Posts Tagged ‘books’

25 Books Every Christian Should Read

14 Aug

I’ve previously mentioned my men’s book club, “Book Burning” briefly once before. I’ve always tried to alternate between new and old books, based on C.S. Lewis’ advice, though this January things took a turn.

The books selected for a book club are typically books that one or more members have previously read and enjoyed. Because not everyone reads the book before discussion, sometimes the only reading is re-reading by those who already love the book. Alternatively, books can be taken on the recommendation of another. Yet whose recommendation does one take? We aren’t interested in an Oprah book club.

Enter 25 Books Every Christian Should Read by Richard Foster’s Renovaré. Frederica Mathewes-Green was on the board, which lent it a great deal of credibility for us, as her Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism was one of our most discussed books previously read.

15 Books Every Christian Should Read Cover

Compiled by a team spanning Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical and Anabaptist traditions, the chronological list begins with Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and ends with The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Books are both fiction and non-fiction, and only books whose authors are now deceased were allowed. This is important as I would have avoided the book had some of the end-of- book recommendations of contemporary books been included in the official list.

I ran the idea of following the 25 Books recommendations by a few guys who are part of Book Burning and we started in January. We’re interspersing other books for a third of our Burnings. I was afraid that reading ancient Christian literature might not draw as many guys, but we’ve had more guys show up for these discussions than we did when we picked books on our own recommendation.

I figured 25 Books Every Christian Should Read would be similar to 10 Books That Screwed Up the World and 5 Others That Didn’t Help, which summarizes the author’s background and book content. What I didn’t realize – but now very much appreciate – is that 25 Books is structured as a guide for discussing the book with others. It’s perfect as a guide for Book Burning.

It also allowed me to add new direction and purpose to the book club. It’s still about hanging out with friends, eating, maybe smoking a pipe, and discussing books; it’s now also about spiritual transformation. Thanks to the books we’ve read, I see my faith and life differently now.

Since January I’ve begun to forget some of my take-aways from and responses to the books. I plan on writing up, briefly, my thoughts and bits from our discussion about these 25 books so I don’t permanently forget them.


On Reading Old Books

04 Apr

With the advice of C. S. Lewis and the help of 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, I’ve begun reading and discussing old books.

Really old books.

old books on a bookshelf

I’ve recently read On the Incarnation by Athanasius (who was born before 300 AD), The Confessions of Augustine (born before 400 AD), and am in the middle of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers who were contemporaries of both Athanasius and Augustine.

The way these men saw the world, the way they thought, the way they followed Christ was very different from how we process the world.

When you give a book recommendation, what do you recommend? What about recommendations for Christian books?

With 2,000 years of church history, why do we tend to recommend only books from the last 100 years?


Book Burning and The Importance of Reading Old Books

09 Feb

For a few years I’ve led a men’s book club called Book Burning. We have alternated between living and dead authors, fiction and non-fiction for variety, but also under the influence of CS Lewis, who wrote about the importance of reading old books in the introduction to On the Incarnation By Athanasius, our February 2012 book:

here is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
    This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
    Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
    Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

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Posted in Books


Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

23 Sep


I’m only 70 100 pages into this 317+ page book by the author of Basic Economics, but I can’t wait to talk about this with others.

Sowell writes about the trends among intellectuals ( those whose occupations – professors, authors, columnists, many politicians – are in dealing with ideas rather than the mundane things of business or the application if ideas) and how they influence society.

I highly recommend this book. It is supremely helpful in understanding the truth obscured by politicians, professors and the media, and also contains enough to be formed into the prescription for how to combat bad ideas ( like the Obama job killing jobs act that was just advertised in Pandora through my ear buds).


Love Wins: Part 1, First Impressions

21 Mar

Rob Bell, pastor, author, and speaker in the popular Nooma video series, has just published a book called “Love Wins.” The book is a challenge to Christians to re-think our views of hell, heaven, and salvation.

I haven’t read the book, and I’ve only watched some of this video interview so far – what Bell is communicating, and how he’s communicating it was driving me crazy and I had to take a break. I’m not (as of yet) as troubled by the view of hell – there have historically been various takes on the concept. I’m troubled by what is communicated by at least the first parts of the interview. From my first impressions, which may be far from accurate:

  1. The foundation for theology is no longer “solo scriptura” but “God is Love” (whatever that means). Salvation, while through Christ is no longer connected with faith, so “solo fidei” is gone as well. The discussion has decisively moved outside of reformation/protestant theology.
  2. Bell says that the conversation he’s joining is about ‘what really matters’ (such as, heaven, hell, and flavored coffee syrups, I suppose, depending on your perspective) has been going on for thousands of years. Rob also says that the image of heaven as a place with streets of gold and everyone driving a Ferrari is an inaccurate cartoon image – of course streets of gold comes from scripture, and he adds sports cars to make the biblical perspective seem absurd and then denies it. Given that the foundation for thought is whatever he thinks “God is love” means, it isn’t a surprise that he’s saying his book is simply another addition to the conversation, as were the gospels and John’s Revelation.

    I’m curious about Bells views on canon – what makes a writing part of the Bible? Is the canon open, still being added to today? Is Bell’s book as authoritative as the Bible? is the Bible authoritative, or just some other voices about stuff that “matters”?

    That would help with everything – if scripture isn’t inherently any more authoritative than any other voice, then we can disregard scriptural teachings as just suggestions that we can pick and choose from as we build our part of the discussion.

  3. The idea communicated to me so far that we all experience “hell” every day on earth is packed so full of presuppositions – it presumes that “hell” is simply synonymous for “thinks I don’t like” or “things I think are awful.”

    Regardless of how we’ve now redefined “hell,” the statement means that God has sentenced his people to live in hell as much – or more than those rebelling against Him. This is all in order to make God more like what we consider “love” to mean in “God is love.”

  4. I’m a bit confused, because it doesn’t seem like a loving God would sentence 12 million people, including many Jesus-followers, a worse hell than Hitler. There is no real justice in this life. If God is love, if God is just, if God is holy, suddenly having real, direct consequences for evil makes sense – and there’s no real, direct consequences for evil in this life, or Job’s friends would have been right, and Job’s suffering was because of his sin – but one point of the book of Job is that they were wrong.
  5. I also disagree with Rob’s statement that Jesus was more concerned with heaven on earth than heaven later. “Your kingdom come” is in the Lord’s Prayer, certainly. We are to be a force for good in this world, and God’s kingdom is here, among us. But looking at the parables and the sermon on the mount, it’s largely based on storing up treasures NOT on earth, but somewhere else which is contrasted with this life. The parables are often about punishment/reward at the end, after all action is complete. Jesus also talked about how things are different in heaven than they are now – such as not marrying. The already-not-yet tension of the Kingdom being here in some ways but not in others is a strong theme throughout the New Testament.

    If this hell (per Bell’s view) is the best heaven we ever get, then to follow Jesus’ teaching is to forbid marrying. It also means there is no hope for resurrection or future life. No wedding feast. No “then we shall see face to face.” This all, of course, would be to contradict other very clear teachings in the Bible.

    But then again, if the scripture is simply some old fashioned blokes with childish cartoony ideas that we’ve outgrown, then disobeying what Jesus and his apostles taught isn’t a big deal, and we are free to do and believe as we see right in our own eyes. (This is what the people of Noah’ time were exterminated for by God in the flood, but again it’s not relevant if the Bible is no more relevant than anything else.)

I’m not condemning Bell or anyone else. As I stated, this is just my first impression and may well be wrong. I know people who have condemned Bell unjustly for some time. I think people ought to have a chance to correct themselves and clarify miscommunication. I think we ought to be gracious with each other, and point out error in order that correction may take place rather than just going around condemning people we dislike, misunderstand, or disagree with.

It may be that I have a problem with how he communicates, and he’s not actually overwriting the Bible with his idea of what “God is love” means (and I wonder what it might mean when separated from the biblical context) – it may be that he’s not exalting himself (and you and me) to be on par with scripture (which is self-described as God-breathed).

I’m generally concerned with what the foundational principles and logic are, and what the logical end is when those ideas are carried out. I’d like to see what Bells ideas are, and what they open his followers up to.  I appreciate Bell’s ability to make people re-think, re-consider, challenge presuppositions. When this is done however, the question must be asked: what direction are we heading in now, and under the same re-consideration, is it better or worse than what was previously believed?

At this point I’m hesitant to give Rob Bell money by buying this book, but it’s likely not available cheap and used yet – any suggestions?


Two is Two Thousand Times One

04 Feb



here are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be concede to t

he mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday.


Goal 3: Finish Every Book I’ve Started

07 Jul

Stack of Books

My third goal for this Jon-ese year is to finish every book I stared (with the intention of finishing).

After I made this goal, My Wife reminded me that I had agree to read the first book of two series. In each I read the first chapter. Two late additions to this list:


Posted in Books, Goals