Tag Archives: Books

7 (More) Happy Books

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Once again, this list doesn’t include much fiction, but I did throw in a collection of poetry and some devotionals to make up for it! If you’re looking for something outside the realm of nonfiction, I made a few recommendations on the previous installment. For now, bask in these seven happy books!

1.  Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff — OK, maybe the novelty has worn off, but this book is still pretty fun. Plus, it has pictures! Get a flavor of its content at my deserted YouTube channel, Man vs. Book. (You can make fun of the way I look without my mustache!)

2.  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis — DELIGHTFUL! Maybe you think a book about demons couldn’t possibly be happy? Wronggggg! Not only is it clever, it’s also incredibly relevant — a great way to prepare yourself for spiritual warfare before it happens.

3.  Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung — The book with a never-ending subtitle. (Google it.) The premise is so FREEING. It’s based on a famous quote by Saint Augustine: “Love God and do what you want.” Motivation for anyone at a spiritual standstill.

4.  Pleasures Evermore by Sam Storms — This guy is John Piper’s theological doppelgänger when it comes to defending “Christian hedonism.” Worshipping God means ENJOYING him, and Storms shows us how to do that. You might also want to check out his uplifting book, One Thing (endorsed by Piper, of course).

5.  The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer — I read this after studying a similar book, The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink. (Who knew there were so many A.W.’s in the world? Not to mention the root beer!) Short, accessible chapters that explore various traits of God — his love, holiness, wisdom, sovereignty, immutability, etc. This book inspires worship!

6.  Same-Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw — I can’t help but include this book, which I recently reviewed here. My heart was bursting with joy and hope just thinking about how single people (and the whole Church) will benefit from it. Shaw reminds me that celibacy is, indeed, the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

7.  The Ordering of Love by Madeleine L’Engle — Thanks to Madeleine, I’m always thinking in iambic pentameter. This collection of poems — sonnets included — was partly responsible for my decision to major in creative writing. I can’t say I’m in love with L’Engle’s wonky theology (God rest her soul), but I’ll always love her writing. Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading A Wrinkle in Time

BONUS BOOKS! When it comes to daily devotionals, you’ve gotta check out these gems:

•   Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon
•   New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp
•   The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller

Review: Same-Sex Attraction And The Church

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One clue that I was gonna love Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church Both Wesley Hill and Rosaria Butterfield, two leading (but very different) voices on the topic, endorsed the book. Their praise is printed alongside blurbs from Russell Moore, Justin Taylor, and Michael Horton — familiar names among evangelicals. I’m also told this was given to 10,000 people who attended this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. So I wanted to see what the buzz was about.

Dude, Ed did not disappoint. [Insert a million heart emojis here.]

Shaw has written something beautifully honest, yet surprisingly optimistic. As someone who experiences same-sex attraction, Shaw balances the STRUGGLES of his sexuality with the OPPORTUNITIES it’s given him to serve the Church and become more like Jesus. But the book is more than a personal narrative; it’s a call for the Church to change how we view celibacy, to make it easier for same-sex attracted Christians who want to remain faithful to God’s design for marriage and sexuality.

To do this, Shaw takes us through nine “missteps” the Church has taken that make it HARDER for people to remain open to celibacy. I think it’s helpful to list all of them here:

•   Your identity is your sexuality
•   A family is Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children
•   If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
•   If it makes you happy, it must be right
•   Sex is where true intimacy is found
•   Men and women are equal and interchangeable
•   Godliness is heterosexuality
•   Celibacy is bad for you
•   Suffering is to be avoided

Shaw tackles each topic with biblical aplomb, showing us where we’ve adopted a worldly perspective and how to realign our beliefs with God’s Word. I found myself cheering for him as he urges the Church to redefine family the way Jesus does — not by blood but by adoption into God’s family. I smiled at the passages that see friendship (not just sex) as a means to true intimacy and fulfillment. I applauded his courage in challenging us to change how we measure holiness — to recognize that same-sex attracted Christians need not become heterosexual to experience real sanctification, and to understand that when God causes ALL THINGS to work together for good, that includes same-sex attraction. With every misconception Shaw obliterated, I became evermore joyful in my singleness. It’s crazy that a book can do that.

I felt especially convicted by the first and last chapters. With regard to the first misstep (see above), I realize how sexuality has become a bigger part of my identity than I’d like to think. That’s due in part to the culture’s influence on my worldview, but it also has something to do with writing so much about sexuality; I talk and think about it more than ever before. But ultimately I want to be known as a Christian, not a gay or celibate or [choose your adjective] Christian. With regard to the last misstep, Shaw reminded me that suffering plays an important role in becoming more like Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19) — something I can easily gloss over in my attempt to look at the bright side of life. Honestly, the struggle of same-sex attraction has lessened the more I’ve come to see singleness as the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage, but that doesn’t mean there’s no suffering in the Christian walk. I hope to never give that impression, because the Bible certainly doesn’t.

OK, personal stuff aside. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church is for all of us — to remind us WHY we believe marriage is reserved for a man and woman, and HOW we can serve those in our churches who, because of their sexuality, have chosen to remain celibate. Or, as Shaw says, “to rebuild the plausibility structure so that we can live in light of the Bible’s clear teaching.” He reminds us that the gospel is, indeed, GOOD NEWS! This book deserves more than a sales pitch, but seriously, BUY IT NOW! I walked away totally encouraged and convinced that, yes, the Church can make celibacy a good thing. I even read the appendices!

For more on Ed Shaw, check out his story at Living Out.

Review: Forbidden Friendships

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One of my dear friends is a divorced mom of two. When I was planning a trip to California last year, she invited me to stay with her family to save on hotel costs. I was super excited to spend time with them — catching up on life, staying up late, not being jolted awake by the evil knock of a housekeeper the next morning. Unfortunately, her pastor had other plans, because he worried what other people might think about a man staying with a woman. Despite having no doubts about our integrity, despite my being attracted to men, and despite the fact that I’d actually be staying with a FAMILY (not a woman), he asked me to stay at his house instead. Not because it really made sense, but because it met the rules and expectations Christians have invented to “protect” male-female friendships from sexual immorality, or in this case, the mere appearance of it.

In his book, Forbidden Friendships, Joshua D. Jones explores these issues, confronting the Church’s fear of opposite-sex friendships and showing us what the Bible actually says about them.

In the past century or so, Christians have been conditioned to avoid meaningful relationships with the opposite sex out of fear they could lead to lust, fornication, or adultery. Jones notes Freud’s influence in causing us to believe all male-female relationships are somehow sexual in nature. As a result, we’ve “tried to pursue sexual purity via gender segregation” and set outrageous extra-biblical boundaries between men and women. He notes one Christian college that prohibits physical contact between the sexes, and where men and women are required to use separate staircases! Jones says these boundaries have harmed rather than helped the Church in achieving sexual purity and obeying our call to love one another as the family of God.

What’s more, these rules are new to Church history. Jones says modern-day Christians are far more leery of opposite-sex friendships than our spiritual ancestors were. From missionaries to revolutionaries, history proves that mixed friendships flourished when rooted in mutual love for God. When it comes to the Bible, the Apostle Paul seems to have had many close female friends, mentioning Nympha by name in his letter to the Colossians. John’s second epistle, or letter, is written to a woman whom he loved dearly. Jesus himself kept company with women, often breaking social taboos regarding male-female relationships (ex. his encounter with the woman at the well). The Bible gives us freedom to pursue mixed friendships and be a witness to the world of how men and women can relate to each other as new creations in Christ.

Of course, we can’t be naive to the very real temptations and sins that can arise in relationships with both men and women. We are, after all, still sinners. Jones admits we need to guard our hearts, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture. But like everything else in this world, mixed friendships need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Rather than react in fear, we ought to obey in love — learning what it means to see friends as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve enjoyed a book because the margins are filled with hearts and smiley faces, and Forbidden Friendships has my graffiti all over it. This is a message churches need to hear — although, I must admit, the flow of his arguments felt a bit sloppy to me. But you know what I love about Jones? He has a bright view of singleness and celibacy. This, of course, endears him to me. He understands it’s possible to be happy without sex, but that we can’t thrive without intimate relationships with both men and women. He believes the disappearance of mixed friendships is a result of a bigger problem: the devaluation of friendship in general. And he knows this has ramifications for single and same-sex attracted Christians, where friendship within the family of God is essential to living and loving fully.

So, should I have been able to stay with my lady friend and her family? Honestly, I’m thankful for the pastor who welcomed me into his home; he and his wife were kind and hospitable and I enjoyed getting to know them. But I don’t think it accomplished what he was aiming for. One day I ended up alone with the pastor’s wife for the entire morning. (And, of course, that was OK!) I think Jones would encourage us to let love and wisdom dictate these decisions, and that one’s personal boundaries don’t necessarily apply to everyone else in every situation. The bottom line is this: if we’re serious about being the family of God, then we’re free to pursue male-female friendships that center on Christ. As Jones says, the cross bridges the divide between the sexes.

For more, check out the author’s interview with my friends at The Rugged Marriage.

Review: Spiritual Friendship

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Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)

As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.

Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.

The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.

Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.

This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.

7 Happy Books

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Besides Happiness, which I review here, I’ve got a handful of happy books for you! Anyone looking for lots of fiction will be disappointed. That stuff’s alright (and there are two on this list), but what REALLY makes me happy is Christian non-fiction. Here are just some of the books that make my happiness levels skyrocket.

1.  Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson — This collection of creative essays reads like a poem, strung together with the theme of wonder. Wilson has a knack for seeing eternity in the ordinary, and a gift for awakening the spiritual senses of his readers, causing us to marvel right alongside him.

2.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith — I read it before it was cool and before it was a movie. (You might also consider My Favorite Fangs, a tale of the Von Trapp family vampires!)

3.  A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger — This one’s a bit scholarly, but it helped change my end-times perspective. This was the beginning of a long, slow process of becoming an optimist (which I’m still working on). Meditating more on Christ’s current rule and reign certainly helps!

4.  Heaven by Randy Alcorn — My friends know I’m a little obsessed with the new earth. Our future home is always on my mind. Heaven matters in evangelism and everyday life, and here we have 500 glorious pages that stir my imagination and help me keep an eternal perspective.

5.  Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright — Another book about Heaven and how the resurrection changes everything!

6.  The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield — “A biography of the beer that changed the world.” I love how Arthur Guinness’ devotion to Christ influenced his entire life, family, and company. Cheers!

7.  The Reformers vs. The Prosperity Gospel by Sean O’Brien. Sean is a good friend of mine who makes me edit all his books. (And I make him pay me with food and hugs.) This is the story of what happens when a 3D printer mishap brings Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli to life just days before a televangelist comes to town. Lots of laughs for the “young, restless, reformed” crowd.

And for those who want 52 other book reviews (four of which are on this list), check out my abandoned YouTube channel, Man vs. Book.

Happy reading!