I was blessed with lots of free time to read this fall, and I capitalized on this by attempting some more ambitious (and long) works.
A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-centered Worship – Michael Horton (2002). Not Horton’s best work due to tediousness/wordiness (could have been at least 20-30 pages shorter) and over-applied metaphors (namely the drama metaphor), but had its good moments. Very helpful were chapters on the redemptive-historical approach, Christian recovery of the Sabbath, the Lord’s Supper, and the non-neutrality of style in worship.
Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin (1559). I’m done! What a fantastic, clear, long explanation of the Christian faith, doctrine, church, and practice. Particularly potent sections I read this fall season include those on worship (intermingled with tedious condemnations of Rome), the sacraments, the marks of a true church, and church discipline.
Is Christianity Good for the World? – Christopher Hitchens & Doug Wilson (2008). A brief written debate between a leading intellectual atheist (Hitchens) and a Christian pastor and apologist (Wilson). Wilson’s blunt Vantilian responses to Hitchens’ vague moral assertions and rhetorical smoke and mirrors wins the day. An written form of the recently-released DVD Collision.
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy (1961). The second Percy novel I’ve read this year. Not as light-hearted as Love in the Ruins, but more realistic, more emotional, and more difficult. The protagonist lives out an ambiguous existential crisis: his “search.” He struggles between a life of significance (doing medical research) and the simple life (a simple financial broker but cognizant of the deep realities of life and living with them). This book is so much more than a mere existential search, though, and I resonated with much in Percy’s work. I look forward to reading more of him.
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time – Keith Ferrazzi (2005). Borrowed from a friend at church. A helpful book on relationship building and networking. The author borders on narcissism but does offer good nuggets of advice. For example, I was helped by the admonition to build my network by not only looking for what I can get out of such connections, but by always offering something first. Came at a good time as I start to build my network for my future career.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (1937). A tragic classic work about two companions’ adventures as migrant workers during the Great Depression. I wish I could read and understand great works of literature like this more deeply; I’d love to see themes, symbols, application, and cultural commentary more clearly in similar ways English teachers do.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment – Jeremiah Burroughs (1630ish). A powerful, convicting book. Drives home the point again and again that a lack of contentment is tied to many sins, that contentment is necessary because of our unworthiness of any of the good we have received, and that contentment is not a fulfillment of our desires but a lessening of them. Burroughs has a tendency to allegorize the Bible too much, however. If you buy this book, please do not buy the Sovereign Grace Publishers edition, as it detracts from the reader’s enjoyment and concentration. They squeeze a 250-page book into 99 pages, and everything is in miniscule bold-faced font. Go with the Banner of Truth Puritan Paperbacks edition.
Redemption Accomplished and Applied – John Murray (1955). Seminal work on the atonement, God’s redemption, and Reformed soteriology. I’ve already read parts of it twice, and will revisit it often. Powerful, dense, challenging, edifying, fantastic book. A definite finalist for the 2009 Book MVP.
Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – N.T. Wright (2008). A book like this deserves a larger review, but oh well. A hearty “amen” to Wright’s premise: “This is not at all a matter of putting a check beside some dogmas and not others, with the resurrection simply being a rather more difficult box to check off than some others. It is a matter of a belief that is a symptom of an entire worldview, an accurate index to a way of looking at everything else.” Wright solidly defends Christ’s resurrection, explains its significance, and provides the evidence and hope for the future resurrection of the dead. His critiques of common misconceptions about heaven (as the final place our souls go when we die), salvation (as a relationship with God and a ticket to heaven), and the church’s purpose (church growth) are also good. But I’m not sold on all his conclusions. While affirming good news of the forgiveness of sins, he downplays the gospel of Christ in favor of politically charged activism (he continually harps on debt remission and ecological responsibility, for example). I’m not against working for justice, healing, and enrichment, but apart from the true gospel, these are hollow. Wright is a brilliant writer, but he often falls into the rhetorical trap of caricaturing incorrect views while announcing himself as the triumphant savior with the absolutely correct perspective. There were several other issues I have as well, including hints of his New Perspective and his Lewis-like view on a dehumanizing hell. Many helpful thoughts throughout, though it’s easy to get caught up in his brilliant writing and forceful assertions.
Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity – Mark A. Noll (2001). Examines twelve momentous events in Christianity’s history. Well written and painstakingly researched, if only a bit dry. Good to learn more about important events that have shaped the church through the ages and continue to shape the church’s worship and work today.
Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion – Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (2009). Starts off as an answer to many of the critics of the institutional church (George Barna, So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore, “be the church not just go to church,” etc.). If such criticisms aren’t relevant to your life, friends, or networks, it might not be an interesting read. But the last few chapters on the theology of the church (DeYoung) and why we should love the church (Kluck) were excellent. They were biblical, clear, witty, and convicting in looking at my love of and criticisms of the church. Not as influential as Why We’re Not Emergent, but still solid.
I also read a couple installments in the Basics of the Reformed Faith series: What is Justification By Faith Alone? – J.V. Fesko and How Our Children Come to Faith – Stephen Smallman. Helpful booklet-size introductions to important aspects of Reformed Christianity.
Blogger’s note: clicking some book links helps me get free books.