Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Other 41 – Part II

To read the Top 11, click here. To read The Other 41 - Part I, click here.

21. Why Work [Stinks] and How to Fix it by Ressler and Thompson- Excellent book that offers a different way to think about work. Previously reviewed here. - A

22. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I've always wondered why so many outcasts felt drawn to this book, but I've hesitated to read it until this year, when a friend of mine convinced me to read it with him. This friend was my roommate when joining Campus Crusade for Christ staff. We've maintained a friendship and have had discussed a variety of books over the years, including the un-abridged versions of War and Peace (probably my favorite novel) and Les Miserables. The attraction of Catcher remains a mystery to me. - C

23. Lincoln by David Herbert Donald – Excellent bio of one of America's greatest presidents. Gives insight into many of the forces at work in America politics shaping Lincoln's decisions. Shows how he was wise and witty with his down-home colloquialisms. Increased my respect for his bravery and endurance to stand for the right thing no matter how hard it was. - A

24. Manhunt by James Swanson – This is the story of the chase for Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The most amazing part of this story was the reality that Booth most likely would have escaped if not for breaking his ankle when jumping from the presidential box at Ford's Theater. Since most news only traveled as fast as horseback at this time, he was able to stay ahead of the story for a while, until his broken body could last no longer.

I read this book as the result of a tradition my mother and I have enjoyed over the last two years. It happened that she was in town both years near Mothers Day, so we carved out some time to peruse the local bookstore together, discussing our favorite hobby, books. Last year we (or I should say she) purchased three books: Manhunt
(reviewed by another person here), Team of Rivals (which was also on President Bush's list), and A World Lit Only by Fire. Our plan was to read the three and share what we learned with one another. Mom made quickly plowed through all three. The last was an outstanding book by another one of my favorite authors, William Manchester.

This past year, after much deliberation, we settled on Brave Companions, which we have since completed (reviewed here).

Manhunt is a gripping book that is worth reading - A

25. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter – Written in 1656 by the Puritan author, Richard Baxter, this book gives practical wisdom and insight into how one should approach ministry. Baxter understood the importance of personal piety and ministry in the home, and structured his ministry accordingly. For instance, he made it his personal goal to visit in the homes of every family in his town every year and personally help guide their spiritual development. This activity alone completely transformed this town. - A

26. Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni – A leadership fable on a more efficient way to run meetings. A fast read and valuable book. - A

27. Lost Mountain by Erik Reese – A must read for everyone with a social conscious – especially if you live in Kentucky. Reviewed here. Visit the author's site here. - A

28. Heloise and Abelard by Etienne Gilson – Story of one of the greatest theologians of the Middle Ages who falls in love with the young girl he is tutoring. She gives birth and they marry secretly. Unfortunately, her father is the most powerful man in the region, and he sends a group of bandits to Abelard's home to make sure he's no longer equipped to impregnate. If you're not already familiar with some of this story, then I would not recommend this book on the topic. So much of the details are assumed by the author who spends the bulk of the book dealing with the results and the motives that drove Heloise and Abelard for the remainder of their lives. However, these details are also inspiring, as you see two people living separate lives of piety, seeking to redeem their past mistakes. A good reminder that brilliance is ignoble without self-control and wisdom. - B

29. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – Unpacks the way the mind works when required to make snap decisions, with limited information. Gladwell utilizes many seemingly unrelated studies and examples to illustrate how accurately the mind can make decisions in the blink of an eye. - A

30. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – Why do some ideas 'stick' in people's minds and others do not? Gives examples of urban legends that everyone can cite (drugged people waking up in tubs of ice with missing kidneys; or kids being poisoned with Halloween candy) which have never been verified. Helpful for preachers and teachers to think about the way scripture is presented to people. The book reinforces Jesus' approach to teaching, using stories and parables to convey the bulk of the truths he taught. - A

31. Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris – after reading this book, I started writing a 'brief' response which has since turned into the beginning of a book length response. I appreciate Josh Harris on so many levels, but I think his fundamental assumptions about Church and its role in spiritual development are wrong. - C

32. Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard – Another leadership fable on how to run a customer first company, one that builds true 'fans', instead of just 'customers.' Many principles would be helpful for ministry leaders as well. - A

33. Collected Works of Flannery O'ConnorA good friend of mine has raved about Flannery for a while now. Having never read her works, I picked up a copy at the library and read about 10 stories all of which I found fascinating. I don't think I've ever felt such a mixture of emotions as I did while reading her stories. I wept after The River, and chuckled to myself off and on for days after reading A Good Country People. Her literary skills are clearly excellent, though I found her stories come to such a quick climax that they must be read carefully at the end. Much of her works emphasize the hypocrisy of many parts of southern culture. Interesting note about her: When showed up to study under a professor in Iowa, her southern accent was so thick that he could not understand her. After repeating herself 5 times, she eventually had to write out her words for the professor. - A

34. Execution/The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Bossidy and Cham – Written by the former CEO of Allied Signal and a high level management consultant. Excellent book on how to make decisions and keep projects moving forward. The authors are constantly driving towards productivity – making sure that all systems help leaders make decisions. - A

35. Faith Begins at Home by Mark Holmen, and…

36. Building Faith at Home by Mark Holmen – Skimmed both books before approaching this publisher about my book (since the titles seemed of similar content). The first is worth skimming. – B, C

37. Everyday Talk by John A. Younts – Another good parenting book based on Deut 6.6-7. I especially appreciated his insight on the horrible habit of "Parentspeak" (i.e. talking without listening) that all parents practice unconsciously. - A

38. Quitting Church by Julia Duin (pronounced 'Deen') – Religion editor at the Washington Times, Duin wrote this book because of an interesting trend she noticed among faithful Christians that had stopped attending church regularly. She cites a wide array of statistics and examples building a case for why those who have left have had good reason to do so. - A

39. Executive Power by Vince Flynn
(see #13 of previous list). - B

40. The Master of Geneva by Gladys H. Barr – A novel based on the life of John Calvin that gave me a new appreciation for the work he did to advance the gospel in his age. The most amazing part for me was to consider that he wrote his massive work on the Institutes of Christian Religion, large commentaries on almost every major work of the Bible, wrote other books as well, all without the aid of computers or typewriters, while facing the constant pressure of persecution, and giving leadership to the city of Geneva. A must read if you can find a copy. – A

41. Life After Church by Brian Sanders – Finished #52 with two days to go! Good book for those who are frustrated with the ineffectiveness of their church. Sanders gives wise words to consider when making a decision about the next step one should take. - A

Two Other Books I Started in 2008 and Plan to Finish in 2009

1. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote – if you enjoy military history, Foote is the master of the civil war narratives. His flowing prose invites the reader to stay for long portions. First in the trilogy. Highly recommended - A

2. Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm – I picked up this book because of a church history professor, Ed Blumm, I had at Phoenix Seminary. He was one of the most amazing and well read people I have ever met. He led the translation team for the Holman Christian Standard Bible and is also lead editor for the Study Bible they are developing. I always like knowing what books have shaped people, and he listed off a number of works by Bernard Ramm as some of the most influential in his life. This is a great book for learning more about rules for interpreting the Bible. It is the kind I enjoy nibbling on, taking in a few pages a week. – A

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lewis on Books - Part II

Read Part I here.

"This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are not studying St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, but [instead they study]
Niebuhr or Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often no see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why - the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversations have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed "at" some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. 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. "

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lewis on Books - Part I

In preparation for 52 Men Trying, I started reading On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, the first Church father to be featured in 2009. This particular translation has a foreword by C.S. Lewis, which has some pretty powerful words on the value of reading old books. Below is an excerpt, with more to follow.

" There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.... The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand [Plato]. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Other 41 – Part I

This is the first half of the rest of the 52 books I completed this year, listed in the order which they were read. As a note of encouragement, if you find it difficult to make time to read even a few books a year, check out this article about the reading competition between the most powerful man in the world and his chief of staff.

Though the following books didn’t make the top 11 list, many are still worth reading. I’ve rated them A (worth reading), B (so-so), or C (don’t bother).

1. Preaching the Old Testament by Scott M. Gibson – Read for a seminary preaching class. Fair, for a preaching book. The best preaching book by far that I read in seminary was The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson. Lots of practical tips, real life experience and examples (even audio). - B

2. The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel – Chose this book because of the “Puritan Challenge” organized by this blogger. He summarizes John Flavel’s life and work here. - B

3. Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson – Excellent book about what it means to truly love and lead your wife biblically. I’m not in agreement with all of his statements, but find the book encouraging. – A

4. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham – An interesting story about an American football player that finds true happiness in a small town in Italy. A fast read that resulted in more personal reflection than any of Grisham’s previous works. Picked up this novel because I needed something light to read to help digest all I was reading in my final semester of seminary. The non-fiction work that saved me at the end of 2007 was David McCullough’s book on the Panama Canal. Reading a few pages a night helped slow down my mind before falling asleep. - B

5. Preaching with Variety by Jeffery D. Arthurs – another preaching book for seminary. See #1 for a better recommendation. - B

6. Teach Them Diligently by Lou Priolo – Parenting book that gives practical tips on how to incorporate the scriptures in your discipline and instruction with your children. Deut 6.6-7 is the basic structure for the book. Very helpful. - A

7. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – Engaging book from a former navy seal that survived an attack in Afghanistan. Previously reviewed here. - A

8. I Sold my Soul on eBay by Hemant Mehta –An atheist decides to “sell his soul” on ebay, meaning that he offers to attend any church of the highest bidder. He ends up attending a variety of churches and chronicles his experience. Very helpful for all Christians and church leaders to read. - A

9. Perspective on World Missions (a reader) ed. By Ralph D. Winter – read various articles from this book while taking a class on missions (World Outreach). The book was tremendous, especially the article on William Carey, and the class was even better. After taking the class, my eyes were opened to the centrality of missions to the health of the church in a fresh new way. Before then it was a peripheral notion, since it has become central. - A

10. Run with the Vision by Sjogren and Stearns – Another book for the missions course. - B

11. Galatians, a commentary by Richard Longenecker – A fair commentary on Galatians that is on the more technical end. To find the best commentaries available on any book of the Bible, go to this amazing website. - B

12. Dark Tide by Andrew Gross ­– Interesting corporate greed thriller. - B

13. Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn –Began reading shortly after finishing seminary and gorged myself on Flynn books in the month of June (reading three of his books in 2 weeks). Very addictive CIA/spy type thrillers. Interesting note on VF: He self published his first book after receiving sixty rejection letters. - B

14. The 12-Second Sequence by Jorge Cruz – Health/fitness book that offers a slow method of weight conditioning that increases tension on muscles, allowing use of lower weights and decreasing the chance of injury. Also includes a dieting plan, schedules and recipes. A great starter approach for those looking to try out or get back into weight training or just shake up a stale routine. - A

15. The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris – a young entrepreneur summarizes life lessons while caught up in the Silicon Valley craze. He gives tips and a pathway for freeing up your time to do more of what you want. Though he is agnostic, it’s interesting to see him recognize that money and possessions are not the most important things in life. Experience is king in his world, and all of his life is aligned with this goal. - B

16. What ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know… by Kevin Trudeau - one man’s journey to keep the weight off using a risky procedure. C

17. The Third Option by Vince Flynn (see #13)

18. Act of Treason by Vince Flynn (see #13)

19. Good to Great in God’s Eyes by Chip Ingram – A book on what it means to pursue Christ with excellence in all areas of life. Ingram was a pastor in Santa Cruz, California when Julie and I were there for a summer with Campus Crusade for Christ. He recently presided over Walk thru the Bible, started by Bruce Wilkinson of Jabez fame. He now runs a teaching and discipleship ministry called Living on the Edge. I have a ton of respect for Chip Ingram and highly recommend his books and teachings. - A

20. Protect and Defend by Vince Flynn (see #13)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stay out of the Dog House

If you're a man trying hard to get the right gift for your special lady this year, then make sure to think carefully before buying. For help, follow this basic tutorial on gift giving.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 11 Books from 2008

Below are the top 11 books that I read in 2008 and recommend you consider reading in 2009. The list is varied, with books from about every major genre except chick lit, comic books, and travel guides. Genre of the books reviewed is in blue-bold. The list of the remaining 41 books is in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.

1. Jack: C.S. Lewis, his Life and Time by George Sayers – C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and biographies are my favorite type of book. Probably my all time favorite book is his auto-biography Surprised by Joy. This bio, Jack, by one of his former students (and lifelong friends) helped shed light on much of Lewis’ writings and on some of the confusing statements he made in SBJ. Wish I would have read it years ago, soon after reading SBJ.

2. UnChristian by David Kinnaman: A very important non-fiction book for all Christians to read. Kinnaman, who now runs Barna research, uses surveys to try and understand how Christians are viewed by the broader culture. The results are not pretty.

From Publishers Weekly: Younger generations (late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered. Rather than simply trying to do a PR face-lift, Kinnaman looks at ways in which churches' activities actually may have been unchristian and encourages a return to a more biblical Christianity, a faith that not only focuses on holiness but also loves, accepts and works to understand the world around it. (Thanks to Tim Casteel for the blurb).

3. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – probably the most gripping book I’ve read this year with one of the more fascinating plots. I could not put it down - literally read it over a weekend. This Novel is the story of a Russian state police member whose eyes are opened to the tragedy of the fear machine he has helped perpetuate. This leads him to question everything – even the basis of his relationship with his wife. Framed for a crime he did not commit, he is banished to a distant city on the Siberian railroad to assist the local police. There he works to solve the mysterious gruesome deaths (and the details are rather gruesome) of young children in cities along the rail line. Loosely based on the story of Russia’s most notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo.

4. The Swastika and the Cross by Fredrick Grossmith – AMAZING memoir of the Nuremberg chaplain who ministered to the Germans standing trial for WWII war crimes. Reviewed here.

5. On the Mortification of Sin by John Owen: Teachings from one of the most prolific and challenging Puritan authors on how Christians should view sin and live in light of our fallen state. He unpacks The King James of Romans 8.13 “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify (i.e. put to death) the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” How does one put to death the deeds of the body? What does that mean? Owen attempts to give answers to this difficult question.

6. Brave Companions by David McCullough : McCullough is my favorite history author, and this comparatively short book, by his standards, gives a glimpse into the lives of more than a dozen key figures who have shaped American culture. I previously reviewed the book here:

7. Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle: This is the best spiritual disciplines book I’ve ever read. Though written in the late 1800’s, Ryle addresses issues that have hindered Christian growth since the ascension of Christ. I started reading this book off and on in the mornings in 2004. When I hit the half-way point early this year, I could not put it down and blasted through the rest to the end. It offers much encouragement and challenge to persevere in the midst of a hostile culture.

8. I am a Man of God by Chris Beasley: A friend sent this to me (it is self published and can only be purchased here). It is a 30 day devotional for men. I do not agree with everything in the book, particularly with chapter 3, but I really appreciated his message and writing style. I think many men would find this work challenging, fun to read, and appealing. Beasley writes in a way that lets you know he is deeply committed to the spiritual health of the reader. He really cares about men learning to live the abundant Christian life.

9. The Starfish and the Spider by Brafman & Beckstrom: Nonfiction/Business: Why were the Spanish able to conquer South and Central America with such ease and yet could not make headway against the Apaches? The same reason that Starfish replicate when cut apart: a starfish has no central nervous system (as opposed to a spider) that can be crushed and killed. The concept has great implications for the modern church, which often elevates one personality as the primary growth plan, faltering when that person fails or moves on. Instead a ‘viral’ organization can grow and multiply regardless of what happens to any individual cell.

10. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes: A short work by a Puritan that turns the stereotypical image of harsh, relentless, religious zealots on its head. Sibbes teaches on us that God is not a harsh task-master, rather he is one that cares deeply for our spiritual health and nurturing, and will work in our lives to bruise, but not break us , in an effort to sanctify his children. Based on Isaiah 42.3 “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

11. FallingWater Rising by Franklin Toker – This book is a biography of a house, the legendary home built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the woods of Eastern Pennsylvania. This book described the merger of two men seeking fame through the design and building of this house. The saddest part is the emptiness of their lives in the midst of their immense talents and ambitions.

One more book – one that I’ve started reading this year, but have not finished

1. The Institutes of Christian Religion, vol. 1 (of 2) by John Calvin – No other book that I have read in my life has offered as much spiritual encouragement as this. It is a large work – this volume alone is 800 pages - but it is worth the effort to read through it. I’m about 200 pages into it and am deeply grateful for having picked it up. I encourage you to find a copy (Per Wayne Grudem, I purchased the two volume set that come together in this set edited by John T. McNeil. Though pricy ($25/book), it is worth every penny – for what better thing to spend money on than the nourishment of your soul? Skip a night out at the movies (easily $50 these days) and put it toward this book.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

52 Men Trying

When it comes to finding inspiration and motivation for being a man that keeps trying, there are few things as compelling as the stories of the faithful saints of the past.

But many of these stalwart examples are lost to the modern man, relegated to the dim hallways of seminary bookshelves. Thus, In 2009, One Man Trying will highlight one historic figure a week, particularly emphasizing the way these men remained faithful to following Jesus. Most of these fifty-two fine fellows will be referenced from the book A Concise History of Christian Thought. You can pick up a copy and read more about each person in a few pages.

Fifty-two is also significant in that I accomplished my goal of reading fifty-two books this year. By the end of the year I will post a list of all fifty-two along with a synopsis of each book. This will be followed with the top ten that I recommend you consider reading in 2009.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Key to Success

There is a contingent of dedicated, no, religious Dr. Pepper drinkers in the world today. Personally, I find the flavor intriguing, but not addictive. This week I had an epiphany related to Diet Dr. Pepper. I learned through a trusted source that John Piper drinks Diet Dr. Pepper like a maniac. I can also testify from personal experience that Dennis Rainey is borderline addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper. Finally, I've observed Wayne Grudem drinking Diet Dr. Pepper at least one time - i think you can see where this is going.

Application: If you want to be a spiritual stud, you better start drinking Diet Dr. Pepper.