Archive for December, 2010

Speaking of Reading . . .

Here are a couple of thoughts on reading from David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading:Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

. . . books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

This is where real reading comes in — because it demands that space, because by drawing us back from the present, it restores time to us in a fundamental way. There is the present-tense experience of reading, but also the chronology of the narrative, as well as of the characters and author, all of whom bear their own relationships to time. There is the fixity of the text, which doesn’t change whether written yesterday or a thousand years ago.


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Books in the rearview mirror

I read somewhere that 40,000 books are published in the English language every year. Again, that’s just one year and that number makes me sweat even if it is wrong by half. One can only hope to read a small fraction of that in a lifetime.

No matter what you read, be sure to follow the advice of P. J. O’Rourke who said, “read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” So when you get ready to take a dirt nap be sure to snuggle up with your copy of War and Peace or Ulysses. Your friends will wax on about your great depth of learning at your memorial. If that’s not your style then there are a few other books you may want to checkout in the meantime.

The following list is my “read and conquered” list from 2010. There are others but they did not make the list because they are either not worth mentioning or I simply don’t want you to know that I read them. Besides, my interests may not be your interests. There are no categories or rankings here, a few are rereads for me, and only some of them were published in 2010. It’s just a plain old list. Enjoy!

  • 5 Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson. Wilson is a superb writer which means you have to read very carefully when he gets it wrong or you’ll start thinking that everything the prophets said came to fulfillment in AD 70. This is a good book which serves as a cultural summary of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York.
  • Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce. This is what a layman’s guide to biblical Greek looks like. Excellent resource for church leaders and the congregant that wants to go a step further in their NT studies. Excellent chapters on translations and word studies.
  • Off the Record with Martin Luther trans by Charles Daudert. As Melanchthon would often say, “This book is the bomb!” I have often quoted many times here at ET from this updated translation of Luther’s Table Talks. It’s insightful into the man and provocative for all the right and sometimes wrong reasons.
  • The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders. This guy can write. It’s a book on the Trinity but it’s also about a lot more. I’m not sure I would say this is a first-stop on the study of the Trinity but it’s definitely one of the first stops one should make once on the road.
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Marshall and Payne. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not a book about wine making. I feel cool and relevant just saying that this is a good book. I plan to start a chapter by chapter interaction with it sometime next week here at ET.
  • What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. Even though it lacks the requisite blurb by J. I. Packer, this is still a good and simple introduction to the subject. I wasn’t thrilled with the chapter on the kingdom but why should the author care what I think at this point, he wrote an excellent book.
  • The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever. It’s near impossible to read any new Christian book that is not endorsed by Dever. I wanted to skip the endorsements and go right to the man himself. This is a good book that came in handy in my church class on evangelism.
  • Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles. Since I taught a class on evangelism this year, I read my share of books on the subject. Next to the modern classic Tell the Truth by Metzger, this is the best of the lot.
  • The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser. If you’re tired of the magical hermeneutics of those who can make Jesus appear in any mention of blood or wood in the OT then Kaiser will be refreshing to you. Anyone who can pull this off in less than 300 pages is worth reading. This is the best introduction to a difficult subject.
  • The Messiah: Revealed, Rejected, Received by William Varner. This is what Kaiser looks like if you take him to a party and he has a good time. Varner is a fun read and extremely helpful on the subject. This is a book I would put in the hands of any congregant who wants to see the Messiah through the lens of progressive revelation. I loved this book.
  • A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis.  A hard read, not in the James Joyce sense but in the punch you in the gut kind of way. I read this right after my wife was diagnosed with cancer in March which in hindsight was probably not a good idea.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death (20th Anniv ed) by Neil Postman. Put down your smart phone for a day and read this. For a little more on this book see my synopsis here.
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Probably the best introduction into the fictional world of Port William. I literally LOL in chapter ten. That is officially the only time I have used the acronym “lol” in writing this year.
  • The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry. You move from trendy to really cool if you have read more than one Berry novel. This puts me way up there. This was not my favorite and was a bit of a downer compared to his other novels.
  • In Cold Blood by Trueman Capote. Someone once said, “don’t judge a book by its movie.” This book details murder and its consequences from one of the great writers of the 20th Century. This is why the Calvinist understanding of the nature of man is the right one.
  • The Correspondence of Shelby Foot & Walker Percy ed by Jay Tolson. Southern writers owned the 20th Century. Percy, Foote, Faulkner, O’Conner, Capote, and Welty are just a few reasons why. They are like the Celtics or the Yankees in their days of dominance. This is a behind-the-veil look as to why.
  • Beowulf trans. by Seamus Heaney. You don’t describe a book (poem) like this, you just commit yourself to read it and then see why it has stood up solid for 1,000 years. Hrothgar’s discourse on the dangers of power (lines 1724ff) should be studied by every person who has subjects or is a subject (I think that covers the bases).
  • Old School by Tobias Wolff. Someone described this book as “redemptive self-awareness.” I just thought it was a good story. It’s an excellent novel and what the movie Dead Poets Society should have been if it wasn’t so “self-aware.”
  • Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N. D. Wilson. This is what presuppositional apologetics looks like when it has too much sugar. A fun book to read but will not be everyone’s cup of Sam Adams.
  • Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. An interesting and sad true story about a young man who lost himself. my favorite Krakauer book.
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Fascinating story of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest. A good reminder of why I have wisely avoided mountaineering all these years.
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok. A great story and excellent help at seeing the inside of modern American Judaism.
  • Exemplary Spiritual Leadership by Jerry Wragg. Jerry nails it! This is a penetrating look at what a shepherd is and does by one who practices shepherding every day.
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009 by Gregory A. Wills. I know what you’re thinking, with such an exciting title you’re probably wondering how you missed this doorstop of a book. As a recovering Southern Baptist I read this with great interest. Two things stand out to me. 1) Seminaries run down hill faster than you can say Crawford H. Toy and 2) I get the impression that Wills is not telling us everything about the current administration since it’s his employer and all. That biography awaits a future date.
  • The Road to Serfdom by F. A Hayek. This is the Calvin’s Institutes of economic theory. If you want to know why the engine won’t crank then this is the Chilton manual on the economy and many other things.
  • Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley. CB published this memoir soon after his father, William F. Buckley, died in his home study in 2008. If you’re a WFB fan then this should be considered canonical commentary. CB is an atheist and it is interesting/sad to see how this plays into his perspective of losing both parents within a twelve-month time frame. NB: I will always remember this book because I finished it in the waiting room and two minutes later the doctor told me my wife had cancer.
  • Right Time, Right Place by Richard Brookhiser. From a man who was like a son to William F. Buckley. This is a front-row seat to the last half of Buckley’s life.
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. In short, Carr explains why we as a culture are stupid. We have trained ourselves to not concentrate. If you want proof, ask yourself how many times you checked Facebook, Twitter, or your email in-box before you finished reading this post on my 2010 reading.

If you like this kind of post then here are some other guys doing it better.

Christmas without the clutter

“Boxing Day is only two and a half weeks ahead; then perhaps we shall have a little quiet in which to remember the birth of Christ.”

~C. S. Lewis from the essay Delinquents in the Snow

Broken clocks and such

“We unbelievers are entitled to regard the Bible as magnificent literature. More is demanded from the faithful. Yet these days, even some soi-disant Christians would claim that the miraculous elements of the New Testament are only metaphors. To me, that is agnostic slop. Faith is more than literature. Faith is an epiphany of abasement, ardour and rigour, in the hope of grace, redemption and joy. But there is an entrance fee. If you do not believe in the literal truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, you are not a Christian.”

~Atheist, Bruce Anderson

HT: Trueman

The Trellis and the Vine

What makes a great preacher?

Preacher types, like us, predictably toss around the phrase “he’s a great preacher” like hippies throwing a frisbee on the quad. It just sort of goes with the territory. The frequency of such statements seems to increase when Bible conferences are in session. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase but it seems to mask the emphasis of Scripture.

Depending on how you understand the Greek construction at the end of Ephesians 4:11, Paul seems to be calling us “pastor-teachers.” It might even be worth meditating on the order of that. Also joining the chorus is Peter who says elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5:2). In sum I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that the dirty work of the sermon is forged not only in the study but in giving your life to the sheep. If we carry-out Peter’s flock analogy, do we honestly think the sheep are comforted and corrected merely by our words? The presence and detailed care of a shepherd(s) is what bolsters the weight of the various admonitions.

Think of the last time you tossed out the “great preacher” phrase. Is your favorite preacher a great pastor to his sheep? Do you even know how he treats his congregation? Do you know if his fellow leaders respect his work amongst the sheep? I realize that if you stare long enough at a Rembrandt you will discern flaws in the work no matter how excellent the piece appears. The more I have reflected on this in my own life and ministry, it seems that the men who are exemplary in shepherding and preaching are rarely on tour. They’re not out building ministries their doing ministry.Your more likely to find them sweating it out every week in their own pulpits and with their own congregations. We need to avoid a critical spirit when we think about this but wouldn’t it be great if all the “great preachers” of our generation were even greater pastors?

Jesus’ Sacrifice

I can not wait for the weekend knowing that come Sunday morning I will finally have the privilege of preaching through Colossians 2:13-14.

In preparing for this sermon I came across a wonderful quote by S. Lewis Johnson.  Dr. S Lewis Johnson wrote, “Paul cannot help but emphasize over and over again that Christianity is not concerned with a sacrifice we make, but with a sacrifice which we trust.”

Colossians 2:13-14, And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

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