I enjoy reading and sharing helpful things that I read with others. I like to read lots of different kinds of books, but as a minister and a theology students, a lot of what I read tends to focus on those areas.
As a part of my schooling, I read widely across the spectrum of Christianity. This invariably means that I read a lot of things I disagree with, but also that I am challenged to think about what the Bible teaches and what I believe frequently. That’s a good thing, I think.
Over the last several years, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of books being put out by ministers and thinkers within Churches of Christ. This is also a good thing, I think, and I have made an effort to read some of those books when I get the chance (and in the process, have come across some very good material). Having said all that, I wanted to offer some quick reviews of a couple of those books: Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now, by Chris Seidman and Joshua Graves, and The Treasure Chest of Grace: Following God’s Map to Untold Riches in Christ Jesus, by Wes McAdams.
Heaven on Earth
Heaven on Earth was good, although it was not what I expected. The book is actually a careful examination of Jesus’ Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and how living those out makes a difference in the here and now (while also identifying us as the kind of people who will be with Jesus eternally).
The subtitle, “Realizing the Good Life Now”, could potentially mean a lot of things, but basically, the authors assert that living this way (according to the Beatitudes) constitutes living the “good life”, and helps us to establish the ideals of God’s Kingdom on earth (to be clear, there are no hints of prosperity gospel nonsense in this book about how God wants us to be happy and therefore will shower us with material blessings if we are faithful to Him).
Each chapter covers a Beatitude, and discusses what it means as well as illustrating it with an abundance of real-life examples, mostly from modern day. The two authors do not write together, and instead, take turns writing different chapters. This is probably my main criticism of the book, as I think it gives it a choppiness in thought and style that wouldn’t be present if either writer was working entirely on his own.
Here are some good quotes:
“The good life is only possible in so far as God is involved. Experiencing the good life is more about what God has done and is doing that what we have done or are doing.” (xi)
“For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven had everything to do with life on this side of the grave while many of us are inclined to think it mostly has something to do with life on the other side. Consequently , we think of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven coming near as meaning through Jesus we now have access to the pace of heaven after we die. Even though this is one aspect of the context, it is not the entire context.” (3)
“The longer Paul dwelled in the kingdom of light the more aware he became of the darkness in his own life.” (16)
“Mourning is a pure vision of the large gulf between how things could be versus how things actually are.” (28)
“How do we respond to the pain and suffering that haunts us? Something’s amiss. Is life beautiful? Yes. But just on the horizon of its inherent beauty is a wild storm, waiting to tear everything to pieces, total destruction. Life is beautiful. But life is also deadly, depressing, and full of pain.” (33)
“Doing the right thing—whether individually (righteousness) or collectively (justice)—is always a primary interest of God in the prophets, because a life is the totality of choices made for the individual and the community.” (57)
“The person you are setting free when you reconcile is yourself.” (99)
“The most dangerous believers in the world to the kingdom of darkness are the ones who live as though they have nothing to lose.” (109)
“Faith is about seeing the world as God sees it. Not simply seeing the world for what it is—in all its paradox of beauty and death—but also seeing the world for what it will one day become.” (131)
The Treasure Chest of Grace
The Treasure Chest of Grace focuses on the fact that we have been saved by grace—nothing we have done or can do on our own has any bearing on salvation apart of the gracious acts of God on our behalf—and then sets about determining what conditions we must meet in order to become recipients of that grace. This is where the “map” of the subtitle comes in: the pages of Scripture reveal to us what we must do in order to come into contact with God’s grace.
This book differs significantly from Heaven on Earth in that McAdams uses no stories or modern-day examples to prove his points; he only uses Scripture. This is by design: “I have made every effort in this book to prove every point with Scripture, and only Scripture. No quotations of man are used to prove any point, only words inspired by God” (8). I understand his reasoning and certainly agree with him at the core (we should base our religious beliefs on Scripture, not something else), but I think the writing suffered somewhat as a result: a short book peppered with hundreds of Scripture references and no other illustrations or examples is harder to read. My other gentle critique is a subjective one: I don’t like really short chapters. The main body of the book is 144 pages long, and those pages are divided into 25 chapters, rendering the average chapter as a little less than six pages long. Constantly shifting from chapter to chapter gives the reader the impression that some thoughts haven’t been well developed (which I don’t think is true, I just think that many of the “chapters” would function better as sections within longer chapters).
Anyway, on to the quotes:
“Man is utterly incapable of earning the things we receive from God. This does not mean, of course, that we are incapable of obeying Him, pleasing Him, honoring Him, glorifying Him; but we must remember that by doing so, we have earned nothing.” (16)
“When people try to save themselves, they are communicating to God that they have no need for His grace.” (25)
“If there were nothing man had to do to receive salvation, there would be none who were lost.” (46)
“Too often people have assumed that because God freely gives grace, He gives it without conditions.” (78)
“Unfortunately many in the religious world have tried to sever the biblical ties between salvation and baptism” (97)
“Man is not saved because he obeys the gospel; he is saved when he obeys the gospel. The gospel itself, not the obedience of man, is the reason man is saved.” (106)
“Your salvation lies at the lace where His “amazing grace” meets your “trust and obey”.” (152)
“Do not mistake the emphasis on baptism to mean that it is more significant than it really is. Nor should you make the mistake of assuming baptism is meaningless or insignificant. Because it is a part of God’s plan to redeem man, it has great importance. But without the blood of Christ, baptism is nothing more than a glorified bath.” (155)
I thought both of these books were short, easy-to-read, helpful treatments of two very biblical ideas: what living the Beatitudes means for us as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and how God’s grace and our obedient faith work together in the act of salvation. I was thankful to have read both.