(Face)Book Challenge

There is a chain-letter-esque “book challenge” going around on Facebook, and since I haven’t posted in a long while, I thought I would register my protest of chain letters here. Ten books that have “stayed with you in some way,” complete with brief commentary.

  1. Book of Sorrows – Walter Wangerin, Jr. Incredibly emotional, potent, allegorical, moving; a work of art. The sequel to the almost equally powerful Book of the Dun Cow.
  2. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were thisclose to bumping Huxley out, but I went with Huxley since he was the most accurate, prophetically speaking (see: Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death).
  3. Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. You haven’t lived until you’ve read Russian fiction. Or something like that. Dostoevsky’s insights into human nature are beyond profound.
  4. Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis. Short parable on the afterlife; very influential for me.
  5. Heidelberg Catechism – Ursinus, et al. Beautiful, concise, and intimately personal, especially compared with the precise and verbose Westminster catechisms.
  6. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy. What does it say about me that my favorite author is a Southern Catholic existentialist? This was my first, and is still my favorite, Percy work.
  7. Reforming Marriage – Doug Wilson. Great insights on a biblical view on marriage. Concepts and ideas, if not specifics, have shaped and continue to inform our marriage.
  8. Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection – Robert Farrar Capon. I’d love to be able to think and write like Capon. His artistic writings on hospitality, food, and life are invaluable.
  9. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology – Neil Postman. Postman has had a profound influence on my life and thought, though probably not as much lately. Time to read more Postman!
  10. Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World – James Jordan. I don’t remember too many specifics about this one, but the biblical typologies were mind blowing and definitely changed the way I read scripture.

2014 Books: 1Q

Here are the books I read from January through March. My next quarterly reading list is available by clicking here.

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss (2006); Print // Fun, insightful look at the history and usage of punctuation. Less a user’s manual and more an interesting collection of reflections on colons, commas, dashes, semi-colons, periods, and all other punctuation marks. My only gripe was her lack of respect for the Oxford comma.

Empire of Bones – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print // Third installment of the Ashtown Burials series, and possibly the best of the three. Loads of fun, suspense, action, and bravery. Here’s to hoping there’s a fourth!

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902); Print // Read mainly because of our obsession with BBC’s Sherlock series, and it’s about time I read Doyle. Very enjoyable, witty, and smart. Wish I had read him sooner.

J.C. Ryle: That Man of GraniteEric Russell (2008); Print // Decent biography, if a bit long winded. Heavy on facts, light on analysis or engaging storytelling, unfortunately. Good to learn about Ryle’s life and ministry, but this was on the dry side.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis (1938); Print // A re-read for “book club;” Lewis’ Space Trilogy is still among my all time favorite series. Looking forward to reading the next two this year also. Interesting that Lewis thought this series was among his worst writings, though Tolkien liked them. I’m with Tolkien.

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship – Robbie Castleman (2013); Print // I was hoping for more, though my high expectations were perhaps a bit unfair. The principles and theory discussed were good, but I was really hoping for more practical insight. Where’s the easy fix for my kids when I need it?!

Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope – Keith Mathison (1999); Print // Very good, and now my go-to recommendation for a defense of postmillennialism. It is balanced, biblical, fair, thorough, and engaging. He helpfully devotes many pages to arguing for an early dating of the writing of Revelation, which further bolsters the preterist aspect of his arguments. I’m honestly not sure how a Christian could not be postmillennial after reading this, but that’s easy for me to say.

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (1958); Print // Glad I finally got around to reading this. Lewis explains that he wrote this collection of essays as an amateur writing to other amateurs. In that regard, it was very good. Chapters on praise and prophecy in the psalms were especially insightful. Some of Lewis’ slightly unorthodox leanings are evident, but not troublesome for me.

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 – Wendell Berry (1999); Print // Excellent collection of poetry by Berry. A collection that spans such a long period of time is fascinating, as it gives a glimpse into Berry’s ongoing maturity as a poet and thinker. He does not claim to be a professional poet, but merely an amateur writing these poems in conjunction with his weekly Sunday walks. Earthy, profound, understandable, and really, really enjoyable.

Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education – Doug Wilson (2013); Print // Short, almost pamphlet-sized work defending a Christian education for Christian kids. Goes to the foundational reasons for a Christian education rather than refuting the surface/practical arguments of the other side. In that regard, it was very helpful.

2013 Books

I finished 35 books in 2013, down from last year’s record of 53. But I much preferred the slower, whim-driven pace of 2013. Looking back on the list, I see I unintentionally read a higher percentage of fiction than usual, as well as several nonfiction works on beauty and aesthetics. Sadly, I read far fewer old books and biographies than in years past, which I hope to rectify in 2014. Each quarter, I publish brief book reviews from that quarter; you can find the 2013 lists here: one, two, three, four. After the list below you can find some brief statistical analysis.

  1. The Atonement – Loraine Boettner (1941); Kindle
  2. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics – Ross Douthat (2012); Print
  3. The Book of Sorrows – Walter Wangerin (1985); Print
  4. Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies – Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (2009); Print
  5. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (1961); Print
  6. Death By Living – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print
  7. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation – James K.A. Smith (2009); Print
  8. The Early Stories, 1953-1975 – John Updike (2004); Print
  9. Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything – Steve DeWitt (2012); Print
  10. Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It – Matthew Berry (2013); Print
  11. Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man – Doug Wilson (2004); Print
  12. Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World – Joel Salatin (2011); Print
  13. Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants – Doug Wilson (2001); Print
  14. Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper – Keith Mathison (2002); Print
  15. The Gospel According to John – D.A. Carson (1990); Print
  16. Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth – Doug Wilson (2008); Print
  17. Heaven on Earth – Thomas Brooks (1667); Kindle
  18. Home – Marilynne Robinson (2008); Print
  19. Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival – Kenneth Davids (2003); Print
  20. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture – Francis Schaeffer (1976); Print
  21. Humor and Information Literacy: Practical Techniques for Library Instruction – Joshua Vossler and Scott Shiedlower (2011); Kindle
  22. In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life – Sinclair Ferguson (2007); Kindle
  23. Lancelot – Walker Percy (1977); Print
  24. The Mind of the Maker – Dorothy Sayers (1941); Print
  25. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (2012); Print
  26. A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home – Jason Helopoulos (2013); Print
  27. Poetry as a Means of Grace – Charles Osgood (1940)Print
  28. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World – Paul Miller (2009); Kindle
  29. The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms – Gordon Wenham (2013); Print
  30. Right Ho, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse (1922); Kindle
  31. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us – Michael Moss (2013); Print
  32. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (2012); Kindle
  33. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry – Wendell Berry (1999); Print
  34. What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission – Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert (2011); Audio
  35. Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation – Joel Beeke & William Boekestein (2013); Print

Books by year:

0-1899: 1
1900-1999: 10
2000-2012: 18
2013: 6

Books by genre:
Modern theology: 12
Nonfiction: 8
Fiction: 7
Marriage & family: 3
Classic theology: 2
Biography: 1
Commentary: 1
Poetry: 1

Books by format:
Audio: 1
Kindle: 7
Print: 27

Only author I read more than once:
Doug Wilson: 3

3Q13 Book Briefs

Here are the books I read from July through September, 2013. My next list of reading goals is live here. I am also trying to finish Carson’s commentary on John and The Valley of Vision this year. As you can see, the novelty of reading on a Kindle has greatly diminished, as I read just one electronic book this quarter.

Death By Living – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print // His followup to one of my top books of 2009, which was a hard one to follow. This isn’t a sophomore slump by any stretch, but it wasn’t as unified or eye-opening as Notes from the Tilt-a-WhirlNotes… presented a way of viewing life and creation while Death By Living presents a way of living one’s life in light of our impending death. It is creative and interesting, though I think its intimately autobiographical nature made it less personal to the reader than Notes.

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything – Steve DeWitt (2012); Print // My expectations were sky-high because the reviews I read were off the charts, so it was inevitable to experience a letdown. But it was still a solid book. He starts with the incomprehensible beauty of the Triune God himself, and then to how God’s beauty is manifested in creation and the gospel. Most helpful were discussions on how God is always bigger than our view of him, and that Christian vs. secular art/culture is a dichotomy to be avoided.

Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man – Doug Wilson (2004); Print // Strong book on being a faithful husband. Wilson has no patience or tolerance for waffling, spineless husbands. Pastoral and direct.

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World – Joel Salatin (2011); Print // I’ve enjoyed Salatin’s interviews in food documentaries and his cameos in Michael Pollan’s books, but a full book by Salatin is an acquired taste that I have not acquired. Skimmed through most of it, but didn’t actually finish. I agree with many of his ideas, but his voice is very self-oriented, defensive to a fault, and pushing the boundaries of arrogant.

Home – Marilynne Robinson (2008); Print // One of the most beautiful, moving books I’ve ever read; a front runner for my book of the year. A reinterpretation of the prodigal son parable, this is heart-wrenching, grace-filled, and sublime. Home is the sequel to her Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead, though I think Home is the better of the two.

How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture – Francis Schaeffer (1976); Print // I was expecting something a little more in-depth, so I was a little disappointed. It is a good Christian introduction to Western art, culture, and philosophy, though there are probably more current introductory books on the topic that are just as helpful.

Humor and Information Literacy: Practical Techniques for Library Instruction – Joshua Vossler and Scott Shiedlower (2011); Kindle // Read in preparation for taking on more library instruction sessions this semester. Helpful, though most of the book was comprised of literature reviews, which were dry and long.

Lancelot – Walker Percy (1977); Print // Written entirely via the monologue/flashback of a ranting institutionalized protagonist on a quest to prove the existence of God by proving the existence of one purely evil act. Contains standard Percy themes like existential awakening, lusty Southern women, and earthy Catholicism, but much darker and more disturbing than his other novels. Good, but I do hesitate to recommend it wholesale.

A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home – Jason Helopoulos (2013); Print // Short, pithy, and a good kick in the pants to (like Nike) just do it. He argues that family worship should, at minimum, include three elements: Scripture reading, prayer, and singing. Many treatments on family worship either forget or downplay singing, so that was refreshing. No excuses for tone-deafness!

The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms – Gordon Wenham (2013); Print // I really enjoyed this one and learned lots. Very insightful treatment of the psalter as a whole, as well as their individual genres. Repetitive at points because it is a collection of lectures, so it could have used a more thorough editor. But still very good.

Open Fifths and Glory

“The fact that the church has largely abandoned the singing of psalms means that the church has abandoned a songbook that is thoroughly masculine in its lyrics. The writer of most of the psalms was a warrior, and he knew how to fight the Lord’s enemies in song. With regard to the music of our psalms and hymns, we must return to a world of vigorous singing, vibrant anthems, more songs where the tenor carries the melody, open fifths, and glory. Our problem is not that such songs do not exist; our problem is that we have forgotten them. And in forgetting them, we are forgetting our boys. Men need to model such singing for their sons.”

-Doug Wilson in Future Men (Canon Press, 2001), p.100

No Exemptions for Teenage Boys

“As they grow up, young men are to be prepared for the spiritual warfare that awaits them. They have to learn their responsibilities as part of the kingdom. ‘Both young men and maidens; old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above the earth and heaven’ (Ps. 148:12-13). 

“The first thing to note is that the kingdom of God is not divided. The members of various subgroups are certainly distinguished from each other, and they are treated differently with regard to their social relations. But the basic responsibility of all – men and women, young men and young women, boys and girls, remains the same – to worship the Lord. Our tendency is to say things like, ‘Oh, well at his age you can’t really expect this.’ But this is radically unbiblical. Everything that breathes has an obligation to praise the Lord; no exemptions have been granted for teenage boys. The Bible knows nothing of a normal alienation between generations. 

“The blessings which flow from such faithful worship are not limited to those who are older. ‘The Lord their God will save them in that day, as the flock of his people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, lifted like a banner over his land – for how great is its goodness and how great its beauty! Grain shall make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women’ (Zech. 9:16-17). When God is blessing a people, all are included in his bounty.”

-Doug Wilson in Future Men (Canon Press, 2001), p. 43

Heaven is Not My Home, I’m Just a-Passin’ Through

Moving away from controversial issues, let’s move to something a little more safe: eschatology. The end times. Doug Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced is all about eschatology, and is not a systematic defense of one view or a long-winded discussion about Bible prophecies. Instead, it’s a short, lyrical theology of God’s radical, large, and sometimes unbelievable promises regarding the efficacy and triumph of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s something we can (or should) all get behind. The Bible is very clear that it is not “all gonna burn, man.”

Up front, Wilson asks for a suspension of disbelief, an understood agreement between author and reader in works of fiction (especially fantasy). After all, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). When Tolkien was asked if he thought Middle Earth was real, he replied “one hopes.” That’s the perspective Wilson is writing from – an historical, optimistic theology of the trajectory of the gospel in the world. “One hopes.”

Though Wilson is a postmillennialist, the book isn’t a full-blown defense of postmillennialism, but more a scriptural view of heaven, earth, the gospel, and eternity. He doesn’t mention any of the three major eschatological camps until the glossary in Appendix A. Below is a lengthy excerpt from the book, where Wilson talks about heaven and earth. He is worth quoting at length because he says it better than I can.

What he writes here makes sense especially when compared to Jesus’ words about preparing a place for us with the Father in John 14. The word for “rooms” He uses refers to more temporary lodging than permanent lodging: nicer than any resort we’ve ever imagined, as Wilson says elsewhere. This excerpt also makes sense in light of Jesus’ “rapture” passages, where it is actually the wicked who are carried away to judgment, like in Noah’s day. Christ’s people will be the ones “left behind” in the glorious new heavens and new earth. It also jives with Paul’s description of Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4, with believers meeting Him in the air to escort the victorious King back to earth. It also makes sense in light of the myriad glorious Old Testament prophecies about a renewed earth that seem too good to be true. The excerpt is in a discussion of Philippians 3:20-21, and follows the verses (any emphasis is his):

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

“As N.T. Wright notes, Caesar Augustus established the Roman colony of Philippi after the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. and the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. He did this by settling his veterans there, many of whom were Roman citizens. This is the backdrop for Paul’s comment to the church that was located at this same Philippi. The Roman citizens of Philippi were there as Roman colonists, intended to extend the range and force of Roman influence throughout the Mediterranean world. They were not there in order for them to leave Philippi in order to come back to Rome for retirement.

“In this passage, St. Paul is using this striking metaphor for a reason. He says that our citizenship is in heaven. We look toward heaven because that is where Jesus went, which means that heaven is the place he is going to come from when He returns to earth. The metaphor translated, this means that Jesus was going to come from ‘Rome’ to ‘Philippi.’ He was not going to take ‘Philippi’ to ‘Rome’…

“If we take this simple metaphor of Paul’s at face value, it clears up a great deal for us. Christians now are living in the colonies of heaven. Now colonies are not established as feeder towns for the mother country – just the opposite actually. The mother country feeds the colonies.

“How you take the line of the story matters a great deal. Many Christians believe the cosmos has an upper and lower story, with earth as the lower story and heaven as the upper story. You live the first chapters of your life here. Then you die, and you move upstairs to live with the nice people – because only nice people are allowed on the second story. There might be some kind of sequel after that, but it is all kind of hazy. Maybe we all go live in the attic. But the basic movement in this thinking is from a Philippi ‘below’ to a Rome ‘above.’

“But what Paul teaches us here is quite different. We are establishing the colonies of heaven here, now. When we die, we get the privilege of visiting the heavenly motherland, which is quite different than moving there permanently. After this brief visit, the Lord will bring us all back here for the final and great transformation of the colonists (and the colonies). In short, our time in heaven is the intermediate state. It is not the case that our time here is the intermediate state. There is an old folk song that says, ‘This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.’ This captures the mistake almost perfectly. But as the saints gather in heaven – which is the real intermediate state – the growing question is, ‘When do we get to go back home?’ And so this means that heaven  is the place that we are just ‘passing through.’

-Doug Wilson in Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth (Canon Press, 2008), pages 23-24