I have had the wonderful privilege of reading some encouraging and challenging Christian books lately. The books described below are all warmly recommended for Christians who want to be encouraged and stretched.

The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive

(Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop)

This little book has a simple premise: that the church should be a gathering of people around the gospel. Now that probably doesn’t sound all that revolutionary to you. Nor should it. But as Dever and Dunlop point out, so often in practice churches revolve around things other than the gospel. People are gathered due to having many people who are in the same life stage as they are, for example. And sometimes community is more of an ideal description of church than something that matches the reality of a random collection of acquaintances that gather for church events.

There is no rocket science in this book. If you’ve ever heard Mark Dever speak, you will know that he is passionate about the local church and membership. He says some helpful things about how to go about encouraging your church community to have deeper relationships based on the gospel and not based on other things. It is to the point and direct, with something in there to challenge you whatever your church looks like.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

(Tim Keller)

 This book is not what I expected it to be. And that’s not a bad thing. I have read Tim Keller’s books extensively as he usually has helpful things to say, but honestly some of his recent ones I found a little too philosophical and not so practically helpful (particularly his one on prayer). This book, however, is full of gems and I finished it greatly encouraged.

It is not a book teaching you how to preach if you are a beginning preacher – Allan Chapple’s excellent book on preaching does that kind of thing far better than this. It is not even a book necessarily just for preachers; it would be great for many regular church members to read this book. The first section sees Keller describe what good Biblical preaching is and describe how the whole Bible is about Jesus. His examples here are insightful and helpful. The second section deals with addressing the late modern culture with how preaching is done. If you want a concise way of understanding the majority culture in the western world, this section is worth the price of admission alone.

This is a great book which comes from the preaching ministry of a man who attempts to engage the culture with the gospel himself regularly. This is the best book on preaching I have read for a long time (and I have read more than my fair share).

After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles

Brian Litfin

When I was in Rome last year I heard all kinds of traditions about the apostles. I was told in the catacombs of San Sebastian that the bones of Peter and Paul were there in the third century. The Vatican claims that the altar in St Peter’s is directly above the resting place of the body of Peter. And I have often heard preachers or books claim that Thomas planted the church in India and that Peter was crucified upside down. What is real? What is ‘tradition’? And where do these ‘traditions’ come from?

Brian Litfin has done us a great service in writing this book. He examines what we know, and what is claimed, about the apostles after the Biblical account of them finishes. He then rates how reliable each aspect is for each apostle. It is a very interesting read and I learnt a great deal from this book. I found myself struggling to put this book down. Some surprising things do have significant historical bases to them, such as the places that Peter and Paul’s bodies ended up. Some have some basis, like Thomas being in India. Yet Litfin is careful not to encourage worship of people and constantly directs us to God instead in the midst of all this investigation. A balanced and careful book that is also a fascinating read.