Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What are some of the most important books you've ever read?

Most summers, I try to re-read some of my "classics," the books that changed the way I view God. I thought I might share my top 5 and ask you: "What 5 (or so) books have changed the way you look at God?"
1. The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo
Greatest Insight: “You have made us for Yourself, and our souls are restless until they rest in You.”

2. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Greatest Insight: Reason is insane because it tries to cross the infinite sea. Poetry is sane because it floats on that infinite sea.

3. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Greatest insight: “The [atonement] itself is infinitely more important than any explanations that theologians have produced.”

4. Grace and Nature (selections of Summa Theologica) by Thomas Aquinas
Greatest insight: Grace implies nothing good but need in the recepient. This Grace perfects nature, rather than destroys it.

5. The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards
Greatest insight: To glorify God and to enjoy Him are enveloped in the same activity.


Jeff Wright said...

I'm definitely with you on The End for Which God Created the World. I read that last fall and it was an extremely enjoyable and helpful book. I should read it again (along with my stack of a few dozen other I'd like to read).

GUNNY said...

Sproul, Holiness of God

Piper, Pleasures of God

Luther, Bondage of the Will

Packer, Knowing God

Phillips, Your God Is Too Small

I'm looking forward to more coming in.

I also really loved End for Which God Created the World, but I think it would have made a greater impact had I read it prior to my Edwards class.

I've thought about Chesteron's Orthodoxy for a while, but never got it. I'll have to handle up on my bidness.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Great post and question Jared! Recently I've determined that one of the most important questions one could ask another in order to begin to understand them is this" "Who are your favorite teachers?" I think your question about favorite, most life-impacting books is similar.

Here's my top five in order:

Two Dissertations by Jonathan Edwards (I was introduced to the first, "End for Which God Created the World," through Piper's God's Passion for His Glory.

Insights: God's ultimate end in creation and all he does is himself, and that fact is the basis of our happiness. True virtue must have love for the divine being viewed in itself alone, as its fundamental motivation.

Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards.

Insights: There is no such thing as a causeless effect. Every decision made by moral beings is motivated by attraction to pleasure and aversion to pain, in that sense we are perfectly free.

Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards (I hate to appear to be a one-beat drummer, but it is what it is).

Insight: True religion includes both light (knowledge of God) and heat (affections for God). What fundamentally separates true religion from false religion is love and joy in God, which assumes knowledge of the same.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin.

Insight: There are three fundamental questions religion seeks to answer: Who is God? Who is man? How do God and man relate to one another?

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, John Owen.

Insight: There is no middle ground for those committed to biblical and reasonable consistency with regard to the application of the benefits of Christ's atonement. Christ either died to secure nothing for sinners (e.g. Pelagianism), he died to secure the possibility of the salvation of sinners (e.g. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Arminianism), or he died to actually secure the salvation of sinners (e.g. Calvinism). If the latter then we are left with two options, universalism or particular redemption (i.e. the gospel).


M. Jay Bennett said...

Oh, and I meant to ask:

Jared, with regard to what you wrote as an insight from Chesterton:

"Reason is insane because it tries to cross the infinite sea."

I was wondering how that could possibly be true? How can an argument against reason be mounted by a sentence that includes a because? Isn't that the same as offering a reason against reason?

Ain't that what them fancy rhetoricians (a little help here Gun) call a tu quoque argument?

Jared Nelson said...


two answers:

1) one must contextualize Chesterton as writing against the rationalism of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. The rationalism of Socialism and then early Fascism that mechanicalized humanity. Chesterton was a poet saying beauty is not a mathematical formula. Pure reason drives one mad, not sane. Read Chapter 2 & 6 of Orthodoxy to get the jist.

2) I think Chesterton speaks to a particular disposition. I first read him when I was dealing with all the different arguments against Christianity such as it is too violent and too pacifist and too optimistic and too pessimistic and too rationalistic and too anti-intellectual, etc. Chesterton was the first to say moderation is the great virtue of Christianity and if totally contradictory arguments are used, perhaps they say more about the accuser then the accused. Chesterton's apologetic is so foreign to us because he uses things like pleasure, beauty, and moderation to defend Christian thinking.

"the real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one...it is nearly reasonable, but not quite...It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden." -Chesterton in Chapter 6.

GUNNY said...

Jay, I think it is what the philosopher John D. Hannah might call "mumbo jumbo," but a rhetorician might be inclined to call it tomfoolery.

Yet, I still like it, so what's that say about me?!

Well, I think it's more a criticism of those who try to make reason do too much than it is a critique of reason itself. At least, that's the benefit of the doubt I'm giving GKC.

P.S. Jay, I appreciate the way you gave us the synopsis of each work. Of course, I really appreciated it back in the day when you gave the full-length whammies those luscious Sunday nights at Providence Church.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Okay, I think I feel what Chesterton may be doing. If he is defining reason as the perversion of reason, then I'm onboard. If he is defining it as reason in principle, then not so much.

Two other thought:

I do think math is beautiful. And I wonder how one could ever know that pure reason drives one insane? Wouldn't the attainment of it immediately negate the experience of it?

Gun, thanks bro. Those were good nights for me. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to do that.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Jay, excellent list!