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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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!

C.S. Lewis on the Value of History


All cultures at all times have had central tenets or values they hold to be fundamentally true and that are so integral to the culture’s beliefs and systems that most people in said culture are not even aware that they are holding these “beliefs that seem to not be beliefs but unchallengable, self-evident common sense” (Keller, Preaching, 125).

Our culture is no different. One such example is our culture’s general acceptance that “we are products of an impersonal universe yet [must] be committed to human rights” (Ibid.). These are not two assumptions that naturally stand side-by-side, yet our Western society has lashed them together with the dual cords of “scientific” and “enlightened” thought.

How do we become aware of such patterns of thought in our own worldview and even begin to evaluate whether or not they are indeed true? The first step is to become aware of them, and an excellent place to begin here is to be an avid student of the past. As C.S. Lewis explains:

…we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in  many places in not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

-C.S. Lewis, from “Learning in War-Time”

Study the past, then, because of its value in helping to illuminate the blind spots we have today in the present.

C.S. Lewis on Homosexuality


Lately I’ve been reading Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis’ autobiography of sorts. I’ve immensely enjoyed it so far and am fascinated by the insight into his life and way of looking at the world as portrayed in his book.

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At the beginning of the seventh chapter, Lewis takes some time to explain his behavior in writing the previous chapter. You see, in the sixth chapter Lewis describes (among other things) the pederasty (or homosexual relations between older students and younger students) that was a common practice at the boarding school he attended. But although Lewis is known for the moral and apologetic nature of his writing in general, the reader looking for moral judgements about the practice will be hard pressed to find any. 

Anticipating surprise and/or objections, Lewis explains:

Here’s a fellow, you say, who used to come before us as a moral and religious writer, and now, if you please, he’s written a whole chapter describing his old school as a very furnace of impure loves without one word on the heinousness of the sin. But there are two reasons. One you shall hear before this chapter ends. The other is that, as I have said, the sin in question is one of the two (gambling is the other) which I have never been tempted to commit. I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle. (57)

There are at least two things about this that make it a timely word for us reading these words today.

1. Lewis sets a humble and gracious standard for us to imitate.

How easy it would have been for Lewis to lambast the school’s pederasty in particular and homosexuality in general. How easy it is for us to hit “share” or “retweet” when we find something we agree with and believe wholeheartedly and hope others will too. But when the topic is one with which we simply have no experience with, much more caution and grace is called for (this is a lesson I am still learning, by the way).

Is Lewis saying he believes that no one can EVER denounce a practice as wrong or a sin without having personally experienced either the temptation or the sin itself? I don’t believe so. However, what he is saying is that in his case he chose to focus on other topics and give priority where he had the experience to speak. I respect his stance very much and feel that we have much to learn from this, even if it’s only taking the step to consider whether we ought to be speaking on a given subject in the first place!

2. Lewis still uses strong yet appropriate language in discussing it.

While he does not go on a lengthy discourse or rant about the issue, Lewis still uses Biblical language in his brief aside. He is not afraid to call a sin a sin, using terms like “impure loves,” “sin,” and “enemies” to describe the practice. Lewis is concise and yet clear. When pressed for an answer, let us similarly remain faithful to share the truth even on topics where we have never ourselves been tempted.

What do you think of Lewis’ reasoning? Do you feel he sets a good example or that he should have used his platform to speak regardless of his personal experience? Did he get the balance right or sway too far to one side?

FREEsources: 24 Free eBooks via Desiring God


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desiringGod.org has released a steady stream of free ebooks over the past few years and now they’ve put them all in the same space for our convenience! With volumes dealing with C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan, Luther, Edwards, abortion, disability, missions, and more, you’ll most likely find at least one resource worth your time and of interest to you! So go ahead and check out the list for yourself by clicking here: 24 Free ebooks!

Why Joy is Fleeting


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The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. -C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

 

Fellow Pilgrims, we are not home yet.