What I Read in 2008

This past year I decided to keep track of the books that I read this past year.  Now that I’m out of seminary, I’ve been able to choose what books I read, so this was a fun year of reading.  And reading was made a lot easier when I bought a fancy little book light.  No longer did I need to read with concern that the light by my bed was keeping my wife or child awake.  I also continued a bad habit of starting a book and not finishing it.  I guess if the book was good enough, I would finish it, but there is still a sense of incompletion if I read and quit.

Along with other things, I got through 22 books this year.  The list is useful for multiple reasons.  One, it gives me a good idea of what I’m not reading.  I can see that I read too many Christian living books.  I need more theology, more puritans.  Also, it gives me a goal for the future.  Next year my goal is to top this year’s number.

  1. “Praying Backwards”   Brian Chappel
  2. “Culture Shift”    Al Mohler- I think I plowed through this in a couple sittings.  Very interesting read!
  3. “Why We’re Not Emergent”   Keven DeYoung & Ted Kluck
  4. “Perlandra”    C.S. Lewis- I had started the series a couple years ago and was encouraged to read the second one.  I haven’t gotten the courage for “That Hideous Strength”, though.
  5. “In Our Place”    J.I. Packer & Merk Dever- I read one page about five times while sitting next to John Piper on the plane.
  6. “Cross Centered Life”    C.J. Mahaney- was a small group book for our High Schoolers
  7. “Signs of the Spirit”    Sam Storms- A modern translation of Jonathan Edward’s “Religious Affections”.  We went through this in our college Bible study.
  8. “One Thing”    Sam Storms- Became somewhat a basis for our High School Winter Camp
  9. “Do Hard Things”    Brett and Alex Harris- The book we went through in our Coffee Talks with the high schoolers this past summer.
  10. “Hound of the Baskervilles”  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- I hadn’t previously read any Sherlocke Holmes books, but this was great!  I started reading short stories, too, but those shouldn’t count in a total.
  11. “Book 1- Paradise Lost”   John Milton- We went through this in our college Bible study this summer.
  12. “Red Sox Rule”   Michael Holley- about the Red Sox building the teams, starting with Epstien and Francona’s hirings.
  13. “Summer of ’49”    David Halberstam- The Sox vs. Yankee rivalry with some great stories.
  14. “Evil Under the Sun”    Agatha Christie- classic mystery by my favorite mystery author.
  15. “Respectable Sins”   Jerry Bridges
  16. “Jonathan Edwards and Hell”    Chris Morgan- probably one of my more disappointing reads.
  17. “Dawkins Delusion”   Alister McGrath- taking on Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”
  18. “War of Words”   Paul David Tripp
  19. “When God Writes Your Love Story”    Eric & Leslie Ludy- read this for our high schoolers and can reccommend it for those that want to have a Biblical perspective of their relationships.
  20. “Worldliness”  edited by CJ Mahaney
  21. “Young, Restless, Reformed”  Collin Hansen- tracing a growth in Calvinism from a journalistic perspective.
  22. “Growing Up Christian” Karl Graustein- about kids who have grown up in Christian home and dealing with issues that normally exist.  The main point is not to take the grace extended to them for granted.

“Young, Restless, Reformed” by Collin Hansen

One of the books that I asked for this Christmas was “Young, Restless, Reformed” by Collin Hansen.  I first saw the book at the Together For the Gospel conference last April, but had told myself I wasn’t going to buy any books there.  So I was patient and asked for it for Christmas, and my family obliged.

Hansen is the youngest editor for Christianity Today and approaches the Reformed/Calvinistic culture from a journalistic perspective.  He investigates the various schools/churches/conferences that have aided a substantial growth in Calvinism.  He sees how much of the growth has been among the younger evangelical circles, a group of individuals that have grown tired of the subjective truth that the postmodern culture has been forcing down their throats.

Some of this growth has come from predictable places, like John Piper.  Piper has inspired an entire evangelical generation through passionate, biblical preaching, unabashedly promoting Calvinism.  But there have been less likely sources, such as C.J. Mahaney (the rare Charasmatic/Calvinist combo) and Mark Driscoll (who finds his roots in emergent circles).  The point is that this explosion cannot be contained by one specific circle or institution, but has really spanned previously unbridged waters.

Another enlightening point that Hansen raises is the heated opposition there is out there to Calvinism.  Some of the criticism is primarily intended towards hyper-Calvinists, but some lump the whole reformed movement into the same group.  The traditional criticisms, such as a distaste for evangelism, have been disproved by each of these individuals or movements.  They have shown themselves to be completely different beasts than the hyper-Calvinist community.  And leaders such as Mahaney and Josh Harris have preached a humble approach to theological discussions, tending to avoid a militaristic mentality that has accompanied many Calvinists.

But the opposition is real and many see Calvinists as real opponents to the Gospel itself.  They are seen as what is wrong with evangelical Christianity, and that feeling is pretty wide.  I’ve realized that I have been fairly insulated from these attacks, as I have mostly stayed in my Master’s circle, attending the College and Seminary, working at a church that would be Calvinistic, and attending conferences referenced in this book as wellsprings of Calvinism.

I did see it in a young woman who had been coming to our high school group for about two years.  She had been told by her former pastor that Master’s wasn’t a good school because they were Calvinistic.  When she raised this objection to me, I had to explain to her that I was guilty of that charge, as well as the youth staff and pastors at our church.  She had just been told that Calvinism was bad, but never really knew what it was.

I ran into it again this summer at our High School Summer Camp at Hume Lake, when the main speaker casually blasted Calvinism and mischaracterized it during a boys only session.  He accused all Calvinists of believing in double predestination, meaning that believers are predestined to Heaven and unbelievers are predestined to Hell.  The boys from my church saw that I was literally squirming in my seat, wanting to reply.  But I knew if I did, I would just been seen as the crazy leader who dared question the speaker.  It wasn’t a debate the students would have understood.  The sad part was that 90% of the boys there didn’t know anything about Calvinism.  But now all they knew was a misrepresentation of something that they didn’t even know.  If they hear of Calvinism again, they will just think its ridiculous.

One of the most interesting parts of the book was the background stories of many of the men and movements that I have grown to admire.  I enjoyed the backgrounds of Piper, Mahaney, Al Mohler and Southern Seminary, Harris, Mark Driscoll, Steve Lawson, and conferences such as Passion, New Attitude, Together for the Gospel, Resolved, Shepherd’s Conference, and the Gospel Coalition.  I have had the privilege of attending quite a few of those, and remembered many of the messages and moments Hansen wrote of while he was attending them.

If you have an interest in this movement and the personalities behind it, I would fully reccommend Hansen’s piece of journalism.  While he appears to be supportive of the movement, he doesn’t hold back from criticism of personalities.  And he also interviewed critics and presented their complaints and concerns.  While he is clearly sympathetic, he doesn’t necessarily wear kid gloves.  Its an interesting read, and one that I would recommend!

“When God Writes Your Love Story” by Eric & Leslie Ludy

I have never been much of a fan of Christian relationship books.  I guess we got off to a rocky start when my girlfriend broke up with me in high school some time after reading “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”.  But there have also been other reasons for skepticism, as there hasn’t been much worth reading or reccommending.  That, and I didn’t feel that I needed to read a book on relationships to receive godly instruction.

When I was in high school, it was a moot point, really.  There just wasn’t really much of an opportunity for a dating relationship.  There were certainly temptations to pursue relationships with girls that I knew weren’t Christians.  I remember being so divided in my heart with my attraction to a girl, but knowing I just couldn’t mess with a deeper relationship.  So they just remained friends, with the hope that they may turn to Christ.

When I moved on to College, the challenge shifted a bit.  I was certainly in possibly the best situation to find a good Christian girl: a solid Christian college in Southern California.  I did manage to find one that led to a horrible situation, and fortunately I was able to get out before falling to too much comprimise.  But four years passed, and I graduated without ever having a serious relationship.  Again, not necessarily due a lack of effort or pursuit, but God never brought anything into my life.

There were times when I sincerely struggled with being single, but I knew I needed to find my satisfaction and contentment in Christ alone.  I was convicted that God would bring the right girl around and that I shouldn’t rashly pursue something for the sake of a personal, fleshly desire.  But I hadn’t necessarily read this anywere, short of the pages of Scripture.

Recently, I realized the need to be able to reccommend a book to students struggling with the issue of relationships.  I had heard good things about this book, so this is where I started.  After reading it, I’m not sure I would have to read much else.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any other valuable books on the subject, but the book the Ludy’s write thoughtfully deals with all of the issues students struggle.

The main point of the book is to trust God with your love life.  Every believer needs to come to a point where they will not make rash decisions and relationship choices they know don’t please God.  Instead, they need to trust that God, the all-knowing, grace giving Savior, to do what is best in the life of a believer.  That can be scary and difficult, but we need to understand that God has a better idea of what is best for us.  We must surrender this portion of our hearts and minds to God.

Another section of the book that I admired was the stressing that we must preserve ourselves, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, for our future spouses.  There is much emphasis on saving yourself for marriage, and that is appropriate, but there is hardly any emphasis on protecting themselves from giving themselves emotionally to their boyfriend or girlfriend.  That can just as damaging.  And we can’t make the mistake the Pharisees did in thinking it was just the act, not the heart or thought, that condemned a person.

This book not only speaks to how to properly pursue a relationship, but gives adivce to those dealing with singleness.  They stress the importance of that time in their lives, and how beneficial it can really be.  They not only speak to this, but also provide applicable steps a person can take to know whether the one they are with is the one that God has brought around for them.

I would say this is a must read for all teenagers, and we are going to be starting a relationship series in our high school group. I have noticed recently that more and more of our teenagers are making comprimises in this area of their life.  And if there is a dangerous area of your life to comprimise in, this is it.  Sin in this area can lead to widespread destruction, and often times leaves a wake of consequences and painful scars in its path.

“War of Words” by Paul David Tripp

This is a great book to read if you at all struggle with the words you use. I know that I can be known to speak rashly or quickly. The book comes from a counseling perspective about dealing with the issue of communication. Whether its in a parenting situation, a marriage relationship, or just dealing with someone you find difficult, this book is encouraging and convicting.

It has a couple of great chapters that could stand alone, such as one on confrontation and another on what true repentance in this area looks like. One of the great strengths of the book is its appeal to the layperson. This isn’t a call for just pastors to heed, but one that all of the Church are to embrace. Tripp’s desire is to have believers realize their position as Ambassador’s of God, and each of us are to use our communication to represent our King’s communication.

one of my favorite chapters was one where Tripp speaks of people following the king for all the wrong reasons. Working off the sign of Jesus feeding the 5,000, Tripp writes that these people experienced the miracle, but not the sign. the sign was to point them to Christ, but their hearts remained unrepentant.

“What was behind these people’s pursuit of Christ? What did they really want? i do not believe that they pursued Christ out of a humble submission to his messiahship and a willingness to follow him wherever he would lead. Their pursuit of Christ was born instead out of a love for self and the hope that Christ would be the one who would meet their felt needs. They were excited about following the King- but for all the wrong reasons.”

When I read this I saw this in so many lives that I minister to. Tripp goes on to say “I am afraid that many of us respond to Jesus in the same way. What moves and motivates everything we do is not a submission to God’s will and a burning desire for his glory, but our own set of personal desires and dreams. We are excited about the King because we see him as the most efficient delivery system for those dreams. You can tell what really excites us when we fall into discouragement and grumbling, when he does not deliver the “good” that we want.”

This section has given me a lot to think about as far as ministry goes and implications for CORE Week this summer. I think this would be a perfect subject to concentrate on

“Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan

There is a lot of things that could go into buying a book.  Most of the time, I will see a recommendation of sorts and be compelled to purchase the book.  Sometimes, I am given the book by friends, family, or at conferences.  And sometimes, I’ll be strolling through a book store and see an intriguing book and have to buy it.  That was the case with “Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan. 

Honestly, most of the purchase had to do with the cover art and thinking it was cool looking.  After that grabbed my attention, I noticed “Jonathan Edwards” and “Hell” on the cover and thought, “That sounds intriguing.”  And the purchase was made.  And is the case with most books I bought, it was placed in a large pile of books that had to wait until after Seminary was over. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to walk to work.  Leah needed the car, I needed the exercise and didn’t have my bike at home, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some reading.  A light 2 mile walk with a good book is an hour well spent. 

Once I was well into the book, I was quickly disappointed as to the actual content of the book.  The first three chapters are all about annihilationists and their view points, followed by a chapter on the evangelical response.  That makes up Part I of the book.  Part II had to do with Edwards.  The first chapter of Part II was about annihilationism in the 18th century, followed by a chapter on Edwards response.  The closing chapter discusses how to apply Edward’s method to today’s theological climate. 

So, in 140 pages of content in a book entitled “Jonathan Edwards on Hell”, there are 16 pages specifically about Jonathan Edwards on the topic of Hell.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable and profitable read, but it seemed misleading to say the least.  During my time in seminary I had to read through Robert Peterson’s book “Hell on Trial”, and that covered most of what this book does.  The only thing that this book does differently, is just scratch the surface of Edward’s thoughts on the topic. 

What Morgan does is explain the views in the words of the proponents of such views, and then offers a critique of the strength of the argument.  Morgan offers good insight and has good things to say about how the debate should be discussed.  There are good things about linguistic, exegetical, philosophical, and polemic approaches to the argument, but Morgan appeals to the theological approach Edwards takes. 

The other approaches offer good input, but both sides are still left at an impass.  Here are some helpful notes taken from those sections:

  • One insight that I found interesting is the debate over the word ‘aiwvios’.  That is the word for ‘eternal’.  Some annihilationists would say that there are two senses to the word.  One is quantity, meaning everlasting.  The other is a qualitative sense, meaning a time to come in contrast to the present time.  This view is best propgated by Edward Fudge.  Instead of focusing on everlasting punishment, they focus on the eternal result of the punishment.  The main weakness, as I understand, would be the same word being used in relation to the eternal life granted to believers.
  • The other main point that I liked was how he pointed out that many Annihilationists, including John Stott, find it primarily difficult to believe because of the heinous nature of everlasting torment.  They see it as being a doctrine that does not fit with their defintion of God.  Edwards had this to say:

“It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God that He is merciful in such a sense that He cannot bear that penal justice should be executed.  That is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which His nature is so subject that GOd is liable to be moved, affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery so that He cannot bear to see justice executed… The Scriptures everywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary.”

Edwards saw it as an issue of questioning God’s sovereignty of His creation.  God’s sovereignty is absolute, universal, and unlimited. 

To the objection that everlasting punishment is not suitable for God, Edwards had this to say:

“Since the infinite hatred of sin is suitable to the divine character, then the expressions of that hatred are also suitable to His character… It is suitable that He should execture infinite punishment on it.”

All in all, it was a profitable read, but reader beware that the title may mislead you into thinking the book is about Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

“Do Hard Things” by Alex and Brett Harris

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Josh Harris ruined my summer by writing “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and my girlfriend subsequently broke up with me, but now his little twin brothers have gotten in on the book writing scene.  Their first offering is a branch of their ministry “The Rebelution” (link on the bar to the right).   It’s a book for teens, written by teens.  The main argument of the book is that teens are to rebel against the low expectations that the world has for them.

It wasn’t until 1941 that the term ‘teenager’ was coined, and the Harris brothers do a wonderful job at explaining that the idea of ‘adolescence’ is really a myth, not a biological truth.  Our culture has communicated to teenagers that nothing is really expected of them, and that the teen years are meant for wasting and ‘having fun’.  This mindset leads to what they call ‘kidults’, people of adult age, but not adults that offer anything to society.  We’ve raised a generation of consumers who are not ready to become providers.

One sad things, is that if there are any expectations given to teens, it generally is a negative expectation.  We expect them to get in trouble.  We expect them to fail, to mess up, to get drunk, to party, to do drugs.  We expect them to waste their teen years, and if we find someone that actually stays out of trouble, we praise them, even if they actually haven’t done anything positive.  They’ve just managed to stay out of trouble.  Wherever you place the expectations is where you are most likely going to find the teen.  If you keep them low, then you aren’t pushing them to accomplish anything.

I was speaking with the father of one of my Jr Highers, and he was echoing this idea.  He said that he’ll see parents really push their children to excel athletically.  They’ll drive them to practices at 6am, push them to work out, to prepare, and to give their full effort to succeed in sports.  But then they have no expectations when it comes to their spiritual development.  They put the cookies on the low shelf and say, “You can’t get or don’t want the cookies on the higher shelf.”  There’s no encouragement to stretch them when it comes to studying theology, reading their Bible, or becoming comfortable with praying.

The call is simple:  to encourage teenagers to do big, hard things.  Do things out of your comfort zone.  Do things you don’t think you are capable of.  Do things that seem too big for you to do on your own.  Things that challenge the cultural norm, and things that don’t earn an immediate pay off.  I Timothy 4:12 says that youths are to strive to be examples to others in conduct, speech, love, life, faith, and purity.  Paul encourages the believers to stop acting like children, to give themselves to strict training, and compete as one would to receive the crown at the end of the race.  (I Cor. 9:24-25)

The book is part autobiographical, as the twins write quite a bit about what God has done in their own lives.  It is also biographical, in that they write about many of the teens that they have met/inspired/or inspired them throughout the last few years.  They provide many examples of ordinary teens doing extraordinary things.  These small examples serve as encouragement to the students to do hard things themselves.  To follow the footsteps of those who have gone before.

If there is a weakness in the book, it would be that it, at some points, lacks an awareness of a sovereign God who makes us capable of doing these things.  There is a chapter where they deal with the truth of God working through our weaknesses, but I think it could stand to have a more biblically founded view.  Nothing presented was unbiblical, but as the book went on, it seemed to be less dependent on that.  The reason for that was somewhat cleared up in the Epilogue, where they said that the book isn’t just for Christians, but for any teen.  They do go one to share the Gospel to those that may not be Christians, but its at the very end.

Overall, I recommend this book to any teen that you would like encourage to take a step up in their lives.  It makes a great graduation gift (I gave it to our seniors), and it’s a great book to encourage teens to read this summer.  I’m very excited about going through this book with my students.  I’ve told them about it and previewed them a little about what’s in it, and we’ll be going through it at our Coffee Talks this summer.  Every student at our Servant’s Retreat next weekend will receive a copy for themselves.  I can’t wait to see what God inspires them to do!

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

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Last month, when we were in Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel conference, we were blessed with 14 free books hand whenever we walked back into the conference room.  These books were hand picked by the hosts, all important for specific reasons. Any time someone offers me a free book, I’m going to be excited and accept it with open arms. But one of the books peaked my interest more than others, and was actually on my Amazon.com wish list (found here for anyone wishing to be generous). That book was “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.  The first time I heard the title of the book, I knew it must be an interesting read.  Don’t judge a book by its cover, but this one gives you a pretty accurate understanding on whats inside.

You won’t recognize either of the names, but the title itself should spark interest. Kevin DeYoung is a young pastor outside East Lansing, Michigan, and Kluck is a friend and lay member who is a gifted journalist. Both these men realize that they are the prototypical target for the Emergent Church movement. But they have resisted the movement for Biblical reasons and this book is an explanation of what they see as being wrong about the movement.

DeYoung and Kluck take turns authoring chapters and bring their own style and perspectives. DeYoung approaches the chapters from a pastoral/theological perspective, biblically addressing issues and problems he sees in the movement. Kluck approaches his chapters as you expect a journalist would. He interviews Emergent personalities, critics, attends emergent ‘churches’, classes, and reads through blogs and books.

Through every issue they address, you can tell that they are humble and desperately try to accurately represent the emergent personalities. Something that is refreshing about this book is that you can tell that this critique is from a loving heart to correct the church. It is written by two young men who love the Church and would do what God calls them to do to see Her grow and be biblically effective. While they are critical, everything is done in love.

DeYoung and Kluck admit the difficulties doing a book on the Emerging Church. The movement is difficult to characterize because none of the writers claim to be ‘the voice’. Instead, they all claim to be singular voices, not speaking for the masses. And when they do speak, it is more centered around what they are critical of and don’t believer, rather than what they do. DeYoung and Kluck hold their feet to the fire, letting them know that when they are the speakers at every conference, always recommend each other’s books, and are the main voices on the most influential blogs, then they are assuming the responsibility of being the leaders.

The authors do a wonderful job at confronting the philosophical errors that are the foundation of their ‘belief structure’. The emergent personalities write volumes about how we cannot know a perfect God through limited language, but that is how God chose to reveal Himself through His Word. “They allow the immensity of God to swallow up the knowability of God.”

The most troubling thing coming out of this movement is a redefining of the Gospel itself. Lost amid the postmodern blabber about the limit of language and the narrative dialogues is a clear definition of the Gospel. In a desire to make the Gospel more relevant to the present culture, the language has been jumbled and they have given birth to a pseudo universalistic Gospel.

By far my favorite chapter is chapter 9, written by DeYoung, entitled “Jesus: Bringer of Peace, Bearer of Wrath”. DeYoung brilliantly and biblically presents the Biblical Jesus and a misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God. The topic of Hell and wrath is almost completely ignored, and they only present the teachings of Christ that really agree with their already existent presuppositions.

As far as weaknesses go, I would have to say that the format they have chosen does provide some awkward transitions. The writing styles of the authors are pretty different, one being more conversational with various pop culture references, while the other is more theological and pastoral. The various perspectives are welcomed and helpful, but sometimes offer awkward transitions between chapters.

Another weakness the book has is a failure to clearly distinguish that Brian McLaren lies outside Christian Orthodoxy and has many heretical views that other emergent figures don’t necessarily hold to. They did admit that what one person believes another may not, but when they were presenting heretical views, the most extreme view would often be McLaren. My concern would be that some loving Christians would believe that all emergents believe what McLaren espouses, but that is often the radical fringe.

The final concern I have with the book is the inclusion of many questionable references to movies that are pretty inappropriate. I realize the way Kluck naturally writes would include many of the pop culture references, but the mere mention of a movie without warning can be understood as a recommendation. For two guys who strive so strongly for clearly presenting the truths of the Word of God, they can send a mixed message with what is appropriate or inappropriate.

In all, these two young authors do a wonderful job at lovingly critiquing these brothers in Christ. Their warnings are clear and concise. These men, mostly pastors, cannot get away with teaching heresy by just casually saying that they aren’t scholars. Unfortunately, I don’t recall God given a pardon for heresy because someone wasn’t a scholar. The problem is going to be when people are sick of hearing soft words and want a teacher to say “Thus says the Lord”, then people will move on. In the mean time, they are going to produce masses of Christians who look down their noses at doctrine and theology and then grow dry in their shallow faith.