As I come to the end of my time working with the Sydney University Evangelical Union, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on some of my own experience as a uni student in the EU. One thing I did lots of was reading books. One of my observations on my time coming back to Sydney Uni to work with the EU is that students don’t read much; and when they do, they don’t always read good things. So, here’s an annotated list of some books I read as a student that I reckon other students should read, too.
DISCLAIMER: These recommendations are mine and mine alone, and aren’t ‘endorsed’ by the EU in any way, shape or form. (Let the reader understand…)
Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony – Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon
In another of his writings, Stanley Hauerwas contends: “The church does not have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic.” Resident Aliens is an attempt to show what that looks like in practice, conceiving of Christian life in terms of the discipleship of the heavenly kingdom. It’s about living life on God’s terms, according to his word, in the community of his people, instead of life on the terms of the world. This means living a life together that is shaped by the gospel, in ways that will look odd to the world around us while proving difficult for us. The gospel-story shapes our communities in particular ways that make sense of what Christians believe – but often our communities are simply little outposts of the world around us. Instead, they should be little ‘colonies’ of the heavenly kingdom. Provocative and genuinely life-changing.
The Challenge of Jesus – Tom Wright
Who is Jesus? What did he come to do? This book forced me to re-read the Gospels to delve into what they’re really about, especially against the background of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s Messiah and the first-century world in which Jesus lived. By exploring Jesus’ understanding of his own ‘vocation’ as the Messiah, Wright’s book opened up the Gospel stories for me in a way that forced me to encounter Jesus in a new and exciting way. Highly recommended.
The Atonement: Its Meaning & Significance – Leon Morris
How is the death of Jesus understood? This classic book helped me understand more deeply what it means for Jesus to have died, according to a number of the dominant New Testament metaphors. Morris does a brilliant job of bringing the relevant Old Testament texts to bear on the New Testament metaphors in a way that makes Jesus’ work on the cross all the more glorious to behold.
The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What does it mean to genuinely respond to the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ? Bonhoeffer challenges his readers to eschew ‘cheap grace’ – the idea that once grace is received, we can go on living however we like, safe in the knowledge that we’re saved in Christ. Bonhoeffer’s response, echoing the Apostle Paul, is: By no means! Instead, Bonhoeffer argues from the Scriptures that Christian discipleship is a living-out of ‘costly grace’ – a response to grace that involves sacrifice and the putting-to-death of the sinful nature. His framework enables us to take sin seriously while still remaining rooted in grace. It’s an uncomfortable and yet hopeful read.
Neither Poverty Nor Riches – Craig Blomberg
What does the bible actually say about money, wealth and possessions? New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg provides an exhaustive outline of the bible’s teaching on these matters, concluding that there are extremes of both poverty and wealth that God considers dangerous and distasteful. This is a really important area for Christians in the wealthy West – we have too much. The practical ideas at the end of the book aren’t substantial, but the work in the biblical texts is both overwhelming and clear.
Ministries of Mercy – Tim Keller
In this book Keller provides a theological basis for mercy ministries, a theologically-driven method for putting them into practice, and discusses how material needs and spiritual needs intersect. Deeply insightful. Should be required reading for us evangelicals in Sydney; this is often a large hole in our ministry.
Surprised by Hope – Tom Wright
What is the Christian hope? Wright argues that somewhere along the way we’ve lost the scope of what the hope afforded to us in Jesus Christ entails. We’ve reduced it to a message of ‘life-after-death.’ In contrast, Wright argues, Christians are on about ‘life after life-after-death.’ This is his way of reminding us that the Christian hope is for the life of the New Creation, a world renewed in perfection in line with Jesus’ resurrection. In turn, this hope shapes the way we live in the world while we wait for Jesus’ return: the church is a missionary people who engage in acts of evangelism, justice and beauty.
Promoting the Gospel – John Dickson
The best book I’ve ever read on evangelism. The central thesis – forcefully argued from the New Testament scriptures – is that, while word-proclamation of the gospel is vital, our Christian witness is more than that. It’s about our whole life, in the context of relationship, as part of the church. There’s also a brilliant appendix about how we can use ‘storytelling’ in evangelism, kind of like how Jesus used his parables, in conversation with friends and family who aren’t followers of Jesus. (Since I read the book it has been republished as The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission).
God Here and Now – Karl Barth
This short collection of essays was a tough read for a second-year uni student. I don’t think I understood most of it. What I did understand was that Barth really thinks Jesus needs to be at the forefront of all Christian thinking. I even remember wondering if this guy was too into Jesus! I was already convinced, from a young age, that Jesus was central to Christian faith, Barth’s essays convinced me that the person and work of Jesus Christ really is central to all Christian thinking if it is to rightly bear that description.