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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.

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:

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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)

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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)

recommeded-reading-challies-header

Reading has predictably slowed, and school is in full swing. We’re on week 3 of 36. Through it all, I continue to make meager progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge. I haven’t been so concerned to read through the list as to just read whatever I feel like. Next month I plan to be a bit more focused and/or judicious.

Here’s what I read in August, that I won’t write about elsewhere:

And here’s what I’ll end up posting a review on sooner or later:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 69 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 118 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 (15 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (34 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

recommeded-reading-challies-header

At this point, I’ve got about 5 months to work with on the Tim Challies Reading Challenge. With my year total at 104, I’ve failed to only read 100 books, but that was clearly a humblebrag anyway. Over the next several months, I have several books I need to work through that either for review or for research. Most of those do not fit the remaining books in the challenge which are listed below.

At this point, I’d like to take some recommendations (beyond the specific pastor recommendation, which I can secure in person). There are several books on here that I already have an idea what I might read to fit the challenge, but I’m curious what you think. Have a look down through the list and let me know what you think I should check out!

  • ☐ A biography
  • ☐ A classic novel
  • ☐ A book your pastor recommends
  • ☐ A mystery or detective novel
  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ☐ A book of poetry
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☐ 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
  • ☐ A book about music
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☐ A book by David McCullough
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☐ A book about the Reformation
  • ☐ A book about relationships or friendship
  • ☐ A book about parenting
  • ☐ A book about art
  • ☐ A book of comics
  • ☐ A book about the Second World War
  • ☐ A book about suffering
  • ☐ A Christian novel
  • ☐ A book by or about Charles Dickens
  • ☐ A book by or about a martyr
  • ☐ A book by a woman conference speaker
  • ☐ A book about language
  • ☐ A book by or about a Russian
  • ☐ A book about public speaking
  • ☐ A book by Francis Schaeffer
  • ☐ A book about writing
  • ☐ A book about evangelism
  • ☐ A book about adoption
  • ☐ A photo essay book

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At this point, the year is almost halfway over, and I’m more than halfway through Tim Challies Reading Challenge. You can see how far I’ve come on Friday. As I’ve been reading, I’ve enjoyed getting out of my usual patterns. But, those patterns were well developed and it took a while for me to master the lay of the land in Christian publishing (that’s right, I said it). There are many great books, authors, and series out there that I imagine the average interested reader might not know about.

So, I thought it might help to create three more add-ons to Challies challenge. 3 because Trinity. Also, beginner, intermediate, advanced. The distinctions are partially related to content, but also length. As an example, Frame’s writings are not that hard to digest, but the books in his series listed are lengthy, to say the least. Also, you’ll notice a certain slant in the named authors. I guess you’ll have to live with my bias in choices. Or, you could make an alternative list and share it with me.

This could be an additional 33, or more realistically, it could be a way to overlap the available biblical and theological books already in Challies list. For instance, I list a few commentaries in here, and one of the items in Challies original list is a commentary on a book of the Bible. This gives you a more specific commentary series to choose from. Make sense?

Here’s the list:

THE BEGINNING THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book with hermeneutics in the title
  • ☐ A commentary in the TNTC series
  • ☐ A survey of historical theology
  • ☐ A commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series
  • ☐ A book in the Theologians on The Christian Life series
  • ☐ A New Testament introduction
  • ☐ A book by Eugene Peterson
  • ☐ A commentary in the TOTC series
  • ☐ A book in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series
  • ☐ A book by Tim Keller
  • ☐ An Old Testament introduction

THE INTERMEDIATE THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by Kevin Vanhoozer
  • ☐ A volume in New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • ☐ A book in IVP’s Contours of Christian Theology
  • ☐ A book on covenant theology
  • ☐ A book on dispensational theology
  • ☐ A book on progressive covenantalism
  • ☐ A whole Bible biblical theology
  • ☐ A book by James K. A. Smith
  • ☐ A book in Baker’s Engaging Culture series
  • ☐ A book by Peter Leithart
  • ☐ A book by a Reformer not named Calvin or Luther

THE ADVANCED THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by John Owen
  • ☐ A book in John Frame’s Theology of Lordship series
  • ☐ A systematic theology
  • ☐ A book by N. T. Wright
  • ☐ A book on Old Testament background
  • ☐ A book on New Testament background
  • ☐ A book by Bruce Waltke
  • ☐ A book by or about Karl Barth
  • ☐ A book using analytic theology
  • ☐ A book by a Dutch guy
  • ☐ An Oxford handbook on a theological topic

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Around this time last month, I posted my February Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was down slightly this past month, as was blogging. That was mainly because I had spring break and took advantage of having spring training games in my backyard. That, and I’ve started watching Mad Men. Once again, I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Here’s the March reads:

THE LIGHT READER (7/13 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (1/26 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (6/52 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (15/104 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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Around this time last month, I posted my January Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Actually, I’m a little early at this point, but I know going into the weekend what I’ll finish up. Also, I was having trouble getting my thoughts together for a review post. I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Anyway, here’s what I read in February:

  • The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy
    • Like most essay collection on philosophy and pop culture, this was hit or miss (pun intended?)
  • The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind
    • This is a classic book, some of it dated, but most of it still very relevant for diagnosing issues with how (some) evangelicals approach intellectual issues
  • The Pastor: A Memoir
    • I loved this book, and as I said before, am on a Peterson kick at the moment. Highly recommend reading this if you’re involved in ministry.
  • Philosophy in Seven Sentences
    • This was a great overview of important thinkers in philosophy. I’ll say more in my review
  • Five Views on The Church and Politics
    • This book correlates the five views in Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture to approaches to politics. Different views, but not a lot of sparks in the responses.
  • The Birth of The Trinity
    • This book is cost prohibitive for many, but important in terms of explaining the early church’s hermeneutical moves that helped shape our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion
    • Very important in light of the upcoming political season. You can be patriotic without being an idolater, but it is apparently really difficult.
  • Politics for Christians
    • This ended up being more philosophical than I expected, and it made be want to read more of Beckwith
  • The Miracles of Jesus
    • I like the charts, but it wasn’t a very engaging read. It is thorough and exhaustive, but also kind of flat.
  • This is Awkward
    • Really enjoyed this one because it made me feel slightly more normal (but not less awkward).
  • Happiness
    • Turns out there isn’t a substantial difference between happiness and joy according to the way the biblical authors used the word. Also hashtag blessed can also be hashtag happy.
  • How to Be an Atheist
    • Excellent dismantling of atheistic approaches to science, reason, and morality, showing their skepticism toward religion needs to be applied more rigorously to their own views
  • Habits of Grace
    • Great introduction to the spiritual disciplines in three fold form (Frame would be proud)
  • Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife
    • Horrible marketing with this one. It came unsolicited with a sticker that said “Are evangelical men more likely to abuse their wives?” Not cool Zondervan. However, an important book that was engaging and got me thinking. I’ll post more later.

THE LIGHT READER (7/13 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (1/26 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (4/52 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (12/104 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

Realistically, this probably won’t happen. But, since noting the perils of reading too much, I have thought about ways to cut down. In that post I also pointed out Tim Challies Reading Challenge. After giving it a bit of thought, it seemed good to me and the Holy Spirit to give it a shot.

I need to prioritize reading in order to feed myself, but I need to prioritize other tasks more so that reading doesn’t become a gluttonous activity. I go back and forth about spending my morning doing other things and pushing reading into the afternoon. Ultimately, this might be best since I like reading enough to still do it in the afternoon, whereas making it to the gym can be put off once I’m tired. I may have to ease into adjusting my morning routine, so bear with me.

When it comes to the reading challenge, if I complete it in full, I’ll read 104 books. That’s a bit low for me, given my past history according to Goodreads. As you can see, I usually average around 150 a year:

Book stats

(Not pictured: 2012, which was a low year of 103 books)

Full disclosure, I didn’t read the NICOT Psalms volume cover to cover (I’m doing that this year). I did read enough of it to consider it “read” though. I do that with some longer works, usually commentaries, but not with the other two longest books pictured, which I did read cover to cover. Anyway, I digress…

This year, I thought I’d try to broaden my reading and get back to reading more for enjoyment than for busyness. I say that because I often I end up reading books that are ok for the most part (usually 4 stars given my rating system) but are not particularly enjoyable. I feel obligated to read these books for one reason or another, and so dutifully complete them. Often, this turns into a form of procrastination. Everyone only has so much time in the day, so if I’m reading 150-160 books a year that average 256 pages (last year at least), then I’m doing that instead of many other things. I feel obligated to read these books, but often I don’t really have to, and I’m putting off doing something else (like writing).

Instead, I’d like to read less but read better. Hopefully, this first leg of the Reading Challenge can help. The way it works is like a snowball. You begin with the Light Plan, which includes 13 books:

  • A book about Christian living
  • 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
  • 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

Some of these are obviously in my wheelhouse. It does have quite a bit more fiction than I usually read, but I need to read more of that anyway. I put some thought into it and came up with this list for the first leg:

Some of these are still pretty typical reads for me, but I think it is a little bit broader than normal. I’m trying to utilize books for review where possible, but also trying to think outside the lines when I can. I’m still taking recommendations for a “book that changed my life,” I got a few on Twitter, but am still undecided. Feel free to lobby for something for me to add there.

In the meantime, I’ll get to reading and once I finish this set, I do another set of 13, then a set of 26, then a set of 52. Sounds like fun right?