The subtitle of Mark Jones’ latest book, Living for God, calls it “A Short Introduction to the Christian Faith.” I believe that there is a great need for a book such as this. There is no shortage of lengthy systematic theology volumes available, but finding one that is both concise and substantial is not so easy.
As a pastor, I am occasionally asked which books I would recommend to someone who is either new to the Christian faith or who is just beginning to read and study theology for the first time. I usually end up recommending a number of different books, such as Basic Christianity, by John Stott, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer, the Westminster Standards, among others. Frankly, I have not found a lot of books that cover all of the basics without either being far too simplistic on the one hand, or way too long and academic on the other. Not everyone is ready to sit down with a 500-or-so-page systematic theology text.
Let me just say that this little book (only 227 pages in length) just vaulted to the top of my list. It covers the essential truths of the Christian faith in a way that is both thorough and accessible.
It is divided up into 5 parts, which focus on what he calls the “five foundational pillars” of basic Christianity (p.16). They are the doctrine of the Trinity (part 1), the doctrine of Christ (part 2), the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (part 3), the doctrine of the church (part 4), and the doctrine of the last things (part 5). In this way the book simply follows the outline or flow of thought of the Apostles’ Creed.
That being said, Jones thoughtfully demonstrates how each of these foundational Christian doctrines is to be applied to the Christian life. This is not just doctrine left in the abstract, but doctrine which is both well-explained and well-applied. In the Introduction, Jones explains:
“Our approach to the Christian life must be grounded in the conviction that sound doctrine and godly living go hand in hand, with the former providing the foundation for the latter.” (p.11-12)
He then goes on to cite the Puritan writer William Ames, who wrote, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” This sets the stage for everything that follows in the rest of the book. The Christian faith (what we believe) and the Christian life (how we are to live in light of what we believe) must always go together. They can be distinguished, but never separated.
And so, for example, the section of the book dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity is entitled, “The Trinity-Oriented Life,” and includes not only a chapter which briefly explains the Trinity, but also a chapter on “Communion with the Triune God.” Likewise the section on the person & work of Christ is entitled, “The Christ-Focused Life.” The other three sections of the book are similarly titled and outlined. This is doctrine for life.
One of my favorite things about Jones’ books (not just this one) is that he has a knack for presenting complex theological doctrines in a simple (not simplistic) and accessible way. Not only that, but he consistently draws from theological sources that span nearly all of church history, including everything from the Apostles’ Creed to the Westminster Standards; from Cyprian and Augustine to John Calvin; numerous Puritan writers, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, and many others. And yet the book remains both accessible and readable.
This is easily my new favorite concise & readable theology text. The next time someone asks me which book I would recommend to someone who is either new to the Christian faith or who is beginning to read and study theology for the first time, this is the book that I will point them to – Living for God.
Whether you are relatively new to the Christian faith, or if you just want to grow in your understanding of the Christian faith and life, I would enthusiastically commend this book to you. I sincerely hope it enjoys a wide and enduring readership for decades to come.
You can order a copy for yourself here: Living for God