New and noteworthy books

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One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:


You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan

In his latest book, Francis Chan joins together with his wife Lisa to address the question many couples wonder at the altar: How do I have a great marriage? Setting aside typical topics on marriage, Francis and Lisa dive into Scripture to understand what it means to have a relationship that satisfies the deepest parts of our souls.

100% of the net profits from You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity will go towards providing food, shelter and rehabilitation for thousands of orphaned children and exploited women in partnership with global charities.

And if you needed an additional reason to pick this one up…

You’re welcome.

Buy it at: Amazon


ESV Women’s Devotional Bible

The latest edition to the ESV Bible family:

Applicable for women in any stage of life, the Women’s Devotional Bible is theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and practical. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and equipped to understand and apply the Bible to every aspect of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper

From horror flicks to rom-coms, the tales we tell and the myths we weave inevitably echo the narrative underlying all of history: the story of humanity’s tragic sin and God’s triumphant salvation. This entertaining book connects the dots between the stories we tell and the one great Story—helping us better understand the longings of the human heart and thoughtfully engage with the movies and TV shows that capture our imaginations.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund invites us to explore the great eighteenth-century pastor’s central passion: God’s resplendent beauty. Whether the topic was the nature of love, the preeminence of Scripture, or the glory of the natural world, the concept of beauty stood at the heart of Edwards’s theology and permeated his portrait of the Christian life. Clear and engaging, this accessible volume will inspire you to embrace Edwards’s magnificent vision of what it means to be a Christian: enjoying and reflecting of the beauty of God in all things.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw

Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes a closer look at the key arguments skeptical scholars such as Ehrman keep repeating in radio interviews, debates, and in his their popular writings. If you are looking for insightful responses to critical arguments from a biblical perspective, easily accessible and thoughtfully presented, this book is for you. This is the first book to provide a comprehensive response to Ehrman’s popular works. It is presented in such a way that readers can either read straight through the book or use it as a reference when particular questions arise. Responding to skeptical scholars such as Ehrman, Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes readers on a journey to explain topics such as the Bible’s origins, the copying of the Bible, alleged contradictions in Scripture, and the relationship between God and evil. Written for all serious students of Scripture, this book will enable you to know how to respond to a wide variety of critical arguments raised against the reliability of Scripture and the truthfulness of Christianity.

Buy it at: Amazon


God’s Design for Man and Woman by Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger

This thorough study of the Bible’s teaching on men and women aims to help a new generation of Christians live for Christ in today’s world. Moving beyond other treatments that primarily focus on select passages, this winsome volume traces Scripture’s overarching pattern related to male-female relationships in both the Old and New Testaments. Those interested in careful discussion rather than caustic debate will discover that God’s design is not confining or discriminatory but beautiful, wise, liberating, and good.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Tom Jones by Fielding

This one’s a bit of a cheat since it’s about 200 years old and I bought it. But I bought it on the recommendation of Karen Swallow Prior.

Tom, a foundling, is discovered one evening by the benevolent Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget and brought up as a son in their household; when his sexual escapades and general misbehavior lead them to banish him, he sets out in search of both his fortune and his true identity. Amorous, high-spirited, and filled with what Fielding called “the glorious lust of doing good,” but with a tendency toward dissolution, Tom Jones is one of the first characters in English fiction whose human virtues and vices are realistically depicted. This edition is set from the text of the Wesleyan Edition of the Works of Henry Fielding.

Buy it at: Amazon

Seven books I’m reading this fall

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Well, it’s finally here: Labor Day, and with it, the end of summer holidays in Canada. Tomorrow, kids all over Canada will return to school, and traffic will be slightly busier due to school busses. Life around the Armstrong home will be a little different, too, since it’s our first official day being a homeschooling family.

As new seasons approach, I like to consider what I’m going to read over the next several weeks. A few weeks ago, I shared a look at what I planned to read during the summer (and actually read most of them!) Today, I wanted to share a few books I’m planning to read (or have already started) this fall:

Killing Lions: A Guide Through the Trials Young Men Face by John and Sam Eldridge. This is one of those “I’m doing a book review” reads, because I don’t willingly read books by John Eldridge. That should also give you a hint about how much I’m enjoying it.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. “The horse, it must be said, was quite surprised.” I last read this in my early 20s, and I’m looking forward to re-reading. Douglas Adams was a brilliant writer, a master of smart humor and clever titles. (See also The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.)

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles by Jared C. Wilson. This has been on my radar since late 2013 and on my bookshelf since July. This is probably one of the books I’m most guaranteed to enjoy because, well, Jared’s about a thousand times better a writer than most Christian writers aspire to be. (In other words, he is the anti-Eldridge.)

The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes. The latest book from Cruciform Press looks very intriguing.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More——Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior. I love a good biographies and good writing. This will, Lord willing, be a match made in heaven.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. To call any of Wilson’s books “children’s fiction” is foolish.  He writes smart, compelling stories suitable for all-ages (certainly that’s what I picked up reading The Ashtown Burials series). It’ll be fun to see how this one turns out and if it’s something I can share with my kids eventually.

Everyone’s A Theologian by R.C. Sproul. I’ve been planning to read this one for ages now, so it’ll be nice to finally dig in.

So that’s a few of the books I’m hoping to read this fall. What’s on your list?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

Five books every Christian should read on prayer

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Prayer is a discipline many of us need help with. Okay, maybe you’re doing great in your prayer life. I need a lot of help in mine. Thankfully, there are a lot of really great books out there on the subject. Here are five I’ve found particularly helpful and you might, too:


The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

True, I recommended this one when talking about biographies you and I should read, but Douglas Bond’s book on John Knox offers us an example to look to when we want to know what a life submitted to the Lord in prayer looks like. “Because of his candid acknowledgment of his great need, he sought the aid of the God of the universe, and one way he sought it was through the prayers of fellow believers.”

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Don Carson’s book on his father, Tom, is another powerful “pray by example” book (even if not technically a book on prayer). As I wrote elsewhere, Carson shows his father as a man who prayed as though the Lord really is sovereign—that He must intervene for the lives of his hearers to be transformed.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


A Simple Way to Pray: The Wisdom of Martin Luther on Prayer

Archie Parrish offers an examination of Luther’s prayer life, as well as the advice he wrote in his little booklet, The Way to Pray. As far as “instruction” books on prayer, there are few better than this because of it. (More thoughts related to this book can be found here. And for a related book, read R.C. Sproul’s The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, a child-appropriate retelling of Luther’s The Way to Pray.)

Buy it at: Amazon


A Call to Prayer

This little book is one of the most challenging, if for no other reason than J.C. Ryle’s willingness to call out the complacency of Christians in his day (a complacency that looks familiar in ours, as well). He writes:

Can we really believe that people are praying against sin — when we see them plunging into it? Can we suppose they pray against the world — when they are entirely absorbed and taken up with its pursuits? Can we think they really ask God for grace to serve him — when they do not show the slightest interest to serve him at all?

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Valley of Vision

As mentioned above, often the best way to learn to pray is by example rather than by instruction. Sometimes the best way to pray in a given moment is to pray with someone else’s prayer. That’s where the Valley of Vision, with its powerful, gospel-rich prayers, is so helpful.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Reader’s choice: A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I’ve not read this (yet), but I keep hearing I should and that you should, too! (You can get it at Westminster Books or Amazon.)

What books have you found helpful for cultivating your prayer life?

Seven books to read on Christianity and homosexuality

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Last week, recording artist Vicky Beeching, whose songs are sung in thousands of churches in America (possibly even yours this weekend), announced, “I’m gay. God loves me just the way I am.” And she is just the latest among many who are either coming out as gay or in favor of same-sex marriage.

Far too many of us struggle to know how to respond. Is there a biblical case for same-sex relationships? Does the Bible really condemn it? Can we just “live and let live”?

If we’re going to be people who truly love our neighbors, we need to be people who tell the truth. And in order to do that, we need to know what the truth is—what God’s Word has to say about homosexuality. Here are a few books that I’ve found helpful and you might, too:


God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

This one might be the surprise recommendation to some of you. But it’s one I believe we all should be paying attention to as it purports to offer a biblical foundation for the compatibility of homosexuality and Christianity. For that reason alone, it will almost certainly be the book progressive Christians will be appealing to on this matter (in fact, one of them—Rachel Held Evans—wrote a glowing endorsement for it).

Buy it at: Amazon


Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry (reviewed here)

Sam Allberry’s book is one of the finest you will read on the subject. He writes not simply as a pastor helping Christians wrestle with the implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but also as a man who deals with same-sex attraction. So for him, the temptation to compromise on what the Bible says would undoubtedly be strong. It would certainly make it convenient for him. Instead, he reminds us of the simple truth: “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe.”

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore


Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

Like Allberry, Wesley Hill writes from the perspective of a man living with same-sex attraction. And like Allberry, he writes from the perspective of one who truly believes the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. His approach is a little different than Allberry’s in that the message of his book finds its heart in the hope of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: that although some of the Corinthians practiced homosexuality, and adultery, and were thieves, drunkards, and swindlers, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The God of Sex by Peter Jones

Peter Jones broadens the discussion away from merely talking about homosexuality as if it were “the” problem, to the larger issue, which is one of worldview. For Jones, fundamentally, what we’re seeing is a clash of worldviews at work, the continued battle between the truth and the lie (Romans 1:25). Examining the relationship between sexuality and spirituality through this lens allows us to see how both worldviews see sex as sacred, but with purposes in mind.

Buy it at: Amazon


Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is another writing from first-hand experience, having been in a relationship with a woman for several years before her conversion to Christ. While the book is principally the story of her conversion, her thoughts on the conflict between the two opposing ideologies—especially given that she was a chief advocate for gay rights at an academic level—is fascinating.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage by Erwin Lutzer

It’s been about five years since I read this one, so a lot of the details are fuzzy. However, I do remember it being you’d expect from its author: biblical, careful, pastoral and extremely helpful. While he does strongly express the serious implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage on society, his point is not to condemn this sin as though it existed in a vacuum. Essentially, even as he equips us to think biblically about the issue before us, he also gives readers a gentle warning (and rebuke) to not ignore the other serious sins among us, whether greed, adultery or gossip.

Buy it at: Amazon


Bonus book: Love into Light: The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Church by Peter Hubbard

This is not one I’ve read (yet); however, it is one that a number of friends and fellow bloggers have recommended. Here’s a look at what Tim Challies had to say in his review:

Hubbard writes as a pastor, as a counselor and as a man deeply marked by the gospel of divine grace extended toward human sin. He insists that the gospel makes all the difference, for before the cross we are all the same, we are all sinners, we are all in desperate need of grace.… The gospel makes all the difference and the gospel is exactly what Fred Phelps and so many others have thrown away in their misguided, hate-filled attempts to address homosexuality. “If our attitude toward a gay or lesbian person is disgust, we have forgotten the gospel. We need to remember the goodness and lovingkindness that God poured out on us. God should have looked at us and been disgusted. Instead, without condoning our sin, He loved us and saved us. And I want everyone to know that kind of love!”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

That’s a few of the books I’d recommend checking out. What about you: what books on this issue have you found helpful? 


Photo credit: Joe Parks via photopin cc

Five biographies you (and I) should read

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Yesterday, Sam Allberry gave some great advice:

I love biographies, although, admittedly, I don’t read as many as I’d like. This is simply because I foolishly don’t prioritize them well enough in my reading (I sense a theme for 2015, how about you?). When it comes to getting started with the genre, however, it’s tough to know where to begin. If you start with volume one of Mark Twain’s autobiography, for example, you might be biting off more than you can chew. Or if you read an unauthorized biography of just about anyone, well, then you’ll have other problems.

So, to help us out a little with getting started, here’s a look at a few biographies I’ve enjoyed, and at least one I’m preparing to read.


The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon

This autobiography is a monster. There’s no other way to describe it. Spurgeon’s autobiography was compiled from notes, letters and journals by his wife, Susannah, and his private secretary. Virtually every other biography of Spurgeon owes a sizeable debt to it. Originally published in four volumes, and then again by Banner of Truth in a lovely two volume set that’s so big you can protect your house with it, this autobiography gives us a picture of the man behind the myth of Spurgeon, one who is just as in need of Christ as the rest of us. A mighty man of God who struggled with his own frailty, but relied wholly on Jesus.

I’ve been poking away at this one for years, both with the Banner of Truth editions, and more recently, a four volume edition courtesy of Logos Bible Software, which has proven invaluable since I’m currently hard at work completing the script for a documentary about the Prince of Preachers. Fourteen year old Spurgeon’s discussion of baptism with an Anglican clergyman, wherein the clergyman convinces Spurgeon of the necessity of believers’ baptism, is almost worth the price of the biography alone.

Buy it at: Westminster Books (volume one, volume two) | Amazon (volume one, volume two) | Logos

Other recommended Spurgeon biographies: The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson, and Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Tom Nettles.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

This one’s on here not to earn culture cred (I mean, seriously—you have to have read this by now. There’s a movie coming out, for goodness’ sake!), but because Laura Hillenbrand’s account of Louie Zamperini’s life and experiences in the second world war and beyond are so darn compelling.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: 1899-1981

This book is a condensed and partly re-written version of Iain Murray’s earlier two volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, intended in some ways as a more accessible introduction to Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry. I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for a while now (and if you went to T4G in 2014, so do you), so I’m looking forward to digging in sometime in the next few months.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God

It’s been ages since I read it, I remember finding David McCasland’s biography of the author of My Utmost for His Highest fascinating as it takes readers from Chambers’ youth in Scotland to a YMCA camp in Egypt during World War I. But one story that’s stuck with me involves Chambers’ radical generosity—so generous was he that he frequently gave away all that he had to those who would ask, trusting the Lord to provide for his needs.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

Douglas Bond’s short profile of Scottish Reformer John Knox focuses on Knox as a man keenly aware of his own shortcomings, and relied on the Lord in all he did, in a way that Westerners today struggle to understand. “Because of his candid acknowledgment of his great need, he sought the aid of the God of the universe, and one way he sought it was through the prayers of fellow believers,” Bond writes. “Empowered by the Almighty, Knox became the single most significant force to be reckoned with in an entire country.”

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

So those are a few biographies I’d encourage checking out. What biographies have you really enjoyed and would you recommend?

New and noteworthy books

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One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch (along with a few that aren’t so new, but I’m glad to have in the library):

The Wonder-Working God by Jared C. Wilson. The thematic sequel to his also recently released (and excellent) book, The Storytelling God:

Do you believe in miracles?

Walking on water. Multiplying the fish and the loaves. Raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracles of Jesus may be well known, but they’re often misunderstood. In The Wonder-Working God, pastor Jared Wilson wants to help us see that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the miraculous events recorded in the Gospels.

From the humble wonder of the incarnation to the blinding glory of the transfiguration, this book shows how Jesus’s miracles reveal his divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. “Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.”

The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights by J. V. Fesko:

Church historian John Fesko walks readers through the background and theology of the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism, helpfully situating them within their original context. Organized according to the major categories of systematic theology, this book utilizes quotations from other key works from the same time period to shed light on the history and significance of these influential documents.

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. I loaned it out to a friend some time ago, and I’m not sure I’ll be getting it back. So I got another copy:

This book presents the case for loving the local church. It paints a picture of the local church in all its biblical and real life guts, gaffes, and glory in an effort to edify local congregations and entice the disaffected back to the fold. It also provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be part of the body of Christ and counteract the “leave church” books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs.

Encounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller. “In Encounters With Jesus, New York Times bestselling author and renowned pastor Timothy Keller shows how people were changed when they met Jesus personally—and how we can be changed today through our own encounter with him.”

The Gospel in Genesis by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m really looking forward to reading Lloyd-Jones’ insights into the early chapters of Genesis:

Along the way Lloyd-Jones talks of serpents and sin, of the Word of God and the Babel of man. But the destination of The Gospel in Genesis is clear: readers will be moved from fig leaves in the garden to faith in the gospel.…These nine sermons will snap nonbelievers out of their apathy toward God and will embolden believers to share the only gospel that offers answers to life’s biggest questions.

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis:

The first book written by C. S. Lewis after his conversion, The Pilgrim’s Regress is, in a sense, the record of Lewis’s own search for meaning and spiritual satisfaction — a search that eventually led him to Christianity.…Though the dragons and giants here are different from those in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis’s allegory performs the same function of enabling the author to say simply and through fantasy what would otherwise have demanded a full-length philosophy of religion.

And finally, after many months of saving my plum reward points from Chapters, I finally added this beauty to our family library:

What library is complete without The Complete Calvin and Hobbes?

None. The correct answer is none.

What stands out to you on this list of more notable than new books? What are some books you’re looking forward to reading over the next few weeks?

Five books I’m (probably) not proposing

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One of the scariest part of the writer’s life is proposing books. When I first finally mustered up the courage to send out a proposal for Awaiting a Savior, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. The book sat with multiple publishers, most of whom rejected it, before Cruciform Press kindle picked it up and made it the moderately profitable book it is today.

But there have been many (many!) other book ideas that have come up since then. At present I’m hoping to see at least one come to light, but only time (and the Lord’s sovereign hand) will tell. But there are others. Some have the potential to earn tens of dollars, some are purely entertaining for me, and others would probably be best left in a folder called “don’t ever, ever try to write these.”

Which is which? You tell me:

Idea #1: Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car taught me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises and all-too-frequent repair bills.

Idea #2: How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Idea #3: Your Average Life… Now!

While every day might be a Friday for some people, the rest of us have a case of the Mondays. Own your okayness as you learn that you don’t have to have it all, that a “meh” day isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness and sometimes “success” just means getting your pants on right the first time.

Idea #4: Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my children and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn about “consequences”.

Idea #5: The Prophets’ Diet

More prophets than Daniel have something to say about your eating habits. With advice from the likes of Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist, this is guaranteed to be the last Christian diet book you’ll ever (want to) read!


An earlier version of this post was first publishing in April 2011. Photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

What should I review?

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I’m in the very fortunate position to receive many great books (and a few not-so-great ones, too) from evangelical publishers—so much so I can’t possibly read them all in a given year. But I can read some of them. That’s where I need your help:

I want to know what book you want me to read and review.

The last time I tried this, you all were a huge help, so much so, I wound up reviewing two of the books you all were requesting (The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord), so I’m really interested to see which book you want me to review. Here’s a list of five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll name the winner early next week.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Think about what you read

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Reading lots (and lots) of books has its advantages, but also comes with some very real challenges. When you read a lot, a great deal of content winds up washing over you, and it’s challenging to engage critically. That’s fine (sometimes) when you’re re-reading a book, or when you’re reading something light (ish). If you’re reading Amish vampire romance books, for example… (Okay, bad example. That definitely requires discussion.)

But if you’re not careful, if you don’t think about what you read, it can be disastrous.

It’s really easy to scan read a book, and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” I have to make the time for application. This is one of the reasons I love discussion questions. They encourage me to dwell on the content and chew on its implications (even if they’re not particularly well written questions). This is what I want when I read.

Some books do a great job of encouraging this kind of reflection, even if they don’t have discussion questions included. Francis Chan’s immediately come to mind as a great example. Every so often, he’ll stop midstream and write something like, “Okay, stop reading this book, read this passage of Scripture (or watch this video) and look at what it says about XYZ.” And even when a book doesn’t include discussion questions, I have a series of them already set:

  1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
  2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
  3. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture?
  4. If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?

Asking even basic questions like these helps me get past a surface level understanding of the content and discern the application for my life. And every book has application for us:

  • A book like The Holiness of God‘s most natural application is grounding our faith in an accurate picture of the God of the Bible because what we think about God shapes how we live for God.
  • Rescuing Ambition (which I reviewed several years ago) challenged me to consider the source of my ambition and how it can be a fuel for godly purposes.
  • Even A Year of Biblical Womanhood, for all its considerable faults, gave me a chance look at how to look at how I approach male/female relationships and ask how I can better serve my wife out of love for her and for the Lord.

Maybe these don’t seem terribly revolutionary, but they’re helpful for me. In the end, though, my point is simple: A good reading experience shouldn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think. Regardless of it’s purpose, if it’s important enough for you to spend time reading a book, it’s important enough for you to think carefully about. Because if we don’t, what’s the point?


An earlier version of this post was first published in August, 2010.

Seven books I’m planning to read this summer

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Summer’s nearly hear—a fact revealed by the sudden propagation of reading lists! Yesterday, I shared how we’re encouraging reading over the summer for my oldest daughter (we’re also doing something similar for our middle daughter—her goal is to master most or all of the first set of the Bob books). Emily is currently starting to read The Robe by Lloyd Douglas, which, while unlikely to take her all summer, will certainly play a key role in her summer reading.

And then there’s me. I’m pretty regularly setting reading goals for myself, whether it’s a few books that I hope to read sometime over the course of the year, or looking at ways to dig back into my library (this last one I’ve gotten a bit behind on, but it’s recoverable!). So today, I wanted to share a few books I’m planning to read (or have already started) during this summer:

The World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. I’m already a little less than half done this one, and it is outstanding. It’s very encouraging to read a book related to my first one that doesn’t make me feel like I’m going nuts for what I wrote in Awaiting a Savior!

Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. It’s been about five years since I read this, and I’ve been looking forward to doing so again. (I might also revisit Why We’re Not Emergent, but we’ll see.)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien. It’s been 25 years since I last read this book. I’m pretty sure I’m due.

Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s not left my Spring to-read pile yet. It will get done. (Another re-read.)

What is Biblical Theology? by James Hamilton Jr. This looks like it’ll be a short, punchy read. Plus, I love the subject of the book.

Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers. I received this book at Band of Bloggers this past April and it looks compelling—good leadership books are hard to find (hopefully this is one!).

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This is another re-read for me, a compelling fairy tale for adults (with minimal shady content, which is always appreciated).

So that’s a few of the books I’m hoping to read this summer. What’s on your list? 

A summertime reading challenge for my daughter

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After a long, cold, long winter here in Canada, I’m definitely looking forward to this summer. Vacations are starting to be planned, reading lists are being compiled (look for that soon)… and this year, as we enter into homeschool land, we’re starting to incorporate some reading activities for the whole family.

When I was nine and ten, my favorite part of the summer was the reading challenge at my local library in St. Albert, Alberta. If I remember correctly, it was to read something like at least one book a week for the whole summer, check in every week, and at the end, you’d get a prize. Or maybe bragging rights.

(Again, this was 25 years ago, so I can’t remember it all…)

So this year, I wanted to try a reading challenge with Abigail, our oldest daughter. She loves, loves, LOVES to read. (Can you tell this makes me happy as a parent?) So something like this seems like a natural fit, and she’s pretty into the idea. So what I’m encouraging her to do is:

  • Shoot for reading at least one (age appropriate) book per week. The books she chooses are, for the most part, entirely up to her.
  • She needs to write a one-two sentence summary of what happened when she’s finished each book. I want her to not just focus on reading a bunch of stuff, but comprehending it (which is also why I’m encouraging her to read age-appropriate chapter books).

At the end of the summer, we’ll tally up the results and if she reads at least ten books, she’ll receive a prize. Right now, I’m thinking a Chapters1 gift card so she can go on a daddy-assisted shopping spree.

We’ll see how it plays out. She might surprise me and read a lot more than 10 books. She might only get to about 5, depending on how into it she is when summer really starts. But my goal is to nurture her love of reading, and get her into a lifestyle of learning mindset. Lord willing, it’ll help.

What kind of summer reading activities did you participate in as a kid? What have you found helpful with your own?

New and noteworthy books

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One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer. This is one I’m really looking forward to digging into (and yes, I will be reviewing it):

For more than twenty-five years, Dr. Thom Rainer has helped churches grow, reverse the trends of decline, and has autopsied those that have died. From this experience, he has discovered twelve consistent themes among those churches that have died. Yet, it’s not gloom and doom because from those twelve themes, lessons on how to keep your church alive have emerged.

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash. A new entry in Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series:

In this thorough and accessible commentary, Christopher Ash helps us glean encouragement from God’s Word by directing our attention to the final explanation and ultimate resolution of Job’s story: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Intended to equip pastors to preach Job’s important message, this commentary highlights God’s grace and wisdom in the midst of redemptive suffering.

Taking a staggeringly honest look at our broken world and the trials that we often face, Ash helps us see God’s sovereign purposes for adversity and the wonderful hope that Christians have in Christ.

Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places by Tim Keesee. I love learning more about how the gospel is going forward around the world, so this one will no doubt be very encouraging:

In this captivating travelogue, a veteran missions mobilizer leads readers to experience global Christianity, exploring the faith and lives of Christians living in some of the world’s most perilous countries.

The incredible accounts recorded here—stories that span the globe from China to Afghanistan—highlight the bold faith and sacrificial bravery of God’s people. Ultimately, this book magnifies Christ’s saving work in all the earth and encourages Christians to joyfully embrace their role in the gospel’s unstoppable advance!

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. This one will be heady, but fun:

What if all events—big and small, good and bad—are governed by more than just blind chance? What if they are governed by God?

In this theologically informed and philosophically nuanced introduction to the study of probability and chance, Vern Poythress argues that all events—including the seemingly random or accidental—fall under God’s watchful gaze as part of his eternal plan. Comprehensive in its scope, this book lays the theistic foundation for our scientific assumptions about the world while addressing personal questions about the meaning and significance of everyday events.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full by Gloria Furman. This has been out for a couple months now, but I’ve been hearing great things about it:

Motherhood is tough, and it often feels like the to-do list just gets longer and longer every day—making it hard to experience true joy in God, our children, and the gospel.

In this encouraging book for frazzled moms, Gloria Furman helps us reorient our vision of motherhood around what the Bible teaches. Showing how to pursue a vibrant relationship with God—even when discouragement sets in and the laundry still needs to be washed—this book will help you treasure Christ more deeply no matter how busy you are.

The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress by Rob Bentz. This looks like a much-needed challenge to the “I love Jesus but hate the church” mindset:

Drawing on his experience as a pastor, Bentz helps those disenchanted with the church to rediscover its importance for the Christian life by examining the biblical, theological, and historical reasons why Christ’s followers should embrace gospel-centered community—even when it’s hard.

The Word of the Lord by Nancy Guthrie. The latest in the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series:

Over ten weeks of guided personal Bible study, relevant teaching, and group discussion, Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie will help you see the person and work of Christ in:

  • Hosea’s willingness to redeem his unfaithful bride from slavery
  • Isaiah’s divine King and suffering Servant, who will be punished for his people
  • Daniel’s stone, not hewn by human hands, that will crush every human kingdom
  • Ezekiel’s vision of a city where we will enjoy Jesus’s presence forever

Gain a fresh perspective on the message of the Old Testament prophets, a broader understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture, and much more when you join Nancy on this incredible journey to see Jesus in the Old Testament!

One of the books that most deeply affected my faith

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The last little while I’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between books and the Christian faith. A little while ago, I shared five books I believe new Christians should read as well as five four and a half that I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian. Clearly, I believe books and reading are really important to our growth as Christians. (And I think God does too, since He reveals Himself in a book and all…)

So a few days ago, I asked friends and followers on Twitter about what book, outside the Bible, had the most profound impact on their faith. There were some pretty terrific answers—The Pilgrim’s Progress, Valley of Vision, Christianity and Liberalism… Even a couple of newer books like Note to Self got a mention!

I’ve been thinking about this question since I asked it—partly because it’s one of those questions that you don’t really think about until you have a reason to. What, of the tens, hundreds, or thousands of books you’ve read in your lifetime, are the ones that made the biggest impact. Of all the books I’ve had the opportunity to read, only one really jumps out at me as being a true game-changer.

What’s interesting is it’s not a book about a theological concept or anything like that. It’s a book about a person, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. I read this book shortly after it was released (though I don’t recall why I wanted to read it in the first place!). It’s the story of Tom Carson, a pastor and church planter whose mission field was la belle province—Quebec. He wrote no books. He received few accolades. He was just an “ordinary” pastor, with the same insecurities and doubts about his own ministry that so many of us have.

But the image that still sticks in my head is his deep dependence upon the Lord:

I went looking for Dad after the morning service to entice him to come and play the piano while the rest of us sang or played instruments. He was not where he usually was. I found him in his study, the door not quite closed. He was on his knees in front of his big chair, tears streaming down his face, as he interceded with God for the handful of people to whom he had just preached. I remember some of their names to this day. (Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, 80)

You get this sense that when Carson prayed, he prayed as though the Lord really is sovereign—that He must intervene for the lives of Carson’s hearers to be transformed. Because He must. That’s something that keeps coming back to me, again and again, particularly as one who often struggles in my own prayer life, feeble and half-hearted as it sometimes is. God is bigger than my weaknesses, but He is pleased to use me in my weakness.

Your turn: what’s a book that most profoundly impacted your faith?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

Four and a half books I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian

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Last week, I shared five books I would encourage every new Christian read. In that post, I mentioned that in my first years as a believer, I read a lot of books I simply should not have. At all. Which ones were they? Here are five… well, four and a half:

1. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I picked this up because Bell was the hip teacher at the time. Lots of folks at our church were into the NOOMA videos, and we were all gaga over them. And kinda dumb for it. This book really messed with my head at a time when I was trying to begin figuring out what it meant to be a Christian. In the end, it seems I’ve come out better for it. But would I recommend anyone follow my path? Gosh no.

2. Just like Jesus by Max Lucado. This was the beginning of my life-long whatever the opposite of a bromance is with Lucado. As a new believer, I found this book to be sappy, sentimental pap, an opinion that’s carried over into pretty much anything I’ve read of his. While I’m sure he’s a lovely man, I can’t help but hate myself a little when I read something by him.

2.5. Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. This one’s the half book because I never finished reading it. I made it about halfway before I gave up. Terrible writing combined with a weird “frontier man meets mystic” idea of what it means to be a Christian man.

3. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. This, again, was one of the super-hot books of 2006, and easily one of the most pretentious. For a book advocating a “simple way,” it came across incredibly arrogant and condescending. Basically it read like, “If you’re not driving a van running on vegetable oil, living in a monastic community and not bathing, you’re doing it wrong.” It also didn’t help my wife with her ongoing issue of mocking authors in a sing-songy voice.

4. The Future of Justification by John Piper. This was actually the first John Piper book I ever read, and it’s a really good one. So why’d it make this list? Because I understood it and, as a believer for only a couple of years at the time, I didn’t have the emotional and theological maturity to handle that well. I already had some pretty serious pride issues by that point, and that only served to make them worse.

There were others, of course. I read a Brian McLaren book around the time I was gaining doctrinal convictions and threw it against a wall (it was either The Story We Find Ourselves In or The Last Word and the Word After That) because of its irritating hypothetical anecdotes about hypothetical people becoming hypothetical Christians. I read  memoirs by Mark Driscoll and Craig Groeschel that did nothing to help me get a clear picture of the challenges of pastoral ministry (or, in hindsight, the character of an elder for that matter). I remember really enjoying a lot of Don Miller’s books, but failed to see some of the significant theological problems in them (particularly Searching for God Knows What).

But you get the idea. Reading books is good for new Christians, but our reading is only as profitable as the books we’re reading are helpful. When the content is beneficial and we’ve got the maturity to embrace it humbly, it’s a good thing. When the content is awful and we have the acumen to critique it thoughtfully, it’s a blessed thing. But when we’re reading anything and lack either the maturity or discernment to appropriately process it, it can lead to disaster.

Your turn: What are a few books you shouldn’t have read as a new Christian?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc