Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

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

How to preach when your wife has cancer (or some other “distraction”): Part Two

See Part One here.

1. Review your history

As a minister of the gospel you will inevitably encounter “distractions.” The word distraction for our purposes is a fluid term. Right now, I am easily distracted by the fact that my wife has cancer. I can be knee-deep in a riveting exercise of exegetical study only to have this fact surface in my thoughts and derail the project for a spell. This reality drops in for a visit at the most unexpected times and rarely does it knock.

I realize that not everyone is dealt the same measure of distractions but they are sure to come in one shape or another.  These things, as they say, go with the territory. Our territory as ministers of the gospel is the local church. I think we can rightly infer from Matthew 16:18 that the church will persevere by the grace of God but it will also endure Hell in the process. Brother, you will endure difficulty in the ministry. Those who fail to see this are like those who believe the Army recruiter really wants them to see the world and meet interesting people. However, in fine print at the bottom of the pamphlet is something about bullets being fired at your head.

A great encouragement in persevering through pain is that you stand near the end of a long line of faithful saints. How you endure ministerial suffering today can be a reflection on your understanding of the past. It is incumbent upon us to keep our fingers on the pulse of those who endured before us. The writer of Hebrews says that we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken from its foundation (Heb 12:28) and because of this the Lord is our helper and there’s no reason to be afraid (Heb 13:6; Psa 118:6). Exhibit A of this truth is that you can “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).

In the study of our history there is a lot to learn, much to righteously repeat, and plenty to caution our present steps. C. S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, likened ignorance of history to joining a conversation after the fact. He said, “If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”[1] Lewis furthered this idea by calling us to read old books stating, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”[2]

So on the one hand I can struggle with Lewis in the anguish of his deceased wife (in A Grief Observed) and then keep reading backwards and find many others paddling the same boat. Lloyd-Jones and Nazi bombs, Spurgeon and his invalid wife Susannah, Brainerd and the pain of tuberculosis, Baxter grieving over the death of his bride Margaret, Luther watching his daughter Magdalene die in his arms, Calvin losing both children and his wife Idelette, and many other testimonies along the way. Real ministers have experienced real suffering (i.e., “distractions”) throughout our tangled history and there’s no forecast that promises otherwise. Read and drink deeply from these ministers who walked before you. Chances are you will find great help, counsel, and encouragement along the way.

One thing stands out to me in all this. The old saying says, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A great illustration of this comes in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. There, the Apostle rehearses the sordid web that is Israel’s faith and failure.  Paul says, in effect, don’t think for a minute that you’re any smarter than they were (1 Cor 10:12). However, there’s a positive here as well. In verse 13 he reminds us that we’re not alone in the struggle and our temptations are the same ones that litter the roads of history. Something else should be noticed in verse 13, the faithful covenant-keeping God continues to make His name great through your endurance. Brother, as you endure disruptive elders, wayward children, sinful congregants, or physical suffering, God is making His name great through perfecting you in weakness. Keep your fingers on the pulse of history and this will always be fresh in your mind.


[1] From the introduction to St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 4.

[2] Ibid.

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