The Well-Educated Mind: Histories

First it was novels. Then it was autobiographies. Now, it’s history’s turn.

As with previous sections in The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer begins with an overview of the genre. Here, she distinguishes between several periods in the history of history:

  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • Renaissance History
  • The “Enlightened,” or “Rational,” Approach
  • Positivism to “Progress-ism” to “Multiculturalism”
  • Romanticism to Relativism to Skepticism (and Thence to Postmodernism)

Attentive readers will recognize that the the last two periods are overlapping as the telling of history fragmented according to your particular philosophical bent. The history of ideas and the ideas of history are forever intertwined.

So, when it comes to actually reading a historical account, Bauer again gives questions for each stage:

Grammer-Stage Reading (195-198)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Does the writer state his or her purpose for writing?
  • What are the major events of the history?
  • Who is this story about?
  • What challenges did this hero/ine face?
  • Who or what causes this challenge?
  • What happened to the historical hero/ine?
  • Do the characters go forward, or backward – and why?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Where does the story take place?

Logic-Stage Reading (198-206)

  • Look for the historian’s major assertions
  • What questions is the historian asking?
  • What sources does the historian use to answer them?
  • Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers? [Note: readers of the actual book are treated to a primer on fallacies at this point]
  • Can you identify the history’s genre?
  • Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (206-209)

  • What is the purpose of history?
  • Does this story have forward motion?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Why do things go wrong?
  • What place does free will have?
  • What relationship does this history have to social problems?
  • What is the end of history?
  • How is this history the same as – or different than – the stories of other historians who have come before?
  • Is there another possible explanation?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated histories list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

So far with this list, I’ve got my work cut off for me, having only read Herodotus (would highly recommend). I’ve a copy of the few of the others, but while I’m thinking of it, I might venture to the local used bookstore and see what I can find. Although, you can actually piece together most of this list for less than $100. Not bad for what would be close to a year or more of reading for many people!

The Well-Educated Mind: Novels

Now that it’s officially summer reading season, I thought I’d give you more of a rundown on the lists in The Well-Educated Mind. You may vaguely remember the overview I gave of the opening section. If not, here it is again.

Chapter 5 is “The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel.” Bauer gives a 10 minutes history of the novel, which you’ll have to actually buy the book to read.

She then proceeds to tell you how to read a novel (beyond merely going from one word to the next in succession until the final page). She gives you tips and questions to guide you through reading at the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stage. Because I don’t want to deprive you of the joy layered reading, I’ll reproduce those below (parentheticals refer to pagination).

Grammar Stage Reading (71-73)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Keep a list of characters as you read
  • Briefly note the main event of each chapter
  • Make initial notes on passages that seem interesting
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (73-81)

  • Is this novel a “fable” or a “chronicle”?
  • What does the central character (or characters) want? What is standing in his (or her) way? And what strategy does he (or she) pursue in order to overcome this block?
  • Who is telling this story?
  • Where is the story set?
  • What style does the writer employ?
  • What images and metaphors get repeated?
  • Pay close attention to beginnings and endings

Rhetoric-stage Reading (82-86)

  • Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?
  • Does the writer’s technique give you a clue as to her “argument” – her take on the human condition?
  • Is the novel self-reflective?
  • Did the writer’s times affect him?
  • Is there an argument in this book?
  • Do you agree?

Bauer then offers an annotated novel list. That is good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels) to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

I’m still stuck on Don Quixote, but I think I’ll remedy that this summer and move on to the next. Here’s her chronological list:

I don’t know enough about modern novels to comment on the additions past 1900, but I think it’s a pretty solid list. I’m sure we could add or subtract some, but if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of quality literature, this is a good place to start.

2017 Reading Challenge: May Update

Well, school’s out for summer, so I’m gonna start blogging again. About the only thing I consistently did through the spring was update you on reading, so let’s pick back up with that.

I read 17 books in May, which brings the year up to 67. Because of a line I read in a book I already finished in June, I’d like to tip the scales in June/July from consumption back to production. Expect more review posts instead of roundups like this. But for now, here’s the eclectic mix from May:

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (a book about parenting)

This might be one of the most important books I read over the spring, so I’ll try to get my actual review (I’ll start doing those again) out soon. Anything by Andy Crouch is worth your time, but this one especially so if you have kids or technology, or both.

Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion (a book about the Reformation – sort of)

Was not particularly impressed by this one, although the series it kicks off could be promising.

Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era 

If you read things on the internet, you should probably read this. I’m debating whether or not to craft an article about this, or just do a review. The short version is that it covers how to read statistics, charts, and graphs correctly, and gives a rundown on how basic logical fallacies. He is certainly not a-political, but he points out errors on both sides of the spectrum throughout.

Reconsidering John Calvin

This is a collection of essays based on lectures Randall Zachman gave. It is also part of Cambridge’s Current Issues in Theology series. The opening essay on Calvin’s views on astronomy is worth the price of admission alone (spoiler: he had very progressive views on Genesis and science in the Bible in general).

My Beer Year: Adventures with Hop Farmers, Craft Brewers, Chefs, Beer Sommeliers, and Fanatical Drinkers as a Beer Master in Training

You may have noticed a theme with books on beer. I’ve tried to add more hobby reading, but I’m also curious to start writing about beer in theological perspective, something I don’t think many have dared to do. I think could list reasons for this, but I’ll save it for a post. This particular book traced the author’s journey toward becoming a certified Cicerone, which is the beer version of Sommelier (which is the wine version of a your local Starbucks Coffee Master, except leveled up several times).

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (a book about Christian living)

If Jared Wilson writes a book, you should probably read it. And if it’s a grace soaked manual on being a less than perfect disciple, you should read it and share too. I’ll do that in a review soon.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (a book by John Piper)

This might be John Piper’s most important book. Well, that’s possibly a stretch. It’s a bit longer than it needs to be, but it is one of the best book I’ve read on how to read the Bible. The reason is that is address both method and posture. Most of it actually about posture, and I think that’s its most valuable contribution. I’ll explain a bit more when I post about it and his other recent book.

Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body (a self improvement book)

I’ve started a new workout and diet routine, and it is thanks to Paul Maxwell pointing me to this guy’s resources. If you’re interested in a solid explanation of dieting and workout that is no gimmicks, you’ll want to check this out.

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories Are Misunderstood

This was a great followup to the author’s previous book on the most misused verses in the Bible. I have to do a review soon, so I’ll explain more then.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World

This was a kind of follow up to The Benedict Option. Written by the archbishop of Philadelphia, it isn’t so much a Catholic answer to or version of the Benedict Option. It is rather a wise leader’s reflections on how culture has changed and how to remain a faithful presence within it.

Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity (a book about Christian living)

You might have seen that recent TGC article about the fallout from Mars Hill. If you’d like a more in-depth perspective, as part of a book that’s about something else, you’ll want to read this book from a drummer in several Tooth & Nail bands, but also a former member of Mars Hill.

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century

If Chuck Klosterman writes it, you should read it. This was his collection of essays from the past 10 years, mostly published elsewhere, but collected here with his introductions that give historical context.

How Does Sanctification Work? (a book about sanctification)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, you should go read that, and see how you can get it for free!

I Told Me So: The Role of Self-deception in Christian Living

I had higher hopes for this, but it’s a useful primer on how self-deception works. More importantly, the author gives constructive advice for how it relates to the Christian life and growth (see previous book).

The Juvenilization of American Christianity (a book about church history)

This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read, but is important to see how the efforts to reach youth culture have weakened American Christianity. To add insult to injury, we don’t actually do that well at reaching youth. This book helps explain part of the mess.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

If you ever wanted a history of the world traced through beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and soda, this book is for you. I’ve moved on to his history of food, and hope to also get his book on the history of social media.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

This book is a satire, and it is biting. Obviously, the take away is that the opposite of the ten things is what will help your child’s imagination flourish. I was pleased that I was already doing some of these things in the classroom. Adding a few more will be part of my summer goals.

 

2017 Reading Challenge: April Update

This month, I feel like I did a decent job of diversifying my reading. That trend will probably continue going into the summer, although May is gonna be a little crazy.

I added 13 books this month, which is back closer to January and February, with 12 of the 13 hitting categories in the challenge. That also means I hit 50 for the year. Most of these I read cover to cover this month, but a few (you’ll notice them) are much longer and it just happened that I finished them in April.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (a book about current events)

Here’s what I already wrote on Rod Dreher’s book.

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (a book about theology)

This was another part of my pre-Easter reading. I’ve got a post in the works about how this fills in a significant lacuna in another semi-controversial book that just came out. I’ll keep it ambiguous until then.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (a book about history)

I don’t often read brief histories of humankind. Much less do I read radical gay vegan takes on it, that go where only Nietzsche and Foucault dreamed of going. Yuval Noah Harari is probably a presuppositional apologetist’s best friend because he starts with atheism and then consistently traces out how it would apply to the human species and their cultural products and practices. I need to trace that out more, and hope to do so soon.

The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Courses (a book recommended by a friend)

You may notice an uptick in beer related reading, but I’m not quite ready to explain why. Let’s just say it is actual research, and also attempting to understand one of life’s simple pleasures.

An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans

If Michael Bird writes a book, I’ll probably read it and tell you about it. I need to do a more formal review of this one, so I’ll wait and tell you more then!

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (a book of your choice)

I spent the better part of Easter weekend finishing this up and it is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend wrestling with Fleming Rutledge’s work. While it is a theology book, it is conversational in tone and culturally saavy in references and anecdotes. In other words, this isn’t your typical 600 page theology book. I wouldn’t say I quite agree with everything she wrote, and this post from Andrew Wilson explains a good bit why.

Know Why You Believe (a book about apologetics)

I’ve got a review of this third volume in the KNOW series from Zondervan in the works. It also made for a great read during Easter weekend.

The Triunity of God (Vol. 4 in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) (a book you have started but never finished)

This represents finishing Richard Muller’s massive study in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. I can’t really summarize my thoughts here, but I can let you know that an updated version of this series is coming out soon(ish) that will include two new volumes. If you’ve thought about getting them, wait until then (because $500 on Amazon is not worth it)

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (a book your pastor recommends)

When I graduated Dallas in 2011, I got Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics. I would wish that everyone who fancies themselves a theologian would take the time to work through these volumes. Maybe not drag it out as much as I did, but if you read one multi-volume systematic, make it this one.

Paul and His Recent Interpreters (a book you own but have never read)

This was originally going to be part of N. T. Wright’s fourth volume in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series (otherwise known as PFG). But, it became its own volume and came out later. I got a review copy from Fortress, so I’m going to share more in a seperate post.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a book about Christian living)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, if you’re a member, you can get it for free!

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (a book for teens)

Once again, I’ll have more to say on this one in a review. But for now, it has become a late addition to my textbooks for next year but it was written by an 18 year old girl and it makes good on the promise in the subtitle.

Reality Is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (a book of your choice)

I’m not sure I can actually explain where I’m at on this one. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a popular level physics book. On the other hand, I had a hard time understanding it and people tell me I’m smart. I think it might be because of how much of a paradigm shift it is (time and space don’t exist the way you think they do). But, as I’m about to embark on an Interstellar re-watch, I’ll have more thoughts down the road I imagine.

2017 Reading Challenge: March Update

Unlike most months, I did a fair amount of re-reading in order to polish up my ETS paper. In light of that, I only finished 9 new books. I know right? Really slacking off here. Some of these I’ll comment on in more detail later. Also, I left off the categories this time because I think I only read more theology books so I probably didn’t any new category unless we want to get creative with some of the N. T. Wright books (like categorizing them as young adult fiction or something similarly savage).

I’m actually in California right now, draining a Trenta cold brew as quick as I can to make up for jet lag and something less than four hours of sleep. By the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere around downtown San Fransisco, helping keep track of a bunch of high school seniors. Or driving to Yosemite. Depends on when you read.

UPDATE: I added categories to the books below

Anyway, here’s the 9 books (total of 37 for the year) I’ve gotten to in the 2017 Reading Challenge:

Summa Philosophica (a book of your choice)

This is the first Peter Kreeft book I read in a while, and it was quite enjoyable. As an intro to important philosophical questions and a different style of argumentation, it’s a great book. Highly recommend!

The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle (a book about the Bible)

SPCK sent me this for review and it was super helpful to read right before ETS. I’ll have more to say about in a formal review, but it is basically N. T. Wright saying N. T. Wright things in response to select reviews of his massive book on Paul. It also serves as a good intro to some of his main lines of thought on Paul, and might be the place to start with Wright if you haven’t wrestled with him.

Prophet, Priest, and King: The Roles of Christ in the Bible and Our Roles Today (a book about theology)

P&R sent this along for review, so I’ll save most of my comments. The threefold offices of Christ deserve more study and attention and this book by Richard Belcher is a good place to start.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation (a book of your choice)

This is the first volume in a new series by Christian Focus called Reformed Exegetical and Dogmatic Studies (R.E.D.S.). J. V. Fesko outlines the historical understanding of the doctrine of imputation before a section on exegesis from the Old and New Testaments and then a final dogmatic formulation that is sensitive to modern discussions on the historical Adam. I won’t spoil the whole thing, but he doesn’t break new ground from a traditional Reformed perspective.

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (a book with one word title)

I’ll have a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture soonish since it is going to be a member’s offering. If you haven’t become a member yet, you should do so you can read it!

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (a book of your choice)

This book was interesting to read in tandem with Fesko’s. I like Matthew Bates’ writing style, and his proposal here gives me some pause on issues I’ve been reflecting on for a while. I’ll probably do some more extensive writing about it since I noticed a lacuna in his seemingly thorough presentation of the gospel (I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with active obedience of Christ).

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (a book over 400 pages)

I don’t think I’ll have anything to say about this that goes beyond Michael Horton’s review or Dane Ortlund’s reflections. It is in some sense a classic book by Wright. Well written and provocative, it is has a good deal of false dichotomies and writes polemically against unclear opponents. If you’re new to Wright, I wouldn’t start here.

John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 3 (a book of your choice)

I’ve almost reading everything John Frame has written. Almost. There are several gems in this one. Good stuff on Van Til, not being a jerk in seminary, you know typical Frame. I’ll have a more complete write-up soon for a new series I’m starting.

Reformed Dogmatics: Christology (a book more than 100 years old)

On the plane ride over here, I caught up on some of my Logos reading plans and happened to finish this one up. I’m now getting into the volume on soteriology, which I kind of wish I had tapped into during the research earlier this month. But, no matter, Vos is worth digging into, even if it is not the most riveting layout of the material (Q/A format).

2017 Reading Challenge: February Update

I know you’ve waited with baited breath for my update on what I read in February. Or maybe just regular breathing, I’m not actually clear on the difference. Either way, the day has come and here’s the rundown on what I finished up this past month. If you’re keeping score at home, I had 14 books last month, and 14 again this month. So, cheers to consistency. Also, so far everything has hit a category on the 2017 Reading Challenge, so also convenience.

Meet Generation Z (a book published in 2017)

It’s perhaps no secret I spend several days a week hanging out with Generation Z, otherwise known as high schoolers. I thought I’d see what James Emery White had to say about them, and I’ll let you know more about it when I post a longer review.

The Dynamic Heart: Connecting Christ to Human Experience (a book about Christian living)

I’ve recently felt like I needed to read more practical theology, and this from Jeremy Pierre hit the spot. It is also a book I’ll need to elaborate on in a different post. But, it’s something you should check out if you’re interested in the basics of thinking through how the gospel relates to your everyday experiences (and might want to reflect a little deeper on those as well)

Signposts to God: How Modern Physics and Astronomy Point the Way to Belief (a book about the natural world)

While technical at times, this was an enjoyable dip back into cosmology as it relates to Christian belief. It contains a nice primer on modern physics and very clear apologetic thinking on how science actually helps support belief rather than undermine it.

The Brewer’s Tale: The History of the World According to Beer (a book about history)

This is one part history, one part technology. And the technology in question is the art and science of making beer. If you enjoy craft beer (I realize being a Calvinist, I’m stereotyping myself here), you’ll definitely enjoy this. But even if not, the way that brewing interfaces with the development of civilization is fascinating.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (a book with a great cover)

I think the title oversells it a bit (and that’s even with the cool graphic design that is more subtle on a physical copy). However, Mlodinow is what a good science writer should be: clear, witty, and practical. Having majored in psychology, this wasn’t particularly mind blowing, but was a good refresher nonetheless.

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) In the Future Tense (a humorous book)

This, for now, completes my trek through David Brooks books. I think I liked this one the least, but there is still enough snark and cultural commentary to keep it a 4 star rating. Come for the opening chapter surveying America’s suburban landscape. Stay for the closer that ties it altogether into a trenchant commendation and critique.

The Spirituality of Wine (a book by a female author)

I’m not the biggest fan of wine, but I am interested in spirituality. The author of this particular volume grew up on a winery in Germany and also has a Ph.D in theology. Her book is part history of wine making, part biblical theology of wine, and part theological reflections on its use (and a chapter on potential abuse). I’ll have more to say in my full review.

The Selected Shorter Writings of John Frame, Vol. 2 (a book by your favorite author)

I’m slotting this into the favorite author category, although realistically I could put about 10 different authors there. Frame has a special place though because of his lucidity and the intriguing nature of his thought. I was reminded in reading this how much I need to keep reading his stuff. I also need to RSVP to his retirement chapel and lunch. I’ve got Vol. 3 to work through as well and a post highlighting why you need to know him as a theologian. Of the three volumes, this does the most work on Van Til, and Frame, I think, is his best interpreter and critic.

Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You (a book about Christian living)

This one from Erin Straza (full disclosure, my managing editor at Christ and Pop Culture) came just in time. My wife and I are both wrestling with our comfort idols in different ways and I think Erin’s book is just the thing we needed. I finished it over the weekend and Ali took it with her to West Palm while she’s house sitting this week.

The Theology of the Christian Life in J.I. Packer’s Thought: Theological Anthropology, Theological Method, and the Doctrine of Salvation (a book about theology)

While an interesting doctoral dissertation on the theology of the Christian life in J. I. Packer’s thought, the book is ultimately a critique of it. I’ll have more to say in my post on Packer, but the short version is that in the author’s view, Packer’s theology is quite good enough for the new postmodern condition we find ourselves in.

American Girls: Social Media and The Secret Lives of Teenagers (a book about sexuality)

As I said above, I spend a fair amount of time with teenager every week. This book caught my eye because it is about their so-called secret lives, and focuses on the experiences of girls via exhaustive interviews the author conducted. The result is a haunting look at the ways social media has changed the social and moral landscape for many teenagers in Generation Z. It is graphic and disturbing, but an important read if you have teenagers or work with them in ministry context.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (a book by Sinclair Ferguson)

This is Sinclair Ferguson doing what he does best: explain theology so ordinary people can understand it. The premise of the book is that several key passages provide “blueprints” for what growing in Christ (sanctification) looks like. Ferguson then works topically through the material, but draws extensively on exegesis of the passages in question. If you’re looking for a solid read on Christian growth, look no farther.

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (a book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with)

If you like false dichotomies and appeals to emotion, you’ll probably like this book. A constant refrain is the author not “being able to see” how a loving God could do something. Love is never particularly defined in biblical categories, and so much of what follows is based on what the author thinks love is and so his account of providence is molded into that frame. He also commits the fallacy of making God’s love his master attribute that takes logical priority, a move not substantiated by Scripture or tradition. At the same time, I think you should read this book if you’re interested in the debate on sovereignty, free will, and providence, and I’ll explain why in a separate post.

Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (a book about theology)

Not the most riveting read, but it does have the virtue of pitting Paul Helm against William Lane “Cosmological Middle Knowledge” Craig, as well as Greg Boyd and Dave Hunt. Boyd does much of what the previous author did, and Craig doesn’t make molinism any more compelling though he is pretty sophisticated when it comes to this sort of debate. In the end, I was just looking forward to Muller’s book later this spring.

2017 Reading Challenge: January Update

It’s hard to believe we are already a month into 2017. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess.

Unlike last year, I’m not going to reproduce the entire list of the 2017 Reading Challenge each month. Instead, I’ll just offer a quick blurb on each book I read. I’ll also note whether the book came from a publisher, whether I might post a more complete review, and what category in the list it fits. Sound good? Alright, here we go…

The Righteous Mind (a book about a current issue)

This would have been one of the best books I read in 2016, but I didn’t complete it until the first week of January. Jonathan Haidt offers excellent psychological analysis of values. In doing so, he helps explain how people can disagree so sharply about politics and religion (hence the subtitle). I’ll probably need to go into more detail on this one at some point because it is definitely worth the time investment.

The 4-Hour Workweek (a book about productivity or time management)

I heard the hype of this Tim Ferriss book for a while, but finally decided to check it out. While I’m not necessarily trying to trim down to four hours of work a week so I can live anywhere and join the new rich, I do want to work smarter with my time. Ferriss’ book is good toward that end and you can implement some of the basics of his system regardless of your overall goals. See also the critique of his approach in What’s Best Next.

The Social Animal (a book about science)

David Brooks is one of my new favorite writers. I enjoyed this books which was basically a short story about a guy named Harold and his wife Erica that takes every opportunity to offer neuroscientific commentary on their unfolding lives, both together and apart. I really like Brooks writing style, and this book is basically an opportunity to gain the insights from many popular level psychology books, but with the information set in an engaging narrative frame.

A Quest for Godliness (a book about written by an author with initials in their name)

It’s J. I. Packer extolling the virtues of the Puritans. What more could you want? I’ve unfortunately not read much of Packer or the Puritans (directly) and I’m trying to remedy that here and there.

What About Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices and God’s Sovereignty (a book published by P&R)

Nothing seems to be more divisive in our junior Bible classes than discussing predestination and free will. Thankfully, this book came courtesy of P&R a while back. I finally got around to reading it before our section on election, and when I get to that post on recommended readings in this area later this week (hopefully), I’ll tell you more about this book.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different Than Us (a book targeted at the other gender)

This little gem from Jen Wilkin is both well-written and enjoyable to read. You can tell from the introduction it was written for women, but you should read this regardless of your gender. I was able to read this thanks to Crossway and can see immediately why it won awards. It is an excellent primer on the attributes of God that is theologically rich and accessible, a rare feat indeed.

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (a book of my choice)

More David Brooks goodness. I’m somewhat working in reverse chronological order since I read The Road to Character first, then The Social Animal, and then this. I’m working on Paradise Drive at the moment and then I’ll be caught up. In this particular volume, Brooks analyzes the sociological factors that shaped upper class America in the latter half of the 20th century in order to explain the tastes and customs of bobos (bourgeois bohemians). Would have been more interesting 10 years ago, but still relevant.

Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry Frees From Sin and Fuels The Christian Life (a book about Christian living)

If you’ve had questions about how grace and law fit together in the Christian life, this book is for you. I’ve read quite a few on the subject, and this is the best introduction to the subject at a practical, lay level. I’m really glad Crossway sent me a review copy and I’ll have to tell you more soon.

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes (a book used as a seminary textbook)

I’ve been working on Richard Muller’s four volume series for a while, and finally finished volume 3. I read a good bit of this last year and am hoping to finish up volume four by the end of the semester. This is not exactly riveting reading, but it is an important resource for people who want to be sharp theologically when it comes to this particular time period.

The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of The Liturgical Church (a memoir)

This was an interesting read thanks to IVP. We left the church we had been at for the past five years and have been doing some ecclesiological exploring. I’ll have some blog posts on that in the near future and will mention a bit more about Anglicanism then. If you’d like to read an accessible conversion story from a former Charismatic, this book is for you.

His Love Endures Forever: Reflections on the Immeasurable Love of God (a book published by Crossway)

Similar to the book above by Jen Wilkin, this one by Garry Williams goes deep with attributes of God, but in an accessible way. They made for a great tandem read. Crossway did me a solid and sent both, so we’ll see about a further post in the coming weeks.

Introduction to World Christian History (a book about church history)

Thanks to IVP, I was able to read this introduction by Derek Cooper. I had taken several church history classes in seminary, but this focused more on the margins of the normal church history narrative. It’s a relatively short read, but is especially interesting if you like geography and learning about how Christian expanded and diversified through the centuries.

Union With Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (a book about theology)

I only read this because Tim Keller blurbed it. And boy, was that a good choice! This is a pretty neglected doctrine, especially at the practical level. Yet, when one thinks of “in Christ” language in Scripture (especially in Paul), there could hardly be a more important subject. If you’d like to remedy the gap in your understand about what this doctrine is and why it’s relevant to you personally, this is the book for you.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically (a book about evangelism)

This was an interesting read. Helpful as an overview to evangelism (it’s designed to be a textbook), but still relevant to someone who has taken classes on the subject (me). It’s part theology of evangelism and part how to do evangelism organically. Because it is designed to be used by a wide variety of Christian traditions (and some I wouldn’t consider actually Christian), readers might quibble with some of the analysis and application. But on the whole, it’s a fairly useful book on a semi-neglected subject.

Three Book Lists for the Price of One! (And Some Authors I Like Too!)

I did quite a bit of reading in 2016, just over 48,000 pages to be exact. I participated in Tim Challies 2016 Reading Challenge (see below for month by month lists) and will probably do so again in 2017. I didn’t complete it, but that’s because I didn’t feel totally constrained to read in the categories he offered. I liked the tweaks he offered for next year in that regard.

As I reflected on all that reading, I thought a “Best” list wasn’t the “best” way to recap things. “Best” can mean a lot of different things, and in some sense is an subjective judgment masquerading as an objective one. Tim Challies noticed that many of the same books appear on multiple lists, and he offers a roundup list of the lists. Often, “best” means “books I liked the most.” Occasionally, it means “books that are objectively speaking, the most well-written ones that I read,” but I don’t think that is often the case.

In that spirit, here are my end of the year lists that I think are better (not best) assessments of my 2016 reading.

Books I Most Enjoyed in 2016

Notice anything about this list? Mostly non-theological. But, in terms of pleasure reading, these were the books I couldn’t put down. These were not necessarily un-thought provoking, but mostly just really fun to read. You should perhaps notice the irony that these are my “most enjoyed book” but they are outside of the stream of books I normally read. The bulk of what I read is theology and biblical studies, yet they don’t feature in this list.

They do however feature prominently in this one:

Book That Most Influenced My Thinking in 2016

These are books that I felt I needed to discuss and process more than others. They either contribute to my own personal development or class discussions, or sometimes both. Some of them I still need to write on, so look forward to that.

An original iteration of this next list was “Most Important Books I Read in 2016,” but I quickly realized that is a difficult category to pin down. Instead, I opted for a list of books I’d recommend, but that didn’t appear in the previous two lists. These are books I think are important, and helpful, even if they didn’t make my most enjoyable or most beneficial list.

Books I Read in 2016 That You Should Too

All of these are books that I thought were interesting, and would be beneficial for many people that similar reading interests as I do. Some of them are already well known, others deserve wider recognition. Several of them I’ll hopefully post more about in the coming weeks. You may notice some themes embedded (e.g. books on the Trinity, apologetics), as well as recurring authors. In that vein, here’s a list of authors that I read multiple books by this year and am glad I did. I would say each is also an example of someone who not only communicates important thoughts in writing, but does so well. In other words, I’ll make a case that these are the best writers I read this year.

Authors I Most Benefited From in 2016

  • Andy Crouch
  • Eugene Peterson
  • Tim Keller
  • Peter Leithart
  • Kevin Vanhoozer
  • Oliver Crisp

I briefly contemplated ending this group of lists on a negative note (Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2016), but 2016 was enough of a downer for most people without me pointing out what books fell flat. There were several, some surprising, some not. A good chunk of 188 books I read were simply “blah.” Not horribly written, but not super interesting either. Maybe important and game changing for some readers, but either redundant or slightly boring for me. That list would be too long to include here. I’ll explore reasons why that happens in a post next week. I would say perhaps I should cut back on my reading, but we both know that probably won’t happen.

Oh, here’s the month by month list of reading:

2016 Reading Challenge: October Update

recommeded-reading-challies-header

October was a month about getting back in the groove. It took the better part of the month, but I think I’ve finally gotten into a good flow. In a rare turn of events, I even had an entire weekend where I was mostly at home and mostly reading. It was also almost fall for central Florida (i.e. 50’s overnight and clear skies and under 80 during the day).

I’m starting to achieve more focus on my reading and will maybe have a post or two about some new strategies I’m implementing. For now, here’s what I read in October for Challies Reading Challenge:

If you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 75 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 147 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (12 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (17 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (37 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

2016 Reading Challenge: September Update

recommeded-reading-challies-header

September turned into a busier and more distracting month than I anticipated. I still read a fair amount, finishing the books listed below and making progress on several others for the Tim Challies Reading Challenge. I’m working toward being more focused in general for my reading (pretty sure I said that last month too). I’m behind on reviews and writing in general, so I’ve gotta get that in gear this month. Here’s to being more disciplined!

This past month I completed:

If you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 72 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 127 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (11 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (17 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (35 BOOKS)

(image via challies)