I recently finished a couple books, The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self-Obsession by Mark Sayers and The Church: One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic by Richard D. Phillips, Philip G. Ryken and Mark E. Dever. While I found nothing new, conceptually, I encountered some helpful language and paradigms. (Isn’t this how so many good books are? It’s not that they necessarily blow your mind with new information, but they can offer tools to better articulate beliefs on a particular topic.)
Sayers argues that defining ourselves in relation to others is the sources of many frustrations. He goes far beyond the usual sermons I hear about God-shaped holes and filling your life with something besides Jesus. His suggestions of behaviors we should engage in probably borders on legalism for some, but he is clearly differentiates between justification and sanctification. (The latter does require our concerted action.) He also avoids the pitfall of urging Christians to just have radical faith. He clearly wants us to focus on what Jesus has done for us, not what we can do for God.
I have seen people lose control of their lives and lash out, and I have seen others on the opposite end of the spectrum be too loving (whatever that means) and overextend themselves. Scads of books kinda address boundaries and the sense of purpose Christians should have, but if we don’t focus and take comfort in our identity as a child of God, it leads to so many problems.
The Church: One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic is a great read for people like me who spent way too much time in evangelical churches that, in the best cases, ignore church history. In worst cases, they like to toss it all out the window, presuming to know what Jesus really meant and that they know how church should really be done.
A friend saw me reading it at a local coffeeshop and cautioned me because he thought I was getting a good Roman Catholic brainwashing. He clearly did not realize the authors were all reformed. I’m guessing it had also been a while since he read the Nicene Creed. Since these four marks of the Church are based on New Testament passages, the book is also bathed in scripture.
I found the book to be a helpful introduction to the history of the church. The authors had a refreshing, ecumenical approach, as the Church is already holy, the fullness of Christ. Sure, they were critical of denominations that miss the mark on some issues, but it is always with love, humility and a focus on Biblical teaching. I could imagine a more colloquial subtitle for the book could have been “The Church is Already Holy and Unified in Christ, So Act Like It!”
Next up, a biography of Wayne Shorter.