Helping someone choose a book is like helping him pick out a car. Does he want inspiration? Does he merely need to get from here to there and want transportation? Does he zip along in the passing lane or is he content to flow with the traffic?

We have been surveying the new books and have picked out six we think you will want to know about. These are, to continue our metaphor, outstanding models. We do not think you will agree with everything in them (we certainly don’t), but we consider them worth your attention. Some—devotional books—are inspirational and excite a deeper Christian faith. Others—such as a Bible commentary—provide nuts and bolts transportation: nothing fancy, but dependable and solid in understanding the Bible. Still others—volumes on social and political issues, and Christian fictionmove against traffic.

If books were cars and bookstores were freeways, the sight would be more intimidating than a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour. Because the sheer volume of books published is so great, we will be singling out special books quarterly (once every three months). The following books represent our first selection.

The Gravedigger File, by Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press, 1983, 245 pp.; $6.95).

The danger of secular humanism, says Os Guinness, is not so much what professing secular humanists say and do (they are a distinct minority) as how secularism has pervaded the church itself. In this he echoes the thesis previously well put by James Hitchcock in his What Is Secular Humanism? (Servant Books, 1982). Christianity, in a real sense, is digging its own grave—hence the title of Guinness’s book.

Guinness adopted C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape device to present his argument. The “Gravedigger Files” are ostensibly memos circulated among the Devil’s intelligence operatives. Unfortunately, the device only gets in the way here—Guinness does not have Lewis’s wit and the reader is left with only the inconvenience of translating bad to good, “Adversary” to God, and so on. That aside, Guinness is clear and interesting. He makes accessible to a wider audience the tremendously helpful insights of several leading sociologists, especially Peter Berger. Most significantly, he makes a persuasive case that Christians have all too uncritically adopted secular techniques and fascinations, from marketing to the celebrity cult.

Os Guinness recently completed his D.Phil. in the study of sociology at Oxford University. He has lived and traveled in the United States, but his original and present home is England. He has written two other books, including the widely acclaimed The Dust of Death (InterVarsity, 1973).

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An Excerpt: Secularization is the acid rain of the spirit, the atmospheric cancer of the mind and the imagination. Vented into the air not only by industrial chimneys but by computer terminals, marketing techniques and management insights, it is washed down shower by shower, the deadliest destroyer of religious life the world has ever seen.

Consider for a moment what was involved in the Apollo moon landing in 1969. No operation could be more characteristically modern, yet it was really no different in principle from designing a car or marketing a perfume. Strip away the awesomeness of the vision and the pride of achievement and what remains? A vast assembly of plans and procedures, all carefully calculated and minutely controlled, in which nothing is left to chance. By the same token, nothing is left to human spontaneity or divine intervention.…

Medieval Christians could have as their maxim, “I dress their wounds, but God heals them.” But how many modern Christians … would think of saying, “I irrigated the desert, but God made it grow”? The problem for the Christian in the modern world is not that practical reason is irreligious, but that in more and more areas of life religion is practically irrelevant. Total indifference to religion is characteristic of the central and expanding areas of modern life.

The Holy Fool, by Harold Fickett (Crossway, 1983, 284 pp.; $7.95).

The Holy Fool is a comic novel that takes 2 Cor. 12:9 as its epigraph: God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness.” Fickett’s protagonist is a 55-year-old Baptist preacher who gives ample opportuntity for God to make perfect his strength. The pastor’s wife (an atheist) is ready to divorce him, and his daughter is wildly promiscuous. Depressed and floundering, the preacher bashes in the nose of his assistant pastor (an annoying “biblical beach boy”). The pastor’s violent act triggers a turbulent reexploration of his Christian faith.

Fickett’s reasonably candid account of this modern reexploration contains some profanity and frank scenes. Contemporary evangelicals have not been enamored with recent novels, exactly because of the elements of explicit sex, profanity, and violence. But the fiction genre can be used to chart and plumb human thought, emotion, and vision more deeply and fully than any other species of prose. Good novels, in other words, explore great truths, and this one tackles one of the greatest, the utterly unmanageable and wonderful thing we call grace. That Fickett—born, reared, and stayed evangelical—succeeds to the degree he does is cause for celebration among those who hope someday to see a thriving artistic community within evangelicalism.

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Harold Fickett received his M.A. in writing from Brown University and has taught writing at Wheaton College. He now lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His previously published fiction includes Mrs. Sunday’s Problem and Other Stories (Revell, 1979).

An Excerpt: My history in relation to hospitals, including recent history, should give an idea of how I felt about the new job [as a hospital chaplain]. That I sought the position didn’t lessen my fear in the least. In hospitals I had been the victim of suffering and the recipient of miraculous grace. When it came down to it, however, I didn’t want my life to be filled with the high drama of the holiest mysteries; I didn’t want to stare death in the face as the church fathers did, by keeping a skull on their desks, or stare into the heart of the divine light without the sunglasses of worldly circumstance, like a contemplative monk. I wanted my ego intact, functioning nicely, thank you.

Why then this suicide [of the ego]? Perhaps because I had not found relief from this world’s pain except in abandonment, as Martin Luther never accepted the fact of his salvation until he valued it above the opinion of the entire Western world. Some of us must go around to the backside of the moon in order to see the light.

Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Billy Graham (Word Books, 1983, 240 pp.; $11.95).

Many authors have looked toward the future with varying degrees of optimisim and pessimism, mostly pessimism. In today’s world, futurism finds much to breed a pessimistic outlook. Billy Graham here presents a view of the end times that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. “This book is a call for repentance and a call for hope,” says Graham. The hope is that things will change if we heed the warnings of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Approaching Hoofbeats, then, is a warning and a call to hope, presented by a man who has not only seen more of the religious world than any other person, but commands worldwide respect. “I wanted to stress the point that the future of the world does not belong to the Communists,” says Graham. “The future belongs to the Sovereign God.”

The book is lent extra significance by the global insight of its author. Graham has become something of an international diplomat, even behind the Iron Curtain. He brings a depth of experience and wisdom concerning world affairs to the Book of Revelation, and specifically to the warnings delivered by the four horsemen.

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Evangelist Graham’s other books include Till Armageddon, The Holy Spirit, and How to Be Born Again.

An Excerpt: Lately, there has been something magnetic to me about the writings of the apostle John; they keep drawing me back, haunting me, hounding me. Again, perhaps it is because I, like John, am growing older. But it is more and more obvious that the world I see around me is no longer so real or important as the world I cannot see—but it is real all the same.… It would seem, on the surface, that John and I have almost nothing in common. Yet I can almost hear the voices he heard. I hear the approaching hoofbeats of the distant horsemen. I hear their warnings and, like John, I have no choice but to deliver them.

Until Justice and Peace Embrace, by Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans, 1983, 197 pp.; $13.95).

Some Christians withdraw from the world and seek God in individual mystical experiences. To Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Reformed Christian, this is not a valid alternative. The Christianity of Calvin is “world-formative,” seeking to change the world for the better and to bring the earth closer to God’s shalom, or peace and wholeness. Until Justice and Peace Embrace is a provocative sketch of a “world-formative” Christian vision.

Make no mistake: this book will be vigorously objected to by many evangelicals. Wolterstorff places blame for the Third World’s abject poverty squarely on Western capitalism. He listens carefully (though with some sharp criticisms) to the liberation theologians. He hints that resistance movements may sometimes be justified in reacting violently to governmental injustice. But his book is an intelligent, orthodox Christian attempt at taking seriously the grievances of the world’s poor. Thoughtful readers will want to study it in tandem with Michael Novak’s earlier published The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (Simon and Schuster, 1982), which, like Wolterstorff’s book, is a Christian examination of Third World injustices, but refutes the idea that Western capitalism is at fault.

Although the main focus of Until Justice and Peace Embrace is political and social justice, Wolterstorff presents a broad but comprehensive vision of shalom in all of life by also addressing chapters to aesthetics and to worship.

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Nicholas Wolterstorff is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His earlier books include Art in Action (Eerdmans, 1980) and Reason Within the Bounds of Religion(Eerdmans, 1976).

An Excerpt: Something on the order of 800 million people … “continue to be trapped in … absolute poverty: a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.” Of course, it is not the sheer fact of massive world poverty that is a scandal to the church and all humanity; the scandal lies in the fact that this abject poverty is today not an unavoidable feature of our human situation, and even more so in the fact that the impoverished coexist in our world-system with an equal number who live in unprecendented affluence. Poverty amidst plenty with the gap becoming greater: this is the scandal.

Loving God, by Charles Colson (Zondervan, 1983, 255 pp.; $11.95).

In the last decade there have been several celebrity conversions to the Christian faith. Few of the converted celebrities, however, have evidenced the solid, steady growth in faith and practice shown by Charles Colson. Caught in the Watergate web, Colson has since established a respected ministry to prisoners. He has also earned a reputation as a challenging Christian speaker.

Colson’s latest book concentrates on a matter of central importance to Christians—how men and women love God. It is empowered by Colson’s thoroughly evangelical faith and his willingness to challenge sin in even its most popular forms. Of the prosperity-and-success gospel, for instance, he writes: “This is not just a religious adaptation of the look-out-for-number-one, winner-take-all, God-helps-those-who-help-themselves gospel of our culture; it is heresy.” Loving God is a devotional book, but a devotional book in the strongest sense of the word. Colson was helped in the writing by some of the best writers and editors in evangelicalism, and the book skillfully interweaves fascinating stories with basic theology.

Charles Colson’s other books are Born Again (Chosen Books, 1976) and Life Sentence (Chosen Books, 1979).

An Excerpt: My question, then, for individual believers and thus the church, is this: do we view our faith as a magnificent philosophy or a living truth; as an abstract, sometimes academic theory or a living Person for whom we are prepared to lay down our lives? The most destructive and tyrannical movements of the twentieth century, Communism and Nazism, have resulted from fanatics singlemindedly applying fallible philosophies. What would happen if we were actually to apply God’s truth for the glory of His kingdom?

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The result would be a world turned upside down, revolutionized by the power of God working through individual Christians and the church as a whole.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, editors (Victor Books, 1983, 992 pp.; $19.95).

The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is being used ever more frequently in evangelical seminary classrooms and in church congregations. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, written by faculty members of Dallas Theological Seminary, is the first single-volume commentary to be based on that translation, and this accounts for part of the surprising success of the work. When it was introduced at the Christian Bookseller’s Association convention last year, its first press run of 10,000 copies was sold in three days. Now, sales have passed 60,000—exceptionally strong for a serious commentary. This initial success further suggests that laymen recognize and appreciate the rock-solid stand on scriptural inerrancy for which the seminary is known.

The commentary is also the first to be researched and written entirely by the faculty of a single seminary, which lends it a consistency of interpretation. Throughout the commentary, the unity of authorship is evident in the interpretation of passages that underlie the seminary’s doctrinal views (among them a pretribulational, premillennial perspective). The Dallas faculty is firm in its belief about critical points of Bible doctrine. For lay Bible students, this sureness may give the book a certain sturdy appeal as difficult passages are explained.

Absent from the list of contributors to the Bible Knowledge Commentary is Charles Ryrie, who recently retired from the seminary. Among laymen, Ryrie is the best-known Dallas Seminary theologian because of his widely used Ryrie Study Bible (Moody Press, 1976). There are no doubt many purchasers of the Bible Knowledge Commentary from among users of the Ryrie Study Bible and the New Scofield Reference Bible, but the commentary will require some adjustment for them because neither Ryrie nor Scofield is available in the NIV translation.

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