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

5 books every new Christian should read

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While the most important book any Christian should be reading is the Bible, it’s beneficial for us to read books in addition to it. We grow in our faith not only through the Holy Spirit’s work in revealing the Scriptures to us, but God also uses the encouragement and gifts of other believers to do so.

Most of us get this, but when it comes to actually getting down to brass tacks and picking books, we’re not so sure where to start. At least, this was my experience as a brand-new Christian. When I came to faith, I wound up reading a whole pile of garbage very early on. I really needed was some guidance from another believer, a little help being pointed in the right direction.

And although I can’t go back in time and give this guidance to myself, I can pass it along to new believers today. So, here are five books I think every new Christian should read:

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul. There are a lot of really great books on the key teachings of the faith, but this is my top-choice for an entry level introduction to Christian theology. It’s greatest strength? Each doctrine is explained in bit-sized chunks using plain language.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. One of the big challenges new believers have is relearning to read. Specifically, how do you read Christianly. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean turning our brains off—it means reading even more intently than you may have in the past. (For more on this book, check out my review.)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. In what I hope will be the last recent(ish) release on this list, Kevin DeYoung’s book answers a big, important question: how do I know God’s will for my life? This is a question that came to the forefront very early on for me, and the answers provided were (and are) astoundingly helpful. (And if you’re interested, here [and here] are a few more thoughts on this book.)

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. Prayer is a strange and awkward thing for new believers (actually, it’s strange and awkward for a lot of us who aren’t so new in the faith, too), but it’s one of the most essential things we can do as Christians. This little book offers great encouragement in pursuing prayer with vigor.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Not every book needs to be about teaching you how to do something in the Christian life—sometimes you just need some great encouragement. These daily readings from Charles Spurgeon have encouraged Christians for more than 100 years, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to for many years to come.

There are more books that Christians should read, but these are the ones I would strongly encourage giving to new believers who are just starting out. What books would you encourage new believers to read?

Seven really great book covers

Long before I became a writer, I was a graphic designer (an average-to-good one). Although I don’t do very much design work these days, I still try to pay attention to what’s going on in the industry. And lately, I’ve been really impressed with the quality of cover design and book packaging from a lot of Christian publishers.

Gone are the days of Papyrus with a drop shadow (the default settings in PhotoShop firmly in place) overtop a low-resolution image that was found on this new-fangled contraption called “Internet.” At least in traditional publishing. (There’s still 50 shades of that kind of awful going on in self-publishing.)

But I digress…

Because I’ve been so impressed of late with the quality of work I’m seeing out there, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

So what’s so rad about these book covers? 

They all use text and iconic imagery very well, which is harder than it looks. Simple is very hard to do well. It’s actually very challenging to put together a cover that only uses type and create something that you want to look at. The designer for Taking God at His Word did a nice job with this, and the icon used for The Gospel at Work is brilliant in concept and execution (again, simple is very hard to do well). Ditto for Made for More. The flat, clean look might be über-chic at the moment, but it’s for a good reason: when executed properly, it’s beautiful stuff.

What I love about Proof‘s look is it captures the old-school hand-drawn typography look really well. When I was in college, one of the teachers made his non-teaching living actually painting store windows and signs in this style. It’s pretty incredible stuff to see and the cover’s a welcome throwback to me.

They’re designs with a little more longevity in mind. They’re not designs that are going to look super-dated in about three weeks (a danger with photo-dependent covers). Yes, they’re all fairly trendy for right now, but clean doesn’t ever really go out of style.

They communicate the big ideas well. You get the idea from Crazy Busy that we’re running ourselves ragged and need some help. Made for More‘s tells us we’re meant to embrace our identity of God’s image-bearers (and not caged by false ideas of who we are). Everyone’s a Theologian shows us as people saturated with the Word of God (or at least, people who should be).

That’s a little of what I enjoy about these book covers. What are a few that you’ve seen lately that have really wowed you?

“What will they do before the sentence of God?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (5)

Then Christian said to Hopeful, “If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do before the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?”1

Personal reflection

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I remember a conversation with my first pastor about money. At the time, Emily and I had a lot of debt and we were trying to figure out how to pay it off (a little faster than paying a bit at a time). We were brand new Christians, and said, “If we took the money we give and applied it to the debt instead, we could have it cleared in about a year. Would that be okay?”

“No, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he replied. “The problem is you won’t do it.”

“Why?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

I’ll never forget his answer: “You said ‘if.'”

The “if” statements we make when it comes to money reveal a lot about us. If I make more money, then I’ll start giving. If I get the bonus, I’ll make this donation. If this happens, then…

If, if, if.

The problem with the ifs is we use them as an escape from doing what the Lord has already called us to. We know we’re to be generous, but really, we like our stuff better. And it’s a sore spot for us. So when we hear a sermon that talks about money, or when we read a book that describes the radical self-sacrificial nature of the Christian faith, we get our backs up, pull the legalist card and bail.

But the words that confront us—these are the words of men. And we cannot stand before them. How then will we stand “before the sentence of God”? Without a broken and contrite heart, we cannot.

Reading with Ryken

The interaction between the travelers and the worshipers of wealth is a temptation scene par excellence. Here the danger is not external hostility but the allurement of worldly success. The allegorical antagonists are not bullies but qualities (such as Money-love and Save-all) that make life easy in the name of religion. Accordingly, what the conflict requires from Christian is the ability to provide convincing intellectual reasons against the claims that religious people can pursue wealth and success as their highest goals.2

Next time

The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters 10 and 11 (I should note: chapter breaks are based on the 2009 Crossway edition).

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Here are a few questions to help guide our discussion:

  • How does the temptation to live an easy life in the name of religion?
  • Consider 1 John 2:15-17. How do you see John’s warnings exhibited in the worshippers of wealth? Why is this form of worldliness so dangerous?
  • How can you protect yourself from it?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

3 reasons I’m reading more fiction

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When I was a boy, I loved reading (and obviously I still do). I remember going to the mall in St. Albert, Alberta, with my mom and sister one Saturday morning, and as soon as I was able, I beelined for the bookstore and spent all the money I had on a paperback novel. If I remember correctly, it was A Rock and a Hard Place, one of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels.

(Don’t judge me.)

When we got home from the mall, I went up to my room and I started reading. I didn’t finish until the entire book was done. Incidentally, this may have been the most peaceful day of my mother’s entire life as a parent.

All through high school and college, I read tons of fiction and dabbled in non-fiction as I got older (provided the topic was interesting enough). My reasonably eclectic (and sometimes pretentious) tastes always made for interesting late night reading on bus rides home from my college job at a bookstore here in London (Coles in White Oaks Mall, for those interested—it’s now a Bath and Body Works, I believe).

And then, for some reason, I just stopped reading fiction and began almost exclusively reading non-fiction. The genres were, again, pretty varied—business, social commentary, theology, biography—but for nearly a decade, I lived on a steady diet of non-fiction.

A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine challenged me to change that. So, I did. I spent most of that summer reading fiction, including the Hunger Games series. And I’m really glad I did, because it reminded me how unbalanced my reading had become.

Since then I’ve tried to keep a pretty decent balance of fiction and non-fiction in my literary diet. Here are three reasons why I think it’s a good idea—especially for us yahoos who are really into theology and such—to be reading fiction regularly:

1. It exercises my imagination. One author I really enjoy is Greg Rucka. He’s a genius when it comes to placing you in a real world. Exceptionally well-researched work that gives you all you need to properly picture the scene—whether it’s a Disney-esque theme park, Middle Eastern streets so crammed with people you almost feel claustrophobic, or a small apartment filled with the scent of pancakes and orange juice. When I read his stuff, I get very excited as my mind starts to build the world he describes. It’s the same with series like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings—good authors know how to make their fictional worlds feel real by giving your imagination enough room to work.

2. Balance is really important. Imagine you only get your news from CNN or FoxNews. You won’t actually be getting the news, you’ll be getting a sensationalized interpretation of said news from one perspective or another. But when you watch or read multiple perspectives on the same story, you begin to get a better picture of the reality of the situation. Our reading habits are like that. When we only read one genre, or a very limited range of genres, we become unbalanced. We start thinking too small, and overlook different possibilities, and kind of bore people when we talk about what we’re reading (because, honestly, it’s a rare person who actually wants to talk with me about a biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones or a book on heretics).

3. It makes me a better writer. I’ve gotta be honest: too many non-fiction writers seem to lack any sort of artistic passion in what they write. They write technically well, but it’s not terribly exciting stuff to read. But good fiction—keep in mind, there’s a bunch of poorly written gobbledygook out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight)—is great art. And good writing—great art—makes me want to write better.

How varied is your reading? What’s one fiction book you want to read?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc