“An even commoner way of forgetting self and time is simply reading…. Here we transcend time not to eternity but merely to another time, the time of the story. When we read a great story, we are not outside looking in, but inside it looking out; we are outside our bodies’ time and space and in the story’s” (Peter Kreeft).
Self-absorbed entry: January 12, 2013.
I found 2012 to be a busy, stress-filled year. “All work and no play…” Too much work. Too much personal business. Not enough hiking, biking, or writing. And certainly not enough reading as I yearly hope to enjoy. I've said before that my yearly goal is to read 30 books. I've been falling short lately. A sad state of affairs indeed.
Still, here is my reading list and synopses from 2012:
1. "North Korea"
A mini-book from the Voice of the Martyrs organization, part of the Restricted Nations series. A brief history of North Korea, its philosophies, its dictator-worshipping national religious cult, and its history of persecuting of Christians. The imprisonments, tortures, and murders perpetrated against those who profess the name of Jesus Christ are horrific and unbelievable. There is no debate; North Korea is an evil empire. So what are we doing about it? I recommend reading "Eyes of the Tailless Animals" an account by a woman formerly imprisoned in North Korea. She was not a Christian when she was sent to prison to be “re-educated” and work a slave laborer, but when she saw how Christians would not renounce their faith though merciless tortured, her heart was changed.
2. "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (But Never Dreamed of Asking)" by Peter Kreeft.
I picked this book up quite a few years ago as I was working on the final chapter of the book I was writing. I became frustrated with it when Kreeft, a Roman Catholic philosopher, began talking about purgatory as though it had some scriptural basis. I shelved the book for a couple of years, but picked it up again at the end of 2011, finishing it in 2012. I greatly respect Kreeft as a modern philosopher. He has some really intriguing and thought provoking material in this book, such as his theories on space-time versus place-time and his ideas on time versus eternity. At the very least, those parts are worth checking out.
3. "Jimmy Stewart: A Biography" by Marc Eliot.
A great actor with an interesting life and some great movies to his credit. Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time. Unfortunately Eliot, as a modern biographer, is all too concerned with Stewart’s sex life and where Stewart’s movies may or may not have subtle sexual undertones or metaphoric sexual this, that, and the other. (After all, to the misguided modern, we are very much defined by our sexuality.) Most of those details were completely unnecessary. It was a shame because I would have liked to have been able to pass this book along to my mom, but because of the author’s approach, I passed on that idea.
4. "Ask Me Anything 2 (More Provocative Answers for College Students)" by J. Budziszewski.
Another question and answer book for college students, for anyone really, by one of my favorite Christian apologists and thinkers. This book, like its prequel, generally centers on important life questions students ask. There are some great dialogues in this book on topics ranging from antagonistic professors to relationships, sex, and love. If you can only read one book by this author, however, I recommend "How to Stay Christian in College", which I have reviewed elsewhere.
5. "Sense and Sensuality (Jesus Talks with Oscar Wilde on the Pursuit of Pleasure)" by
Here’s a thought provoking mini-book for those looking for a quick philosophical and comparative worldviews read. It’s part of Christian apologist Zacharias’ Great Conversations series which also includes "New Birth or Rebirth? Jesus Talks with Krishna", "The Lamb and the Fuhrer: Jesus Talks with Hitler", and "The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha". I knew very little about Oscar Wilde prior to reading this book; though I have read his classic "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Zacharias’ book exposes how an unbridled pursuit of pleasure is self-destructive, and Oscar Wilde was the poster boy for such self-destruction; though Wilde seemed to find Jesus Christ alluring:
And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal” (from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde).
6. "The Truth War (Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception)" by John MacArthur.
MacArthur’s book is about the evangelical church’s slide away from truth, discernment, and church discipline in a postmodern, relativistic age. MacArthur poses that the church’s inability to fight against false doctrines is because it has itself become postmodern in many ways (truth cannot be known for certain, etc.). MacArthur, who never sugarcoats things, lives up to his reputation here as he has a great deal of criticism for the Emerging Church and Seeker Sensitive movements within evangelicalism, criticism which appears aptly deserved.
7. "Prophet" by Frank Peretti.
Peretti is one of the most famous modern Christian fiction writers (mystery/suspense/horror). I’d read his first book, and most well-known book, "This Present Darkness", years ago, along with its sequel, "Piercing the Darkness". His book "The Oath" scared me so much that I gave it away to get it out of my house! And "The Visitation" became a favorite the first time I read it. "Prophet", however, is his third novel. I’ve had this yellowing book for years and had never opened it, until 2012. Prophet is about the abortion industry as well as collusion between the media and politics. The book kept me engrossed the whole time I was reading it. Some of it I found silly, some of it overly Pentecostal, but overall it was pretty good.
8. "Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God" by David McCasland.
I know it’s good to mix up one’s reading. History. Philosophy. Theology. Novels. Biography. And for the Christian it is important to read about the great men and women of God who have gone before us. This is the biography of the man who is most famous today for the book entitled "My Utmost for His Highest", a compilation of things he taught over his years as a pastor, teacher, and Bible college founder. Chambers wanted to be an artist when he was young (and he was exceptionally good). He wrote a friend, “I shall never go into ministry until God takes me by the scruff of the neck and throws me in.” And so God called him into the ministry. From that point on Chambers’ desire was to be totally abandoned to God. After the outbreak of World War I, Chambers closed his Bible college and volunteered to become a YMCA chaplain to the troops in Egypt. Though an inspiration to the troops, he was struck with appendicitis and died from complications after his surgery. He was 43 years old. An amazing man. An inspirational biography.
9. "Showdown" by Ted Dekker.
Another of the popular modern Christian mystery/suspense/horror novelists. This novel started well enough, a stranger comes into town, calls himself a preacher and begins performing miracles, but he is evil through and through. Meanwhile, at a monastery on a mountain far above this town the monastery’s founder has been raising gifted children separated from the influences of the world, hoping that by ingraining good into them, they will one day easily overcome the inevitable temptations that the world will bring. Needless to say, both the townspeople and the children give into the evil temptations brought by the wicked preacher. Only the founder of the monastery and his son are not overcome. (Do you see it yet?) The son decides to leave the monastery and go down to the town in order to show his love to them all, perhaps then they will see through the deceptions of the evil one. (Aaah, now you see where it’s going.) At this point, the allegory became too overt and predictable (for me at least). There is also some regurgitation of tired old free will arguments, discussion of God taking risks (as if He could fail at anything or not know the outcome of something), and some talk that seems oddly close to word of faith teaching. I know it’s a novel, but I’m always looking at the messages, too. For me, if you want to read a Ted Dekker book, choose my favorite one, entitled "Thr3e".
10. "The O’Reilly Factor for Kids (A Survival Guide for America's Families)" by Bill O’Reilly.
The number one rated cable news guy wrote a book for children and young people. This book covers topics about life, what’s good and bad, wise and not (according to Bill O’Reilly). When my wife read it a while back, it spurred conversations about important things we never learned growing up. I decided to read it because we were considering giving it to someone who was about to become a parent for the first time. After all, the book isn’t only for kids. Life lessons are life lessons no matter what one’s age. But I was very disappointed with O’Reilly’s advice on God: He basically said, “You have to find out what works for you when it comes to believing in God” or something along those lines. O’Reilly admitted that he is not really religious. He believes in a God, he says, but “I pray only one prayer: Please allow me to use my talents for good.” I decided not to pass the book along. After all, if I’m going to pass a book along about the most important things in life, then the Most Important of the most important things has to be right. And this brings us to—
11. "Bringing Up Boys" by Dr. James Dobson.
Here we have an excellent book that looks at how our postmodern culture is at war with boys and manhood. The counter to the culture is good parenting, especially dedicated fathers, and dedicated Christian fathers above all. Dobson, the preeminent Christian psychologist, tells us that fathers should model Christianity and good behavior to their children because their boys will emulate them. If a father abuses women, mistreats the child’s mother, curses, smokes, fights, is selfish, angry, abuses substances, etc., the child will probably follow suit. But if a father is “honest, trustworthy, caring, loving, self-disciplined, and God-fearing your boys will be influenced by these traits as they age”. There are some really great chapters about how boys differ from girls in behavior and interests from the earliest stages. Another very good chapter is entitled “The Origins of Homosexuality” which is extremely insightful. Both chapters counter the babble that we hear from the culture today. It’s a very good book which my wife and I both read and passed along. Highly recommended.
12. "Battling Unbelief" by John Piper.
A book about how borrowing from God’s “future grace,” God’s promises for the future, will help Christians overcome the temptations of sin here and now. It specifically addresses anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetous, bitterness, despondency, and lust. Piper underscored a lot of what I had been reading and hearing from preachers past and present (Charles Haddon Spurgeon to James Montgomery Boice), that life after conversion should be significantly different than the life we had before conversion. “The root of surrender [to sin] is unbelief” he writes. “The challenge before us in our fight…” writes Piper, “is not merely to do what God says because He is God, but to desire what God says because He is glorious. The challenge is not merely to pursue righteousness, but to prefer righteousness.” A challenging book.
13. "Baptism in the New Testament" by Oscar Cullmann.
This mini-book or treatise was first published in 1950. The book is a biblical defense, of sorts, for infant baptism in the case of the children of baptized and believing parents. Cullmann makes a very compelling case. In short, he says that baptism of the pagan, or of Jews, in the New Testament, required a confession of faith, but baptism of infants within the Christian community was parallel (in some respects) to circumcision. His argument goes much deeper than that. I would encourage anyone interested in the subject to read it. He also makes a good point that faith must always, of necessity, follow baptism for it to mean anything, both in the case of the adult and the infant (just as Paul wrote that “circumcision merely outward and physical” was not the same thing as “circumcision of the heart”).
14. "Abraham Lincoln: His Life and Times. An Illustrated History" - Time-Life books.
Occasionally one needs to lose themselves in a Time-Life book. I’m a big fan of Abraham Lincoln. One of our greatest presidents if not the greatest president. An icon. An enigma. An every man. An exceptional man. Self taught and yet master of the English language. The chiseled face. The chiseled character. The humble beginnings. The tragic end. The best reading I could recommend on this man is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s "Team of Rivals" which I usually listen to every year.
15. "Not a Fan (Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus Christ)" by Kyle Idleman.
I first heard about this book when attending a discipleship seminar in mid 2012. The book hooked me right away as Idleman, pastor at “the 5th largest church in America”, said that one year he was praying on the Thursday afternoon before Easter services, asking God what he should say.
“Finally a thought crosses my mind: I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds. What I discovered would change me forever. Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.”
This, of course, diverges from the course taken by the Seeker Sensitive movement and runs completely counter to Joel Osteen’s malarkey; this was about preaching the Gospel and following Jesus Christ, whether others like it or not. It is not about cheering for your favorite team on Sunday, but about strapping on the gear, going down onto the field, and taking the hits. It is about being a committed follower of Jesus wherever He leads, whatever He commands. Christians aren’t designated as Consumers by the New Testament, but as slaves.
Idleman also points out that while some churches are looking to hook consumers on their “product” (?) with business plans and catch phrases, the most accurate slogan for the Christian church should be “Come and die.” An extremely challenging read. Christians in America need to hear this message. I highly recommend this book to Christians and non-Christians alike.
Finally, because I found 2012 such a stressful year, I did read the following books:
Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
As for completing the New Testament again, I only missed Matthew and Acts.
So it appears I made my thirty book goal this year, and then some. After all, one must remember that each New Testament book above is just that, a book or letter of its own, compiled for us into an anthology we know as the Bible. I highly recommend all of the above books, though my personal favorites at this time are Luke, John, and Romans.
So, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading this narcissistic entry. Take it or leave it, as you wish.
No matter what, I hope and pray that God blesses each and every one of you with the greatest gifts of all in 2013.
“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
All Scripture quotations, except where noted, are from the New International Version. Bold and italic emphasis added.
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1. Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (But Never Dreamed of Asking!), copyright 1990 Ignatuis Press, San Francisco, page 190.
2. Though I have not seen all of Stewart’s movies, the following are some of my favorites: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, Shenandoah, The Flight of the Phoenix, Rope, Rear Window, even The Glenn Miller Story.
3. Oswald chambers: Abandoned to God, by David McCasland, copyright 1993 Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., page 55.
4. Page 69
5. Battling Unbelief, John Piper, copyright 2007 by Desiring God Foundation, page 131.
6. Battling Unbelief, John Piper, copyright 2007 by Desiring God Foundation, page 146.
7. Romans 2:28-29.
9. "Not a Fan", copyright 2011 by Kyle Idleman, page 11.
10. "Not a Fan", copyright 2011 by Kyle Idleman, page 158.