Perhaps my favorite Preface of all time is that by C. S. Lewis for On the Incarnation by Athanasius. Here’s an example, on why we should read old books:
“Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”
“I can only handle one friend at a time.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. Not all friendships are equal, not all require the same amount of attention or effort or time, but the nature of friendship does not limit anyone to only mono-friendship any more than the nature of a flower limits how many can make a bouquet.
My point is not about friendship, but about reading, and fiction especially. In the podcast I mentioned yesterday, the Admiral said he tries to only be reading two books at a time. I frequently hear people say that they can only handle reading one book at a time. It may be true for the moment, but also not necessary.
It is possible to increase your capacity to hold on to multiple story lines. I read two to four pages of The Pilgrim’s Progress to my kids during breakfast on Sunday mornings. I read one to two hours of The Fellowship of the Ring to Mo and the kids on Sunday afternoons (often with a Mariner’s game playing on the TV on mute). I was reading The Last of the Lost Boys some evenings for the kids (until we finished that a week ago). And I was plodding through Moby Dick on my own for 10 minutes a day while running on my treadmill.
I never confused Ishmael for Sam, or Sam (Miracle) for Sam (Gamgee) for that matter. I did not forget that Hopeful and Christian were not on a ship, or that Ahab’s journey was aimed away from the Celestial City.
Do you need to read more than one book at a time? No. Does each book require the same amount of attention and effort? Of course not. Can you hold on to a plethora of plots and characters at the same time? Maybe not as easily at first, but you definitely can increase your capacity if you want to and get to work.
I listened to this Art of Manliness podcast on The Leader’s Bookshelf. The host was interviewing Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (that really is some title) who had surveyed a number of generals and admirals to find out their recommendations for books on leadership and then written about the top 50 results.
Earlier this year my friend Jonathan recommended the episode to some school parents since their students were assigned to read Killer Angels, a historical fiction piece about the Civil War. In the top 50 there is a surprising amount of fiction and, less surprising, a lot of history. In the interview itself there are some easy tips for reading more, such as carrying/reading Kindle copies and using small segments of time rather than waiting for big blocks. The episode isn’t groundbreaking, but it is worth a listen for the reminders/encouragement.
About five years ago I started reading Kindle books on my iPad while running on my treadmill. I know some people think that sounds like hell, or at least vanity for hamsters, but I really enjoy it.
It was also around that time that I began hearing about “plodding,” which is a kind of discipline with little bundles of minutes sustained over numerous days. Plodding is not natural to me. I don’t prefer it. But I have been practicing it and learning to appreciate the slight edge.
Sometimes I plod by reading while running. The earlier days of the week I read whatever commentaries are appropriate for the next passage I’m teaching. When that reading is done I move on to whatever is next, which may be a book for Omnibus or a book that I’m reading with another group.
I just finished an hour on the treadmill today reading six books for ten minutes each. Here’s my annotated list.
Antifragile. This is my second time through the book, now reading it with the elders at our church. Interestingly enough, the section I read today talks about how boring people who surround themselves with books may become.
On Writing. Most of the lists of “favorite books on writing” I’ve read include this one. I’m not sure what I was expecting, apparently something else. But today I read King recount news of his first book getting a paperback contract. My whole face was a smile.
Moby Dick. We started this in Omnibus earlier in the year. I couldn’t keep up with the pace then, so I’m on my own. I finished chapter 99 of 135 today.
Citizen Soldiers. This is another Omnibus leftover. I have really enjoyed this account of the WWII European Theater, and really want to finish it before we visit Normandy beach on a Europe trip later this summer.
12 Rules for Life. Since watching this video a few months ago, Peterson’s name has come up more and more in our circles/house. Mo has even started listening to his podcast, and, since I prefer reading to listening, I thought this would be interesting. And of course it will be instructive to compare a pagan’s thoughts on handling chaos to a puritan’s.
There is nothing special about ten minutes per book, and I don’t always follow that breakdown. But it was a thought-provoking variety today for sure.
Reread this again with the ECS Board. Fantastic all the way through.
This book is fantastic in almost every way. If the Senator would have used BC and AD instead of BCE and CE, and not capitulated on the age of the earth, then it would have been amazing. As it is, I still give it five stars, will be giving copies of it away as gifts, and encouraging everyone I know to read it. Really, really, good all the way to the end.
I love our school board. While so many books and articles about productivity lament the bane of meetings, I always look forward to our time together. (I have the same attitude about our church’s elder board meetings). We do have enough minutia to discuss, but since we’re still in the early institution stage we’re always happy to connect the details back to big ideas.
We also are always reading and discussing something together. Last night we finished The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. It is almost perfect reading for those connected to classical Christian education, and Mr. Sasse quotes Dorothy Sayers in his chapter on education. Really good stuff.
Then we talked through our options for a next book. There were a number of options, and all of them had appeal. But it was suggested that maybe we try another novel, having read That Hideous Strength previously, the only fiction book in a overall diet of non-fiction. We’ve decided; motioned, seconded, and approved (or something less formal than that).
We are going to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series together. We’ll tackle one book per monthly meeting, so we should finish seven months from now (unless we need to table our book discussion due to a high amount of other business any given night).
This is fabulous. Some of the guys have read all of the series, but a while ago, and others have read only a little bit or none at all. But this is not a waste of precious admin, decision-making time, this is exactly the sort of thing we want for our students to practice. I thank God for more opportunities to grow, and to do it on behalf of the next generation.
The last couple years I’ve made resolutions, posted them publicly, then reviewed my progress publicly as well. This is good accountability especially since there are some significant consequences of breaking resolutions even though it’s so easy to do.
We are always to be progressing in our devotion to Christ and good resolutions are made with that in mind. Spiritual transformation and progress is essential–not optional–for Christ followers. Therefore it is not only beneficial to consider our failures, weaknesses, and sin and address them, it is needful! And it is needful not only on a yearly basis, but on a weekly basis, a daily basis, and even an hourly or moment-by-moment basis. Examining our lives once a year is like examining our course from 30,000 feet–we get a good view but we’re too far away to change much. Of course from the five foot view we can deal with a lot of things but we can’t always recognize past patterns and potential pitfalls.
So a multi-prong, near and far examination is good, and the following is my bird’s eye, end of year assessment. I made five resolutions for 2007; here’s how I did.
My first resolution was also my most successful. My fingers have done minimal tweaking on my blog template or the one28 site. Almost all under the hood work on those sites was purposeful and productive. Likewise I have been employing a stable GTD set-up for more than the second half of the year. With the help of Google Calendar, Basecamp, and my iPhone I’ve actually done more working on my tasks than working on my task list.
There were two parts to this resolution: writing more and writing more by hand. I definitely progressed in handwriting, using an Italian fountain pen on yellow legal pads or in a Moleskine notebook. Every sermon I’ve preached in the last few months was scribbled first on paper. The conentration and joy I get from the writing process (not the penmanship) is worth the extra time and something I plan to continue. As for actually writing more? There was nothing prolific so I’m headed back to the writing board.
More (offline) reading
Book reading is back in a big way and my blog subscriptions are slipping in the right direction. Nevertheless I still find myself filling small banks of minutes with the banality of Google Reader or “opening all in tabs” instead of traversing another four pages of really beautiful or beneficial ground. Maybe some daily, personal internet protocol is in order for the new year.
More (out-loud) praying
Spontaneous prayer has been strong in the last couple months of 2007, and I’ve especially embraced my role as “head” prayer at home for meals or bedtime. I also know that time with God in private whets my mind, calms my worries, and quickens my affections yet scheduled times of struggle and lingering are still lower than desired. All that to say, I made progress with spacious room for improvement.
Be (radically) thankful
I have been thankful, and I’m thankful for that. I am both content with what I have and appreciative of an almost innumerable collection of tangible and intangible gifts from gracious people over the past year. As my kids grow and as my complete helplessness is further exposed, I’m thankful for God’s care. The repetition about the fear of God has not been in vain for me as I am really enjoying the process more (though not perfectly), whether traffic or interruptions or accidents as well as the obvious goods.
So overall there has been progress. I love my sheep, my family, and my Lord more than the same time last year. I think the increase in gray hair demonstrates that I’m (at least a little) wiser, not just older. I’m tired but eager to keep moving. I praise God for His strength behind my strides and blame my own sin for any and all steps back. Thank you, Lord, for being faithful to conform me into the image of Your Son; please don’t stop.
These are books that, from my perspective, transcend time and culture. They are the kind of resources that should be frequently published and first translated when we take the gospel to a new group. They would help anyone, in any age, in any place to know, defend, and articulate the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Of course, my frame of reference is limited, limited by language (English) and limited by scope (what I’ve actually read). So I reserve the right to update this list as my own library grows. Also feel free to leave your own suggestions/criticisms in the comments. But for all that, remember:
It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to be the best. ~Richard Baxter
So here are the best of the best for my evangelical money.
1. The MacArthur Study Bible
John MacArthur, Editor. If I was stranded on an island and could only have one print resource, this is the one I want. Though I don’t carry or read my MSB on a daily basis, it is an absolutely essential tool. The background on the Canon, the overview of systematic theology, and the topical index are brief but outstanding assets. It is a one-stop shop for book overviews and outlines, not to mention the many helpful interpretive notes.
2. The Sovereignty of God
Arthur W. Pink. Though it is #2 on this list, it is #1 on my personal impact list. No man will be humbled appropriately without understanding of, and submission to, God’s sovereignty. Neither will man’s capacity to worship God be elevated sufficiently without acknowledgment and admiration of His supremacy and authority over all things. [Make sure to get the unabridged version that includes Chapter 5 on Reprobation].
3. The Master Plan of Evangelism
Robert Coleman. If making disciples is the Great Commission–and it is–then those of us who are His followers ought also to follow His example in spreading the news of the Kingdom. The Master Plan of Evangelism is an oldie but a goodie (with hundreds of thousands in print) and explains the process of disciple-making unlike any other, with both simplicity and substance.
4. The Gospel According to Jesus
John MacArthur. If we are commissioned to teach the nations to observe everything that Jesus commanded then we ought to know (and obey ourselves) what Jesus commanded. This is the classic treatment on following Christ as Savior and Lord and the firestorm of the Lordship salvation debate.
5. Living by the Book
Howard Hendricks. If the Bible is the Book we are responsible to know, this book is the best resource for those who study in English. Hendricks helps us bridge the historical, cultural, geographical, and grammatical gaps as he covers the three basics of Observation, Interpretation, and Application.
6. The Holiness of God
R.C. Sproul. The “fear of the Lord” is largely absent and undoubtedly that stems from our ignorance of the Lord. The Holiness of God is classic Sproul, presenting God’s holiness and pressing for our proper response. Knowing God by J.I. Packer is along the same lines.
7. Desiring God
John Piper. I didn’t “get” this book until I read The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards. However, though TEFWGCTW is shorter, it is much heavier. Desiring God is essential Piper, but more than that it is essential explanation that God is glorified not only by His glories being seen, but by their being rejoiced in.
8. Concise Theology
J.I. Packer. This is a pocket resource on systematic theology, quickly covering most subjects in three or four pages while providing key Scripture references. If you’re ready for something less concise, than I’d suggest moving right to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.
9. The Cross-Centered Life
C. J. Mahaney. A happy Christian life depends on the definitions and distinctions between justification, sanctification, and glorification. Though other books dig deeper into the individual elements, this is a great primer on living in light of each part of our salvation.
10. Why One Way?
John MacArthur. 10 years ago this would not have made the top 10 list, and that’s not simply because it wasn’t published yet. The ever rising animosity toward authority and truth make this book both timely and vital. It is the most accessible treatment of modernism/postmodernism I’ve read while defending the exclusivity of the gospel and God’s Word in this inclusive age.
There are other classics that make my Honorable Mention list, such as:
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – Anything on Prayer by E.M. Bounds – A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson, also on prayer – Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell on apologetics – Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by Piper & Grudem
Specifically For Men:
Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle – Future Men by Doug Wilson
Specifically For Women:
The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson
Remember, these are some of the best and not the only books to own and read. No doubt I’ve missed something, so let me know.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
May these books, and other good books like them, be digested by believers with diligence.
Reading is making a comeback. Numerous bloggers have commented on the collection and reading of books in the past few weeks and I’ve started to compile an ever growing list of these posts for my own future reference.
One of the reasons behind the recent resurgence of bookish discussion by bloggers was the article by Christianity Today on the top 50 books that have influenced evangelicalism. The list is subjective if not downright suspect, but it received a fair amount of attention nonetheless. I knew this was no small subject when the über-Christian blogmaster Tim Challies weighed in with his perspective.
All of that to say, I’ve come up with a list of the 25 books that have influenced me the most. And though the description of my list may sound like any other prejudiced, postmodern perspective, I can assure you that no sympathetic postmodernite would be interested in the meta of these narratives. So while my library list is nothing special, it might be useful to others who need help.
This list was born Saturday on the back of a Burger King bag while riding in a Volkswagen to Pullman for the WSU/Cal game with Jonathan and Curtis. These are either just personal favorites or those with the most influence on the Void. I’m already planing an additional post with a catalog of the 10 books every Christian should own. I also want to point out that the Bible is the default superscript over the whole list. So with those qualifications in place and in particular order:
The Sovereignty of God A.W. Pink
The End for Which God Created the World Jonathan Edwards
Ashamed of the Gospel John MacArthur
Brothers, We are Not Professionals John Piper
The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman
Exegetical Fallacies D.A. Carson
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ John Owen
The Legacy of Sovereign Joy John Piper
The Religious Affections Jonathan Edwards
The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented Curtis Steel and Daniel Thomas
On The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther
The Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin
Evangelicalism Divided Ian Murray
The Reformed Pastor Richard Baxter
The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager Thomas Hine
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel Wallace
Faith Works (re-titled: The Gospel According to the Apostles) John MacArthur
Honorable mentions go to Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, God’s Outlaw by Brian Edwards, Future Men by Doug Wilson, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur, and Boy, Was I Mad! by Kathryn Hitte.
Dishonorable mentions go to the original Revolve biblezine, Create in Me a Youth Ministry, and all The Prayer of Jabez spin-offs. Other books were generously and purposefully driven from the list and no books in the Left Behind series were harmed in the production of this post.