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    Entries in Reading (9)


    2017: My Year in Books

    This year has been incredibly satisfying with regard to the reading life. I keep a log each year of the books I have read, placing the occasional star beside titles I think will be worth revisiting or that I want to remember as exceptional. I have read seventy four books this year, some new releases, others that are classics, many that I loaned from the public library, a few that I purchased (mostly secondhand), and several that were sent my way for review.

    The first book I read this year was J. R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt’s Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture and the last I will read, at the current pace, will be Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking by Richard Holland, Jr. and Benjamin K. Forrest.

    I read far more fiction this year than in years past, a practice I have begun taking much more seriously because of the novel’s capacity for increasing empathy, vocabulary, and connection. Novels give a glimpse into other cultures, periods of history, and areas of unfamiliar pursuit.

    I particularly enjoyed Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Ignatius J. Reilly is an unforgettable character. I was also glad to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (which I will read again) and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. This was my first journey with Mr. Greene, and I will be reading his other novels.

    Michael Connelly published two new crime novels this year, Two Kinds of Truth and The Late Show. I try to read everything he writes, I love Harry Bosch, and I think I’ll enjoy following his new detective, Renée Ballard. I read other books in the thriller and crime genre this year, more than I had before, and found a few authors I plan to follow, most notably Jason Matthews.

    In nonfiction, I was deeply challenged by Douglas Murray’s brilliant book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Howard Kurtz’s study of the press during the Clinton years, Spin Cycle, was also illuminating, especially in light of our present media environment. Nancy Isenberg’s study White Trash widened my understanding of American history, as did reading W. E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folks and Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life. After reading John Kennedy Toole, I had to pick up Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy, because how could I not?

    My approach to life was further formalized and refined after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. I recommend McKeown to every person who wants to strip away the superfluous and clarify what really counts in life.

    I was glad to read James Bryan Smith’s The Magnificent Story, and I will continue to read everything he writes, as well as to support what he is doing at Friends. I was built up by reading Larry Hurtado’s small book Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? and the much larger tome by John Goldingay, Biblical Theology. Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place was another excellent book which I strongly recommend.

    My favorite books this year, and the ones I will most remember and recommend, are Alan Jacobs’ How to Think and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Jacobs has written a book that I wish everyone would read and apply. Whitehead has given us a deeply moving, powerful, and heartbreaking account of the evils of slavery in the United States.

    I already have a stack, and a list, for 2018. A reminder: any book that you purchase from Amazon through my website puts a credit in my pocket to buy more books next year. Erasmus, a kindred spirit, said, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

    In the coming year I recommend that everyone keep a log, a notebook at your side, filled with titles and authors to chase. Happy hunting!


    2015 End of Year Book Notes

    In past years, I have shared my list of books read, highlighting titles I really enjoyed. I’ve also taken the time to link those titles to If you click a title from my website and purchase that book as a result, and if this happens enough, I receive a credit to that allows me to buy more books, which I, of course, delight in doing. As Erasmus remarked, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

    This year, I won’t list all of the titles. Instead, I want to highlight a few themes. I’ve read some challenging academic theology this year, but much more fiction. I have spent time with a number of authors focused on the pastoral task. Among my favorite authors this year were C. J. Sansom and Rowan Williams.

    The first book I finished reading this year was Thomas C. Oden’s A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. This book was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, given last year. Soon thereafter, I finished reading John Wesley’s Works, Vol. 5. That was the culmination of work spanning several years. This volume features Wesley’s sermons. In contrast, one of the last books I finished was John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. I’ll move on to the second volume of the Institutes in the year to come. I also plan to read Barth’s Dogmatics.

    The above is preface, here are the themes. And I’ll include a short bonus on how I keep track of titles.

    Academic Theology

    C. S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” I have not spent time with a pipe this year. But I have held a pencil, and a few works of challenging theology.

    Stanley Hauerwas’s The Work of Theology was my most anticipated read. I have attempted to read everything he has written. I also read The Holy Spirit, which Hauerwas co-authored with William Willimon. Both books released this year.

    I mentioned Wesley and Calvin above, and I will continue to read them both. Other notables this year were Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God, and George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. I read Ladd, in part, because of my reading of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church early in 2015.


    Reviewing my reading list, this is where I am most surprised. I read a lot of fiction this year. The authors: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, John Irving, C. J. Sansom, Willa Cather, Alan Patton, Andrew Klavan, and Sue Monk Kidd.

    Since I read a number of titles by Michael Connelly, both from the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, crime fiction dominated my imagination. Connelly’s pacing, dialogue, and realism make for enjoyable reading.

    Reading novels has been shown to increase empathy (, a needed skill in pastoral ministry. Empathy is also a really good skill to have in life.

    Pastoral Theology

    Thomas C. Oden’s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry is the headliner. I consider this book indispensable for those in ministry. I bought a used copy a few years ago, and I’m glad I finally committed myself to reading it, for the rewards were many. If you are serving in ministry, or discerning a call, this book provides an excellent overview and theological foundation for the pastoral task.

    My favorite books this year that encouraged my heart: Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God, and Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. I enjoyed reading Rowan Williams’s books Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent and Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. And from a practical ministry angle, I was challenged by Andrew Root’s little books, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry and Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.

    The best book I read on youth ministry this year was by Mark DeVries, called Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It. I got to hear from him at the National Youth Workers Convention in Louisville, which was an added blessing. DeVries has written a youth ministry model book I actually enjoyed reading, which is rare.

    One Other Book

    Early in 2015, the world lost David Carr, a writer best known for his work with The New York Times. Carr’s death was unexpected. Many offered their remembrances of Carr on Twitter. Which led me to watch the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times ( I was then led to read Carr’s book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

    While I can’t say everyone should read David Carr, I’m glad that I did.

    How I Keep Track of Titles

    According to my record, this year I read 78 books, along with countless articles, blog posts, and what I’ll call online fodder. I would do well to spend less time flitting between Twitter and Facebook, and more time with classic literature and works of theology, with a pencil in hand.

    I’m not the best at annotation, and while I own a book journal, I do not use it regularly. I have one notebook that I have numbered and sectioned, according to my needs. I have tabs for notes, quotes, ideas, lists, goals, and books. My book tab is last, and I work from the last page of my journal, backwards and toward the front. I number my list by fives, and record the author and the title. If I think a book is exceptionally well written and impactful, I place a star by the title.

    Here’s a picture:

    I love to read. I have a few titles, primed and ready, on my nightstand, at my desk, and in my office.

    I can’t wait to see what next year shall bring.


    Books I Read in 2014

    I skipped out on making a list like this in 2013. Transition year. Been busy. That doesn't mean I've ceased reading. One trend this year: more fiction.

    As you peruse the titles below, you will find books I have reviewed at denoted by an asterisk. In bold are the books I greatly enjoyed, and would recommend.

    Perhaps this list will inform your own reading; perhaps it is just a novelty, a peek in to the contents of my mind. If you have questions about any of the titles, just ask. If you enjoyed a particular book, please let me know, so we can discuss.

    Looking ahead to 2015. May your reading life be blessed. 

    1. Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
    2. Flannery O'Connor, A Prayer Journal
    3. Andy Stanley, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders
    4. Dallas Willard, Living in Christ's Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God
    5. Kay Lindahl, TThe Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice (The Art of Spiritual Living)
    6. Veronica Roth, Allegiant (Divergent Series)
    7. Skye Jethani, Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow
    8. Agatha Christie, Peril at End House: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)
    9. N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
    10. Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars
    11. Sitton and Stern, No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State (New York Review Books Collections)
    12. Frank Houdek, Guided by the Spirit: A Jesuit Perspective on Spiritual Direction
    13. John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You *
    14. Stephen Verney, FIRE IN COVENTRY How Love, prayer, and the Holy Spirit Completely Transformed a Congregation
    15. Agatha Christie, The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple Mysteries)
    16. Stephen Meyer, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
    17. Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying *
    18. Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall : Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians
    19. David Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe *
    20. Charles Portis, Gringos
    21. Michael Bird, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature---A Response to Bart D. Ehrman *
    22. Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students
    23. Charles Portis, Norwood
    24. D. L. Moody, The Overcoming Life (Moody Classics)
    25. Christian Smith, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood
    26. William Abraham, The Bible: Beyond the Impasse
    27. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
    28. Ronald Rolheiser, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing
    29. Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
    30. Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic
    31. St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul (Dover Thrift Editions)
    32. Alan Jacobs, The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)
    33. Stella Rimington, At Risk: A Novel
    34. Brandon K. McCoy, Youth Ministry from the Outside In: How Relationships and Stories Shape Identity
    35. Mark Horne, J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series)
    36. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (Signet Classics)
    37. Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
    38. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth
    39. Eric Friedman, Reinventing Philanthropy: A Framework for More Effective Giving *
    40. Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?
    41. Timothy J. Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City
    42. Julian N. Hartt, Toward a Theology of Evangelism: (Julian Hartt Library)
    43. Tina Fey, Bossypants
    44. Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer
    45. Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth
    46. Preston Yancey, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again *
    47. Wendell Berry, A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership
    48. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues
    49. Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
    50. Nathan Foster, The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines *
    51. Colby D. Hall, History of Texas Christian University: A College of the Cattle Frontier
    52. Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper
    53. Cornelius Plantinga, Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists
    54. Timothy J. Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
    55. James Dashner, The Maze Runner (Book 1)
    56. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Wordsworth Classics) (Wadsworth Collection)
    57. Frederick Buechner, The Son of Laughter
    58. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle (Dover Thrift Editions)
    59. Stephen King, The Stand
    60. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3)
    61. Stephen King, The Shining
    62. Victor Lee Austin, Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings

    The public library system, my personal collection, and second hand booksellers, mostly. A few were gifts. Only a handful of these titles were purchased in 2014.

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    Books :: 2012


    Reading Goals for 2013

    read up!

    It's no secret that books stand atop my list of passions. I read them, I write about them, I discuss them, and with the wrong audience, I come across as a guy who simply wants to discuss the latest book I have read (a painful lesson I learned in 2012). For the past three years, I have logged every book I have read in a notebook, keeping track of the number and making small notations for titles I deeply enjoyed. I've read plenty of Christian living and theology titles, but I've also read stirring novels, thought provoking non-fiction, and a number of leadership/business books. In 2010, I read 118 books. In 2011, I read 139 titles. In 2012, I read 83.

    My goal next year is to read less.

    As I look back over the titles I have read, I haven't always read wisely. I'm the type of person that likes to finish what I begin, so whenever I start a book, I believe I owe the author a complete reading. Or because a book has appeared on a "best of" list or recommended by someone I respect, I think I should try to tackle that book to remain in the loop. I've read some trendy books that have ignited controversy in evangelicalism, for instance, that keep me informed about the state of the discourse. But those same books discourage me, at times, for I know that within a decade, or even less, the book that opened a fissure will not be remembered nor even discussed, and that weightier and more important books are ignored in favor of the new, to our collective detriment.

    Stepping back and evaluating my habits has led me to resolve to read much more selectively and more slowly, more deeply and contemplatively. Whether it be critical scholarly works or Christian classics, time tested fiction, or well researched social-science, 2013 won't be a year of volume, but of mass. That's why N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Wesley's Sermons are near the top of my priorities. I also plan to carefully select works of fiction, like Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities or Jane Eyre, and read them carefully and slowly. Chris Smith may be on to something.

    My first experiment in reading less, and reading slower, began in 2012 with the Psalms. That might be my most important assignment of all. I'll be reading and attempting to memorize these treasured writings, hoping they will find a way in to the texture of my life. My Bible reading plan for the coming year isn't to move through the entire book, but to focus in on one book that I think will profit me during this season of my life. Why do I think this book will profit me? Because I believe it will teach me how to pray.

    I'll post my initial list in the next few days. Everyone is invited, of course, to read what I read and explore what I'm exploring;  to discuss what is learned. Communal ventures are more fun than individualistic pursuits.  

    Better readings emerge that way.


    5 Books I'm Reading Right Now

    Reading in Solitude.

    1. Timothy J. Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

    As with most of what Dr. Keller has written, this book is fantastic. Biblical, theologically grounded, incredibly practical, and filled with delightful illustrations from literature, film, and life, Every Good Endeavor helps Christians understand their work as a meaningful contribution to community life, whether one works as a janitor or CEO of a major corporation. It is common within Christian discourse to consider only a narrow range of activities as "spiritual," while work is thought to be a necessary toil or a consequence of the curse. Dr. Keller's work is a corrective, and a building block. It is possible to find true joy in one's work, no matter your occupation, when understood rightly in light of human nature, the gospel, and the eternal hope of the redemption of all things. I can't wait to recommend this to working professionals I know.

    2. David P. Gushee, Editor, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good

    In the post-election cycle, there has been a great deal of discussion on the future of evangelicalism and American politics. The first article I read in the fallout reflected grief and panic. Others were more hopeful. A New Evangelical Manifesto strikes a different tone. There is a fair share of diagnostic work on the state of the church in America, as well as laments for where Christianity has gone wrong. And in light of the problems, some constructive work for a theology that might move us forward is undertaken. But the latter half of the book, which addresses a broad range of issues from an evangelical Christian perspective, is what drew my interest. Essays on sex-trafficking, women's concerns, the abolishment of nuclear weapons, a strong statement against torture, and peacemaking compel me toward engagement, not only in theory, but in action. For evangelicals, the chapters are written by a familiar cast of characters: Brian McLaren, Glen Harold Stassen, Jennifer D. Crumpton, and Richard Cizik. I don't agree with everything written in this collection of essays, but I'm glad to see other Christians engaging in public life, working for the good of all.

    3. Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus

    This book is a bit of a phenomenon. Marketed aggressively by Zondervan and used as a rallying point for many churches, Not a Fan is a call to discipleship, not simply belief. And for this reason, it is a book to be lauded. Calling on the name of Jesus should not lead to lukewarm lives, but radical transformation. Jesus' words are challenging, his commands are clear, and the cost of following him is high. To many observers today, the gospel that has been preached has yielded a shallow Christianity, and an impoverished witness to the power of God.

    I'm still working my way through Not a Fan, and thus far Idleman reads like a preacher. Unfortunately, as is common in church leadership circles, it appears to me that Not a Fan uses broad generalizations and overstatement in order to move people. By saying, "No one is really following Jesus and taking his words seriously! Everyone is depending on Jesus for the merits of his blood without really entering in to the transformation he offers!", one overlooks the fruitful lives of many humble, quiet Christians who walk with Jesus as parents, employees, and church members. There appears to be an expectation within evangelicalism that those truly following Jesus will "win" many to Christ, that churches will, as a consequence, grow numerically, that the culture will someone be transformed through means of power rather than service, and that zeal will be evident everywhere we look. Though the research is a bit dated, Christian Smith showed in 1998 that evangelicalism at that time expressed a similar angst, yet was growing and healthy. Bradley Wright has also written that many who lament the decline of Christianity are simply not reading the data correctly, or are producing research tools that are designed to paint a dire picture, so as to set up a stark contrast for leaders crying out for increased zeal.

    Idleman's basic point--that Christianity is filled with challenges and that discipleship to Jesus is required of all who believe on him--is well taken. And for some Christians, this book might help them get off the couch and in to the game. But there is an alternative tack to take, I think, and that is discovering an articulation of the gospel that helps people realize and enter in to the love of God, taking up the "easy rhythms of grace." The evidence for truly following Jesus is not an excess of trying hard to improve, but rather a plain and visible communion with the Master.

    I'll keep reading this book. I have a friend to discuss it with.

    4. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

    I'm just beginning this book, but am already impressed. This is the type of creative nonfiction I love to read. Drawing from personal interviews, psychology, sociology, and other fields, The Power of Habit demonstrates that we can engineer our lives to move us toward a desired result through rhythms and routines. Habits truly make us who we are, and thus should be considered carefully and chosen with wisdom. If you're a social science or leadership junkie, I recommend this book strongly. And for those who lead in the area of discipleship, this book will provide plenty of grist for thinking about how people are formed, how they change, and how we can introduce tools that establish habits leading to holiness.

    5. Allen Verhey, The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus

    Death and dying are not popular topics of conversation among Christians, and this is tragic. We do not have a sound vision for dying well. I'm reading The Christian Art of Dying for an essay I'm composing, and have been reading this alongside Fred Craddock's Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church's Voice in the Face of Death, a wonderful book in its own right.

    This book is more on the scholarly end, so it is not for the faint of heart. But Verhey's meditations on modern medicine, dying, and Christian practice is enlightening and theologically complex. I'm 32 years old, so death, ideally, is thought to be "far off." But as Verhey notes in his opening sentence, "People have been dying for a while now." My day will come, as it will for us all. Preparation for dying well, and for helping others to experience God in their dying, is increasingly important within a culture that idolizes youth, and denies death. If I may be so bold, youth is a modern god, worshipped at many unnamed altars. But if this is so, the youth cultus, which denies death as primary dogma (or keeps it hidden in hospitals), is but a new incarnation of something old. The Greeks called her Hebe, the Norse, Idun. N.T. Wright observed in one of his works that the difference between ancients and moderns is this: the ancients named their gods. We simply worship them while denying their existence, and thus preserve our ignorance, as well as the potential to reject false gods for the One True God.

    That's what I'm reading. What are you reading?