07 December 2018

Top 10 Books--2018

Every December, I put out a list of what I consider to be the best books I have read during the previous year. I generally read over 100 books each year, and not surprisingly, the quality varies. As an aside, I would comment that I no longer feel guilty for setting a book aside that isn’t stirring me at the moment. Often, I will come back later and it will settle on me more strongly. For example, yesterday I finished reading Robert Bly’s Iron John, a book I had previously attempted on 3 occasions. People often will ask me for recommendations on what to read and these top ten lists are often a good place to start. 

10) Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea (2018)

Believe Me was written by John Fea, an evangelical and historian who writes on his blog about the “intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life.” Believe Me deals with Trump-era conservativism including several important issues to consider, such as evangelical politics of fear and what President Trump means by “great again.”  Fea calls evangelicals to hope, humility, and history. Fea captures several reasons why I am in the 19 percent.

9) My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1972)

Written in 1972, Potok told the story of Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jewish boy living in New York City. His family is deeply immersed in the Jewish culture, not only locally, but nationally and internationally. His father works for the “Rebbe,” who is essentially the head of their order. Asher, however, appears to be an artistic genius from an early age. He is compelled to paint, even when discouraged from doing so. What makes this story so compelling is the way that Potok wrote of the tension between Father and Son, between their fundamentalism and Asher’s gifting. Though 46 years old, the book has lost none of its beauty.

8) Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower by Gary Moon (2018) 

I do not read a lot of biographies, but I was excited for this one. Dallas Willard, who died in 2013, is one of my spiritual heroes. Willard also had a deep impact upon the author, Gary Moon. Moon clearly did his research, introducing us to Willard as a young man and tracing his history up through his death. Willard came from meager roots, instilled with a strong work ethic; however, he was also gifted with a remarkable intellect. Moon commented that there are few geniuses, but he believes Willard was one. Willard became a Southern Baptist pastor, but ultimately became a tenured philosophy professor at USC. He stated that he had clearly heard God say that if he became a pastor, the universities would be closed to him, but if he entered the university, both the university and the church would be open. Some of my favorite books have been written by Willard, and Moon’s biography is a welcome addition.

7) Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity by Daniel Darling (2018)

I have been discouraged with how frequently we humans do not treat one another with dignity. It seems that in our social media culture, conversations are increasingly charged with sarcasm, name calling, and devaluing of others. I have frequently said that we have a tendency to treat people from other groups as less valuable. Darling wrote about these issues I have been thinking about with clarity, dignity, and courage. He tackles not just one, but many, pet issues that we hold dearly. 

6) Stumbling Toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us by Andrew Bauman (2018)

I read a lot of books about wholeness. I believe that our sanctification is deeply, if not principally, a journey toward becoming whole. This year I read two other wonderful volumes about wholeness including Whole by Steve Wiens and Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat, whose book was on my top 10 list in 2016. I also tried to read Wholeness and that Implicate Order by David Bohm, which was a challenge. Regardless, Bauman writes with honesty about what wholeness looks like. I laughed, I cried, I cheered…literally. 

3) Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (2017)

This is a stunning anthology of poems written by the incomparable Mary Oliver. A Pulitzer-prize winning poet, her works spans several decades and this might be the finest collection of her work. If you are reluctant to try poetry, this may be a wonderful place to start.

4) The Hidden Life: Awakened by Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp (2016)

The Hidden Life is another biography of sorts. It tells the story of Betty Skinner’s spiritual journey from dark night to wisdom. A woman now in her 90s, Betty was hospitalized for several months for depression when she was in her 40s. Her doctor had told her that she "had a hole in her soul." Slowly, she began to explore her own soul and her own needs, ultimately becoming a mentor to others. I actually read this book twice this year. I read an earlier version first in March. I contacted one of the authors and asked if the newer version, which was retitled, was the same book. She told me that a few sections—specifically about neuroscience—were added, but it was otherwise very similar. She then graciously sent me the new version, which I read two months later and liked just as well. 

3) Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People  by Bob Goff (2018) 

In 2015, Love Does by Bob Goff was my favorite book. I told my friend Mark that if I ever wrote a book, Love Does was the kind of book I would hope to write. Everybody, Always is no different. Goff is a captivating, humorous writer. He lives life on the edge, taking risks, and doing great big things under the heading of “love.” I come away from his essays with renewed energy and a desire to love better. 

2) Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World by Rebecca Reynolds (2018)

One of my favorite places on the Interwebs is “the Rabbit Room Chinwag,” a community of nearly 2000 creatives who discuss things like beauty, goodness, and Gargan rockroaches. My first exposure to Reynolds was through the Rabbit Room, where she is a frequent fixture. She had written an essay for one volume of the Molehill, which is an anthology of poetry, stories, art, and recipes from a variety of Rabbit Room folks. I remember telling my wife how blown away I was by that essay and read section of it to her. When I heard she was writing a book, I couldn’t wait for its release. I don’t think I was alone. Shortly after it was published, many online sources—including Amazon—ran out of copies.

On Goodreads, I had this to say about Courage, Dear Heart: “I cannot speak highly enough about this book. Reynolds writes with intelligence, humility, and heart. She writes about the human condition not as an intellectual treatise, but as one who has seen it, who has lived it. She is a storyteller, through and through. I do not know which of the letters is my favorite, but I resonated deeply with several of them, perhaps a letter to the fearful, a letter to those living in chaos, or a letter to the disillusioned. I hope she doesn’t stop here; the world needs more storytellers like her.”

1) Schema of a Soul: What Kind of Love is Stronger than Death? by Kimberlye Berg (2013) 

This book blew me away. I described it on my blog as one of the most beautiful books I had ever read. In it, Berg tells the story of the loss of her son, Michael, and the subsequent journey through the pain. In my review, I wrote, “It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words.” I cried half a dozen times. Schema is one of the best books I have read.

Honorable Mention

The Power of Vulnerability: Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown (2013)

Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors. If you are unfamiliar with Brown, she is a college social work professor who blew up the Internet with her 2010 TEDxHouston talk "The Power of Vulnerability," which according to the TED website is the 4th most popular TED talk ever given, now standing at more than 37 million views. She has written several great books, but listening to her is an even greater treat. The 6 hour, 30 minute audio brings together her work on shame, authenticity, courage, and connection. I've listened to it several times, and I have no doubt I will listen again. 

Previous top 10 lists

09 August 2018

Book Review: How Joyful People Think

In How Joyful People Think (Baker, 2018), pastor Jamie Rasmussen explores eight elements of right thinking derived from Philippians 4:8, which reads "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence, if there is anything that is worthy of praise, think about these things" (ESV).  Rasmussen suggests that in this passage, Paul has given us a path to joy in the way that we think. 

There were several things I appreciated about Rasumssen's book. First, as a pastor, there is assuredly a pastoral heart behind his writing. He desires his readers to not only understand this verse, but to take it within themselves, to have it become a part of who they are and how they live. Second, in the case of the eight traits, he explores the original Greek words, including their usage and meaning. I particularly appreciated his exploration of the word "whatever," whose meaning has morphed even in the last 60 years. The author desires that his readers understand authorial intent. Third, like me, Rasmussen has been influenced by our friend Larry Crabb, so the relational nature of these traits comes through loud and clear. 

On the whole, I would happily recommend this book. We need books that explore and try to understand what the Bible is actually saying and to live in that reality. 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review. The opinions expressed here are my own.  

07 July 2018

Book Review: Believe Me

I had seen John Fea's book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (2018), featured on Eerdman's Facebook and Twitter feeds. I had never heard of him, but there was enough present in those short social media posts to intrigue me. Fea is an evangelical and chair of the history department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, a historian who writes about "the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life" (from his blog), no doubt appropriate preparation for writing a book of this sort.

In Believe Me, Fea explores Donald Trump's popularity among American evangelicals--81% of them anyway. Along the way, he addresses the inconsistencies that many conservative religious leaders have demonstrated over time in their responses to different presidents, Clinton and Trump, for example, giving an unlimited pass to one while wanting to burn the other at the stake. Fea shared this example from a 1998 letter from James Dobson (a Trump supporter) questioning Clinton's morality: "As it turns out character DOES matter. You can't run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don't respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the book of James, the question is posed 'Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?' (James 3:11, NIV). The answer is no." In my opinion, those who fail to see the hypocrisy in this statement are blind.

When Fea wrote of "the evangelical politics of fear," I resonated with the phrase. I think he is right when he suggests that fear drives many of the political viewpoints and voting practices among evangelicals. We place our hope not in God, the All-Sovereign, but in compromised earthly powers, especially those who tell us what to be afraid of and how they are the only ones who can fix it. The fear-mongering is reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss's Senator Rumson in 1995's The American President. I was grateful that Fea is a historian; he was able to trace the roots of these fears to the 17th century up into the 21st century, with particular attention to the civil rights movement.

His thoughts on Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," were also beneficial. He commented that as a historian, he was less interested in the definition of great than what Trump means by the word again. To what era is Trump referring? And from whose perspective? It remains nebulous. Fea rightly draws the distinction between history and nostalgia, noting that "nostalgia is closely related to fear." Fea writes, "Sometimes evangelicals will seek refuge from change in a Christian past that never existed in the first place. At other times they will try to travel back to a Christian past that did exist--but, like the present, was compromised by sin."

In his conclusion, Fea calls evangelicals to three things: hope, not fear; humilty, not power; and history, not nostaligia.

I found Believe Me to be an insightful, timely book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the 81% will not even consider reading it; it's something that Trump would quickly dismiss as "fake news." As Americans, we tend to prefer political propaganda propagated by Twitter, Facebook, and our preferred news networks than actually digging in, with humility, to consider what might be true. As Christians, whose primary citizenship is in an eternal kingdom, we cannot afford to do this any longer.

I cannot think of a better way to conclude this book than with the quote that first intrigued me: "The Court Evangelicals have decided that what Donald Trump can give them is more valuable than the damage their Christian witness will suffer because of their association with the president."

This is a really important book. Believe me.

01 February 2018

Book Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about John 13-17, the upper room discourse. It is arguably my favorite section of scripture. It shows the intimacy of Jesus with his disciples at a depth that we do not find elsewhere in the scriptures. John was inspired to recollect this evening meal with detail we do not get to see in many places. I like to envision what that dinner and conversation looked like, what everyone felt.

D.A. Carson chose to explore this section in great detail as well, devoting over 200 pages to Jesus' Farewell discourse in his new book The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus (Baker, 2018). Carson's exposition focuses on chapters 14 to 17, though in the prologue, he starts with chapter 13. 

As I began reading the prologue, I was immediately drawn in to Carson's wording. I felt a kindred spirit as he envisioned the upper room as I have so often done. He effectively places the reader right there in the midst of the thirteen men. I was hoping for that sort of magic (forgive me, that seems to be the best-fitting word) throughout the remainder of the book. It was there, but less present. 

Carson is undoubtedly a master exegete. His capacity to examine a text and help us to see what is actually being communicated is remarkable. In this book, he identifies details and themes that most people, perhaps even those with theological training, might miss. He explores Christ in community--with his disciples, and with the rest of the Trinity.

On the whole, a person interested in developing a much deeper understanding of the farewell discourse could do worse than Carson. My criticisms are few and perhaps idiosyncratic. As I mentioned above, I wish the imagery presented in the prologue would have persisted with greater consistency, though that likely would have changed the nature of the book. Second, Carson's vocabulary may make this book inaccessible to many readers, unless they are willing to read with a dictionary at hand. Come to think of it, that is probably a wise practice to consider.

I received a review copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for my review. The viewpoints presented above are my own. 

26 January 2018

Book Review: Life Without Lack

On May 8th 2013, Dallas Willard died of cancer and the world lost a great thinker and writer. Although a philosophy professor at USC by profession, he was perhaps more widely known (and certainly in the evangelical subculture) for his published works regarding Christian spiritual formation. Interestingly, I once heard him say that he never set out to write a book; a remarkable statement for one whose books have been so influential.

Often, when the world loses a well-respected author, one grieves their death, but also laments the realization that there will likely be no more published works. Occasionally, a posthumous publication may appear; for example, Jerry Bridges' beneficial The Blessing of Humility. But in Dallas's case--due in large part to a large corpus of unpublished works and the perseverance of his family and friends to see his works come to light--new books continue to appear. I'm grateful.

Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (2018) is the latest offering. In the book's preface, Larry Burtoft wrote, "Twenty-six years ago, I was introduced to the possibility of a life in which I was never in need. Of anything. At any time. From anyone. A life that knows no fear or fluster. No anxiety or angst. No perturbation of any sort. It was, in short, the offer of a life with lack" (p. vii). Burtoft goes on to talk about how this book was born out of an 8-week study of Psalm 23.

The book's 200 plus pages progress through eight chapters in addition to some supplementary material. Willard writes of the importance of renewing the mind to truly live into the reality of a glorious, all-sustaining God as an essential characteristic of the Christian life. One of the sentences that captured me early on was this: "One of our greatest needs today is for people to really see and really believe the things they already profess to see and believe." As I thought about the importance of renewing our minds, the truth of that sentence landed hard upon me. Do I merely give assent to the truths of God, or do I live my life, fully and completely, as though those truths matter? Willard unapologetically believed that what God said in His word could actually change our lives, not only that we could live a little less anxiously or angrily, but that we could live without anxiety, without anger. In other words, we could live a life without lack.

Through the book, he carefully explores what a Psalm 23 life could look like. There is no naivete here; he addresses the threats to this peaceable life. His discussion of "Satan's Three Weapons of Temptation" in chapter 4 was exceptional. I was particularly struck by the ways in which he connected these three weapons described in 1 John 2:16, with the temptations of Eve and Jesus. He made a three way connection that I had never even considered before, but seems clear and accurate.

However, Dallas did not stop with these three weapons, but went on in the latter chapters to describe "the three things that must be working in us before we can truly experience the sufficiency of God: faith, death to self, and agape love," devoting a chapter to each. In the final chapter, he lays out the practicalities of living this way. I was particularly appreciative of his plan for spending a day with Jesus where he identifies several particularities one may wish to consider as they put this life into place.

As I stopped to reflect upon what I had read, I felt challenged, hopeful, and invigorated. Challenged to consider whether I believe that a life without lack was really possible, hopeful in envisioning that it might be, and invigorated as I ponder how I might put this into practice.

Though Dallas's earthly life concluded nearly four years ago, his words remain as fresh as ever. If you get a chance, pick this book up and read it. Talk to others about it.  And then begin to put it into practice. You never can tell what could happen.

*I received a proof copy of this book in exchange for my review. All of the viewpoints expressed here are my own. 

08 January 2018

Review: Called to Create

I was principally drawn to the title of Jordan Raynor's new book. Called to Create (2017, Baker Books). I have thought a lot recently about the concept of creativity in the Christian life. About a year ago, I instituted something in our home, Family Create Nights, where we would practice expression. I am convinced that part of our nature as God's image bearers is that we are creative, whether that is through art, or some other medium.  I was excited about reading more about those ideas in Raynor's book. 

I admit, however, that right off the bat, I was disappointed. The opening chapter was entitled "the first entrepreneur." I was not interested in a book on business, which it appeared this was going to be. By definition, an entrepreneur is "a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risk in order to do so." This is not what I thought I had signed up for as I have almost no interest in business or entrepreneurship. 

Once I moved past my initial confusion, though, I found that there is much to commend this book. Within, Raynor writes extensively about the fact that work is not merely a result of the fall, but that we were created to work.  He then tells his readers about how they can work and create in such a way that it gives glory to God.  I particularly appreciated his emphasis on keeping God in view.  All in all, this was a good book and worth looking into, particularly if you are someone with that entrepreneurial spark.

I received a review copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for this review. The viewpoints presented above are my own. 

18 December 2017

Results of the Unscientific Emotion & church survey

Back in October, I created a brief "Emotions" survey on Survey Monkey. I was trying to get a handle on how people viewed emotions, especially as it came to church life. Someone recently asked me about it, and I thought this would be the easiest way to share the results:

There were 82 respondents (actually not bad) given where I shared it, etc.

1. Would you describe yourself as an emotional person? 

  • Yes definitely (44, 53.6%)
  • Yes, but only in certain circumstances (32, 39%)
  • No, I almost never become emotional (6, 7.3%)
  • I don't know (0, 0%)

2. Were your parents emotional?

  • Yes, they were both emotional (27, 33.3%)
  • My mother was emotional, but my father was not  [or was absent] (25, 30.8%)
  • Neither of them were emotional (22, 27%)
  • My father was emotional, but my mother was not [or was absent] (7, 8.6%)

3. Which of the following statements best describes your understanding of emotion? 

  • Emotional expression is a sign of healthy psychological functioning (74, 91.4%)
  • The world would be better off if fewer people expressed their emotions openly (5, 6.2%)
  • Emotions are a sign of weakness (2, 2.5%)

4. When other people express strong emotion around me...

  • I feel honored that they are willing to open up (54, 66.7%)
  • Other people's emotions make me mildly uncomfortable (17, 20.1%)
  • I don't feel any different than normal (7, 8.6%)
  • Other people's emotions make me extremely uncomfortable and I will escape the situation as soon as possible (3, 3.7%)

5. When I begin to feel strong emotion...
  • I am willing to share with those I trust (55, 68%)
  • I feel uncomfortable and try to set my mind on something else (16, 20%)
  • I am willing to share with anyone (9, 11.1%)
  • I don't experience strong emotion (1, 1.2%)
6. The more emotional a person is, the less capable of clear thinking he/she is.
  • False (56, 70%)
  • True (24, 30%)
7. A willingness to experience and express strong emotion can improve one's overall psychological health.

  • True (72, 90%)
  • False (8, 10%)

8. Which of the following statements do you think best described Jesus's earthly life? 
  • He experienced strong emotions that he paid attention to along with other psychological capacities (75, 92.6%)
  • He experienced some strong emotions, but mostly he paid little attention to his emotions (6, 7.4%)
  • He was never emotional (0, 0%)
  • He was overly emotional (0, 0%)
9. When I think of emotions, I think of them as...
  • Neither masculine nor feminine (66, 80.5%)
  • mostly feminine (16, 19.5%)
  • mostly masculine (0, 0%)
10. Most Christian churches...
  • Seem confused by emotions (32, 41%)
  • Don't pay enough attention to emotion (30, 38.5%)
  • Discourage emotional expression (10, 12.8%)
  • Pay too much attention to emotion (6, 7.7%)

14 December 2017

Top Ten Books of 2017

Every December, since 2010, I have put out a list of what I consider to be the best books I read during the year (see the bottom of the page for each of those lists). I typically read between 100 and 150 books each year, some of which rise to the top as particular stand outs. Some books, frankly, sink to the bottom, though I have learned over the years that if I don't particularly like a book, no one will give me detention if I set it aside and don't bother to finish it.  So without further ado, here is the 2017 list of best books. 

10) Whole Prayer by Walter Wangerin
I am a little surprised that Whole Prayer, now 16 years old, has not been more widely read. Of course there are many books on prayer and it is hard to know where to begin. This one should be amongst those most readily considered. Although Wangerin provides a basic structure--we speak, God listens; God speaks, we listen--it isn't really a prayer manual. Rather, it is a series of reflections about prayer and how we relate to God. Additionally, Wangerin's writing is a delight to the senses.  

9) Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne
In this book, the author explores the important, even essential, doctrine of how we are joined with Christ. Christ is in us, we are in Christ, if we are believers. That is not just an obscure theological maxim, but a living truth that has significant implications for how we live. In fact, there may be fewer things more important than understanding this concept. 

I particularly liked the third chapter, which explores "two songs playing in our heads". One song is the way of extravagant grace, the other the way of radical discipleship. I find myself drawn to both concepts. I love Brennan Manning and I love Dallas Willard. The author demonstrates that these are not mutually exclusive concepts. 

8) Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
I found myself immediately engaged in this book. He writes of a modern faith that has somehow lost its sense of mystery and wonder, a supernatural faith stripped of the "super" and thus becoming mundane. He observes this trend and tells his readers "open your eyes!" I have been trying to communicate this message to fellow believers, and I don't know if the message ever lands. Often, I suspect I am regarded as either a religious nutjob, or simply as kooky. Honestly, I'm okay with those characterizations, but as someone has tasted supernatural wonder, I want to invite others to the same. God's kingdom is so much larger and more glorious than most people ever imagine, and I, like Mike Cosper, want to shout, "come and see! come and see!" 

7) The Pastor's Justification by Jared Wilson
The Pastor's Justification is the first of two Wilson books on my list this year. In my review of this book, I noted that Wilson wields a twin blade of theological wisdom and a gift with words. Assuredly, his literary achievement is quite remarkable for anyone, much less someone of his age. If a person were interested in reading through all of an author's books, a worthwhile practice, Wilson would be a good person to consider. Although the title would suggest that this book is targeted to pastors, I think anyone who struggles with the burden of imperfection and who fails to recognize how amazing justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone really is would benefit from this book.

6) The Good and Beautiful series by James Bryan Smith
Smith wrote a series of three books--The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and the Good and Beautiful Community.  Perhaps it is unfair to gather all of these together, but it's my list, so I won't apologize. As one might expect, the initial book in the series deals with the goodness and beauty of God, and then, through the other two, translates those ideas into the Christ life.  Of the three, my favorite was The Good and Beautiful Life, which addresses character formation by exploring the Sermon on the Mount.  

5) Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
The longer I live the Christian life, the more deeply I appreciate the ways in which some authors are able to connect real life with a life of worship on a deep level. As I look over my list of books for this year, this theme certainly presents itself. In this book, the author is able to connect things like eating meals and arguments with the church's liturgy, and does so with exceptional writing. 

4) As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson
For people who know me, it is no surprise that Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite authors. I think I have read almost every book he has written though assuredly there are some lesser known volumes that I have not yet encountered. It is a large book by Christian non-fiction standards, 372 pages, consisting of a collection of Peterson's sermons. Initially, this was a disappointment to me, though once I dug in, I was pleasantly surprised. The overarching theme of Kingfishers was the call to congruence, a way of living life that consistently reflects the "with God-life". This is certainly a book I will revisit often. 

3) The Jubilee by John Blase
I am fairly certain The Jubilee by John Blase is the only book of poetry I have ever included in my top 10. Although most of my books are shelved in my library in the basement, this book remains out on a display shelf in our living room, with the hope that someone will pick it up and read it. In my longer review in April, I wrote, "An unfortunate truth is that many people avoid poetry, finding it confusing, boring, or perhaps overly sentimental. As a poetry lover, I am never sure where to direct those who might have a spark of interest in poetry. Mary Oliver is certainly good and so is Wendell Berry, yet if I am to be honest, this might well be the first book I recommend now. It is both accessible and fosters wonder." 

2) Love Big. Be Well. by Winn Collier
This book is unusual. It is a series of (fictional) letters written mostly by a pastor, Jonas McAnn, to his congregation. The skillful way in which Collier was able to map real life and real concerns onto a fictional church was remarkable. I found myself caring deeply about the folks in the letters. 

1) The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
Undoubtedly, Jared Wilson is one of my favorite authors. Last year I commented that he was one of only two authors who had made my top 10 books list three times or more (the other was Jerry Bridges). As of this year, he stands alone as the author most featured, and with two books no less! 

In this book, Wilson explored discipleship, but it read differently than most books on the topic. Even when writing about things we may do to grow in Christ, Wilson did not fail to shine a spotlight on God's graciousness. Although the whole book was excellent, this bit from chapter 9 brought me to tears. "When you are in the pit of suffering--on the verge of death, even--Jesus isn't up in heaven simply blasting you down below with some ethereal values. He's not 'sending good thoughts'--or worse, 'good vibes'--your way. No, when you are laid low in the dark well of despair, when the whole world seems to be crashing down on you, when your next breath seems sure to be your last, Christ Jesus is down in the void with you, holding you. He keeps your hand between his own. He offers his breast for your weary head. He whispers the words of comfort a whisker's breath from your ear: 'and behold, I am with you always.' Grace is all-sufficient for weakness and for suffering because Jesus is all-sufficient." I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 

1) The Wingfeather Saga (technically 4 books) by Andrew Peterson
2) Living in Christ's Presence by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg
3) A Different Kind of Happiness by Larry Crabb
4) Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat
5) World Enough and Time by Christian McEwen
6) The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges
7) The Voice Bible by the Ecclesia Bible Society
8) The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
9) You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
10) Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller

1) Love Does by Bob Goff
2) The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard
3) The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
4) A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
5) A Loving Life by Paul Miller
6) Relational Soul by Rich Plass and Jim Cofield
7) Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson
8) Prodigal Church by Jared Wilson
9) The Solitary Tales by Travis Thrasher
10) hand in Hand: The beauty of God's sovereignty and meaningful human choice by Randy Alcorn

1) Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid
2) Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg
3) Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
4) The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund Jr.
5) Joy for the World by Greg Forster
6) Why Sin Matters by Mark McMinn
7) What's Best Next? by Matt Perman
8) Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
9) Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
10) Jesus Continued... by JD Greear

1) One Way Love by Tullian Tchvidjian
2) Grace in Addiction by John Z
3) Becoming a True Spiritual Community by Larry Crabb
4) Tale of the Toboggans by Christian Schmidt
5) Prodigal God by Tim Keller
*I only listed 5 in 2013 for some reason.

1) Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson
2) The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges
3) Not the Way Its Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
4) Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
5) Think Christianly by Jonathan Morrow
6) Gospel Wakenfulness by Jared Wilson
7) Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson
8) The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
9) Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch
**Nine?  Why nine? What a weird number.

1) Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther
2) Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints by John Piper and Justin Taylor
3) Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
4) How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp
5) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
***Apparently in 2011, I didn't actually put out a list. Why? I am not sure.  However, I went back through my list and here are some I would have recommended from that year. Luther on Galatians is an absolute must read for Christians, in my opinion. 

1) Chosen by God by RC Sproul
2) The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
3) Ashamed of the Gospel by John McArthur
4) Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchvidjian
5) Confessions by St Augustine
6) The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
7) Spectacular Sins by John Piper
8) If God is Good by Randy Alcorn
9) Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson
10) Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham

16 November 2017

Book Review: Love Big. Be Well.

If it weren't for the high praise offered by John Blase, author of The Jubilee, one of my favorite collections of poetry, I am not sure I would have happened upon this remarkable book. Love Big Be Well (2017) by Winn Collier is such a warm and welcome gift. About two-thirds of the way through it, I wrote inside the front cover, "this whole book is a benediction."

Love Big Be Well offers a unique premise. A disenchanted man, Jonas McAnn, responds to a handwritten letter from a pastoral search committee from Granby Presbyterian Church, ultimately becoming this small town church's pastor. The book is a collection of pastoral letters, which routinely conclude with "Love Big. Be Well. Jonas."

In these letters, Jonas addresses several aspects of the Christian life, identifying what he sees as marks of true faith and those that seem to be counterfeits of what Jesus actually said with a raw honesty. One of the advantages of using a fictional story like this is the ability to describe one's convictions without seeming self-important.

Collier also accomplished what I think was an impressive rhetorical feat: I came to care deeply about the members of the church, and especially Don, through the pastor's descriptions in his letters. Fictional letters about fictional characters, and yet I was moved.

Several times, I found myself longing to read more about Port William, Kentucky, Wendell Berry's fictional small town because in many ways, Collier's book was reminiscent of Berry.

I certainly see why John Blase endorsed this book. And Eugene Peterson. I am happy to add my unknown name to that list. I will be reading this book again, and likely purchasing copies for others, because I won't want to share mine.

14 November 2017

Book Review: Recapturing the Wonder

I picked up Mike Cosper's Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World (2017) from the Intervarsity Press table at the AACC world convention along with a few other books. I tucked it in my briefcase and when I got home, shelved it. Thankfully, I didn't forget it was there because this book is excellent.

I found myself immediately engaged in this book. He writes of a modern faith that has somehow lost its sense of mystery and wonder, a supernatural faith stripped of the "super" and thus becoming mundane. He observes this trend and tells his readers "open your eyes!" I have been trying to communicate this message to fellow believers, and I don't know if the message ever lands. Often, I suspect I am regarded as either a religious nutjob, or simply as kooky.  Honestly, I'm okay with those characterizations, but once one has tasted supernatural wonder, he wants to invite others to the same. When one recognizes that God's kingdom is so much larger and more glorious than most people ever imagine, he wants to shout, "come and see! come and see!" 

I cannot commend this book strongly enough. If you find your faith boring, mundane, or disenchanted, please get this book and read it.  I don't think you'll regret it. The last page and a half of the book proper (149-150) are alone worth its price.