Top 7 Favorite Books I Read in 2017


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Another year draws to a close and—as I did in 2014 and 2015 (but somehow not 2016!)—I’ve selected the Top 7 books that I read in 2017.

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2017 but rather my favorites that I read this year. They are presented in no particular order and are a mix of fiction, essays, biography, and sci-fi/fantasy.

abofman1. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Though Lewis wrote close to 3/4 a century ago, society has continued ever further down the track that Lewis diagnoses and dissects in these pages and his thoughts are perhaps even more relevant.

Lewis defends objective truth and natural law—or ‘Tao’ as he terms it—against those who would try to ignore or disprove or subvert it. He ponders the final result of man’s conquest of Nature and cautions against blindly following the idea of progress until we progress so far that we lose ourselves in the process.

Left me with much to ponder and wrestle with, as well as much to thank Lewis for. One I will definitely return to often!

silence2. Silence by Shūsaku Endō

A deep meditation on what makes true faith, the challenges and dangers of contextualization of the gospel message, suffering and persecution, and coming to terms with past failures. A challenging, striking, and thought-provoking read.

 

 

 

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3. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton combats common misconceptions and errors in his popular-level sketch of the outline of history. He shows how man is unique among the universe (and the other animals) and also how Christ is unique among men. I love his observation that to believe that there is no Creator or higher power requires believing in three miraculous occurrences: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of man.  Really appreciate his perspective on history and how things are often the opposite of how they are presented by the skeptic of the church.

fell4. The Fellowship by Philip and Carol Zaleski

A marvelous portrait of The Inklings that is as much a book of literary criticism as it is biography. Lewis and Tolkien receive—of course—the most attention, but I was surprised by how interesting Barfield and Williams’ lives, beliefs, and careers were as well.

This is a must-read for any serious fan of Lewis and/or Tolkien! A true tour de force that deftly manages to give equal attention to these extraordinary men and their literary subcreations which have gone on to transform our world. If you’re anything like me, you will finish this book with a list of ten or so works either written by these authors or that deeply influenced them to add to your list of books to (re)read this year.

wonder5. Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper

If Charles Taylor is right and we live in a “disenchanted” age, and if James K.A. Smith is correct that “you are what you love,” then how does our approach to living the Christian life change? What is different about our day-to-day experience as followers of Jesus? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines in our modern, secular world?

Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World is Mike Cosper’s attempt to “lift the veil a little bit on how the world has shaped us, how we’ve learned to see things through the lenses of disenchantment” (162). If that sounds interesting to you, head over to my full review.

stand6. The Stand by Stephen King

This year was the year that I finally read some of Stephen King’s works. Yes, somehow I had managed to avoid the master of horror/fiction until recently, but I finally gave in and read a handful of his books. I’m through six of the seven Dark Tower books, read The Eyes of The Dragon, and slogged through Insomnia (ironically a snooze-fest), but found The Stand to be the best of the bunch.

Two groups of survivors of a worldwide cataclysm band together: one around a spiritual and mysterious old woman and the other around an enigmatic and dangerous man known as The Walkin’ Dude. Their struggle for survival becomes a clash between Good and Evil as they all attempt to forge new lives in the ruins of what came before.

Incidentally, if that reminds any of you of the TV show Lost, there’s a reason: this book was one of the major inspirations for the show!

fool7. Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Fate is the conclusion to the second trilogy to star FitzChivalry Farseer and The Fool. Hobb has built a fascinating world that is both enjoyable and unique. Fool’s Fate functions as a marvelous capstone to both this second trilogy and the story that has carried on from the first trilogy. Hobb’s works are much more in the Tolkien/Robert Jordan/T. H. White school of fantasy than the George R.R. Martin/grim and gruesome/Joe Abercrombie syle. If you’re interested in a new fantasy series, then start at the beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice.

 

What about you? What were the highlights of your reading this year? Any on this list that you read too? Or any that now have piqued your interest?

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Coming Soon: More Updates!


Hey All!

This blog has been dormant for a few months as I adjusted to commuting three days a week during my final semester of seminary. Funny how adding six to eight hours of driving each week eats up all your free time.

That period of busyness is over now! One of the consequences is that I want to write more and publish more here and have the time to do so. So look for more content here in the near future. I’m planning on more book reviews, some collections of quotes that I found interesting or thought-provoking, and posts on topics in theology, current events, and the like. Should be fun!

Confessions and Musings on Matt. 23:23


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
 
Matthew 23:23 (NIV)
 
I’ve been thinking about this verse for a few days now, as I felt convicted the moment I read it of being much closer to the way of the Pharisees here than the way of Jesus. Am I (and are we, reader?) paying attention to the small and particular matters of our faith while neglecting what Jesus here calls the more important (the “weightier” in the ESV) matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness?
 
To paint with a broad brushstroke, many of our Evangelical (though I hesitate to even use that label anymore) responses to the injustices in this world and—closer to home—the injustices here in our own country look more like the Pharisees’ actions here than they look like Jesus’ response.

Are we responding to cries that #BlackLivesMatter with choruses of #AllLivesMatter without considering how our words can burn and harm and pour salt on open wounds? Are we simply spitting out the latest factoid that we heard on NPR or FOX or our favorite podcast instead of sitting and listening in order to hear and understand? Are we making sure to have our quiet time and perfectly arrange everything so that it will look great in our Snapchat or Instagram story instead of reaching out to those in our lives to see how they are doing?

I don’t have many answers, and the ones that I do have are uncomfortable ones! But I think we the way forward is in listening, not in arguing; in lending our voice to the voiceless, not in parroting the talking heads on the news; in pursuing our own holiness but also in fighting for the wholeness of the downtrodden.  Food for thought (most of all for myself!) as we continue to engage with a hurting and broken world peopled with hurting and broken friends, neighbors, and families.

MisterJoshuaRay’s Top 5 Posts of 2015


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2015 is almost over and 2016 is speedily approaching. As we look forward to the coming year it’s natural that we also look back and reflect on what this current year has brought.

I’d like to take a second to say thank you: thanks for reading this blog, commenting, and liking or retweeting any links I sent out. This blog isn’t much more than a journal if there’s no one out there reading and engaging, so thanks for helping be a part (note: not apart…pet peeve of mine!) of it.

As a personal reflection here on the blog, here are the top 5 posts I wrote/shared this year. It’s an eclectic bunch encompassing everything from politics to religion to entertainment to books old and new. (You can click on each title to read the original post)

1. 5 Quotes Worth Sharing from “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

The top post on my blog in 2015 is both a short review and a collection of quotes from Harper Lee’s second-released novel and proved to be popular just as much because of the book’s controversy and lack of quality as its positive qualities.

2. Book Review: “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines

After hearing a good amount (both positive and critical) about Matthew Vines’ book from other sources I decided to read it myself and share what I found in a post that went on to be the second most popular post of 2015. While I found Vines’ arguments about reinterpreting the Biblical texts concerning homosexuality to be well-articulated on the whole, I did not find them convincing or well-founded. However, reading the book DID change my mind about another issue! I’m glad to have read it both for the ways it challenged me and changed me.

3. C.S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Coming in at third in 2015 is a post similar to #2. While reading Surprised by Joy I came across a quote explaining Lewis’ relative paucity of quotes concerning homosexuality even in works like his autobiography that described conditions in the English boarding school system that included pederasty. His reasoning and restraint are a lesson for us all, and not just on this issue!

4. 40? More like *5* The Force Awakens Plot Holes

Though this is currently the most recent post on the blog, it rocketed into the top 5 posts in just a short amount of time. Seems Star Wars is dominating not just the box office but everything that it touches. Here I respond to an article listing a list of 40 alleged plot-holes in The Force Awakens and only find a handful to be actual objections.

5. Christian, Are You Celebrating SCOTUS’ Marriage Decision?

In the weeks following Obergefell v. Hodges I put up this short blog linking to two other articles responding to the decision. Despite its short length, the subject matter boosted the post into the top 5 here on the blog.

Honorable Mention: FREEsources-The Kneeling Christian
Although this post was written last year in 2014, it was STILL the most popular post on my blog in 2015 and (combined with last year) also of the whole blog! I’m pretty surprised by this and can only explain it by conjecturing that since the image I chose is now in the top page of results when you do a google image search for “kneeling prayer” or similar terms it must be people just looking for a picture to use that stumble upon my blog. Random!

 

Well that’s all, folks! Wishing that the rest of 2015 and also 2016 are full of blessing, growth, and God’s sustaining and loving presence through every circumstance for all of you!

40? More like *5* The Force Awakens Plot Holes


 

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This past week I’ve seen an article pop up a few times listing 40 Plot Holes from The Force Awakens. The list really is not very good, partially because I enjoyed The Force Awakens immensely but mainly because it’s just a low-quality article written by someone who seems not to understand how movies work in general or who wasn’t paying attention to this movie specifically. To demonstrate this, I will go through each proffered “plot hole” and assign it to one of four categories. These categories are:

Coincidence: The Star Wars universe is one where things are sometimes guided by the Force. The proton torpedoes sometimes just make it into that two-meter exhaust port. Sometimes the droid lands exactly where it needs to on the planet right near the very people who will help it get to where it needs to go. Scoundrels like Han might call it “luck,” but others know it to be the workings of a higher power. These aren’t plot holes–they’re how Star Wars movies work.

Future: The Force Awakens is the first movie in a planned trilogy, just like A New Hope. Yes, there are some unanswered questions, but that’s how trilogies work. Some things are intentionally left out and would have made the movie incredibly unwieldy and plodding. If these are unanswered after Episodes VIII and IX then maybe it’s a problem, but for the present let’s chill, shall we?

Not a plot hole: Some of these are just pouty reactions by someone looking for other problems to pad out a list of 40 plot holes. Let’s call them like they are, shall we?

Plot hole: The rarest of the categories (as we shall see), this is just something that can’t be readily explained or is an actual problem that better writing could have fixed/anticipated.

Finally, MAJOR SPOILERS in the rest of the article. With that warning, let’s have a blow-by-blow account of the list, shall we? (I’ve reproduced the questions in italics before my answers so you don’t need to go back and forth between articles, but I’ve left off the elaborations each question has in the original article unless they’re part of my response or relevant)

Continue reading

Top 7 Books I Read in 2015


As of yesterday I’m all finished with my final exams and papers for the semester, so what better way to celebrate then look back on the best books I read this year?

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2015 but rather the best that I personally read this year. So without any further ado…..The Top 7 Books of 2015!

_240_360_Book.1491.cover1. Scary Close by Donald Miller

From my earlier review of the book: “Scary Close is a book of truth spoken in grace. It’s refreshing and encouraging and a must-read for any fan of Don’s, anyone seeking insight on intimacy, or anyone simply hungry for authenticity in a world where it’s far too uncommon.”

2. Home by Marilynne Robinsonhome

The central theme of this novel may very well be summed up with the following quote from the book: “It expresses the will of God to sustain us in this flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” p. 102.

Marilynne Robinson has been a favorite author of mine ever since I read Gilead and this follow-up was a treat start to finish. Can’t wait to dig into Lila (her latest novel set in the same town as Gilead and Home) soon!

 

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3. S. (Or Ship of Theseus) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

An incredibly ambitious meta-novel that works on every level. The book within the book, “The Ship of Theseus,” is a novel in the style and tradition of Coleridges’ “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and would be an excellent work in its own right. The history of its fictional author, V.M. Straka, and the question of his identity and potential involvement with a shadowy cadre of writer/secret agents is similarly intriguing and well-conceived. And the story of Jen and Eric’s in-the-margins relationship adds yet another compelling and exciting layer to it all.

S. is a one-of-a-kind story of identity, change, struggle, and love. The most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time.

4. Preaching by Timothy Kellerpreaching

It wouldn’t be a list of Josh Ray’s favorite books if there wasn’t a book by Keller on it, right?

Tim Keller’s Preaching is another home-run. While perhaps not as life-changing or spectacular as Prayer, this volume is filled with insights and wisdom from cover to cover. The chapter on “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind” and the bibliography of the best other books on preaching are each worth the price of the book alone!

And you don’t need to be a preacher to read it. “This book,” says Keller in the introduction, “aims to be a resource for all those who communicate their Christian faith in any way.” (P.S. Here’s a post I did with some of my favorite quotes from it!)

baxter reformed5. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

An indispensable guide and exhortation to not just preach to the crowd but teach to the individuals and families. It’s earned a place on my reference shelf for the future!

Baxter has written a book that doesn’t shy away from leaving you like you just got punched in the teeth with some good old gospel truth but that also leaves you encouraged and exhorted to minister faithfully. A keeper for sure.

imitation

6. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

There’s a reason that this book is perhaps the most widely-read book aside from the Bible in history. A collection of insights and meditations on Christ’s example and our proper response to it, the Imitation has much to teach us today about the Way of Christ.

orthodoxy7. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I was blown away by how relevant and insightful Chesterton’s testimony of how and why he found Christianity convincing was over 100 years after he wrote it. It seems our world is not so different than it was then. Orthodoxy is a refreshing and revealing diagnosis of some of the ills of modernity and powerfully communicated defense of the faith. (It’s also intriguing for a fan of C.S. Lewis to see the ways he was influenced by and came to resemble Chesteron).

 

What about you? What were the highlights of your reading this year? Any on this list that you read too? Or any that now have piqued your interest?

Assorted Goings-On (Or, Why This Blog Has Been Silent as of Late)


And just like that, I’m done with my first year in seminary! Wrapping up the year is my excuse for no recent updates here on the blog-first it was end of the year projects, then it was prepping for finals, THEN I got sick in the middle of all that (and the blasted sickness stuck around for over two weeks), and I spent all of last week catching up on rest and other things I had neglected–like cleaning up and sorting through all my mess haha–and all of the sudden it is JUNE.

Textbooks from the past year (and a few already for next semester)

There are way way WAY too many highlights from the year to share effectively or succinctly here on the blog, so I’ll content myself with a recent one. My Navigator background means I’m very interested in Scripture memory and I’m always encouraged and challenged by a good quote on the topic. So here’s a thought by Dallas Willard on memorizing extended passages of Scripture:

The practice of memorizing the Scriptures is more important than a daily quiet time, for as we fill our minds with these great passages and have them available for our meditation, “quiet time” takes over the entirety of our lives.

 

Challenging and encouraging and convicting and…yeah. Good stuff.

Now that summertime is here, you can expect more updates here on the blog! For now, here’s a mini-lightning-round of a couple of updates:

-My amazing wife ran her first 12k a few weeks ago!

Across the Bay

-She and I also attended my best friend from college’s wedding a few days ago:

And I’ve begun my summer reading-both for fun and for a summer class I have coming up.

For now, that’s where I’ll curtail my updates. But Coming Soon: Several Book Reviews and more updates!

The Gospel Speaks to Us All (Ministry Failures/Dropouts Too)


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It has been almost exactly a year since my wife and I were confronted with the harsh reality that we needed to find some other option than our plan at the time of continuing to minister full-time with The Navigators in Northern California. I have intentionally not shared much publicly (here on the blog or otherwise) about the reasons, process, etc etc etc. While we appropriately mourn some losses from the previous seasons in our life we also rejoice in the faithfulness of God as he has led us and provided for us in the new and at times frightening season. We have set him continually before us and because he is at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.

I reference these past events and trials not to dredge up the past but instead to say that when I read Jared Wilson’s (no, not Jarrid Wilson) piece on Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new website For the Church, well…it spoke to me right where I’m at. If you’ve suffered discouragement, disappointment, fear, confusion, or hurt in a transition (to/from ministry or otherwise) and life hasn’t gone the way you’d hoped, I recommend checking it out. We need to be reminded of the gospel every single day: by ourselves and by others. Here’s a preview to give you a taste:

If you find yourself constantly measuring, constantly frustrated, constantly seeing all you don’t have, Bonhoeffer actually says you should be glad that God has led you into this predicament, because it means you’re realizing you have a wish-dream that needs to be “shattered by God” (his words).

Bound up in Isaac were all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams. Isaac was the child God promised. Isaac was the child Abraham and Sarah had schemed to conceive in ways other than by God’s providence. Isaac was his parents’ wish-dream. And I imagine Abraham had a vision for how God’s promise to multiply his descendants and expand his legacy into eternity would play out, and I imagine this lonely scenario of taking the wish-dream up the mountain to slay it was not it.

Whatever it is, we all have a vision for how life is supposed to go, what life is supposed to be like, what we want and how we want it and the way we want to feel about it, but then actual life happens, and when our heart is tuned to only find joy in the dream, we will never find joy, because we’ve placed it in a mirage.

For the rest of Jared’s story of leaving one ministry for another and his thoughts on Bonhoeffer, Abraham, and what God might be up to in scenarios like this, click here. I hope it encourages you as it did me and that all of us are continually redirected to the truth of the gospel.

Hallelujah for the good news that the only place we could find joy is in the presence of One who graciously, relentlessly, and faithfully invites us just as we are. As Augustine famously said of God, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”