Book Reviews - "A Book You Will Actually Read" Series
In his rather unique ministry, Mark Driscoll has come across some rather unique challenges. Among these challenges has been finding a way of addressing some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith with a fast-growing church body comprised primarily of men and women who have no Christian background whatsoever. Because Driscoll found that he would not able to meet with each of these people one-by-one, he began to write booklets which were subsequently distributed by the thousands. Crossway happened upon these books and entered into a publishing agreement to print and distribute this series they've called "A Book You Will Actually Read." The booklets are part of the literature ministry of Resurgence, called Re:lit (which, in turn, is a ministry of Mars Hill Church).
The "A Book You Will Actually Read" series is a growing collection of short books (under 100 pages) written by Mark Driscoll and addressing various foundational aspects of Christian theology. These are books that you will actually read and books that you can read in just about an hour. "The hope is that the big truths packed into these little books will make them different from the many other books that you would never pick up or would pick up only to quickly put down forever because they are simply too wordy and don't get to the point." They are meant to be a quick infusion of theology that invites the reader to investigate further. The first four titles available are On Who Is God?, On the Old Testament, On the New Testament and On Church Leadership.
On Who Is God?
This volume is divided into five sections: Knowledge about God (how we can know God exists), Perspectives about God (how different people relate to God), Nature of God (the attributes and names of God), Incarnation of God (prophecies of God's incarnation and their fulfillment in Christ) and Worship of God (how we are to worship God). A lengthy appendix offers a list of books appropriate for further study. Driscoll says "This modest book is an attempt to briefly and simply explain who God is through the lens of both philosophy and theology. Certainly this book could be an entire library of books explaining in great detail the person and work of God, and this is therefore not intended to be exhaustive, but rather introductory in nature."
On the Old Testament
On the Old Testament seeks to provide an overview and basic understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. The first section of the book answers nine common questions about this portion of the Bible (e.g. Who Wrote the Old Testament? What Is the Central Message of the Old Testament? Why Are There Different Bible Translations?) while the second section offers advice on how to read each of the literary genres. Driscoll explains this book's genesis as being his own growing understanding of the Old Testament in the months immediately following his own conversion to the Christian faith.
On the New Testament
On the New Testament mimics the pattern established in On the Old Testament. Once again the first section of the book answers nine common questions about form, format and theology of the New Testament (e.g. Can Books of the New Testament Be Written Today? How Were the New Testament Books Chosen as Scripture? What Principles Can Help Me Interpret the New Testament?) while the second section offers advice on how to read each of the literary genres. Driscoll says, "My intent in writing this book is to be of service to you as a pastor. I have had to read a great number of books and spend thousands of hours in study since my conversion in order to arrive at the conclusions that I'm sharing with you. I wish someone would have given me this book as a non-Christian or new Christian because it would have been quite helpful to me. I pray that you will find it helpful as well."
On Church Leadership
Whatever the agenda of Driscoll's critics, they always seem to raise the issue of his complementarian understanding of church leadership. In On Church Leadership he outlines his understanding as clearly and thorough as he has ever done. He does so in six brief chapters entitled Pastor Jesus, Elders, Women in Ministry, Deacons, Members, Leadership Teams. Driscoll explains that he wrote this book to address the fact that so few of the people converted through the ministry of Mars Hill Church had any real understanding of leadership and gender roles within the church. "To help our people understand how we are governed, I wrote a booklet that we published internally to answer their questions."
The books live up to the claim that they can be read in just about an hour. In fact, I read all four of them in a single five hour flight with time left over to read the airline magazine I found in the seat pocket ahead of me. In general I found them valuable reading. They are, by design, only a basic overview of the topics, but they still manage to cover those topics well. In most cases I found the appendices nearly as valuable as the books themselves. This is especially true for On the Old Testament and On the New Testament where the appendices (which are nearly the same) contain a great deal of excellent information on improving Bible study and building a study library. There is much wisdom to be gleaned. If there is a weak spot in the series, I would have to point to On Church Leadership which I felt did not deal as well with the subject matter as did the other volumes.
Two things should be noted. First, there is a fair bit of overlap in the books and several times the reader will find sections that have been copied and pasted from one to the next. But since the books are not necessarily meant to be read in sequence, this is more a note than a critique. Second, the reader will want to bear in mind that these books were written by a pastor specifically to his own congregation. Hence, while the theology is generally sound, the teaching and the format may not be transferable in all cases. The books may well be appropriate for placement in church libraries and elsewhere, but it would be wise for pastors and leaders to read the books carefully to ensure that they are suitable for that specific congregation.
Writing about these books Bruce Ware says, "Mark has a gift of taking weighty ideas and expressing them in clear and lively language" while D.A. Carson says the books are, "serious, informed, reverent, but not technical discussions of great themes." I agree with both of these men. These books are uniquely valuable in their lively and relevant discussions of important theological themes. I look forward to further entries in the "A Book You Will Actually Read" series.
You can purchase them, of course, at Amazon.