The End of Many Books

Mere Christianity

by C. S. Lewis

This is a classic, relevant before it was even published as a book, and relevant ever since, with eternally relevant questions for non-Christians and immediately relevant reminders for believers. You should read it.

I’d known about the book for a long time but had never read it. Then, a few weeks ago when war started (again) between Russian and Ukraine, I saw on the tweetstream someone mention that he had started reading Mere Christianity, and I remembered that Lewis originally prepared most of the material for the book as he shared it over a radio broadcast series in England during WW II. Similar contexts, then and now, made now seem like the right time for me to pick it up.

I didn’t realize how many Lewis-ian ideas came from Mere Christianity. This is where the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” apologetic comes from. It’s where he says, “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next” and “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” It’s where he quotes George MacDonald that as a Father “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” And it’s where he talks about how men who try to be original can’t be, but “if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before), you will, nine times out of the, become original without ever having noticed it.”

I don’t agree with Lewis (because I disagree with his reading of the Bible) on the degree of freedom in man’s will, and he is wrong (again, according to Scripture) about how some “people in other religions … [can] belong to Christ without knowing it.” While these false things can’t be ignored, they are, ironically, defeated by so many of the true things that Lewis says.

“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost His crucifixion.”

God is killing our need to be needed, and He is doing more than making us “nice,” He is making us new men. Mere Christianity will edify and fortify such men.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Aeneid

by Virgil

This is the third time I’ve read Virgil’s epic. I had to look up my previous reviews to see what I said, probably about how much I didn’t like it. This reading was different, not because I found a different translation, but because I had a different motivation. I’m giving a talk about it in a couple days, and preparing for the talk pushed me to pay attention to it more closely.

I don’t think I enjoyed it more, or liked it more, but I definitely do appreciate it more. In God’s prophecies and purposes (and I do mean the true God, not the so-called gods Virgil references), the river of Western civilization flowed to and through and from Rome, and the Aeneid provides the city’s origin story, which did seem to bring about a sort of peace within the Empire among those for whom Virgil’s poem provided good patriotic feels.

You definitely should read this at some point. It would be even better if you could read some of it in Latin, which, as it turns out, is actually much more colorful. You could also check out this (new to me) translation by C. S. Lewis, though he only finished a little more than two of the twelve total books in the story. And last, you could check back in a few days when I post the notes from my talk.

2018, March 28 – Read the whole epic thing this time around for our Tenebras class. The gods do not agree, Turnus is mad, and watch out for Camilla.

2013 – Read much of this poem, but not all, this time through with the Omnibus class. Shows the power of story, and the power of art to tell a story, for providing purpose to a people’s culture.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

On the Church

by Abraham Kuyper

Many years ago I heard John Piper say that one of his seminary teachers had encouraged each student to choose a theologian and make that theologian his, as in, “consider the outcome of [his] way of life, and imitate [his] faith” (Hebrews 13:7). While I’ve appreciated almost all of Piper’s biographies on different men, Jonathan Edwards was obviously Piper’s choice.

I am a different man (Christian, husband, father, shepherd) because of God’s use of Edwards in my life; affections for the win. I also am abundantly thankful for John Calvin, and even named my only son after him. But when I really got down to making a choice, I decided to try to read all the things I could by Abraham Kuyper. Most days I try to pick up and plod through five minutes of whatever is my current Kuyper.

On the Church is one of the twelve volumes in his Collected Works in Public Theology. It’s a collection of various writings on the subject, and I had actually read some of the entries before (for example, Rooted and Grounded, which is fantastic, is its own booklet). It was really interesting to read Kuyper’s almost giddy enthusiasm for the state of the (Calvinistic) church in the United States, free from State encroachments and entanglements. This is, if it ever was as great as Kuyper describes, no longer the case.

Kuyper loved the Church/churches, pastored a few churches, started a new denomination of churches, and constantly worked to edify the churches whatever hat he was wearing at the moment. More than that, Kuyper loved the Head of the Church, and consistently points to Him.

Jesus Christ himself can be established as the binding agent of the fellowship of the church. He in fact must be the lively center of the whole organism of the church; he is like the hub of the wheel, by whose rotations and circular motions the entire effort of the church receives its impulse and is moved. He is that splendid sun, whose shining radiance glitteringly illuminates the whole church body, by whose glowing heat the heart of the whole church is warmed and inflamed.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Joy of Preaching

by Phillips Brooks

It’s probably been too long since I’ve read a book-length treatment of preaching. There are probably too many blog posts about it these days, and while they are fine, they are not always as well vetted. It compares to the productivity bloggers who write up their exhaustive thoughts after one whole week trying a new system/app.

Brooks’ book comes from lectures he gave at Yale University (in 1877) after almost twenty years of preaching. While I don’t think he and I would be doctrinal twins, I certainly appreciated his homiletical observations.

For what it’s worth, Brooks wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and was a contemporary of the well-known evangelist, D. L. Moody (from whom my father-in-law and brother-in-law were named).

Here are just two of my (many) underlined quotes, both tagged in my system as #emergency for when I need some vocational encouragement:

“And so the first business of the preacher is to conquer the tyranny of his moods, and to be always ready for his work.” (p. 63)


“A man’s first wonder when he begins to preach is that people do not come to hear him. After a while, if he is good for anything, he begins to wonder that they do” (p. 60)

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Godly Man’s Picture

by Thomas Watson

I read this again because the men’s group at our church is working through it this year. Watson is full of wisdom. And like Proverbs, the book can be hard to read in big chunks, partly due to Watson’s pithy language and partly due to the proliferation of proverbial wisdom; you want your mind to marinate.

Though man is in the title, it’s not just something for males; ladies would benefit. But ladies would also be abundantly blessed without reading it if the men in their lives lived out the application Watson pictures.

Just one quote as an example (get and read the book for more like it):

“He who hath only a painted holiness, 
shall have a painted happiness.”

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Finite and Infinite Games

A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

by James Carse

There is a longer story behind why this book blessed me so much (and why I believe it will end up helping me to bless the people around me better. I’d go so far as to call it an answer to some recent prayers, and it certainly is a tool to help me address some weaknesses). I can’t imagine ever forgetting some of the worldview categories found within the book, and also I can’t imagine recommending the book to very many people.

The most compelling categories are in the title of the book. In our lives there are many finite games (contests, projects, interactions, etc.), and all those games fit into one infinite game. Maybe you already don’t like the idea of calling life a game. And actually, the more you don’t like it, the more you should probably read the book. But it is a lot about perspective and what’s important. It’s one thing to think about how to spend your four thousand weeks, it’s another to think about how to serve and spur on other eternal creatures.

I really like the concept of nerve (for life and for leadership) as Friedman defines, but he really doesn’t describe how to develop nerve. I also like the antifragile idea, though again, knowing that it is valuable doesn’t necessarily tell you how to become more of it. Carse’s ideas made me consider a direct correlation between having nerve in a “finite game” because of seeing it as part of the larger, “infinite game.”

Want more courage? Want more (imperturbable by circumstances) joy? Want more patience, and peace that passes understanding? As Christians these are works of the Holy Spirit, and one way the Spirit helps is by illuminating our place in God’s eternal narrative.

Anyway, the book is absolutely brilliant. Or, more accurately, one sentence is brilliant and the next is bologna, the kind that has been left out on the counter for a couple weeks. I actually think some of the attempts to be clever turn into self-contradiction, and some into damnable lies; watch out for lies. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand, or maybe it’s because some parts are not truly understandable (because they are nonsense). Yet with that said, it seems to me that there are some irreducible accuracies in the principle of finite and infinite games that must be reckoned with even if we don’t use those words.

I know, I feel, that I have lived to win too many finite games. I know that this book helped me think about winning/conquering (see Revelation 12:11) with my eternal life differently, in such a way that makes me want to be more sacrificially playful for my people.

Should you read this book? Again, probably not. Instead, spend more time getting wisdom from Solomon about life beyond the sun in Ecclesiastes, and just follow the instructions in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

by Phillip Keller

If I’ve read this book before, I can’t remember when. I can remember thinking I should have read it before. Psalm 23 has to be one of the all-time top five songs of God’s people. And as a metaphorical shepherd, why wouldn’t I have wanted to see how the Lord shepherds His sheep?

The ladies at our church are in process of reading this for a couple upcoming discussions. So it was a good time for me to go through it, too.

As one who tries to be on the easy side of being edify-able, I was edified by the book. As one who is not a literal shepherd, I learned some things about the process and the dangers. As one who cares about exegesis, I was less satisfied; sometimes two things refer to the same thing, sometimes the same thing refers to multiple and even opposite things. And yet, the overall effect was one of increasing my thankfulness for the Lord as my Shepherd, and that’s what I want.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

A Failure of Nerve

by Edwin Friedman

February 2022. I do sometimes wish I could explain this book better. I almost always wish I could embody the nerve Friedman describes better.

As you can see below, I’ve read this a bunch of times. This go-round is in discussion with the men who help to shepherd our church’s small-groups. Even though I last finished it in 2019, I had intended to start it again when fearfulness ramped up during the lockdowns of 2020. Since then the world has set up its tent in CHAZ Anxietyville.

While leaders today may not have it more difficult than those in the past, they are probably more scrutinized and the criticisms more amplified. So much is broken, and the hour needs more men who aren’t panicked or pressured into over-reactivity, who can keep their heart and their direction for the good of the people they’re connected to.

You don’t have to read this book; read 1 Timothy 4:15-16 instead. And it’s true that Friedman really should be ignored in some parts. But I keep giving this thing 5 of 5 stars, so what are you waiting for?

May 2019 – 5/5 stars. With all the qualifications from my previous reviews in mind, this book is just a great challenge.

“To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go. It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step.”

December 2013: Read again and discussed with the TEC elders through 2013. Fantastic material for a leadership team, as long as that team already has a strong theological basis.

September 2012 – 5/5 stars: One of the most compelling and clarifying books I’ve read in a long time. Though I wouldn’t use the Friedman’s vocabulary, agree with his evolutionary presumptions, or have anywhere near his positivity apart from the gospel, I’d still say the Rabbi asks great questions that every leader (husband, father, pastor, boss, president, etc.) should consider.

The End of Many Books

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield

I read her previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and was very edified by her testimony of conversion. This book is about hospitality, which is a mix of testimony of her family’s practice/experience and rebuke to the readers/Christians/the church.

She seems to conflate hospitality as obedience for every believer, and hospitality as a spiritual gift for some (not all) believers. She also walks close to the border of “this is how we do it and SO this is the right way for everyone to do it.” While writing as if to get everyone to be hospitable, which again, is required in at least some sense, she doesn’t quite seem self-aware enough to see that if everyone actually was doing it like her, then she’d have to look for something else to do.

Little comments, like making sure we know she’s cooking organic chicken in her crock pot, and how spiral notebooks on the kitchen table can solve a number of problems, give her preferences the feel of principles, which distract from the larger point.

Of even greater concern is repeated use of the word “violence” to describe what could be sins of omission. For example:

Our lack of genuine hospitality to our neighbors—all of them, including neighbors in the LGBTQ community—explains why counterfeit hospitality seems attractive. Our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect for their souls. (Loc. 1037)

It is an act of violence and cruelty to people in your church who routinely have no place to belong, no place to need and be needed, after worship. (Loc. 1678)

And yet I’m glad I read it, especially since the ladies at our church read and talked about it together. But it’s not what I’d recommend for sake of learning hospitality. (Maybe something such as The Art of Neighboring would be a better start.)

2 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Deep Places

by Ross Douthat

In the movie Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis has a student whose father used to tell him, “We read to know we’re not alone.” The line comes up a couple times in the movie, and even if the actual history is apocryphal (it seems that the quote should be attributed to William Nicholson who wrote the movie), the truth of it is applicable.

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

Douthat includes this quote from Alphonse Daudet:

“Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.”

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Douthat’s columns at the NYT. He is regularly interesting whatever his subject, and in The Deep Places he tells his story of Lyme disease in a (too) relatable way. He doesn’t label the stages, but he describes the frustrations, the exasperations, the questions, the doubts, the anger, the rises and falls of hopes, the hours of research and appointments, and frenzied trials and dispiriting errors.

I wasn’t as benefited by his comments on COVID connections near the end of the book, but the pandemic was part of the “pile” of providences that added onto his physical problems, so not irrelevant. Watch out for some vulgar language, but you can appreciate the tormenting pains and get a sense of what it’s like to carry them. Or, if you’re someone who has similar problems, you can read and appreciate that you’re not alone.

4 of 5 stars