Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

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

The Trellis and the Vine

Augustine and the purpose of preaching

Having established that the purpose of preaching is to strengthen the bond of love between God and his people as well as the bond of love between Christians, Augustine moves on to speak of how the preacher is to go about the interpretation of Scripture, for the work of the preacher consists of two parts: first, to ascertain the meaning of Scripture, and second, to communicate that meaning once it it ascertained.

(Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church: Volume 2 The Patristic Age, 388)

It’s just gas

Doug Wilson tells a funny one:

One time G.K. Chesterton, the rolypologist, was patted on the stomach by his adversary, George Bernard Shaw, a beanpole of an infidel, and was asked what they were going to name the baby. Chesterton replied immediately that if it was a boy, John, if a girl, then Mary. But if it turned out to only be gas, they were going to name it George Bernard Shaw.

Egomaniac Theological Society

In his interesting little book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis has his narrator meet a respectable academic theologian who is on his way to present a paper at the local Theological Society.  In a somewhat humorous way, Lewis has the man just gushing, wanting to tell everyone what his research paper is about. By the way, it’s probably worth noting that this professor is on his way to Hell in Lewis’s story.

“But you’ve never asked me what my paper is about! I’m taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you’ll be interested in. I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste . . . so much promise cut short.”[1]


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Collier Books, 1946), 46.

Shake the tree

Luther said, “Divine Scripture is a very fertile tree, and there is no branch which I have not shaken with my own hands, and knocked down a few apples” (Table Talks, no. 5355).

Remembering Luther

We remember Luther best when we proclaim Christ and the gospel to our world of need. And we do so fully clothed in our humanity.

Stephen J. Nichols, The Reformation:How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 38.

Luther on sermon length

In September of 1532, Luther said in his Table Talks (2643a):

I hate a long sermon, because the desire on the part of the congregation to listen is destroyed by them, and the preachers hurt themselves.

A few months before in June he said (3137):

I cannot bring things together short and to the point like Philip and Amsdorf.

In the fall of 1533 he said (3422):

The sign of a good speaker is that he stops just when people are most interested in hearing him and feel that he has just begun. But when he is boring and people wait for the end of the speech, that is a bad sign. The same is true of preachers. When someone says: “I would have liked to listen longer,” that is good. When someone says, however, “He was prattling on and could no longer stop,” that is a bad sign.

In August of 1540 (5171a):

A preacher climbs up to the pulpit, opens his mouth, and then stops. That means a preacher must be called before he advances to the pulpit. He should preach carefully and be understood by all, and not burden his listeners with too much verbosity.

That same month it is reported (in 5171b) that Conrad Cordatus asked Luther: “Reverend Father, tell me in a brief way how to preach.” Luther replied:

First, you must learn to go up to the pulpit. Second, you must know that you should stay there for a time. Third, you must learn to get down again.

It is reported that this infuriated Cordatus.

We’ve got Spirit, yes we do!

Doug Wilson can turn a phrase better than most. His preaching style is probably not your style and his theology is probably not your theology in all points but here he provides a few thoughts on the role of the Holy Spirit and sermon preparation. Even if you don’t tuck in your shirt when you preach you can probably learn something here.

Money quote: “Prepare the man before you prepare the message. The first issue relates to character — confess sin, grow in grace, resist temptation, feed your soul something other than spiritual Doritos.”

The gist: The Spirit is with you as a minister of Christ. There is no reason that the Holy Spirit cannot bless you in the study as well as in the pulpit, if you are rightly seeking that blessing. You are His servant in both the preparation and the delivery. Why would He be with you in one place and not in the other?

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