Atonement, which respectively cover Christ’s person and His work. I’ve unfortunately not been able to read Incarnation yet, but Atonement is absolutely excellent. It is a thoroughly Biblical, creatively theological, and Christ-centered look at the what Jesus did for us in His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and even Pentecost! He connects this to absolutely every area of theology, from the Trinity to the Church to millennial views. It is not the easiest read you would ever try, but it is very worth it. Here’s a quote:
Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgement: on the contrary he continued it, and as we have seen he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgement, but in Jesus that is subsidiary to—and only arises out of—the gospel of grace and vicarious suffering and atonement. In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgement on evil simply by smiting violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its indelible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.
The Mediation of Christ
By Thomas F. Torrance
My rating: 4/5
I apologize in advance for loading this list with two books by the same author so quickly, but putting the first one on here just reminded me of how good this one is. The Mediation of Christ is a somewhat earlier and much shorter work about the role of Jesus as the one Mediator between God and man and the role of Israel in mediating Jesus to the world. Both of these themes are very well discussed, and this book makes a helpful introduction to Torrance’s theology. It is not much of an easier read than Atonement, but as I mentioned it is nowhere near as long. If you do read this book, though, you will have a major head start in understanding Atonement. An epic quote:
God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.
By N. T. Wright
My rating: 4/5
N. T. Wright is a British historian and theologian, formerly a bishop in the Church of England. He is most well-known for his work on the historical Jesus and the Resurrection. Yet, having been a bishop for many years, he is also quite interested in getting across his thoughts to laypeople, which is basically the theme of Simply Jesus, a simple introduction to Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry. While he calls his vision “new,” this should not be taken as implying anything liberal or radical, but merely corrective against mistakes that have been made in Christian history. (And, to be honest, it’s not as new as he seems to imagine it is.) But it’s a great book, giving helpful perspective when reading the Gospels and understanding the theme of the kingdom of God. This is the easiest read of the bunch so far.
Here, then, is the message of Easter, or at least the beginning of that message. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean, “It’s all right. We’re going to heaven now.” No, the life of heaven has been born on this earth. It doesn’t mean, “So there is a life after death.” Well, there is, but Easter says much, much more than that. It speaks of a life that is neither ghostly nor unreal, but solid and definite and practical. The Easter stories come at the end of the four gospels, but they are not about an “end.” They are about a beginning. The beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of the kingdom. God is now in charge, on earth as in heaven. And God’s “being-in-charge” is focused on Jesus himself being king and Lord. The title on the cross was true after all. The resurrection proves it.
Surprised by Hope
By N. T. Wright
My rating: 5/5
Okay, I’ll do one more author duplicate here. This is my favorite N. T. Wright book, and it is all about heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the Church, as its subtitle says. It, in a plain and readable style, argues vehemently against the quasi-gnostic views of life after death so popular in modern Christianity, instead emphasizing the reality of the coming physical new creation. Surprised by Hope is thoroughly Scriptural, offering a creative and exciting vision of what God has in store for us in the future, both life after death and, as Wright says, “life after life after death.” I don’t think any better work on this topic, at least at an ordinary reading level, exists. I’ll go straight to the quote:
I am putting up a signpost, not offering a photograph of what we will find once we get to where the signpost is pointing. I don’t know what musical instruments we shall have to play Bach in God’s new world, though I’m sure Bach’s music will be there. I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that there will be in God’s recreated world, though I do remember Martin Luther’s words about the proper reaction to knowing the kingdom was coming the next day being to go out and plant a tree. I do not know how the painting an artist paints today in prayer and wisdom will find a place in God’s new world. I don’t know how our work for justice for the poor, for remission of global debts, will reappear in that new world. But I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and I know that he calls his followers to live in him and by the power of his Spirit and so to be new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.
Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
By Russel Moore
Finally, we have something written by a Baptist, and this is the best Baptist reading I’ve ever found. In Onward Russel Moore examines how the American church is to move forward in light of everything that has happened to our culture (recently including Obergefell and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain). He covers the theology of the Church and its witness along with a host of issues related to our cultural warfare, and he urges us to embrace the “freakishness” of the Gospel. He believes and argues from Scripture and experience that the message and mission of the Church are necessarily radically different from and contradictory to all world systems and cultures, including both our present culture and the America of 60 years ago. He offers a devastating critique of the cultural Christianity we are losing, cheering its death and urging us to move on towards a new way of witness.
The problem was that…Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel. That’s why one could speak of “God and country” with great reception in almost any era of the nation’s history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned ‘Christ and him crucified.’ God was always welcome in American culture. He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America. The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to ‘Amen’ in a prayer at the Rotary Club.