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My 10 Favorite Books I Read in 2018

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A few years ago, when I was safely removed from the required reading of school, I started to read. And I started to like it. While I do read some books for fun, I largely try to punch above my mental weight class with my books. I figure if you go often to those great minds and deep thinkers who have so influenced societies, those classic authors who so captured the human experience, those theologians who have so accurately communicated the deep things of God—eventually something will stick.
To be sure there is much that does not stick. There are many books I start each year with eagerness only to leave unfinished. Still, I have found the searching out and reading of good books to be a habit that I want to develop further each year. I’d like to think it has expanded my mind and I know it has solidified ideas and positions in my head that were formerly rather foggy. Perhaps more foundationally, I have found certain books to have become a part of me. By shaping the way I think and the way…

Don't be a Miserable Christian

Sometimes we view Christianity as a mercenary affair. We look at the world and the fun they are having in their lasciviousness--while we perpetually mortify our flesh and self-flagellate--and we think to ourselves: “Soon enough the tables will be reversed. Soon enough we will be the ones who are having fun, and they the suffering.” And we then wrinkle our brows and clench our fists as we await further blows from our earthly prison.

This view of the Christian walk as an unhappy life of self-denial is undoubtedly the way the world views religion, but it should not be the way the saint views it. To be sure there is self-denial, suffering, dying to self even; but we are mistaken if we view even these central aspects of our journey as morbid and dreary, devoid of all joyful vitality. Despite what appearances may indicate the reality is the tables are already reversed. The Christian already has access to the infinite source of all heaven’s bounty. It was C. S. Lewis who once said, “He who ha…

Better than Eden

Every once and a while I will run across a passage of writing that stops me in my tracks. I decided to share one such passage below from the famed Puritan John Owen writing on the wisdom of God in the mystery of his plan finally revealed in Jesus Christ. Written originally in 1657, you will find the language archaic, but hopefully that will not take away from the glory presented below:
“Eph iii. 10, it is called, 'The manifold wisdom of God;' and to discover the depth and riches of this wisdom, he tells us in that verse that it is such, that principalities and powers, that very angels themselves, could not in the least measure get any acquaintance with it, until God, by gathering of a church of sinners, did actually discover it. Hence Peter informs us, that they who are so well acquainted with all the works of God, do yet bow down and desire with earnestness to look into these things (the things of the wisdom of God in the gospel), 1 Pet. i. 12. It asks a man much wisdom to mak…

Lincoln Team of Rivals

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A Joy to Read
Lincoln Team of Rivals is a special book. There is no other way to say it. I cannot imagine the hours, the years, the research, the extensive compiling and organization it must have taken Doris Kearns Goodwin to write this masterpiece. Over the last two months I have been plodding through this Pulitzer prize winning book, enjoying every detail, savoring every character—in what has to be one of my favorite periods of American history. Goodwin is a very good writer and because the book is so laden with direct source material, I feel assured that she is giving nothing more than the full flavor of Lincoln and the figures that composed his cabinet.
Team of Rivals traces the story of Lincoln (primarily), Bates, Seward, and Chase—all political figures running for the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination. After Lincoln shockingly won the nomination, he assembled these three “rivals” as the primary cogs of his cabinet, key players who would prove indispensable throughout the mos…

Weakness and Christan Progress

I have been wrestling with D. A. Carson's book on 2 Corinthians 10-13, a portion of Scripture where the apostle Paul lays himself bare. In these chapters the apostle protects his authority, pleads with the church, utilizes irony, and gives a moving testimony of his own weakness. The Corinthians have been taken in by false brethren, carnal men who are being paraded as super apostles; men who are building the house with worldly means.
Carson shows in the introductory chapters that the Corinthian culture was largely influenced by the Sophists. The Sophists were showmen. Triumphalists who strutted their own achievements, knowledge, oratorical skills as a means to gain both a following and credibility to their viewpoints. It was not uncommon for them to begin their letters with long lists of "recommendations" to validate their authority on whatever matter they were addressing. Unsurprisingly the Corinthian church was susceptible to such self-promotional figures because they we…

Work Aversion

An apprentice is likely to be idle, and almost always is so, because he has no immediate interest to be otherwise. In the inferior employments, the sweets of labour consist altogether in the recompense of labour. They who are soonest in a condition to enjoy the sweets of it, are likely soonest to conceive a relish for it, and to acquire the early habit of industry. A young man naturally conceives an aversion to labour, when for a long time he receives no benefit from it. The boys who are put out apprentices from public charities are generally bound for more than the usual number of years, and they generally turn out very idle and worthless.
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
I like to think that I have fairly good self-awareness. I can recognize defects in myself, tendencies and propensities which are just not good. For the faults that I miss due to personal pride or blind spots, I have a wife well placed to identify such short comings. Thankfully she is often gracious in her assessments!

Letters to an American Christian

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In Letters to an American Christian, Bruce Ashford writes a collection of letters to a hypothetical college student, Christian, attending a progressive university. Ashford writes on a broad array of hot-button issues in this current political climate, ranging from the foundational: why should Christians soil their shoes in the muck of politics at all? To the more practical: what should a Christian's view of socialism be? What about global warming? Racial reconciliation? Immigration?
This struck me as a daunting task.
Interestingly enough, what most surprised me about this book is how non-controversial it is. In a political moment like ours with such an overwhelming divide between right and left, I was expecting this book to retain at least a portion of the spirit of the times we live in. Ashford writes this, however, with a most measured tone. He writes with levity, injecting humor throughout his correspondence. Even in areas where I initially disagreed with his position, I found my…

Christless Christianity: Necessary Assessment but the Pendulum Swings

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As a born and raised evangelical, and someone who remains "evangelical" despite the loaded connotations of the term, Horton's Christless Christianity was a punchy read, necessary for me to grapple with. Even while there were certain areas I disagreed with the author, this book forced me to give an honest look at my own church tradition, and ways that it can perhaps be re-aligned to a more Biblical, Gospel focused model.
Christless Christianity begins with a critical assessment of the modern Americanized Gospel.Horton laments the "Pelagian" heresy that is the de facto religion of the human heart, which Horton argues, exists even in our most conservative houses of worship. This heresy limits Jesus to an example to follow or a means to a better life. The gospel is good advice, not any more "good news" of a reality outside of us by which we are shaken and confronted. We emphasize "deeds not creeds" as we climb the ladder to "your best life n…

Book in Review: Mere Hope

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Mere Hope is a brief book about the growing cynicism of our time, which has most definitely seeped into our churches. Jason Duesing calls us to a renewed gospel hope rooted in its Savior who reigns inside of us.
A few years ago I detected in myself a malignant escapism growing in my spirit. I had then watched several friends of mine stray from the faith, and all around things seemed to be growing darker and darker. What my natural response was then, and at times is now, was to withdraw into the inner chambers, to lock the door with the handle and the bolt. With “no trespassing” signs on my lawn and a shotgun in my closet I would make it through. Even with gritted teeth, I would make it through.
Duesing’s book is a needed reminder to me that we have great cause for hope, and it is not in ourselves or in our determined mental makeup. He reminds us that we need to look down at our gospel hope, look at Christ’s reign within, look out at the hope for the nations, and look above to our future…

Chancellorsville – Stephen Sears

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Chancellorsville is my first book by Stephen Sears. It is thick in content and thorough in the extreme. I can tell you right now that it will not be my last of this author.
Sears begins by providing the context of the fateful battle. He discusses the previous failure of the Army of the Potomac under Ambrose Burnside five months earlier at Fredericksburg: the unimaginative hurling of men before superior Confederate positions and the slaughter that ensued.
In comes Joseph Hooker, a general I had previously thought of as brash and foolhardy—just another name to add to the pantheon of incompetent Union generals. Sears, however, makes the case that Hooker’s failures in the Chancellorsville campaign were less due to him directly (as was the case with his predecessors)—and more due to the failures of those immediately beneath his command, as well as some plain bad luck.
It is difficult to imagine a more difficult job than Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac at the start of 1863. Figh…

Ponderings on "The Abolition of Man"

Last week I read through a short book entitled The Abolition of Man. Upon completion, my head was spinning from the exercise of attempting to track with its author's (C. S. Lewis) logic. The following week I listened to the audio version (as well as some lectures from Hillsdale College) which helped considerably. I am currently reading through it again because this book is that important. There is no question: we are observing the fulfillment of Lewis's prophecies day by day.
Lewis starts off The Abolition of Man by addressing a small quotation from an educational work for "the upper forms of schools" (what he calls the Green book) which states in summary that our feelings having no real relation with things outside of us. Lewis takes this small statement and shows how, when it follows its logical path, will inevitably lead to the abolition of man.
Lewis argues that If we teach the young that our emotions do not correlate with anything outside of us we will create a ne…

Book in Review: Preaching By The Book

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Good Primer; Lacking in Examples
Preaching by the Book provides a formulaic step by step approach to producing "text-driven" sermons. Pace is a big proponent of the expositional model in which each sermon point branches off of the one textual big idea. In this short book he provides an excellent summary of sound Biblical interpretation methodology, as well as a very helpful sermon drafting process. There are many streams of wisdom throughout!
I appreciated Pace's understanding of the centrality of the Holy Spirit and His involvement in the entire preaching process. The Spirit wrote the Scriptures, helps us understand and communicate the Scriptures, and He convicts the hearts of the listeners with the Scriptures. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it--and as preachers we need to ensure we are doing none of this in our efforts alone.
I will say that Pace's preaching model seems a little too rigid. He presents a good exegetical point by point m…

Two Kinds of Prophets

There are two kinds of truth speakers. Two kinds of prophets.
1) Detached Proclaimers:
There are men today like Jonah, who have the message of the coming wrath from the Lord; and like Jonah they proclaim the message in outward obedience. This is great, and something to celebrate! But these men are detached from their message, and their hearts do not break for their hearers. They care little whether or not fire and brimstone rains from heaven in the end. These Jonahs do what they have been called to do, sometimes effectively--but they do so out of obligation.
There are many who are like Job's good friend Eliphaz, a man who seemed to have a high view of the transcendent God and a developed doctrine of the depravity of man. When I read what Eliphaz says throughout Job, I nod in agreement: "this guy is pretty close to right!" Indeed, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?" And yet his harsh speech heaps greater wei…

Stop Saying: "That's Just my Opinion"

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One of the reasons G. K. Chesterton is entertaining to read is because he was so opinionated. He had definite positions on virtually every topic, ranging from: religion to politics to literature to cheese. His essay on cheese is a personal favorite. He wrote entire books calling out prominent figures in his day who had opinions that differed from his, bludgeoning them with pointed verbal diatribes, all in good fun of course. Mostly.
But aside from this being very entertaining to read, Chesterton reminds us that opinions are important things. Maybe the most important. If it is true that we live in a world that relates to Truth, a world in which there is Right and Wrong, a world in which souls result in the eternal outcomes of salvation and damnation--it is important that we have fixed beliefs on these things. Beliefs which relate correctly with the truth.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where truth, doctrine, viewpoints, opinions are downplayed as secondary, and where relationships and …