I didn't read as many books as usual this year, but I did read several books quite unlike anything I'd ever read before. Some of the firsts this year included space travel, north pole exploration, character studies of women in the Bible, and theological studies in Arminianism, not to mention a full blown 613-page book on the history of Christian theology. Other obscure genres included a book on hermeneutics, a book on grief-support, a biography of an little-known (by most) 19th century missionary, and a terrific book that I still struggle to explain the theme of despite how helpful it was (see the third book below!).
This year, I decided to become much more intentional about the kinds of books I included in my reading. I resolved to regularly include the following genres in my reading list (some of which will overlap, depending on the book):
- Devotional / Christian Living
- Missions / Evangelism
- Biography / History
- Leadership / Pastoral Development
- Classics / Pre-20th Century books
All these genres can be found in my 2018 reading list, and all of them will be found in my 2019 reading list as well. And as usual, just for the record, here are my reading lists from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011 and 2010 (this blog was dormant for 2012 and 2013).
Apart from the books listed here, I read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as what is most essential for me to be feeding on. Most of the postings I add to my blog are a result of my time spent reading God's Word.
Here are the books that I've read this past year...
Here are the books that I've read this past year...
- How to Forgive Ourselves – Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes by R.T. Kendall. I needed to read this book. It’s not a theologically dense book, or a book that explains profound mysteries. But it is a book that has potential to have a profound impact on its readers. And it does so by speaking plain truth in plain language in order to get an important point across as clearly as possible. And I needed to hear that message without the distraction of a bunch of philosophical mumbo-jumbo. R.T. Kendall has the unique gift of writing as a teacher who is also very pastoral. And that may be why I found this book so challenging as well as so reassuring. Like I said, I knew that I needed this book because of my own struggles in the area of forgiving myself, and I found it to be immediately relevant and immensely practical.
- Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly. I was fascinated by many details of this book, some having nothing to do with outer space. In fact, I think what impacted me most was Scott Kelly’s description of his growing up years and of his university years. The challenges he faced (some self-inflicted), the crucial and timely influence of his twin brother, and the tenacity Scott showed once he had the bit between his teeth were all inspiring to me. The part about going into orbit was simply bonus material for me. But I enjoyed learning about the space station and about the incredible challenges of prepping for and participating in spacewalks. Clearly Scott Kelly is an exceptional man, and a very capable writer.
- Upended: How following Jesus Remakes your Words and World by Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe. As I began reading the early chapters of this book, I had no idea what it was about, and yet I felt hooked. The reason I knew it was good was that I found myself recalling everyday situations to which the content of the book clearly applied and then found myself changing my behaviour. It was immediately influencing my everyday life. And then the more I read, the more compelling the book became! This book is (in my words) all about how we go about *being* an apprentice of Jesus, expressing Jesus’s heart to this world more effectively, as opposed to simply busying ourselves with the myriad demands that try to jostle us into just *doing* more for Jesus. But lest this sound like it lacks relevance for those of us wanting to live in a way that makes a definite difference in this world for Jesus, the alternatives offered to the incessant *doing* were extremely practical, applying to our everyday interactions with the people and situations around us, and were so refreshingly purposeful that I have great hope that what I put my hand to from the lessons of this book will help me to be far more fruitful than any of the me-centred alternatives that I can be prone to. This book left me inspired and encouraged because the lessons of this book are both accessible and well worth pursuing. Filled with many real life illustrations, and extremely well written, I highly recommend this book.
- Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen. Henri Nouwen understands people. He understands the human condition. He recognizes that if left alone, we’re prone to “become low-hearted because of constant self-rejection.” And so he understands the need for coming out of solitude. But he also understands the need for solitude — a “quiet center” in which we commune with God, and that we then come out from. And when we come out of solitude, Nouwen rightly encourages us to look for ways to share what we received — to care for others. This book ministered to me like a warm hug from a loving father.
- True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole by Bruce Henderson. I really wanted to like this book more. I really did. It’s an engaging tale. But it began to feel just a bit too personal — personal as in the author just having an axe to grind. I’m prepared to believe he might be right in his conclusions, but I’m not prepared to say he did an adequate job in proving them. This book contradicts the generally accepted historical narratives, so you’d think Henderson would at least say something about people’s many objections to his counter-narrative. But no. All Henderson does is state alternate-facts as if the many documented objections to them deserve absolutely no attention. Sorry. I need more than that. I need more than his vilifying of Peary, and his adoration of Cook. I need some concrete responses to the many objections to his premise. Otherwise this book ends up being a personal vendetta rather than an historical account.
- Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life by Jeff Vanderstelt. There are portions of this book that I actually saved on my smartphone so that I’d be able to prayerfully review them as needed. In fact, nearly every day in my devotions, I prayerfully review the five brief points that Vanderstelt provides for preaching the gospel to ourselves! I’ve taken his advice in daily rehearsing these gospel truths. And his emphasis on “the war of the mind” is fantastic! He stirred me to be less passive in this battle, more alert to gospel-contradicting lies, and more intentional about refuting them. This book has been a wonderful resource to me.
- Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I found many wonderful insights in this book. Bonhoeffer had an anointing to cut deep into the truths of the Christian life, but I must admit, there were times when I wondered if either he or I were missing the point on some pages. But then I’d suddenly find one sentence after another hitting home, feeling relevant, and offering me light for my Christian walk. I’m grateful for the friend who persistently recommended this book to me.
- The Guns of August by Barbara W Tuchman. Wow. A stunning work that left me aghast, and yet filled with wonder at the huge implications of all the intricate ifs and becauses that Tuchman explores. There’s an inescapable grief woven throughout this entire narrative so that the historical facts are continually mingling with a sense of mourning, until finally, in the Afterword, Tuchman almost becomes poetic in her lament of what the world became because of the events of August 1914.
- The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun by Paul Hattaway. As I read this book, I felt more challenged than informed, and more adjusted in my attitudes than entertained by a story. But what a story it is! I found it riveting to see how Brother Yun went from one great trial to another, always finding the grace to truly trust God in the midst of them. It caused me to frequently pause as I read his story as I considered how poorly I’ve often responded to much smaller adversities. But rather than feeling discouraged, I found Brother Yun’s faith so infectious that I felt hope that I too could find the grace to trust God in whatever circumstances He allows in my life! This book is quite inspiring in that way.
- Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Timothy Keller. This was, for me, a fresh look at what have become to me very familiar passages. There were a couple chapters in this book that personally felt well worth the price of admission! I even photographed one paragraph so that I could more easily refer to it and reread it back to myself again and again in days to come. Keller has a way of discovering head-turning insights that make me wonder anew at many of these Gospel stories, and that’s the primary reason I would recommend this book.
- Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olson. I found this a very helpful book, clarifying many significant misconceptions I had about Arminianism. Drawing heavily and directly from many Arminian (as well as Calvinist) sources, Olson persuasively argues for a more charitable consideration of Arminianism. I for one was persuaded, and have found this book to be both very timely and hugely influential in my spiritual journey.
- Shackleton's Boat Journey by Frank A. Worsley. I’m in awe of the tenacity of the men who survived the adventure this book describes. Their irrepressible hopefulness and the determined resourcefulness is an incredible example to me. It’s truly amazing that they survived such a journey, and the suspense in Worsley’s telling of the tale never lets up until the very last page. I’ve read Shackleton’s own account of this same journey, but I loved this book even more!
- Lost Women of the Bible: The Women we Thought we Knew by Carolyn Custis James. I was encouraged to read this book that my wife had bought and read, and I am so glad I did. It is delightfully well-written, and is packed with well-researched insights that make the messages of ten biblical women’s lives incredibly relevant today. I found this book not only encouraged me in my own walk with God, but it was also something I could easily see abundant application for in my own marriage and in pastoral ministry. This is not just a book about women for women, but is also a great book for men who want to grow in their understanding of God and in their appreciation of women!
- Henry Martyn of Persia by Jesse Page. For many years, I’ve had a vague notion about who this man was: an early pioneer missionary to Muslims who was especially remembered for his zeal and for the impact that he had. But what I didn’t know was that his fame is based on a mere 6 1/2 years of overseas service (from 1806 to 1812) before he died at 31 years of age, and that his short time overseas was split between time in India and Persia. But because Henry Martyn was so godly in his character and so determined in his translation work, he has been an inspiration to many and has had a long-term impact. While I expected this 1895 biography to be admiring in its portrayal of Martyn’s devotion and zeal, I found that it also provided a very warm view of his flawed humanity as an extremely introspective self-deprecating man who was also known for his personal warmth and cheerfulness despite going through great hardships.
- Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness by Richard B. Hays. This is a book like no other book I’ve ever read. Hays is enthusiastically endorsing a hermeneutic that is brazenly contrary to principles of hermeneutics that I’ve long considered to be inviolable. And yet he does so with such scholarly persuasiveness that he’s won me over. It’s probably because in his meticulousness, it’s also clear that he has a love for God’s Word that recognizes its poetic artistry and its strong sense of story. This is a book about recognizing the “story, metaphor, prefiguration, allusion, echo, reversal, and irony” in our reading of Scripture. I doubt I’ll ever read God’s Word in quite the same way again.
- Don't Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart: How to Relate to Those who are Suffering by Kenneth C. Haugk. As a pastor, I feel that I’m ever learning how to be helpful to people who are experiencing difficult times, and even though I feel I’ve grown in this area over the years, I know I have so much more I could learn. It seems that with every crisis that comes up, I get in touch with how important it is to be gentle and sensitive and attentive in how I care for people, but also with how easy it is to cause hurt while trying to help. That’s why I appreciated this extremely practical book. It doesn’t try to say too much in the theoretical realm, but keeps things in real-life situations, providing many helpful tips and steps in each brief chapter. There’s a lot here worth remembering, and I appreciated the sensitivity with which it was written.
- The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform by Roger E. Olson. Before reading this lengthy book, I had felt a growing desire to reacquaint myself with some of the significant historical moments of church history. I chose this book for several reasons: it focuses on church theology rather than church events, it’s written as a story rather than as systematic theology, and it’s written by an historian with an Arminian background rather than a Calvinistic background (something I’d never encountered before). I enjoyed the book, sometimes finding it difficult to put down, probably because I felt I was learning so much about things I’d only been vaguely aware of previously. It connected a lot of dots for me in regards to how one thing led to another, and I think that’s why I liked the story-approach. But like any historical account, it’s affected by a writer’s biases, and is forced to be selective in what it covers. But because I assume that will be true of any history book, I felt quite satisfied with reading this one.