Category: Books

10 Books I Really Enjoyed in 2017

About Grace, Anthony Doerr – This author won the Pulitzer for his book, All the Light We Cannot See, which is easily my favorite novel of the past five years. About Grace is Doerr’s first novel and traces the story of a hydrologist who occasionally has visions about negative things before they happen, but explores the much deeper idea of the longing for reconciled relationships.

Silence, Endo – Such a powerful novel rooted in the history of Jesuit missions to Japan. Endo explores the differences between Japanese and Western culture, the line between contextualization and syncretism, the difficulty of faith in suffering, the question of apostasy, and the voice of God.

Liberating Black Theology, Anthony Bradley – With resurgent race discussions, this book is a helpful analysis where earlier African-American Christians went wrong in trying to address the topic of race. Bradley comes to the subject with expertise, experience, and clarity.

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography, Gary Wills – Confessions has long be a devotional favorite. I have read a lot of Augustine but not enough about his life. Wills brings some fresh insight into often misread passages in Confessions, can turn a phrase, and keep the reader engaged all the way through. It was a delight to read.

The Culture of NarcissmChristopher Lasch – Although this book is several decades old, its critique of modern culture still has incredible relevance. The culture of narcism has not only oversold the appearance of Self, but undersold virtue and the danger of the grandiose, therapeutic Self. Great insight and language for diagnosing our present the late modern identity crisis.

Exit West, Mohair Hamid – This novel gave me fresh empathy for refugees through an interesting plot device, magical doors that allowed the refugees to go to another country to find refuge and hope. The central couple faces their fare share of challenges, not the least the unending search for refuge and satisfaction. Disclaimer: I had to skip through some scenes.

Making Sense of God, Tim Keller – A stunning guide to the undercurrent philosophies that create doubt and skepticism toward God, religion, and faith. In his characteristic style, Keller sympathizes with skeptics, understands where our skepticism comes from, and graciously dismantles the many dichotomies and conflicts underneath secularized predispositions toward Christianity.

A Theology in Outline, Robert Jensen – A fresh look at classic, systematic theology with the insight of the late Robert Jensen. Short, pithy and inspiring. Take for instance his suggestion that to be made in God’s image is to be a praying animal, dependent not upon food and water but the will of God.

The Purity of Heart to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard – The title along will send yo thinking. Kierkegaard has become a favorite companion over the last five years. He challenges aberrations of grace and “gospel-centered” with the call to a lived doctrine. We cannot truly understand a doctrine until we’ve lived it. This book challenges us to cultivate the patience of willing something eternal, something we all need more of in a fast and big data age.

Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich – The soul and struggle of Russia revealed. Alexievich won the Nobel for Literature and it shows. The book cobbles together interviews from hundreds of Russians on their experience of Stalin era and post-Stalin life, but does so with literary flair. The stories are riveting and heart-breaking, checking our Western consumer comfort at the door.

3 Recommended Books on Burnout

In light of my recent article at Lifeway Leadership, here are a few books I recommend reading if you feel exhausted by ministry, lackluster about the church, or distant from Jesus:

On The Brink – This book blends empathy, challenge, and biblical exhortation very well. An excellent help to anyone who feels “on the brink” or wants to better understand what pastors, in particular, often face.

Leading on Empty – This book combines science with sage advice. It contains some great best practices from an experienced pastor.

Near Unto God – A life-giving devotional by Abraham Kuyper. His brief devotional entries are packed with spiritual insight and stir religious affection.

 

Recommended Books on 2 Peter & Jude

This summer I wrote a study guide for 2 Peter & Jude. These are prophetic book letters for our time. It became clear to me that the straight forward truths, difficult texts, and glorious promises in these letters are just what our church needs to hear. So, we’re preaching through these two letters this Fall. Here are a few resources I’d recommend if you want to know the letters better.

The Message of 2 Peter & Jude – This is written by some of the most well-known British preachers. In fact, Dick Lucas had considerable influence on Tim Keller. This commentary is exegetically rich, well-footnoted, but also sensitive to culture and application.

Acknowledging the Divine Benefactor – This is a unique commentary more suited for the academic. It stands out in its sensitivities to Hellenistic backgrounds. The premise is intriguing, that 2 Peter follows a Greek form of paying homage to a benefactor. Peter may be adapting this form to encourage believers to honor Jesus Christ as their divine benefactor by living a life of virtue.

1, 2 Peter & Jude (Schreiner) – This is my favorite all round commentary on 2 Peter/Jude for its clarity and succinctness yet attention to detail.

*Jude & 2 Peter (Bauckham) – I’ve read a lot of Richard Bauckham over the years and studied under one of his proteges. He’s creative, textually rigorous, a fantastic biblical theologian, and learned in backgrounds. However, this commentary is a bit exhausting and I can’t stand the layout of Word commentaries.

We’re All Great Abbreviators

I’ve just finished writing a study guide for three of the craziest letters in the New Testament–1, 2 Peter & Jude. The letters cover stuff like: angels sleeping with humans, gang rape, homosexuality, greed, self-made morality, godly character, doubt, faith, eternal fire, eternal life, angels disputing with demons, the end of the world, and its total renewal.

If 1 Peter exults, “Jesus will return,” and 2 Peter rebuffs the claim, “Jesus won’t return,” then Jude exhorts, “Jesus is just about here.” The crazy content in these letters all revolve around the person and return of Jesus, which to some, sounds even crazier. However, there’s an awful lot of history and evidence for the life and ministry of Jesus, and he gathers praise from people around the world, even across religions. Even if you don’t believe Jesus is returning, you should want him to.

Why? Because he’s bringing redemption with him. He’s a God who finishes what he starts. Peter, Jesus’ close disciple says this whole glorious mess of a world will end in dissolution and renewal. He promises that when Jesus returns the world will become “a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). With Jesus back, justice will move into every neighborhood, shanty town, and back alley.

We are all, in the words of Huxley, “Great Abbreviators.” No one tells the whole truth about the whole world. We abbreviate things from our finite perspective, from our own front porch, step, or stoop. Heck, I’m an abbreviator, which is why I need to hear from someone who has full-length understanding. Someone who views all the steps, stoops, and porches–all the souls and the sciences of this world–and can tell me how it I’m supposed to live.

That’s why I find the Bible so meaningful. It tells me who I am by telling me who God is. It’s not a history of everything, but everything in it is historically oriented. It’s not just vague philosophies or moral codes; it’s about real people and events happening in space and time.

And let’s face it; if you’ve seen Stranger Things you know there’s more to this world than what we can see. And the strange things of this world pull us toward the darkness or to the light, toward the end of the world or its new beginning. If all that’s true, then Bible is an indispensable guide to help us through to where we all want to be, a world submerged in justice and peace. In Jesus’ renewed world.