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2016 Reading Challenge
May 01, 2016

Late last year I announced the 2016 Reading Challenge, a fun way to increase and diversify your reading through another year. I took the challenge and set this year’s goal at 104 books. However, because so much of my reading has to go toward reviewing books that are recently published and of interest to Christians (both for reviews published here and in WORLD magazine), I decided to pick from all over the list rather than working through it in order. What follows are the books I completed in March and April and, in parentheses, the reading challenge category they fulfill. They are listed in the order in which I completed them. Below that is the complete list of categories I need to cover.

  1. One Child by Mei Fong (A book about a country or city). Mei Fong writes about the short-term and long-term consequences of China’s horrific one-child policy.
  2. Habits of Grace by David Mathis (A self-improvement book). This is a powerful guide to the spiritual disciplines. It offers basic instructions to new believers while bringing fresh encouragement to those who have walked with the Lord for many years. It is a joy to commend it to you.
  3. Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth Tucker (A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with). Tucker’s book makes a case for egalitarianism but deals too little with the biblical text for it to be a strong case. It makes a case against something as well, but not against complementarianism, not as I hear it described, not as I see it lived out in my home and so many others’.
  4. A Great Blessing to Me by Grant Gordon (A book about church history). Gordon’s latest work looks at the little-known but important relationship between John Newton and George Whitefield.
  5. Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker (A memoir). Vanhoenacker is a commercial airline pilot who is also a skilled author. He writes about his love of flying and the simple joys of slipping the surly bonds of earth.
  6. A Peculiar Glory by John Piper (A book about the Bible). Piper’s first major work in a number of years explains why and how he has such deep-rooted confidence in the Bible. He sets out to answer this question: How are we to know that the Christian Scriptures are the word of God?
  7. Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith. Patrick Smith is another commercial airline pilot who enjoys writing. His book deals less with a passion for flying and more with some of the questions people ask and the fables they believe. Your enjoyment of this book will probably vary directly with the amount of time you spend in those little aluminum tubes hurtling through the sky.
  8. Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash (A book about leadership). Can you have genuine zeal for God without having it lead to burnout? Is there such a thing as a sustainable, non-complacent zeal? Ash believes there is and he speaks with a voice of experience having twice allowed his zeal to drive him to the very brink of a breakdown. He writes for all zealous followers of Jesus.
  9. Disrupted by Dan Lyons (A book about business). Lyons writes about his almost-too-bizarre-to-believe-it time at an Internet startup company. He survived with his sanity intact, but only barely. This one needs a language warning.
  10. Your Days Are Numbered by John Perritt (A book about productivity). Of all the gifts God gives to us, few are more precious and few are more fleeting than the gift of time. Your days are numbered and you are responsible to faithfully steward each one of them for the good of others and the glory of God. This book will teach and encourage you to make the most of the time God gives you.
  11. Unashamed by Lecrae Moore (A book about music). For a number of years Lecrae has been the leading Christian rapper. This book explains his humble and difficult origins and how he rose to become a star. Readers may be well served to know that at times the descriptions of his pre-conversion sin can be quite frank. Lecrae fans will be especially interested in reading his rationale for his recent decision to break a little from the Christian music genre.
  12. Black & Reformed by Anthony Carter (A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you). Black & Reformed is an excellent primer on one of the most pressing issues in American Evangelicalism today. It is equally at home in the hands of an African-American Christian investigating the claims of Reformed theology and in the hands of a white Christian seeking to better understand his African-American brothers and sisters.
  13. The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington (A book about science). Sleep and I do not get along very well, so I’m always eager to learn how we can be reconciled. Huffington’s book is an interesting mix of science, sociology, and New Age silliness. There are some good tips and lots of good information about the sheer importance of sleep, but there must also be better resources out there.
  14. Imagine Heaven by John Burke (A book about psychology). I really, really disliked this book, though perhaps somewhat unfairly. Burke purports to provide an honest examination of Near Death Experiences from a Christian perspective. Yet as he does this he draws little distinction between NDEs that describe elements that could be almost biblical and ones that are firmly planted in very different faiths. While NDEs may be worth considering, I found this a weak effort that does more to justify the heaven tourism genre than say anything substantial about the experiences.
  15. Jump by Michel Sauret (A Christian novel). I enjoyed this novel which aptly describes a Christian’s journey to faith, but do fear that the author was too free and descriptive in describing the character’s pre-Christian depravity. Though it is not unrealistic, it is not a novel I’d want my wife or teenaged son to read simply because of some of the descriptions of sin.
  16. Conscience by Andy Naselli & J.D. Crowley (A book written by an author with initials in their name). This is a wonderful introduction to the exceedingly important area of conscience. The authors give great care and attention to expositing the appropriate Scripture passages while drawing application suitable to all Christians.
  17. Brave Companions by David McCullough (A book by David McCullough). McCullough is such a skilled writer that even though this is one of his lesser works, it is still a tremendous joy to read.

You can see my previous updates for January and February.

The Light Reader (13 Books)

  • ☒ A book about Christian living (Delighting in the Trinity)
  • ☐ A biography
  • ☐ A classic novel
  • ☐ A book someone tells you “changed my life”
  • ☐ A commentary on a book of the Bible
  • ☒ A book about theology (The Deep Things of God)
  • ☐ A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
  • ☐ A book your pastor recommends
  • ☐ A book more than 100 years old
  • ☐ A book for children
  • ☐ A mystery or detective novel
  • ☐ A book published in 2016
  • ☒ A book about a current issue (Black Flags)

The Avid Reader (26 Books)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book recommended by a family member
  • ☒ A book by or about a missionary (William Carey)
  • ☒ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize (All the Light We Cannot See)
  • ☐ A book written by an Anglican
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☒ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien (The Return of the King)
  • ☐ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☒ A book about church history (A Great Blessing to Me)
  • ☒ A graphic novel (Essex County)
  • ☐ A book of poetry

The Committed Reader (52 Books)

  • ☒ A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with (Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife)
  • ☒ A book written by an author with initials in their name (Conscience)
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☐ A book about worldview
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☐ A humorous book
  • ☐ A book based on a true story
  • ☐ A book written by Jane Austen
  • ☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
  • ☒ A book with 100 pages or less (God and Politics)
  • ☒ A book with a one-word title (Dreamland)
  • ☐ A book about money or finance
  • ☐ A novel set in a country that is not your own
  • ☒ A book about music (Unashamed)
  • ☒ A memoir (Skyfaring)
  • ☐ A book about joy or happiness
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☒ A book whose title comes from a Bible verse (The Forgotten Fear)
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☒ A self-improvement book (Habits of Grace)
  • ☒ A book by David McCullough (Brave Companions)
  • ☐ A book you own but have never read
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☒ A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended (The Whole Christ)
  • ☒ A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you (Black and Reformed)

The Obsessed Reader (104 Books)

  • ☐ A book published by The Banner of Truth
  • ☐ A book about the Reformation
  • ☒ A book written by a first-time author (Under Our Skin)
  • ☒ A biography of a world leader (Victoria: A Life)
  • ☐ A book used as a seminary textbook
  • ☐ A book about food
  • ☒ A book about productivity (Your Days Are Numbered)
  • ☒ A book about or relationships or friendship (The Lovers)
  • ☐ A book about parenting
  • ☐ A book about philosophy
  • ☐ A book about art
  • ☐ A book with magic
  • ☒ A book about prayer (Moving Mountains)
  • ☒ A book about marriage (Tying the Knot)
  • ☒ A book about a hobby (Floodpath)
  • ☐ A book of comics
  • ☐ A book about the Second World War
  • ☐ A book about sports
  • ☐ A book by or about a pastor’s wife
  • ☒ A book about suffering (When Breath Becomes Air)
  • ☒ A book by your favorite author (What Is the Trinity?)
  • ☐ A book you have read before
  • ☒ A book about homosexuality (Messy Grace)
  • ☒ A Christian novel (Jump)
  • ☒ A book about psychology (Imagine Heaven)
  • ☐ A book about the natural world
  • ☐ A book by or about Charles Dickens
  • ☐ A novel longer than 400 pages
  • ☒ A historical book (The ISIS Apocalypse)
  • ☒ A book about the Bible (A Peculiar Glory)
  • ☒ A book about a country or city (One Child)
  • ☐ A book about astronomy
  • ☐ A book with an ugly cover
  • ☐ A book by or about a martyr
  • ☐ A book by a woman conference speaker
  • ☐ A book by or about the church fathers
  • ☐ A book about language
  • ☐ A book by or about a Russian
  • ☒ A book about leadership (Zeal Without Burnout)
  • ☐ A book about public speaking
  • ☐ A book by Francis Schaeffer
  • ☐ A book by a Presbyterian
  • ☒ A book about science (The Sleep Revolution)
  • ☐ A book about revival
  • ☐ A book about writing
  • ☐ A book about evangelism
  • ☐ A book about ancient history
  • ☐ A book about preaching
  • ☐ A book about the church
  • ☐ A book about adoption
  • ☐ A photo essay book
  • ☐ A book written in the twentieth century

Bonus (109 Books)

  • ☐ A book from a library
  • ☒ A book about business (Disrupted)
  • ☐ A book by an author less than 30
  • ☐ A book published by a UK-based publisher
  • ☐ A book you borrow

Books Without a Category

  • Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith

Take a Logos Course With Me
April 28, 2016

Many of the great joys I’ve had in the years I’ve been running this site are the ones experienced doing projects together. We’ve read a long selection of classic Christian books together, we’ve memorized Scripture, and a whole lot more. Today I’m wondering if you would like to take a course with me. A little while ago I approached Logos to ask if they would be willing to open up a course in their Mobile Ed platform. They said they’d be glad to do so, and after weighing the various options, I selected one that I thought would be interesting, helpful, and appropriately challenging to any Christian. It usually costs $229.99, but they are giving us access for free!

The course is titled Introducing the Gospels and Acts: Their Background, Nature, and Purpose and is taught by Dr. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Bock is the author of a number of important works, including highly-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts. Here is the course’s description:

Study the key events of the Gospels and the book of Acts with prolific New Testament scholar Dr. Darrell L. Bock. Dr. Bock walks you through the pivotal events of history that shaped the social, religious, and political environment of Jesus and the early church. Find out why the religious leaders wanted Jesus crucified and how the resurrection demonstrated God’s approval of Jesus as Messiah. Discover how the early church remembered, shared, and recorded the events of Jesus’ life, and how those events became the catalyst for ministry in the book of Acts. Learn about the literary features of the gospel genre and why some “gospels” were not included in the New Testament. Dr. Bock—an internationally recognized authority on theology and culture—developed this course for the Mobile Education platform so that you can read the Gospels and Acts with fresh eyes.

Upon successful completion you should be able to:

  • Understand the effect of Hellenism on Second Temple Judaism
  • Discuss the significance of the temple in Second Temple Judaism
  • Summarize the ways in which Jesus created conflict with the religious leaders
  • Compare and contrast the canonical Gospels with the “missing gospels”
  • Explain the issues of authorship and date associated with each Gospel
  • Describe the concept of resurrection in Judaism and the Graeco-Roman world
  • Discuss the significance of the resurrection in each Gospel account and to the gospel message
  • Summarize the key events in the life of the early church

In other words, you will gain a lot of information about the background to the Gospels and the book of Acts that should, in turn, help you better understand, interpret, and apply them. Not only that, but if you decide to take more courses, this will earn you the first of five credits you need for the New Testament: Foundational Certificate Program.

What’s Involved

I will be taking the course over a period of 8 weeks. Logos has already divided it into 8 roughly equal parts, setting a good pace for us. We will complete each week’s lesson by watching the videos and, optionally, completing the reading; I will post something about it on the blog each Thursday. We can also discuss what we are learning via the Faithlife group. The course is driven by videos but includes two kinds of option reading: “Suggested Reading” (which you have full access to) and “See Also” readings for which you may need to purchase supplementary materials. However, the course works just fine without those “See Also” readings. You will also see transcripts for all of the videos in case you prefer to read than watch or, even better, do both at once.

All you need to do is sign up, either by using your existing account or by creating a new one. If you own the Logos software, it will appear there. If not, you can take it entirely through the web. If you’ve been meaning to try Logos and haven’t ever gotten around to it, this may be a good time to download what they call the Core Engine. When you sign in, the course will appear there for you.

We will begin officially on May 2. That gives you a few days to sign up and get settled. Then, on May 2, check the curriculum and begin watching the videos for Unit 1. You will probably want to bookmark this page since that’s where most things will be happening.

Sign Up

If you would like to join the group, simply click the link “Follow” in the box below and you will be taken to a Faithlife group (Faithlife is the parent company of Logos). (Alternative: Click here.)


That’s all you need to do. Sign up and then, on Monday, begin to make your way through Unit 1.

April 05, 2016

If you have been reading this site for a while, you probably remember the Best Commentaries series I prepared a couple of years ago. The basic premise of the series was that, because I am unqualified to determine which commentaries are best, I would turn to experts to find their recommendations. I did that and proceeded through the Bible, suggesting the five best commentaries for each book. All the while I depended on the prior work of theologians such as D.A. Carson, Tremper Longman, Keith Mathison, and Derek Thomas.

Logos users may be interested to know that I have now teamed up with Logos to prepare what I hope will be the first of several resources collections. In this first collection we have assembled 21 commentaries that will ensure you have at least one excellent commentary on each book of the New Testament. In most cases the commentary is the top choice of the expert theologians. The collection represents some of the best scholarship across key sets including New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT), Pillar (PNTC), New American Commentaries (NAC), International Critical Commentaries (ICC), and New International Greek Testament Commentaries (NIGTC). The collection also contains the ESV and the Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (SBL) so that you can immediately start studying the Bible alongside some of the most renowned evangelical scholars.

The bundle price is $399 which represents a 60% discount off the normal Logos price if you were to buy the 21 volumes individually. If you were to buy them all in print, you would be looking at something near $1200. Dynamic pricing applies, which means you will pay only for the commentaries you do not already own.

You can learn more, examine the individual volumes, and purchase the collection right here.

Logos Collection

 

New and Notable Books
March 25, 2016

When it comes to good books, we are spoiled. We have access to more good books than previous generations could have even dreamed of. That is true whether we want to read Christian Living books or read deep, academic works. Here is a round-up of some of the new and notables that have come across my desk in the past few weeks.

IchthusIchthus: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Saviour by Sinclair Ferguson & Derek Thomas. “Ichthus is the Greek word for a fish. Its five Greek letters form the first letters of the early Christian confession that ‘Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Saviour.’ To draw a fish sign meant: ‘I am a Christian.’ To be a Christian, according to the New Testament is to know Christ. But who is he, and what is the meaning of his life? In Ichthus Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas answer these questions by taking us on a tour of nine key events in Jesus’ life and ministry. Their aim is to help us both understand and share the confession of those early Christians who drew the fish sign. Ichthus is a book for everyone and anyone. It will help readers who are already Christians because of what it says about their Master. Those who are wondering exactly what it is Christians believe about Jesus should find many of their questions clearly answered. And those honest enough to admit that they have ignored, or even rejected Christianity but really could not explain what Christians believe about Jesus, will find these pages both clear and challenging. Written by two friends who, between them, have been following Jesus Christ for a total of almost a hundred years, Ichthus will encourage you to share their faith in him.” (Amazon | Westminster Books)

Child in the MangerChild in the Manger by Sinclair Ferguson. This one only came my way recently. The publisher offers this description: “The birth of Jesus divided history into two major epochs. Until the dawn of our hyper-sensitive age, even the way we dated events underscored this. From time immemorial every day, every week, every month, every year has been described as either ‘B.C.’ (‘Before Christ’) or ‘A.D.’ (Anno Domini, ‘in the year of our Lord’). Even the modern, pluralistic style abbreviations, B.C.E. (‘Before the Common Era’) and C.E. (‘Common Era’), cannot obliterate the indelible impress of Jesus birth. For what makes the ‘Common Era’ so ‘common’? And what explains the dividing line date? The answer is the same: the birth of Jesus. At the very centre of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. And he does so because he is at the centre of God’s story.” I offer my own description: It’s by Sinclair Ferguson. Enough said! (Amazon | Westminster Books)

Joel Obadiah Joel & Obadiah: Disaster And Deliverance (Focus on the Bible) by Iwan Rhys Jones. This is a new volume in Christian Focus’ excellent Focus on the Bible series of commentaries which are ideally suited to the general Christian reader. “Disaster and Deliverance, these two words sum up something of the message of both Joel and Obadiah. In Joel, the prophet begins by announcing a disaster in terms of a locust invasion, which has affected Judah. This, however, is but the pretext for warning of an even greater disaster on the horizon for Judah. Nevertheless, the prophet holds out the prospect of deliverance. In the case of Obadiah, the focus is on Edom. Edom’s pride and longstanding hostility against the people of God has led her to be party to an attack upon them, and as a result, she is threatened with disaster. The people of God, meanwhile, are assured of better things at the hand of the LORD. These two prophets and their message of disaster and deliverance will both challenge and reassure all who have ears to hear.” (Amazon)

John commentaryJohn: Jesus Christ Is God (Focus on the Bible) by William Cook. John is a new New Testament addition to the same series. “John’s Gospel is the mature reflections of the last living apostle. John the apostle wrote this book approximately fifty-five years after the resurrection of Jesus. During those years he had reflected on the words and deeds of Jesus and the result is that the pages of the Gospel contain the seasoned thinking of one of Jesus’ closest friends. New Testament scholar William F. Cook brings us the latest in the popular Focus on the Bible series. In a lucid and engaging style, he leads us through the Gospel of John.” (Amazon)

Zechariah BodaThe Book of Zechariah (NICOT) by Mark Boda. The venerable NICOT series continues now with this volume on Zechariah. “Over the centuries, the prophetic book of Zechariah has suffered from accusations of obscurity and has frustrated readers seeking to unlock its treasures. This work by Mark Boda provides insightful commentary on Zechariah, with great sensitivity to its historical, literary, and theological dimensions. Including a fresh translation of Zechariah from the original Hebrew, Boda delivers deep and thorough reflection on a too-often-neglected book of the Old Testament.” (Amazon | Westminster Books)

190 Blogs I Read
March 04, 2016

I am going to file this one under “by popular demand.” I have been asked a hundred times what blogs I read and how I read them. Do I really visit all those sites every day? And just how many of them are there anyway? Today I will explain how I keep up with blogs and other Christian websites and give you the complete list of the ones I read. It’s actually very simple.

I generally read blogs through Feedly, a service that aggregates web sites and displays only their most recent updates. I currently read 190 Christian blogs and web sites and draw the bulk of the articles you find in my daily A La Carte articles from this list. I have been collecting and curating this list for many, many years now, first in the now-defunct Google Reader and then in Feedly. It is an active list which means I often add new sites to it and remove sites that have gone cold or that no longer interest me.

Obviously I do not read every article Feedly presents me, but I do look through the list a couple of times a day and bookmark (using Pocket) a few that I will return to for a thorough read. Later, when I have read the articles I bookmarked, I pick the ones that most interest me and add them to the next day’s A La Carte. It’s a very basic workflow that has remained almost unchanged for many years. (I also maintain a small collection of other sites that deal with productivity, travel, personal finance, and other areas that are of special interest or importance.)

If you would like to view the list of blogs I read, you can do so right here. You will see what Feedly refers to as a shared collection that displays all of the Christian blogs and sites I read this way.

Feedly

If you use Feedly or another RSS reader, you can download the OPML file which will allow you to add this list to your own RSS aggregator.

Blogs

Image credit: Shutterstock

2016 Reading Challenge
February 26, 2016

Late last year I announced the 2016 Reading Challenge, a fun way to increase and diversify your reading through another year. I took the challenge and set this year’s goal at 104 books. However, because so much of my reading has to go toward reviewing books that are recently published and of interest to Christians (both for reviews published here and in WORLD magazine), I decided to pick from all over the list rather than working through it in order. What follows are the books I completed so far in February and, in parentheses, the reading challenge category they fulfill. They are listed in the order in which I completed them. Below that is the complete list of categories I need to cover.

  1. The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson (A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended). This may well go down as one of the best books of 2016 and perhaps as one of Sinclair Ferguson’s all-time bests. Read my review, then buy it.
  2. The Lovers by Rod Nordland (A book about relationships or friendship). This book claimed to tell a Romeo and Juliet story from modern-day Afghanistan. Well, that was a significant overstatement. The story had its moments, but only barely managed to hold my attention.
  3. Tying the Knot by Rob Green (A book about marriage). When it comes to brief and helpful books meant to prepare a couple for marriage, you may want to take a good look at Tying the Knot. You can read my review here.
  4. Floodpath by Jon Wilkman (A book about a hobby (since for many years studying the disaster was the author’s hobby)). Floodpath tells the mostly forgotten tale of the St. Francis Dam disaster of 1928, a life-long subject of study for Wilkman. The book tells the story competently, but Wilkman certainly is not David McCullough telling the story of the Johnstown flood.
  5. Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach (A book about homosexuality). I enjoyed Messy Grace both for the autobiographical story Kaltenbach tells and for the theology he teaches, dealing as he does with one of the most pressing issues of our day. I reviewed it here.
  6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (A book about suffering). This posthumously released memoir is a beautifully-written, haunting book that shot straight to the top of the bestsellers lists. Did Kalanithi become a believer at the end of his life? He may have. I sure hope he did…
  7. William Carey: Obliged to Go by Janet & Geoff Benge (A book by or about a missionary). Considering the impact of William Carey, I was surprised to find how few biographies there are that tell his story. This one is not exhaustive but is at least a good place to begin.
  8. Moving Mountains by John Eldredge (A book about prayer). I cannot and do not recommend this book on prayer for reasons I outline in my review.
  9. God and Politics by Mark Dever (A book of 100 pages or less). This is a very short book that obviously began as a sermon or speech at Dever’s church. That makes it personable and pastoral, but also sermonic in its form. It is useful for what it is, but did not make a great transition from one medium to the other.
  10. The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire (A graphic novel). I know nothing about graphic novels but had friends recommend this to me. I enjoyed the small-town Ontario setting; it seemed very natural. The story itself is sad and moving but very well done. Do note that the novel contains a fair bit of swearing and that one sub-story involves non-graphic sexuality.

The Light Reader (13 Books)

  • ☒ A book about Christian living (Delighting in the Trinity)
  • ☐ A biography
  • ☐ A classic novel
  • ☐ A book someone tells you “changed my life”
  • ☐ A commentary on a book of the Bible
  • ☒ A book about theology (The Deep Things of God)
  • ☐ A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
  • ☐ A book your pastor recommends
  • ☐ A book more than 100 years old
  • ☐ A book for children
  • ☐ A mystery or detective novel
  • ☐ A book published in 2016
  • ☒ A book about a current issue (Black Flags)

The Avid Reader (26 Books)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book recommended by a family member
  • ☒ A book by or about a missionary (William Carey)
  • ☒ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize (All the Light We Cannot See)
  • ☐ A book written by an Anglican
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☒ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien (The Return of the King)
  • ☐ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☐ A book about church history
  • ☒ A graphic novel (Essex County)
  • ☐ A book of poetry

The Committed Reader (52 Books)

  • ☐ A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
  • ☐ A book written by an author with initials in their name
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☐ A book about worldview
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☐ A humorous book
  • ☐ A book based on a true story
  • ☐ A book written by Jane Austen
  • ☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
  • ☒ A book with 100 pages or less (God and Politics)
  • ☒ A book with a one-word title (Dreamland)
  • ☐ A book about money or finance
  • ☐ A novel set in a country that is not your own
  • ☐ A book about music
  • ☐ A memoir
  • ☐ A book about joy or happiness
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☒ A book whose title comes from a Bible verse (The Forgotten Fear)
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☐ A self-improvement book
  • ☐ A book by David McCullough
  • ☐ A book you own but have never read
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☒ A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended (The Whole Christ)
  • ☐ A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you

The Obsessed Reader (104 Books)

  • ☐ A book published by The Banner of Truth
  • ☐ A book about the Reformation
  • ☒ A book written by a first-time author (Under Our Skin)
  • ☒ A biography of a world leader (Victoria: A Life)
  • ☐ A book used as a seminary textbook
  • ☐ A book about food
  • ☐ A book about productivity
  • ☒ A book about or relationships or friendship (The Lovers)
  • ☐ A book about parenting
  • ☐ A book about philosophy
  • ☐ A book about art
  • ☐ A book with magic
  • ☒ A book about prayer (Moving Mountains)
  • ☒ A book about marriage (Tying the Knot)
  • ☒ A book about a hobby (Floodpath)
  • ☐ A book of comics
  • ☐ A book about the Second World War
  • ☐ A book about sports
  • ☐ A book by or about a pastor’s wife
  • ☒ A book about suffering (When Breath Becomes Air)
  • ☒ A book by your favorite author (What Is the Trinity?)
  • ☐ A book you have read before
  • ☒ A book about homosexuality (Messy Grace)
  • ☐ A Christian novel
  • ☐ A book about psychology
  • ☐ A book about the natural world
  • ☐ A book by or about Charles Dickens
  • ☐ A novel longer than 400 pages
  • ☒ A historical book (The ISIS Apocalypse)
  • ☐ A book about the Bible
  • ☐ A book about a country or city
  • ☐ A book about astronomy
  • ☐ A book with an ugly cover
  • ☐ A book by or about a martyr
  • ☐ A book by a woman conference speaker
  • ☐ A book by or about the church fathers
  • ☐ A book about language
  • ☐ A book by or about a Russian
  • ☐ A book about leadership
  • ☐ A book about public speaking
  • ☐ A book by Francis Schaeffer
  • ☐ A book by a Presbyterian
  • ☐ A book about science
  • ☐ A book about revival
  • ☐ A book about writing
  • ☐ A book about evangelism
  • ☐ A book about ancient history
  • ☐ A book about preaching
  • ☐ A book about the church
  • ☐ A book about adoption
  • ☐ A photo essay book
  • ☐ A book written in the twentieth century

Bonus (109 Books)

  • ☐ A book from a library
  • ☐ A book about business
  • ☐ A book by an author less than 30
  • ☐ A book published by a UK-based publisher
  • ☐ A book you borrow

2016 Reading Challenge
January 29, 2016

Late last year I announced the 2016 Reading Challenge, a fun way to increase and diversify your reading through another year. I took the challenge and set this year’s goal at 104 books. However, because so much of my reading has to go toward reviewing books that are recently published and of interest to Christians (both for reviews published here and in WORLD magazine) I decided to pick from all over the list rather than working through it in order. What follows are the books I have completed so far in 2016 and, in parentheses, the reading challenge category they fulfill. They are listed in the order in which I completed them. Below that is the complete list of categories I need to cover.

  1. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien). I had read The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers at a nice, slow pace last year and began the final part of the trilogy on January 1. I enjoyed every page.
  2. Black Flags by Joby Warrick (A book about a current issue). This was one of two books I read dealing with the rise, reality, and purpose of ISIS. Because it is fast-paced and reader-friendly, Black Flags is an excellent place to begin. You can read my review here.
  3. The ISIS Apocalypse by William McCants (A historical book). Where Black Flags is somewhat biographical and reader-friendly, The ISIS Apocalypse is more of a history book and, thus, a little bit more difficult to read. Still, it tells the same story of the rise of ISIS and is worth reading to understand this organization and its goals. You can read my review here.
  4. The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (A book about theology). This is a brilliant book and one of my new favorites on the Trinity. You can read my full-length review here.
  5. What Is the Trinity? by R.C. Sproul (A book by your favorite author). This is a good, short, and thoroughly Sprouline treatment of the Trinity. I read it and a couple of other books on the Trinity as a warm-up for this year’s G3 Conference.
  6. Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester (A book about Christian living). This is one of two books by the same title. This one is plenty good, but probably just outside my top-3 or top-5 on the subject.
  7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize). I read this because it was awarded last year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is a very good novel but comes close to a concluding orgy of awfulness. A scene of rape mars the final chapters—the scene takes place in Germany at the close of the Second World War when Russian soldiers were pillaging and raping their way to Berlin, so it’s not like it was unrealistic. I just don’t know that it added anything to the book. Beyond that, it was a very enjoyable novel, but still not among my favorite Pulitzer Prize winners.
  8. The Forgotten Fear by Albert Martin (A book whose title comes from a Bible verse). This is a very helpful book on a neglected subject. You can read my review here.
  9. Dreamland by Sam Quinones (A book with a one-word title). This book received a fair bit of attention in the various round-ups of 2015’s best books. It is an interesting look at America’s opiate epidemic and the outsized role of one small Mexican county. It also draws negative attention to big pharma and its role in drug addiction.
  10. Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson (A book written by a first-time author). NFL standout Watson expands a Facebook post into a book-length treatment of race and racism. He writes from a distinctly Christian perspective and does a wonderful job of communicating the African-American perspective on race while challenging both African-Americans and whites to overcome their biases and to work toward lasting change. You can read my review here.
  11. Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson (A biography of a world leader). I wanted to love this biography but struggled with it a little. Still, Queen Victoria was a fascinating figure who reigned for a long, long time through a pivotal point in history. I appreciated Wilson’s treatments of her relationship with her husband and, later, with John Brown.

I am currently reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (it is so long!), The Lovers by Rod Nordland, and The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson; I am tracking it all through Goodreads.

I expect that I will be able to read 104 books, but that the difficulty will come in trying to fit those books into the categories. However, I suppose that will also be the fun part as well as the part that diversifies my reading.

The Light Reader (13 Books)

  • ☒ A book about Christian living (Delighting in the Trinity)
  • ☐ A biography
  • ☐ A classic novel
  • ☐ A book someone tells you “changed my life”
  • ☐ A commentary on a book of the Bible
  • ☒ A book about theology (The Deep Things of God)
  • ☐ A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
  • ☐ A book your pastor recommends
  • ☐ A book more than 100 years old
  • ☐ A book for children
  • ☐ A mystery or detective novel
  • ☐ A book published in 2016
  • ☒ A book about a current issue (Black Flags)

The Avid Reader (26 Books)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book recommended by a family member
  • ☐ A book by or about a missionary
  • ☒ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize (All the Light We Cannot See)
  • ☐ A book written by an Anglican
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☒ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien (The Return of the King)
  • ☐ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☐ A book about church history
  • ☐ A graphic novel
  • ☐ A book of poetry

The Committed Reader (52 Books)

  • ☐ A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
  • ☐ A book written by an author with initials in their name
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☐ A book about worldview
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☐ A humorous book
  • ☐ A book based on a true story
  • ☐ A book written by Jane Austen
  • ☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
  • ☐ A book with 100 pages or less
  • ☒ A book with a one-word title (Dreamland)
  • ☐ A book about money or finance
  • ☐ A novel set in a country that is not your own
  • ☐ A book about music
  • ☐ A memoir
  • ☐ A book about joy or happiness
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☒ A book whose title comes from a Bible verse (The Forgotten Fear)
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☐ A self-improvement book
  • ☐ A book by David McCullough
  • ☐ A book you own but have never read
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☐ A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
  • ☐ A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you

The Obsessed Reader (104 Books)

  • ☐ A book published by The Banner of Truth
  • ☐ A book about the Reformation
  • ☒ A book written by a first-time author (Under Our Skin)
  • ☒ A biography of a world leader (Victoria: A Life)
  • ☐ A book used as a seminary textbook
  • ☐ A book about food
  • ☐ A book about productivity
  • ☐ A book about or relationships or friendship
  • ☐ A book about parenting
  • ☐ A book about philosophy
  • ☐ A book about art
  • ☐ A book with magic
  • ☐ A book about prayer
  • ☐ A book about marriage
  • ☐ A book about a hobby
  • ☐ A book of comics
  • ☐ A book about the Second World War
  • ☐ A book about sports
  • ☐ A book by or about a pastor’s wife
  • ☐ A book about suffering
  • ☒ A book by your favorite author (What Is the Trinity?)
  • ☐ A book you have read before
  • ☐ A book about homosexuality
  • ☐ A Christian novel
  • ☐ A book about psychology
  • ☐ A book about the natural world
  • ☐ A book by or about Charles Dickens
  • ☐ A novel longer than 400 pages
  • ☒ A historical book (The ISIS Apocalypse)
  • ☐ A book about the Bible
  • ☐ A book about a country or city
  • ☐ A book about astronomy
  • ☐ A book with an ugly cover
  • ☐ A book by or about a martyr
  • ☐ A book by a woman conference speaker
  • ☐ A book by or about the church fathers
  • ☐ A book about language
  • ☐ A book by or about a Russian
  • ☐ A book about leadership
  • ☐ A book about public speaking
  • ☐ A book by Francis Schaeffer
  • ☐ A book by a Presbyterian
  • ☐ A book about science
  • ☐ A book about revival
  • ☐ A book about writing
  • ☐ A book about evangelism
  • ☐ A book about ancient history
  • ☐ A book about preaching
  • ☐ A book about the church
  • ☐ A book about adoption
  • ☐ A photo essay book
  • ☐ A book written in the twentieth century

Bonus (109 Books)

  • ☐ A book from a library
  • ☐ A book about business
  • ☐ A book by an author less than 30
  • ☐ A book published by a UK-based publisher
  • ☐ A book you borrow

January 08, 2016

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books, and every few weeks I like to provide a round-up of what is new and particularly notable. It has been a little while since my last update and I’ve got a few interesting ones to share with you.

Ruth Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible by Daniel Block (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament). I’m really excited that the excellent ZEC series has now expanded from the New Testament to the Old. Here’s a description of the series: “Designed for the pastor and Bible teacher, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament brings together commentary features rarely gathered together in one volume. With careful discourse analysis and interpretation of the Hebrew text, the authors trace the flow of argument in each Old Testament book, showing that how a biblical author says something is just as important as what they say. Each volume offers a set of distinctive features, including: the main idea of the passage, its literary context, the author’s original translation and exegetical outline with Hebrew layout, its structure and literary form, an explanation of the text, and its canonical and practical significance.” The series kicks off with two volumes from Daniel Block, Ruth and Obadiah, and one from Kevin Youngblood on Jonah. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon: Ruth, Jonah, Obadiah)

College Debt Trap Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree without Going Broke by Alex Chediak. “Beating the College Debt Trap presents students with a better way to do college. The radically counter-cultural truth is that students don’t have to be totally dependent on Mom, Dad, or Uncle Sam to get the most out of college. Graduation on a solid financial foundation is possible. But it will require intentionality, creativity, hard work, and a willingness to delay gratification. Chediak gets into the nitty-gritty of how to pay less for college, get meaningful work during college (while setting yourself up for success after college), pay off any loans quickly, spend less, save more, and stay out of debt for good. He also unpacks how to transition from college into career, honor God while achieving financial independence, and use your finances to make a positive, eternally-significant difference in the lives of others.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Judge NotJudge Not: How a Lack of Discernment Led to Drunken Pastors, Peanut Butter Armpits, & The Fall of a Nation by Todd Friel. “While there are great, godly men who boldly and biblically shepherd their flocks, the majority of evangelical churches have become silly centers. The result? America the beautiful has become America the debauched. In Judge Not, Todd Friel dares to violate Evangelicalism’s first commandment: thou shall not judge. Friel satirically and painfully exposes some of the rot in the underbelly of the contemporary church, and points to a solution to help rescue the church, save souls, and glorify God. Prepare to potentially be shocked, offended, and inspired to do more than just complain about the state of Evangelicalism. This book will enable you to actually do something to put an end to the chicanery that pervades far too many churches.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Kuyper Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology by Abraham Kuyper. This is a massive new set put together by Lexham Press (owned by Faithlife, the parent company of Logos). The series is being released volume by volume in Logos, hardcover, and Kindle formats. “A resurgence of interest in Kuyper, his life, and his writings is taking hold as Christians search for ways to faithfully understand and engage culture. Lexham Press is pleased to announce the publication of a major series of new translations of Kuyper’s writings in public theology. Created in partnership with the Kuyper Translation Society and the Acton Institute, the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology will mark a historic moment in Kuyper studies, and we hope it will deepen and enrich the church’s interest and engagement in public theology.” (Learn more or buy it at Logos or Amazon)

Miracles of JesusThe Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption by Vern Poythress. “Jesus walked on water. He healed a blind man. He turned water into wine. More than just displays of his divine power, Jesus’s miracles signify something deeper—they’re windows into God’s grand story of redemption, foreshadowing the great miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. By explaining the meaning and significance of all 26 miracles recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, New Testament scholar Vern Poythress shows us their relevance for our lives today. Poythress unpacks for us how understanding the meaning of Christ’s miracles will help us better grasp the salvation God has brought into the world.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Evangelical EthicsEvangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, Fourth Edition by John Jefferson Davis. “For three decades, Evangelical Ethics has been regarded as one of the best treatments of contemporary ethical problems facing Christians. John Jefferson Davis brings mature biblical thought to issues such as homosexuality, genetics, abortion, euthanasia, war and peace, the environment, divorce, and remarriage. This fourth edition includes a new chapter on the history and legacy of slavery in the United States. Other chapters have been revised and updated.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)