The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Books (page 1 of 17)

Reading in 2019

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2019:

  1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker
  3. Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks
  4. Success Sparklers: A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Sparkling Sayings for the Positive Person, compiled by Ivy Conner
  5. The Honorary Consul, by Graham Greene
  6. Small Group Strategies: Ideas & Activities for Developing Spiritual Growth in your Students, by Laurie Polich and Charley Scandlyn
  7. Walking Away From Idolatry, by Wes McAdams
  8. The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas
  10. The Hidden Harbor Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  11. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander
  14. Selected Stories of O. Henry, Introduction and Notes by Victoria Blake*
  15. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  16. Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross, by N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst
  17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter
  18. God, Guys, and Girls, by Derry Prenkert
  19. Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann
  20. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best When the World is at Its Worst, by Ed Stetzer
  21. How To Lose a Kingdom in 400 Years, by Michael Whitworth
  22. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  23. The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
  25. I Am A Church Member, by Thom S. Rainer
  26. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
  27. That’s Why We Sing: Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing, by Darryl Tippens
  28. Fire Upon the Earth: The Story of the Christian Church, by Norman F. Langford
  29. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  30. Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney
  31. The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan
  32. The Yellow Feather Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  33. The Clue in the Embers, by Franklin W. Dixon
  34. Murder at Wrigley Field, by Troy Soos
  35. Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ, by John Young
  36. New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young
  37. Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
  38. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  39. Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change, by Chris Field
  40. The Secret Agent on Flight 101, by Franklin W. Dixon
  41. Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  42. Discipeshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, by Jim Putnam & Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman
  43. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
  44. Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matter, by David Fraze
  45. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  46. The Fourfold Gospel, by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton
  47. Prayer, In Practice, by J.L. Gerhardt
  48. It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, by Peter Walsh
  49. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, by Jonathan Merritt
  50. D2: Becoming A Devoted Follower of Christ, by Phil McKinney II
  51. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  52. One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, by Clinton De France

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total decreased from 54 books in 2018 to 52 in 2019. I was pleased with this number considering that we moved in the middle of the year, my life was crazy busy preparing for that move and adjusting to it, and my reading time was (probably) somewhat less.
  • For the last several years, I have been between 48-54 books per year. This really seems to be my sweet spot.
  • This was my first full year removed from grad school, so I wondered how that would affect my reading. I still read a lot, with a decent amount of reading still geared toward faith, ministry, discipleship, biblical studies, etc.
  • I enjoyed my reading this past year. There were some books I didn’t love, but really, no major disappointments.

I want to share my Top 10 books for the year, but before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 10, but I still wanted to comment on:

  • The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter: this was a great book of memories of baseball players from the early 1900s. As a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I was delighted to recognize that this book was a major primary source for many of the quotations for that series.
  • Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney: This was a very short, yet very convicting, read. Christan parents, we really don’t have a good excuse for not having regular worship or devotional time at home with our families. If you want motivation, guidance, or conviction related to this, read this book.
  • The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan: This was a novel for children written by a friend, and I loved it. It is currently unpublished, and I read an early draft. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hands and tell you about it.
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith: This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it frequently. It doesn’t make my Top 10 list because that feels like cheating. Otherwise, it would be there almost every year.
  • Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans: RHE was just a couple years older than me, and tragically died from an illness earlier in 2019. I am not really the audience for this book, but I listened to the audio version (read by the author) and am so glad I did. I disagree with Evans on a variety of issues, but she is incredibly likable and it is clear that she genuinely loved God and other people, and wanted to remove barriers that prevented people from knowing the God she loved so much. It was good for me to read.

My favorite books from 2019.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs: This was a fascinating and tragic true story of a man who grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Newark but managed to find his way out and graduate with honors from Yale, only to end up back in his former neighborhood where he ultimately was murdered in a drug-related crime. This story was well-written and gripping, and also filled with impending dread, as you knew from the title that it would not end well. Memoirs are not the best way to analyze complex social issues, but this book did provide for thoughtful reflection on racial issues (which, between this book, The Other Wes Moore, and The New Jim Crow {described below}, was a repeated focus for me in 2019).
  • The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament Worldby Bruce W. Longenecker: Longenecker, a well-known biblical scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, writes this epistolary novel that consists of a series of letters between several characters, including Luke the Evangelist. What results is a moving story that helps to illuminate the New Testament world including aspects such as honor-shame culture, patronage, the nature of letter writing, and Roman persecution. It took a little bit for me to get into it, but by the end, I absolutely loved it.
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expeditionby Caroline Alexander: This was a fascinating account of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition complete with penetrating character studies and amazing photographs. This is simply an incredible, unbelievable tale. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah: I have discovered that I love reading fiction set in WWII, and this is a good example of this. This novel tells the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France, and the very different ways they seek to survive and resist during a very difficult time.
  • The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentaryby Robert Alter: Alter is a world-renowned expert on the Hebrew Bible who gives special attention to its literary features. This is his own translation along with commentary, which I used for my daily Bible reading early in the year. I don’t know Hebrew well enough to evaluate how great his translation is, but it was certainly readable, and I found his commentary to be frequently insightful.
  • New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young: I mentioned this book, and Young, in my recap of this past year’s Harding Lectureship, where I heard him speak three times. The short version of the book is that Churches of Christ (and really, churches across the spectrum) are declining in the United States, and the solution to this problem is to get serious about prayer, making disciples, and planting churches. If you have come to suspect that church should be about more than a social gathering, worship wars, and a consumeristic buffet of programs catering to the whims of members, this book is for you (wow, that was a little preachy!).
  • Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Changeby Chris Field: I did not have high expectations for this book, but I really liked it. Basically, it is a book about how to bring about culture change: you have to find a problem that really bothers you, and then attack it with creativity and perseverance. Most of the book is a series of inspiring vignettes of people who did exactly that. This was a really encouraging book for me.
  • Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matterby David Fraze: I already reviewed this book here on the blog, so I don’t feel the need to say much here, other than the fact that this is now one of my favorite youth ministry books (I read a lot of them), and I plan on using it from now on with all of my youth ministry interns.
  • 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson: Although I have friends who are big fans of Peterson, I was not a fan, and actually began to read this book with a great deal of skepticism. Peterson’s breadth of knowledge is so vast that I found it difficult to evaluate at times (Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?). At other times, when he crossed into areas I could better evaluate, I was blown away: his handling of the biblical text, especially the Book of Genesis, was very impressive (he is a little shakier on the teachings of Jesus—on a very deep level, I don’t think Peterson knows what to do with Him). Ultimately, what I would say is that each of Peterson’s rules range from helpful to profound, even if I don’t fully agree with all of the reasoning he uses to arrive at them. I “read” this book in audio format, and will likely reread it, soon.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander has two basic arguments in the book: (1) the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color (specifically through the War on Drugs), relegating a large chunk of African American society to being residents of an “undercaste”, and (2) this has been done intentionally. Although I don’t believe she established her second argument (to be fair, I don’t want to believe it), her first point seems absolutely clear to me. For those who do not understand (or worse, deny) the reality of systemic racism, this is a great book to read.

That was my reading for 2019. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2020, and can’t wait to get into them.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Book Review: Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry

Recently, I was taking advantage of a sale from Leafwood Publishers when I happened upon David Fraze’s Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths that Matter, and decided to buy it. I am so glad that I did! Simply put, this book was outstanding; it is the youth ministry book that I was planning to write one day, and now I don’t have to (which is good, because Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry is better than what I would have produced!).

The book is split into 22 chapters of different concepts and aspects of youth ministry that matter. It is a diverse list, including topics ranging from The Bible, to Office Hours, to Sexual Purity, to Volunteers, and beyond. Each chapter is short, and contains three sections: “Why?”, “How?”, and “Now?” In the “Why?” section, Fraze discusses why a given topic matters, engaging the biblical text and providing theological justification for his point. In the “How?” section, he then offers practical tips to improve your ministry in that area, and in the “Now?” section, he offers first steps for improvement moving forward.

There were a lot of ideas in the book that I found to be very helpful, but here were some of my favorite quotations:

“Adult involvement is a key factor in measuring youth ministry success. In fact, adults are one of the main reasons students stay involved with the church after graduation.…To be most effective, youth ministers need to work to get the entire congregation involved in youth ministry.” (43-44)

“Marriage is intended to be a reflection of the intimate love, devotion, and sacrifice Christ has for the church. Therefore, a youth minister’s marriage is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, testimonies and tools he has to impact the lives of teenagers with the gospel of Jesus.” (80)

“Regarding Mondays after a weekend trip, most of the jobs your parents and adult volunteers work at expect that office hours be kept with excellence and responsibility. Regardless of whether they sponsored a weekend you retreat, they will be at work, on time, the next day. I expect the same type of office hours out of my employees. If it is not a day off, then get to work, on time.” (101-02)

“If your students and adults do what you do, would there be any outreach happening in your student ministry?” (121)

“While important, the events of youth ministry in and of themselves do not possess the life-changing power often bestowed on them by youth ministers. The events possess life-changing power to develop and support relationships with God’s people. The relationships are what matter.” (136)

It is really hard for me to overstate how much I enjoyed this book. While it does not offer an in-depth look at any of the topics included, it is an excellent introductory work for youth ministry. It would provide an invaluable resource to new youth ministers, but also is a helpful refresher for youth ministry veterans like myself, and also a way for me to reflect upon and improve in areas where I am weaker. I strongly recommend this book for anyone involved in youth ministry work (youth ministers, youth ministry students, youth deacons and elders, youth volunteers, etc.).

Book Review: “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery”

I recently finished reading Amazing GraceEric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce and his work to end the slave trade. A former New York Times bestseller, this was a book that I had looked forward to reading for quite a while because I enjoyed the Amazing Grace film so much when I watched it a decade ago or so. Unfortunately, this joins a very short list of books that I find to be inferior to films based upon them (The Last of the Mohicans is probably the best example of this).

There were a few things about the book that bothered me:

  • I found much of Metaxas’s prose to be cumbersome. He tends to use flowery language and also makes random asides that seemed out of place in a biography, and cluttered up his paragraphs.
  • Amazing Grace read less like a biography, and more like a hagiography, where Metaxas’s obvious admiration for Wilberforce led him to be less than objective in his evaluation of him (and also resulted in some of the flowery language that I complained about above).
  • Metaxas, who is a politically conservative evangelical, has been criticized for idealizing the characters about whom he writes and making them look very much like himself theologically and politically. This criticism was especially strong after his biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I felt that I could catch glimpses of this in his discussion of Wilberforce’s faith, and especially in Metaxas’s caricatured portrayal of the religious faith of Wilberforce’s day. Though to be fair, having been exposed to this particular criticism of Metaxas’s writing, I was probably looking for it.

Having said that, there are some really good things about this book, and the primary one is that it helps to make accessible the life story of a remarkable man who, driven by his devout faith, worked to bring about profound changes in British society that rippled across the world. Wilberforce is famous for his fight against the slave trade, but was also very involved in the quest to reform British society and to improve British policy in India.

I’ll close by sharing some of my favorite quotations from the book, with brief commentary. In trying to explain that the legacy of Wilberforce is greater than the simple abolition of the slave trade, Metaxas writes:

To fathom the magnitude of what Wilberforce did we have to see that the “disease” he vanquished forever was actually neither the slave trade nor slavery. Slavery still exists in the world today, in such measure as we can hardly fathom. What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery, something that was much more fundamental and can hardly be seen from where we stand today: he vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world. Included in the old way of seeing things was the idea that the evil of slavery was good. Wilberforce murdered that old way of seeing things, and so the idea that slavery was good died along with it. Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead. The idea that it is inextricably intertwined with human civilization, and part of the way things are supposed to be, and economically necessary and morally defensible, is gone. Because the entire mind-set that supported it is gone.

(Amazing Grace, xv)

Wilberforce grew up religious but basically fell away in his late teens and early twenties before experiencing a significant revival and deepening of his faith. When that took place, he was tempted to back away from politics (he was already a member of Parliament at the time), because he thought it to be an improper place for a person of strong religious conviction. His good friend William Pitt, the Prime Minister, did not want to see his friend check out of politics, and suggested that his newfound faith could find much to do in the world of politics:

Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.

(Amazing Grace, 58)

Ultimately, this advice would prove influential for Wilberforce, who remained in politics and used his platform and influence to do kingdom work and bring about a profound change in the lives of millions.

Part of Wilberforce’s work in his opposition to slavery was educating the British population of the horrors that slaves faced, about which many were genuinely and totally ignorant (slave traders commonly argued that slaves were happy or at least better off in captivity, and many people naively believed it). Wilberforce investigated the living conditions of slaves and knew better, and widely disseminated the information. In a parliamentary debate, Wilberforce explained his motivation for seeking abolition:

…When we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is here in this life which should make any man contradict the principles of his own conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?

Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this Trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it.

(Amazing Grace, 136)

Metaxas portrays the Britain of Wilberforce’s early years as one which claimed to a form of Christian civil religion, but that it was a watered-down faith that brought little to no leavening influence on the nation as a whole. Wilberforce, who spent a long career as a respected and powerful MP who was famous for his faith and his political stances based upon his faith, was instrumental in changing the religious environment of his day:

When Wilberforce entered Paliament, there were only three MPs who would have identified themselves as seriously Christian, but half a century later there were closer to two hundred. Politics had come to be thought of as a noble calling. There would always be self-seekers—and few individuals could be entirely free of selfish motivation—but the idea that politicians should be free of that motivation and work for the good of society was something new, and Wilberforce’s influence in introducing it is hard to avoid.

(Amazing Grace, 234)

If you are a believer, William Wilberforce—a man of devout faith whose faith and love of neighbor prompted him to act in unpopular ways for the good of others—is a man you need to know well. Amazing Grace is a book with some flaws, but it does a great job of helping the reader to do that—getting to know a man who spent his life working to make God’s kingdom come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Book Review: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. day, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a review of one of the last (and best) books I read last year: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. The book is a product of the King Papers Project, which seeks to share information about King’s life and ideas.

Of course, King is an iconic figure in our society, but like many Americans, I have probably been guilty of assuming that I know him better than I do, when really, I have just heard the “I Have a Dream” speech several times, read lots of quotations from him, and learned about him in school. This book, which provides the transcripts of eleven of his most significant speeches, represents the beginning of an effort on my part to better understand the life and thinking of this profoundly important and complex character.

One of the things that I liked about reading King’s speeches firsthand is that it reminded me that he was, first and foremost, a preacher. His speeches possess the rhythm and cadence of well-crafted sermons, and are saturated with biblical allusions and the prophetic call for justice. King’s speeches feature not only beautiful eloquence but profound theological insight.

Here are some of my favorite quotations; I will include the page numbers from the book, as well as the speech from which the quotations came (and I omitted any quotes from I Have a Dream; I figured they would be familiar already):

“And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn’t do this. But the greatest glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” (9, Address to the First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting)

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace. But let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that, when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery, that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters. Oh, my friend, our aim must not be to defeat Mr. Engelhardt, not to defeat Mr. Sellers and Mr. Gayle and Mr. Parks. Our aim must be to defeat the evil that’s in them.” (32-33, The Birth of a New Nation)

“And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension.” (35, The Birth of a New Nation)

“There is something in our Christian faith, at the center of it, which says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” (54, Give Us the Ballot)

“For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say “love” at this point, I’m not talking about an affection emotion. It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” (67, Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (107, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

“And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go on ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society of peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” (130, Selma to Montgomery March).

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic…it is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.” (186-87, Where Do We Go From Here?)

“And the other thing is, I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can‘t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.” (191-92, Where Do We Go From Here?)

I know I shared a lot of quotations here, but really, it is only a taste: this is a rich collection of great thoughts from one of our nation’s most influential leaders.

For my reviews in 2019, I want to begin the practice of ending each one by giving a recommendation as to whether or not I think the book in question is one that I think others should check out. In the case of A Call to Conscience, I found it to be an emotional and profound read, and my verdict is an easy one: read it.

Reading in 2018

It’s that time of year again, when people talk about their reading from the previous year and the best books they read. As someone who (a) tries to thoughtfully reflect on things and (b) obsessively keeps lists of things, I always enjoy reading lists from other people and sharing my own.

Here is my own list from 2018:

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  2. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  3. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N.T. Wright
  4. Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, edited by John Dillenberger*
  5. The Marburg Colloquy, edited by Hermann Sasse
  6. The Knowledge of God the Creator (from Institutes of the Christian Religion), by John Calvin
  7. The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin
  8. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, translated by Anthony Mottola*
  9. The Racovian Catechism*
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. The Reasonableness of Christianity, by John Locke
  12. A Discourse of Miracles, by John Locke
  13. Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church in Pia Desideria, by Philip Jacob Spener
  14. Decision Points, by George W. Bush
  15. Divorce, by John R.W. Stott
  16. Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, edited by Milton C. Sernett*
  17. Woman in the Pulpit, by Frances Willard*
  18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  19. Jesus: A Study of the Life of Christ, by Shane Robinson
  20. The Five Books of Moses & The Former Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  21. The Making of George Washington, by William H. Wilbur
  22. Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong, by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell
  23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  24. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  26. The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day, by Justo L. Gonzalez
  27. The Faith of the Presidents, by Anne Schraff
  28. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  29. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis
  30. The Latter Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  31. Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear
  32. Havana Bay, by Martin Cruz Smith
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  34. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
  35. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton
  36. The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace: God’s Antidotes for Division within the Churches of Christ, by Jay Guin
  37. Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, by Eleanor Updale
  38. The Perilous Road, by William O. Steele
  39. History and Background of the Institutional Controversy, by Steve Wolfgang
  40. Crispin: the Cross of Lead, by Avi
  41. The Ghost Hollow Mystery, by Page Carter
  42. Letters To The Church, by Francis Chan
  43. The Writings, by Bibliotheca
  44. Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox
  45. Alexander Campbell, Apostle of Truth, by William Blake
  46. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch
  47. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
  48. How To Be A Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide To Flawless Spiritual Living, by The Babylon Bee
  49. Priceless, by Jeremy Myers
  50. The Apocrypha, by Bibliotheca
  51. The New Testament, by Bibliotheca
  52. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard
  53. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, by C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes
  54. Traces of the Kingdom, by Keith Sisman

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2017 to 54 books in 2017. And this included a couple of very large volumes of 650-800 pages. I see other people who read 100 books or more a year, but at this stage of my life, it seems that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 is my limit.
  • I enjoyed my reading in 2018 more than in 2017.
  • There were two big disappointments in my reading this past year. The first was the Bibliotheca series, which I used to do my daily Bible reading in 2018. There was a lot of fanfare about this translation when it came out, and indeed, it has many admirable qualities: an elegant typeface, beautiful binding, and a page layout that should lend itself to readability. However, the translation itself was wooden and awkward, and I simply did not enjoy it at all. Also, Traces of the Kingdom was a book that I had looked forward to for a few years, but I really struggled with it. Although the author puts you in touch with some extraordinarily rare primary sources that are hundreds of years old, the writing is poor, and much of the logic and argumentation is stretched. It was a disappointment.

My favorite books from 2018.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Mark Sullivan: This is a novel, based on a true story, set in WWII Italy. It is a gripping tale of a teenage boy seeking to navigate the warring factions of Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists, Allied forces, resistance fighters, partisans, and the Catholic church. It is a gripping tale and compelling read. Fans of All The Light We Cannot See will appreciate this book, which is better.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Senseby N.T. Wright: N.T. Wright is the preeminent living Christian thinker, and this is his basic presentation of the Christian faith (it has been called the Mere Christianity for modern times). In my opinion, nothing that Wright writes is truly “simple,” so, despite his intentions, I can’t say that this is the easiest read for the average Christian, but it is a great book.
  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bibleby Michael S. Heiser: Heiser makes the basic claim that modern believers do not read/hear the Bible in the way that ancient believers did, who believed in a robust array of spiritual beings who operate “unseen” and greatly influence the lives that we experience. This becomes the prevailing paradigm for how he interprets Scripture, and especially if you are not familiar with the biblical motif of the Divine Council, much of what he says will shock you. Ultimately, I think Heiser draws some conclusions that are not warranted, but on the whole, I think he makes a very compelling case. This book has been somewhat of a game-changer for me.
  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russiaby Tim Tzouliadis: During the Great Depression, thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans were lured to Stalinist Russia with the promise of work and prosperity available to all in the Communist Utopia. Within a few short years, they (along with millions of others) would be killed in the Stalinist purges and, adding to the tragedy, they were largely abandoned by the US government. Not to get too political in a brief book review, but in an era when I increasingly witness many people (especially those generally around my age or younger) pay lip service to the idea that socialism and even communism are benign or even preferable politico-economic systems, this was an important read for me. When it came to murdering people, Stalin made Hitler look like an amateur, and I don’t say that lightly.
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatologyby J. Richard Middleton: Middleton argues that the Biblical text teaches that God will redeem and restore His creation and will dwell with His people for eternity on a New Heaven and New Earth. This is not some form of premillennialism, but neither is it the popular notion of the Christian hope being getting to escape from this earth and “go to heaven when we die.” This interpretation will be challenging for some, but I am convinced that this perspective is fundamentally correct, and Middleton’s treatment of it is excellent.
  • Letters To The Churchby Francis Chan: This was a convicting read for me. Chan is a Restorationist’s Restorationist, and this book basically encourages Christians to thoughtfully return to the model of the church as described in the pages of Scripture. Simply put, there are some basic ways of “doing church” that really need to be evaluated and, quite possibly, jettisoned. This book left me uneasy in a good way.
  • Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox: Dr. Cox was one of my favorite teachers at Harding, and this book is basically a written version of his “Living World Religions” class (one of my favorite classes). It is a helpful overview of various world religions, and would make an excellent resource for a Bible class.
  • The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Placeby Andy Crouch: Technolgy is increasingly present in our lives, and for all of its positive benefits, there are negative side effects as well. Crouch offers some helpful (and at times, extreme) perspective on how families should treat technology and strive to create home environments that cultivate wisdom and courage.
  • The Great Divorceby C.S. Lewis: I’m not sure that I have ever read something by Lewis that I didn’t like, but this is one of my favorites. Lewis’ allegorical take on hell is, in my opinion, both brilliant and helpful.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard: I had really not read/heard much from Dr. King before, other than his “I Have a Dream” speech or snippets of quotations from other sources, and that was a mistake, because King’s speeches evidence not only beautiful eloquence, but also profound theological insight. I plan to do additional reading from (and on) Dr. King in the future.

That was my reading for 2018. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2019, and am already in the midst of two good ones right now.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

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