A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
– Madeleine L’Engle
As the final hours of 2013 are slowly fading away to be sucked into the abyss of time, I thought I would offer a list of wonderful books that came into my family this year. None of them were published in 2013, but if you’re looking for a nice beach read, here you go!
1. The Defense of the Faith- Cornelius Van Til
This beauty of a book is a beast. Humanity suffers from false presuppositions; we believe we are the center, the starting point, and the goal of creation. This classic by Van Til, though difficult to sift through (and I’m still trying to figure out what some pages mean), exposes the folly of those presuppositions and argues that the only true starting point for understanding anything in this world is God Himself. To think, reason, and make sense of the world around us, we must begin with the Ultimate Starting Point. Suffer through these pages, and you’ll be thankful for Netherland-ish men like Van Til who teach us to make much of God and less of ourselves.
2. The Weight of Glory- C.S Lewis
O.k, o.k, I’ve been living under a rock. My understanding of Lewis was, until this year, really confined to Narnia and some other Christian works. His essays in particular, and especially this jewel of a sermon, were unknown to me. Not so anymore! Lewis is a master of language and communication, and his sermon The Weight of Glory ranks up there among the best of treatments of humanity’s longing and desire for intimate communion with God. Here, Lewis exposits these things with beautiful, poetic language and shows us that what we truly long for is our “far off country” where we will be welcomed into glory. Lewis is not known for using large amounts of Scripture in anything (a bummer), and that’s really the only bad thing about this work. While the ending is abrupt, it will leave you desiring God in ways that you perceived were lost.
3. How People Change- Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp
There’s nothing new in this book, but its theology is profound. Biblically saturated, this extremely practical read is a “codified” way of exposing and uncovering how belief and idolatry shape our actions. We truly are a mixture of beliefs, emotions, and reactions, and they all shape how we live and respond to the world around us. Lane and Tripp give us a wonderful paradigm to better understand ourselves and others, and they do a fantastic job in pointing us back to the ways in which the timeless truths of the Gospel really do change our everyday lives.
4. Jonathan Edwards: A Life- George M. Marsden
Alright, this book is a long one, but Edwards is a fascinating person to read about. His passionate views on the end times and his deep, profound, and experiential love of God really challenge how the comfortable American views life. Now, I’m no book scholar, but at times this book was a little dry. Still, Marsden gives us a wonderful portrait of the life of an extremely influential American theologian, and in doing so, Edwards (through Marsden) questions our safe, comfortable, and often un-passionate existences. If you’re interested in America’s history or American puritans (we can debate the term in regards to Edwards later), get the book.
5. All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir- Brennan Manning
I don’t agree with all of the theology of Brennan Manning, and you shouldn’t either, but his autobiography is wonderful. I tend to like God when He fits nicely into my categories, but Manning gives me a better picture of our Creator. Manning’s life is a raw and uncomfortable roller coaster of alcohol, lies, failures, and insecurities, but is, at its core, a testimony to the absolute graciousness of our Saviour. Any one who feels that that one sin is their master, that their life is defined by the struggles that keep plaguing them, will find solace and good company in Manning’s words which shout from every page that God is a God who uses broken people and is really happy to do so. Raggamuffins unite!
6. The Cost of Discipleship- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Again, I live under a rock (it’s a comfortable rock, though). And again, I do not agree with all of Bonhoeffer’s theology (and again, neither should you), but one just has to admit: this book is worth the time to grapple with. The message of the Gospel is that for anyone who desires it, there is grace to be found. Jesus, though, demands our lives and our allegiance to Him in every circumstance if we are to claim Him as our own. It is good to be confronted with the unadulterated call of Christ, and Bonhoeffer’s words drag me back to it on every page. Jesus really does make a difference. Considering the times in which Bonhoeffer wrote these words and considering the death he faced because he refused to let evil go unchallenged, The Cost of Discipleship is a poignant reminder of the price of following a Saviour who, in demanding our lives, “gives us the only true life,” (pg. 45).
6.5. Temptation- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This book is tiny, which explains it’s numerical value on this list (but I had to get it in there!). Fighting our sin is hard and often discouraging. Bonhoeffer calls us back to the reality that the struggle within us is really a struggle between Christ and fallen Adam. He argues that fighting our sin is about much more than ceasing to perform an action. Fighting temptation is about gazing intently and meditating on the One who has conquered sin for us. This is a great work on the profound mystery of our union with Christ. It’s deep, but it’s worth it.
7. Lilith- George MacDonald
It’s dark. It’s crazy at times, but it will make you think. I’m just now getting into this American giant, but this fantastical work was worth the read. McDonald’s theology is lacking, and his fantasy reflects it. Lilith, however, remains a beautiful picture of the struggle between good and evil and the ultimate pursuit of humanity for rest. If you need an escape into a fantastical realm where timeless struggles are potent, dig in to this book. Your journey through the mirror, though, will require much thought, a lot of head scratching, and will ultimately cause you to question if the bird sitting outside your window is, in fact, a bird.
8. The History of Middle Earth- J.R.R Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
This one’s towards the bottom for a reason. Not everyone is a Tolkien-head, but for the crazies out there, this one will make your brain explode. I’ve only finished a little over half of them (the set is twelve volumes), but the half I’ve read only confirms that Tolkien is one of the greatest authors this human race has ever known. Christopher Tolkien traces the development of his father’s mythology from day one in the trenches (literally) on through the writing process of most of his major works. Granted, after you read the billionth draft of some of the chapters of the Lord of the Rings, you may be screaming “WHY!”, but the fact remains, Tolkien’s meticulousness and attention to perfection leave us with a beautiful mythology reminiscent of the timeless truths of our existence. To see the evolution of Tolkien’s progression is a treat. Some of these drafts of Tolkien’s work are only available here, and they really are worth every penny. If sitting down with Tolkien over coffee (or a pipe) for hours on end sounds good to you, buy this set.
9. Giving up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture- Brian Cosby
This really is a “must read” for anyone in youth ministry. It’s not profound, but it’s true. The church has been guilty of entertaining kids with light shows, smoke machines (or fire extinguishers), and ear-splitting bass in hopes of making disciples, and then we wonder why so many youth are leaving the church. Cosby argues that the disciple-making youth group is one that focuses on the things that the church at large has focused on for the past two-thousand years. This book, though, could have been shorter (perhaps a blog post), but Cosby’s words are right on target and call us all back to Biblical youth ministry done for the glory of God and not for the glory of man’s approval.
10. A Tolkien Miscellany- J.R.R Tolkien
What blog named after a passage of Tolkien would be complete without two Tolkien books on the Top Ten book list? This is last but definitely not least! Here is a beautiful collection of essential Tolkien works. Within these pages are meaningful stories of truth and goodness. Read it, enjoy it, and then wish you could write like him.
That’s it for 2013! Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in 2014.