My favorite books of 2014

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading around 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I wished I had a back… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year.

Prayer by Timothy Keller. From my review:

Keller’s message challenges us, but reminds us of the grace of God. … It is rich in its theology, winsome in its approach and wise in its application. There may be few good modern books on prayer, but Prayer is one of them—and among the finest I’ve read of any era.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. From my review:

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


United by Trillia Newbell.

This is a wonderfully encouraging and challenging book on a really big problem: racism and the need for ethnic diversity. In it, Trillia presents a compelling argument for the necessity of reclaiming a sense of diversity within the church from a perspective one doesn’t see often enough: that of someone who has experienced racism firsthand. Learn more about this book from my conversation with Trillia.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


Evangelism by Mack Stiles. From my review:

We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert. From my review:

The Gospel at Work may not be a theology of work proper, but make no mistake: it is as intensely theological as it is practical. Idleness and idolatry in work are theological problems and they’ve got serious practical implications. One makes work a burden, the other makes you work’s slave. But the gospel frees us from both idleness and idolatry.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novack.

Funny story: My daughter, Abigail, and I were in Chapters a while back enjoying a post-dance class hot chocolate, and we picked up this book to read together. As I told her, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read,” her eyes lit up. As I read the entire book, a big smile never left her face. When I put it down, I asked her, “So, did you like it?”

She looked me right in the eye, and said, “Not really.”

Liar.

Buy it at: Amazon


Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. From my review:

What I hope [this book] does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


The Gospel by Ray Ortlund. From my review:

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. … Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior.

I love good biographies, and Karen Swallow Prior has produced an excellent one in this volume on Hannah More, the most important social reformer you’ve probably never heard of.

Buy it at: Amazon


PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. From my review:

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey.

Two things that never (usually) go together: Hell and humor. But Thor Ramsey makes it work, and rarely goes over the top. Instead, he presents a clear case for what we lose when we lose Hell and why it matters. If you’re looking for a good entry level book on the subject, this is the one for you.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The best of what wasn’t released in 2014

Not everything I read (thankfully) was released this year, nor were all my favorites. So, as a bonus, here are my top three vintage (ish) books read in 2014:

How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer.

This should be required reading for every Christian.

Every.

Single.

One.

You can tell I feel strongly about this, huh?

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. From my review:

I can imagine some reading this book as though it were an authoritative treatise—that this is the way that demons act in our world and act against us, in the same way some treat Left Behind as gospel truth on the end times. But this would only do injustice to what Lewis is doing here.

Lewis doesn’t want his readers to be looking for the devil behind every corner after reading this book. Nor does he wish for them to be shouting, “the devil made me do it!” whenever they go astray.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. This is probably my favorite work by Adams (I know, heresy!). I’ve read it multiple times over the year, and I never tire of it.

Buy it at: Amazon

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

See what made the cut in years past:

The worst books I read in 2014

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Yeah, I’m going there.

Usually at the end of the year, us blogger types only talk about the books and articles and moments and cookies we really loved. The ones that really mattered to us (at least for a few minutes).

I’ve got lots of that coming up, have no fear. But what I want to do today is I want to kick off the “best of” season with a bit of a twist, and share a few of the really bad books I read in 2014. Some (most?) were released this year. Some were crazy popular. But none of them were particularly good. Ready? Let’s go!

That time R.C. Sproul wrote a bad children’s book

The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul. Okay, this might be a shocker to some. But if I’ve got my timeline right, this is Sproul’s first children’s book, and it shows. My wife and I read it to our kids and it was

so

very

loooooooong.

It’s so long that Emily lost focus while reading it. I may or may not have feel asleep while reading it, too. We love Sproul’s other children’s books (although none of them are really all that short), yeah, this is one we’re not planning on going back to any time soon.

The one that put a cramp in my soul

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. You may have seen my review over at TGC a while back. (And if you haven’t read it, will you please? I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.) That review, incidentally, took ages to write as I had to try really hard to not go all ad hominem on Furtick. Its false premise, defensiveness and hopeless help isn’t worth your time.

The other one that put a cramp in my soul

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldridge. There’s a review coming. The first line: “I don’t even know where to start with this book.” True story.

The one that didn’t really say anything

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. I know this book is a business classic and all, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can figure out why. So many pages, so little content. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just read the opening and final pages of each chapter; you’ll get everything you need from those. Then go read something by Patrick Lencioni, because he’s way more fun.

The one that is sincere, but sincerely wrong

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This is another one I’ve been struggling to review, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I want to be as thoughtful as possible in doing so. My central point of contention is that while Vines relies on the standard—and largely disproven—arguments for homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity, he bases his arguments in experientialism and emotionalism disguised as “fruit.”

Bonus: The one that was too obviously ridiculous to even bother reading

The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell. C’mon, like you didn’t know this book wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time from the title alone. When a supposed Christian ex-pastor starts spouting pagan1 nonsense about increasing the energy flow between you and your spouse, and the displacement of God’s omnipresence (something that, by definition, is not even possible), you know you’re going to crazy town.


Photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc

Links I like

Book deals for Christian readers

This week there have been some pretty phenomenal deals on eBooks at Amazon. You can check out the big lists here and here. Today, I’ve got just a few more for you to check out:

Also in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org, you’ll find several terrific resources like:

  • Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback)
  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology edited by Burk Parsons (ePub)
  • When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Kevin DeYoung:

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

Quarantine in the Age of Ebola

Robert Cutillo:

The current Ebola crisis is the most recent iteration of contagious disease, following SARS in 2003 and swine flu in 2009. It is uncanny how the same themes return as we deal with the largest outbreak of Ebola since it first emerged in 1976. Facing the fear of fatal disease, it is not surprising that our base reactions remain the same. But each time our collective souls are bared by these moments of vulnerability, we have the opportunity to respond with truth and compassion. What are we doing with what we know—which is quite a bit, thanks to the understanding of current science—combined with a significant truth about life revealed to us by God?

When Fear Haunts Us

Erin Straza:

Our susceptibility to fear has many contributing factors: bent of personality, past trauma, current drama, and so on. Although everyone faces fear, we each face it in our own unique way, making it a rather isolating experience. The situations and trials that stir up my anxiety may do little to stir up yours, and vice versa. Because we share the susceptibility to fear, however, it should increase our ability to empathize and offer support when it knocks one of our own down for the count. At the very least, we should, by now, be well aware of the ways it attacks us personally.

 Looking for Love in all the Right Places

Lore Ferguson:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

A Debate I Would Watch

Tim Challies:

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

Five books to read near Christmas

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Yeah, I know. You probably don’t want to think about that word any more than I do right now. I mean, Christmas has so much baggage surrounding it that it’s hard to have much fun. But it’s coming (just a few weeks away, friends).

Despite how we might feel about travel, awkward conversations, and the risk of really loud toys entering our homes, there is so much for us to be thankful for in the season, particularly as we remember the significance of the birth of Christ.

In light of this, we’ve been working to develop traditions in our family to help us be mindful of this truth. And, because it’s us, many of those traditions happen to revolve around books. Here are a few recommendations for books worth reading as we lead up to Christmas, both for personal enjoyment and family use:

Peace by Steven J. Nichols

This is a stunningly beautiful devotional that Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust released last year. Peace offers readings for the Advent season (four Sundays and Christmas Eve), as well as hymns and carols, readings from Christian theologians throughout history (such as this one from Augustine), and most importantly reminds us of the “earth-shaking implications of Christ’s appearance.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson (read a review here)

Okay, yes, Wilson is not for everyone. Some find his writing style pretty off-putting (he’s clever and he knows it). But in this volume, Wilson deconstructs the many false reasons for the season, provides an answer to the all important question, “how then shall we shop,” and shares how Santa Claus may or may not have slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicaea.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul

An Armstrong family favorite, The Lightlings weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

This is the latest Advent devotional written by John Piper (the 2013 edition, Good News of Great Joy, is also well worth revisiting). Piper offers short daily readings (25 in all), intended to guide us in experiencing the joy of Christ in this season. I particularly enjoy the fact that Piper doesn’t stick to traditional Christmas passages, leading off with Luke 19:10, and Jesus’ declaration that He came to seek and save the lost:

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent

Buy it at: Amazon | iBooksDesiring God (free PDF download)


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of the stories we’ve been waiting for a loooong time to share with the kids, and probably need to wait a while longer yet. I’ve long been a fan of Dickens, and am eager to share this classic tale of transformation with the kids as they get older.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

What are a few books you’d recommend reading for personal reflection or family enjoyment as we prepare for Christmas?


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Seven books Christian women should read

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I love recommending books (clearly, since I seem to do it a lot). The books we read shape so much of who we are, and so we ought to think carefully about what we read. Recently, I was encouraged to share a list of books every Christian woman should read. I loved the idea… but I also realized pretty quickly that me making recommendations for ladies might not be the best idea. At least, not if I’m doing it alone. In light of that, I’ve called in some help in the form of my friends, Kim Shay and Staci Eastin. So, here are our recommendations:


Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung (recommended by Aaron)

Although it wasn’t one of my all-time favorites by DeYoung, there’s a lot of wisdom in the book that all of us would do well to heed (especially busy stay-at-home-homeschooling moms). While not all busyness is bad (after all, God made us to work), we need to be careful in learning how to rest well, even as we strive to work well.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The God Who is There by D.A. Carson (recommended by Kim)

Kim says, “I think this should be read because it gives a good overview of the biblical narrative and redemptive history. I have found that having a big picture understanding of Christianity has helped me approach the more specific areas with more thought.”

In this basic introduction to faith, D. A. Carson takes seekers, new Christians, and small groups through the big story of Scripture. He helps readers to know what they believe and why they believe it. The companion leader’s guide helps evangelistic study groups, small groups, and Sunday school classes make the best use of this book in group settings.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Alsup (recommended by Staci)

In Practical Theology for Women, Alsup uses the power of theology to address practical issues in women’s lives. Her book opens with a general discussion of theology and addresses the most fundamental and practical issue of theology: faith. Then sheexplores the attributes of God the Father, Son, and Spirit fromScripture, concluding with a look at our means of communicating with God-prayer and the Word.Throughout the book Alsup exhorts women to apply what they believe about God in their everyday lives. As they do this, their husbands, homes, and churches will benefit.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


God’s Good Design by Claire Smith (recommended by Aaron)

Feminism is part of “the cultural air we breathe”—it’s so ingrained into our society that it’s just a given. It’s the status quo, and no longer something to be questioned. But Claire Smith wants us to see that, despite arguments to the contrary, men and women really are different—and that’s exactly the way God intended it. In God’s Good DesignSmith examines the critical texts surrounding gender roles, offering valuable insights into the debate over the responsibilities of men and women within the church and home.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Bound Together by Chris Brauns (recommended by Kim)

Kim says, “As women, we balance a lot of ‘stuff,’ like motherhood, work, marriage, family, church, and sometimes, we don’t see how our actions affect others. We can get caught up in ‘life’ and act more in reaction than decisively, not realizing how something now could affect someone a couple of years down the road. It left me thinking for a long time after.”

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Made for More by Hannah Anderson (recommended by Staci)

Is your identity based on a role? Is it linked to a relationship? Do your achievements influence how you view yourself? What does your family say about you? Who are you as a woman?

Honestly, these are not the right questions. The real question is, who are you as a person created in God’s image? Until we see our identity in His, we’re settling for seconds. And we were made for so much more…

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Pleasing People by Lou Priolo (recommended by Staci)

Staci says, “Everybody struggles with fear of man and anxiety, but I do think they are particular stumbling blocks for women.”

Full of Scripture and challenging to the reader, Pleasing People takes aim at a problem common in all of us: the desire to be liked by others. But the book also wisely delineates when pleasing people is biblical. The penetrating exercises throughout the text will help readers see how this sin manifests itself in their lives. Pleasing People will be useful for both personal reading and group study.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Anything you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments!


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

What should I review?

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Every so often, it’s fun for me to ask your advice on what to review. The very first time I asked was back in 2010, and wound up reviewing Sun Stand Still as a result. The next time, I reviewed The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord. And most recently, with your encouragement, PROOF and Facing Leviathan.

And now, I’d love your help once again! Here are 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 let you know which to expect a review of in a few days.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

“Stop feeling that way” doesn’t work

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Last night, Emily and I had an interesting discussion about a little booklet we’d been reading, Help! My Teen Struggles with Same Sex Attractions. Although the booklet had some good points throughout, and presents a solid (albeit extremely brief) rebuttal of common redefinitions of the so-called “hammer” verses on homosexuality, there was something just not quite right about it. In fact, if I had to sum it up in a couple of words, it would be this: naïvely simplistic.

Unless I’m completely misreading it (which I hope I’m not), the approach seems to be, more or less, “repent or you’ll keep being gay.” Keep contemplation and confession logs. Have Bible verses around the house to remind you of what God’s Word has to say on the issue. If your teen does these things, then they won’t succumb to temptation.1

Now, obviously, repentance is right when sin is committed either in the heart or in the body. If a Christian who deals with same-sex attraction entertains immoral thoughts, he or she should repent of that (just as a heterosexual Christian should). If he or she commits an act of sexual immorality with a member of the same sex, then repentance is required, just as it would be for Christian doing so with a member of the opposite sex. The response on the part of the one committing sexual sin, whether in the heart or in the body, is the same whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, absolutely. And likewise, those temptations can only be resisted with a new heart, one inclined toward Christ, and a new identity, that of being a child of God in Christ.

But the booklet does not seem to make a distinction between temptation and action itself. Based on some of its language, it seems to view the issue of inclination (which may or may not be welcomed by the one dealing with it) as an act of rebellion itself. But the reality may be more complicated than this.

We should not forget that sin wreaks havoc on every aspect of creation. This is why some of us are predisposed to be overweight, even when we have healthy eating habits, or why healthy people’s bodies suddenly turn on themselves as cancerous cells develop, or why hard working people live in poverty. It’s not that these people have necessarily done anything to cause these things: they simply are as a result of living in a fallen world.

Sin represents a disruption in God’s good creation that affects everything.

So, too, it is with our affections. We are naturally designed a certain way; and I believe God’s design is for men and women to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. But the fall disrupts even this aspect of God’s good design, in effect inverting our orientation for some of us. While this does not excuse acting upon these inclinations, it should serve as an important reminder: we should not treat a teenage or adult Christian as though they rebelling against God simply because of these inclinations. If we fail to recognize this, we may do far more damage to Christians—including our own children—than we realize.

This is not to say we should be soft on sin. Far from it. It is simply a recognition that we can’t expect “stop feeling that way” to work, no matter how many memory verses we post around the house.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

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There are a whole bunch of new Kindle deals this week. Here are a few definitely worth checking out:

$1.99 and under:

$2.99:

Christ-Centered Exposition Commentaries ($2.99 each):

$3.99 and over:

Links I like

The Expulsive Power of New Affection

Dan Kassis, a voice-over artist in Spring Hill, TN, recently recorded Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of New Affection, as a birthday gift for his pastor. He’s since made it available for $3 to raise funds for The Bridge’s relocation efforts. I’d highly encourage grabbing a copy of this, as well as keeping your eyes open for more recordings of great sermons and essays from Dan in the future.

God Is in the Grocery Aisle

Lindsey Carlson:

It’s sad, but sometimes I allow the food in my cart cart to label me. If I walk down the organic aisle with its pesticide-free, non-GMO, “real” food, I feel good about myself and my mothering. My pride gladly wears the labels “informed”, “wise”, and “caring”. But if my shadow darkens the aisle of the processed, chemically-bathed “non-food,” my fearful heart wants to hide in shame.

Help publish the next book from Michael and Hayley DiMarco

Michael and Hayley DiMarco are preparing to publish their next book and curriculum, House of Grace: Big sinners raising little sinners, but they’re taking a different approach: instead of going through traditional publishers, they’re publishing it themselves. The manuscript is written, and they’re trying to raise enough funds to edit, design and print the book. Take a look, and if it’s something that appeals to you, I hope you’ll contribute.

Working on Learning to Rest

Nick Batzig:

If you’re anything like me, you know that you have to be intentional about learning how to rest. It’s hard for some of us to downshift. Some have a bent toward laziness and others a tendency to overwork. Phil Ryken has made the helpful observation that busyness stems from the same sinful root as laziness. Both are sinful manifestations of an idol of control. When we overwork, we try to control of our own lives and guide it to a selfishly motivated outcome. We are trying to secure what makes us feel good in life. Those who are lazy do exactly the same thing as those who overwork. If Satan can’t get us to try to do so by the vehicle of laziness, he will do so by tempting us to burn the candle at both ends. There is a sense in which just as those who are lazy need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to work, so those of us who are inclined to overwork need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to rest. In order to grow in our ability to rest, we must know ourselves. We must be able to examine the patterns of our thoughts and actions. After all, the Proverbs tell us that “the prudent considers well his steps” (Prov. 14:15).

Some Uncomfortable Questions

Kevin DeYoung asks some uncomfortable—but important—questions.

Does 1 John 2:27 Mean I Don’t Need My Sunday School Teacher?

Mike Leake:

In 1 John 2:27 the apostle tells his readers, “you have no need that anyone should teach you.” He says this because they have been “anointed by the Holy One”. As a result of this anointing they don’t need anyone to teach them.

What about us?

Is this an affirmation that if I have the “anointing of the Holy One” that I’m fine missing Sunday School? After all, if I’ve got God Almighty teaching my heart then, I don’t need nobody teachin’ me nuthin’.

The weird and the witty: A choose your own autobiography

I walked into my local Chapters, making my usual bee-line for the Starbucks, when it caught my eye.

No, not Joel Osteen’s beautiful (and likely very expensive) smile…

osteen-book

(Although…)

No, something much more amazing. This:

NPH-autobiography

Autobiographies are weird animals. Most of us don’t have a life stories interesting enough to fill a book (or at least, one people would want to read). The same goes for celebrities, who also don’t really have lives that could fill a book you’d want to read, either.

And yet, here we are.

And here this is.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography may well be the most clever addition to the ever expanding line of celebrity life stories, simply because of the schtick of putting the reader in the driver’s seat of Harris’ life. For example:

You, Neil Patrick Harris, are born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 15, 1973, at what you’re pretty sure is St. Joseph’s Hospital, although it’s hard to be certain as the whole experience leaves you a little blurry.

The first person you encounter is, not surprisingly, your mother, Sheila Scott Harris. As the years go by you will come to learn she is a truly remarkable woman filled with love, kindness, fragility, selflessness, intelligence, wisdom, and humor. The kind of mom who will talk to you like a person and treat you with respect from the age of two. The kind of mom who will hold you in her lap for an entire four-hour car ride, lightly scratching your back. The kind of mom who teaches you the rules of Twenty Questions and then lets you guess the “right” answer even though it wasn’t what she was thinking, but does it subtly enough to keep you from realizing that’s what she’s doing. The kind of mom traditional enough to sing in the Episcopal church choir every week but hip enough to improvise a horrific death for a character in the bedtime story she’s reading you just to make sure you’re paying attention. The kind of mom who sews your Halloween costumes and plays the flute and loves to laugh and encourages you to pursue your passions and at one point trains to become a Jazzercise instructor and at another decides to go back to law school in her thirties and commute four hours each way every weekend for three solid years to make sure she spends enough time with you.

This is a pretty clever approach to an autobiography, one that shows a certain willingness to poke fun at oneself too rarely found in celebrities. But then again, Harris did start something of a career comeback mocking himself in the early 2000s, so…

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:


After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption by Brian Borgman

The latest from Cruciform Press looks like a powerful read:

After They Are Yours talks transparently and redemptively about the often unspoken problems adoptive parents face. Combining personal experience, biblical wisdom and a heart for people, Borgman recalls the humbling and difficult lessons God has taught him and his wife. This is not a success story, rather it’s a story of struggles and failures set in the broader context of a God who is gracious and continually teaches us the meaning of adoption.

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press


Hope Reborn: How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus by Tope Koleoso and Adrian Warnock

Everyone is looking for hope and meaning in life. Are you sure that you really are a Christian and will live forever with Jesus? If you have drifted away, this book encourages you to come back and find certain hope.

Buy it at: Amazon


Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith by Chelsen Vicari

The provocative title certainly caught my attention. It’ll be interesting to see how balanced its content is. Could be really great or made of crazy. I suspect there is no middle ground:

Peek behind the curtain of some “hip” or “progressive” evangelical churches, past the savvy trends and contemporary music, and what you find may surprise you. Liberal evangelicals—despite how apolitical they claim to be—are gaining ground, promoting a repackaged version of Christianity that distorts the authority of Scripture and is causing a mass exodus of young people from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Buy it at: Amazon


Heaven by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (editors)

The latest in Crossway’s Theology in Community series offers much-needed perspective for Christians confused about the doctrine of heaven:

Our culture has a lot to say about heaven. But too much of it is based more on imaginative speculation or “supernatural” experiences than on the Bible itself.

In the latest addition to the Theology in Community series, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have assembled an interdisciplinary team of evangelical scholars to explore the doctrine of heaven from a variety of angles. Among other contributors, Ray Ortlund examines the concept of heaven in the Old Testament, Gerald Bray explores the history of theological reflection about heaven, and Ajith Fernando looks at persecuted saints’ special relationship to heaven in the New Testament. This team of first-rate scholars offers modern readers a comprehensive overview of this often misunderstood topic—shedding biblical light on the eternal hope of all Christians.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity by Dave Ramsey

It’ll be interesting to see where Ramsey ultimately lands on this topic. Much like Vicari’s book, it could either be really great or utterly not great. The only way I’ll know for sure? By reading it.

There’s a lot of bad information in our culture today about wealth—and the wealthy. Worse, there’s a growing backlash in America against our most successful neighbors, but why? To many, wealth is seen as the natural result of hard work and wise money management. To others, wealth is viewed as the ultimate, inexcusable sin. This has left a lot of godly men and women honestly confused about what to do with the resources God’s put in their hands. God’s ways of handling money caused them to build wealth, but then they’re left feeling guilty about it. Is this what God had in mind?

Buy it at: Amazon


Beat God to the Punch by Eric Mason

I actually finished reading this about a week ago. A review is forthcoming:

Author Eric Mason succinctly articulates God’s call of discipleship on every person. In a winsome, persuasive tone, Mason calls people into a posture of submission to the gospel.

Eric Mason masterfully roots out the areas of life where we try to tell God, “Do not enter.” In light of Jesus’ free offer of the good news, Pastor Mason challenges readers to turn our affections away from those things that hold hostage our hearts and consider what it means to be an authentic follower of the Messiah.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis by John Piper and David Mathis (editors)

C. S. Lewis stands as one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. His commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the heart is evident in classics like the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity—books that illustrate the unbreakable connection between rigorous thought and deep affection.

With contributions from Randy Alcorn, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Kevin Vanhoozer, David Mathis, and Douglas Wilson, this volume explores the man, his work, and his legacy—reveling in the truth at the heart of Lewis’s spiritual genius: God alone is the answer to our deepest longings and the source of our unending joy.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Rising Above a Toxic Workplace by Gary D Chapman, Paul E. White and Harold Myra

This is another one that I finished pretty recently. Look for a review soon:

Many employees experience the reality of bulling bosses, poisonous people, and soul-crushing cultures on a daily basis. Rising Above a Toxic Workplace tells authentic stories from today’s workers who share how they cope, change-or quit. Candidly they open up about what they learned, what they wish they had done, and how to gain resilience. Insightfully illustrating from these accounts, authors Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra blend their combined experiences in ministry and business to deliver hope and practical guidance to those who find themselves in an unhealthy work environment. Includes a Survival Guide and Toolkit full of strategies and realistic insights.

Buy it at: Amazon

Five fiction books you should read

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One of the things I’ve really come to love as I’ve re-embraced fiction has been its power: good fiction is disarming. It allows you to enter into a world either very similar to our own or completely unlike it, and experience the mundane and the marvellous in ways you may not have imagined previously. It allows us to explore the nature of humanity in ways that you can’t as effectively through non-fiction. Often, by the time you’re done reading a really good fiction book, you’re surprised by how much you have to consider.

And yet it seems like so few Christians (at least in the circles I run in) read really good fiction.[Worse, it seems like even fewer Christian authors write really good fiction (as evidenced by the plethora of Amish romance novels available at your local Christian bookstore). But that’s an issue for another time.] I’d like to see that change (as would Justin Taylor, clearly). So, here’s a look at five fiction books Christians should consider reading. I do not promise profound picks—in fact, there’s a high degree of moral ambiguity represented in each—but I trust you’ll find them intriguing.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But what got me in this book in particular (aside from it being so ridiculously quotable), is how much I identified with its characters, especially as an angsty 20-something music snob. I knew the guys at Rob’s record store. Actually, I was one of them—socially awkward and pretentious in my musical taste. (How is it that I ever got married?) Hornby’s greatest skill—giving us characters who read as real people, as opposed to ideas presented as people, if you follow—is on full display in this book, and why he is among my favorite modern authors.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Having read a few of his books, this remains my favorites (Wonder Boys is a close second). I grew up adoring comic books. I actually desperately wanted to work in the comic industry in my teens (and even in my 20s; don’t judge). Kavalier and Clay follows Jewish cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Klayman who find fame with their creation The Escapist in the golden age of comics (the late 1930s to early 1950s). This book deals with some pretty powerful themes—among them , the cost of fame, racism, sexual identity, and family—but refuses to sacrifice good storytelling for the sake of making a statement.


The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Is this a “safe” pick? Absolutely. Anything by C.S. Lewis tends to be in Christian circles since he’s one of us. But this one is different than the other books in the Narnia series (all of which I enjoyed). While it is not unceasingly grim, and, indeed, ends on the highest of notes, there is a weight to it that is lacking in some of the earlier volumes. One of my favorite elements? The ape who insists he’s a man (see why at the link).


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I picked up this book randomly during my last year of high school. I can’t remember why exactly, though it may have been for an independent study project. After reading it (and then reading it again. And again. And…), I think I finally wore out my copy. It’s the richness of the characters that makes Great Expectations so compelling. As Dickens tells the tale of a lower-class boy who desires to become a gentleman, he gives us far more complicated and conflicted men and women than you find in any of his other works.


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

The bathroom was not large.

The walls were panelled in old oak linenfold which, given the age and nature of the building, was quite probably priceless, but otherwise the fittings were stark and institutional.

There was old, scuffed, black-and-white checked linoleum on the floor, a small basic bath, well cleaned but with very elderly stains and chips in the enamel, and also a small basic basin with a toothbrush and toothpaste next to the taps. Screwed into the probably priceless panelling above the basin was a tin mirror-fronted bathroom cabinet. It looked as if it had been repainted many times, and the mirror was stained round the edges with condensation. The lavatory had an old-fashioned cast-iron chain-pull cistern. There was an old cream-painted wooden cupboard standing in the corner, with an old brown bentwood chair next to it, on which lay some neatly folded but threadbare small towels. There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it. (69)

You could really choose any of his books and you’d do well; but I’ve long had a fondness for Dirk Gently (which I also happen to be re-reading at the time of this writing).


Those are a few fiction books I’d recommend checking out. What are some of your favorites?


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

The weird and the witty: The annotating Spurgeon

People who know me and my reading habits know that I love to mark up, mess up and beat up my books. I write a LOT of notes, and have little conversations with authors in the margins of my hardcopy books. Sometimes these are pretty funny (at least for me), but other times, they’re expressing my deep frustration with what I’m reading—at least when it’s wrong.

And all who’ve seen my now-lost ARC of Love Wins said, “Amen.”

One of my favorite books to mark up was the first edition of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (which remains one of my least favorite books, but that’s another story).

At the time, I happened to be reading with a red pen in hand and as I did, I found myself fully crossing out entire pages, and writing a simple and direct response:

No. Read your Bible.

I should also mention that I’d been a Christian for all of a year at the time.

But thankfully, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it turns out I’m in good company, as Adrian Warnock reminded those who follow him on Twitter yesterday when he shared a masterful bit of annotating by Charles “Oh, snap!” Spurgeon:

spurgeon-annotation

Spurgeon, never one to let his opinion remain hidden, certainly gave us a clear picture of what he thought of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s work, didn’t he?

Do you mark up your books? What’s the funniest margin conversation you’ve had with an author?

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Only a couple of new ones that I’m aware of today, both by Mark Sayers: Facing Leviathan and The Road Trip that Changed the World ($4.99 each).

Blogs Gone Cold

Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill speak on the tendency for Christian blogs written by women to go cold.

Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?

Russell Moore:

This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

A novel Jared Wilson thinks every Christian should read

The final part of Justin Taylor’s excellent series. And speaking of Justin…

Justin Taylor (sorta) interviews Dane Ortlund

If I ever get to write a book for Crossway, I’m going to insist an interview like this is part of the deal:

A Long Line of Leaving Our Comfort Zone

Ben Connelly:

My three-year-old Charlotte woke up at 4am last night. When the babysitters had put her to bed, they hadn’t flipped on her “night-night light.” A train horn in the blackness startled her to tears. When I plugged in the tiny bulb, soft yellow light engulfed the room. The darkness was gone and she cuddled back to sleep. One of the most impacting facts I’ve ever learned is that physical light always goes into darkness; scientifically, darkness never comes to light. Darkness cannot overcome a candle; it must wait for the flame to flicker out. But when you flip a light switch, beams instantly fill the blackness. If we may spiritualize the image a bit, light goes into—and pushes back—darkness.

The spin of Patriarchy

This week’s episode of the Mortification of Spin is well worth listening to.