Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Great Book to Read at Christmas

Last year I picked up the book On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.  This is a short read (about 100 pgs) that I highly recommend, especially the edition with an introduction by C.S. Lewis.

In the book, Athanasius defends the need for God to come to earth as a human and builds a case against pagans who would laugh at this "absurd" notion.  And who better to write on the topic than Athanasius, since he is best known for his relentless fight for the belief in the deity of Christ. In fact some say that he alone stood in the gap to protect Orthodoxy against ultimate corruption.

As a result, he faced much persecution.  As Bishop, he was in and out of exile four more times, spending a total of 15 years away from his work in Alexandria.  But even in exile, he was able to redeem the time,   fellowshiping with monks, eventually writing a 'best-seller' about the life of Antony, one of the first monks. Many would see an exile as time wasted, but God used Athanasius' writings from this period to lead many to faith in Christ. In fact, his book on Antony played a key part in Augustine's conversion!

I can say from my experience teaching through the book of John in Rwanda that there really is nothing sweeter to the soul than to dwell on the person and work of Christ.  Reading this book will help you dwell there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Books to Read with your Son... or Daughter

Since college I've dreamed of reading through The Chronicles of Narnia with my children some day.  We've already been able to pick our way through most of Prince Caspian, which has been a joy.  But I've been surprised by how many other books my son has been able to enjoy already.  I've listed a few of my favorites below.

Pilgrims Progress - This is a new edition of the 300 year-old classic work, re-published by Crossway.  I picked this up at a recent conference, though I almost went with a more kid-friendly version with more pictures and less text.  This version has 30 high quality illustrations spread throughout the 200 page book.  The pictures look like many paintings you'd expect to see hanging on the walls of a mega-Baptist Church.  They are pleasant to look at and keep my son's attention enough to last him through 10-15 pages of text. Which is quite surprising, since the language of the book is only 'lightly edited' from the original.  There are long sections of theological discussion, most of which I read word for word, and yet he keeps asking for more.  I don't really have a category for this.  Maybe the length of the Bending Light book (mentioned next) prepared him for this. 

You can read a sample chapter as well.

Journey to the Bending Light by Todd Sorrell.  This book came into FamilyLife, but the radio program  rarely features fiction, so I took it home to see if my son would want to listen to it.  Boy did he ever!  He was hooked from the first page.  I was so surprised because this was one of the first long form books without many pictures in which he was interested.  The story is set in a make believe world, where a boy has to journey through seven "circles" (or lands) to arrive at the final destination - the bending light (a euphemism for heaven).  It's a good read and drives home many important character truths.  Some were even moving to read for me, such as seeing the consequence of sin portrayed in such vivid ways (like the chapter on the allure of  'toys' for both children and adults, and how they erode the soul).  I must warn you that this book, as well as King Lear (see below) and even Pilgrims Progress for that matter, has a fair amount of violence.  It seems that people die quite a bit in this book (because they do).  I honestly wondered if I shouldn't have pulled back a bit, since I don't want him becoming de-sensitized to violence at such a young age.  But I decided to keep reading, since most of the violence was either fantastic (i.e. mythical beasts dying) or the result of sin, rebelliousness, and foolishness.  When it was the latter, I wanted to talk about it!

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas - at 1312 pages, it's a big bite of book to take on.  I started reading and discussing the book with a friend of mine earlier in the year.  One evening my son asked me about it, so I summarized the plot up to that point (I was at 200 pp or so).  He then asked me to start reading to him.  He sat and listened for 30 minutes that night.  Every night thereafter for a week or two, he would ask me to read more.  Eventually, around the 500 page mark, the pace of the story began to slow (though still very gripping for adults).  So I would read after he went to bed, and then summarize the story for him the next day.

I recommend the book, and of all the long, classic literature novels I've read, this one is definitely the most gripping.  It is a page turner and does not have the long political discourses of other works.  However, If you've not read the unabridged Les Miserables by Hugo, then you should consider it as well.  I've not read any other book with so many shocking plot turns.  Truly a masterpiece.  (Note - Hugo does go off on a few 50 pg political rants.  Feel free to skim through those!)  I'll write more in a later post about the importance of reading good literature.

King Lear by Shakespeare.  For those parents who haven't already introduced their pre-school children to Shakespeare (because, come on, really, what good parent hasn't?!) then this would be a good intro.  Actually, we just stumbled upon it at the library... oh the glorious library!  But beware, it's not written for a 5 year old.  It's Shakespeare's original words, but depicted in a graphic novel form, and set on the early American frontier (instead of Britain) with Lear cast as an Algonquin Indian chief.  Yes, I'm serious.  The illustrator is witty with the collision of styles, blending Victorian dress with Indian motiffs.

And in all actuality I do not think I would recommend reading this with most 5 year olds.  We got about 1/2 way through the book and the brutality and nuance of the dialogue was just too difficult to translate.  But the images are pretty stunning and kept his attention until that point.  Now for those adults who have always wondered what Shakespeare was really saying, you may find this and others in the series quite entertaining!

Buy some books

My dad recently snapped a photo of this sign and thought of me:

So in order to help those who "have a little money" and are thinking ahead to the books they may want to read next year, in the coming days I'll be posting about a few of my favorites reads of 2009.  If it's not too late, you can add them to your Christmas wish list!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grudem on the Poverty of Nations

I recently returned from the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans.

It's a pretty intense conference and unlike any other event I've ever attended.  The meeting allows for many of the evangelical academic leaders to gather and discuss various theological issues and to build relationships.   It's a fun but exhausting atmosphere, as there are roughly 500 academic papers presented in three days.  Since you can't attend them all (nor would you want to), you have to choose wisely.  Usually, my mind is fried by about 2 or 3 PM each day, trying to absorb all the deep content.

One of the better presentations was a paper by Wayne Grudem titled "Fifty reasons why poor nations stay poor."   I had heard him share on this topic years ago in an ethics class and was excited to hear more. 

Though the talk from ETS is not available, you can listen to the longer version, in 4 parts, that he gave to his Sunday School class here:

50 Factors within nations that determine their wealth and poverty.

You  can also download the message outlines here, and on the class website.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Driscoll on Idolatry

I am WAY late on posting this.

But... the message Mark Driscoll gave on "Ministry Idolatry" at the Advance '09 conference (video here) had a profound effect on my life. It is well worth the time to listen to it.

A helpful follow-up post to the conference was by Piper on Idolatry.  Also worth reading and evaluating.