Monday, 08 January 2018 09:40

Books to Read

Written by  Tim Challies
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Essentialism

by Greg McKeown

 

Life is complicated. Life is full of responsibilities and opportunities, planned duties and serendipitous possibilities. There is so much we could do, but so little we can do. Many of us battle our whole lives to focus on those few, significant items that we should do must do, and yet so few of us ever feel like we are even nearly succeeding.

 

Help is here in the form of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. While it is not a perfect book, and while it benefits tremendously from adding a good dose of Christian thinking, it is one of the most helpful I’ve read on that constant battle to focus my time and energy on the right things.

 

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.

 

Now that sounds good! That sounds like what we all want—a clear design to our lives that simplifies decision-making and amplifies each of the opportunities we pursue.

 

Yet the Christian reader will want to read it with some discernment. This is a book that benefits from an infusion of the biblical ethos. As the book reaches its end, McKeown expands Essentialism to all of life and here he stops quoting business gurus and begins quoting religious gurus; the last chapter is easily the weakest and one that can be skipped without any great loss.

 

Reading the book through a Christian lens improves it significantly. McKeown writes about people who always say “yes” and are afraid to say “no.” That sounds like a classic diagnosis of fear of man, a person so motivated by the praise of man that he takes on too much and says no to too little so he can win the praise of other people.

 

Not only that, but God has a way of diverting us from what we believe are our most important tasks. He diverts us to tasks he determines are even more important, and a too-rigid adherence to Essentialism may keep a Christian from allowing and embracing those divine interruptions. Read the gospels and the book of Acts and you will see how Jesus and the Apostles were extremely focused, but also very willing to depart from their plans. Implementing Essentialism too rigidly may just lead to a self-centered life rather than a life of service to others.

 

I heartily recommend the book, provided you read with Essentialism in one hand, and the Bible in the other.

 

 

PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammu Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire

by John Wigger

 

In 1974, Jim and Tammy Bakker founded a little television program they called The PTL Club. It began inauspiciously in a former furniture store, but by the mid-80s had exploded into a bona fide phenomenon and a ministry that reached around the globe. They traveled the world, dined with presidents, and gathered countless millions of followers. They became rich and powerful, owners of a massive 2,300-acre ministry center and theme park. They also became almost unbelievably corrupt. By 1987 it all collapsed beneath the inevitable financial and sexual scandals. It was a ministry implosion that electrified the nation and made Evangelicals a laughing stock.

 

The story of the Bakkers and their ministry is told skillfully in John Wigger’s new book. There are, I think, several compelling reasons to read this book.

 

First, from a purely historical perspective it is endlessly interesting. We see an empire rise and collapse; we see characters gain fame, then notoriety; we see all of the corruption, infighting, and ugliness that will inevitably attend such an horrific ministry.

 

Second, it is an apt warning to Christians that character matters so much more than results, that godliness is infinitely more important than gathering a crowd or gathering donations. The Bakkers were known for being known, known for being famous. Yet at any time, any of their viewers could have clearly seen that they were woefully unqualified to be in a position of Christian leadership.

 

Third, it shows the utter odiousness of the prosperity gospel. And perhaps this was one of my most unexpected takeaways.

 

At the end of it all, you come to know the Bakkers and, more than ever, to hate what they represent. You learn of the people who assisted them in their corruption and who helped them defraud the masses. You come to hate that so many of them and their successors remain on television today, still enriching themselves at the expense of others.

 

PTL is published by the very respectable Oxford University Press, so never threatens to devolve into a tabloid. Even when it deals with scandalous material, it does so in a way that conveys information without being crass or voyeuristic. It’s an interesting, helpful, much-needed account of one of Evangelicalism’s ugliest hours.

 

 

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