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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Book Review: “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper


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Photo by Greg Becker on Unsplash

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?

wonderRecapturing 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). Cosper’s main argument is that participation in our world and its “disciplines of disenchantment” (27) has a powerful and formative impact on who we are becoming and our relationship to the transcendent and the spiritual. We cannot expect that our intake of narratives and rituals from our culture will have zero effect on our spiritual lives. Furthermore, we would be foolish to think that a mere influx of spiritual information will be enough to counteract our embodied experiences. The solution to our disenchantment isn’t that we need to know more spiritual things, but rather that we need to put them into practice. “We need to orient our lives around a different set of stories” (ibid.). Enter the spiritual disciplines.

In each of the seven chapters, Cosper begins with specific ways our disenchanted world impacts us and then has a section called “Pathways” where he recommends spiritual practices that offer specific ways to counteract that effect on our lives. For instance, the third chapter focuses on our modern pursuit of spectacle and hype and its corresponding impact on our engagement with Scripture. The pathway section of the chapter discusses Ignatian prayer and praying the Psalms. Chapter Five, “Abundance and Scarcity,” tackles our consumer mindset and gift-giving practices, suggesting the pathways of fasting and feasting as ways to embody the economy of the kingdom rather than the materialism of Mammon.

Throughout the book Cosper maintains a conversational tone and peppers in anecdotes and stories. Cosper acknowledges that this short book is “just scratching the surface” and describes his approach as “almost like a walking tour of a city—a casual stroll where I’ll point some things out and tell an interesting story or two along the way” (5). The goal is “not to be comprehensive…but to provoke some different ways of seeing” (6).

I found the book to do just that: inspiring me to reexamine my daily practices and consider new ways to orient myself spiritually. I have especially been thankful for his discussion of “breath prayers” (which are exactly what they sound like: prayers you can say in a single breath). I’ve been using “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” from Luke 18:13 and the individual petitions from the Lord’s Prayer, but you can use any short prayer that fits in a breath.

Recapturing the Wonder accomplishes what Cosper sets out to do and will serve as a wake-up call for many. It is a solid practical application of ideas from Taylor, Smith, and others, and speaks to us right where we are in the midst of our modern secular environment. For anyone looking for new practices to help orient themselves towards the transcendent, Cosper is an able and helpful guide.


5 stars out of 5

Mike Cosper. Recapturing the Wonder Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. 180 pp. Paperback. $17.

Book Review Roundup: August and September 2014


Since starting seminary I’ve had WAY less time to read for pleasure (although I’m certainly enjoying my readings for class!). So most of this list is made up of books I finished prior to starting classes. But here a few of the books I read over the past few months and some brief thoughts about them. Ratings are out of 5 stars.

9781433526367Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson (3 stars)

I enjoyed several aspects of this book. Wilson is a great communicator and funny at times too. I highlighted like crazy because he just says things in a memorable way many times. But the book has some issues that detracted from it in my opinion.

First, the good stuff. Wilson states that “gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly.” It is “not a second conversion experience…but rather a deeper and fuller appreciation of…conversion.” What Wilson is really writing about is gospel-centrality. The gospel is or should be the center of every aspect of your life and here’s what that looks like. Wilson further defines this wakefulness to the gospel as a two-step process: be utterly broken and utterly awed. He reverently and gloriously describes Christ, his Word, and the place the gospel deserves in our lives. Very passionate stuff.

As far as the negatives go, the book seemed to have some structural issues. Every chapter (or almost every chapter) he includes a story from a friend or acquaintance to tie into his overall point. Good idea, but the stories were a lot more miss than hit for me. Many of them seemed more mystical than anything. Also, at times the chapters felt like a series of strung-together blog posts. There was a “flow” issue. Nothing too serious, but distracting nonetheless.

If you don’t mind some digging, there are nuggets aplenty to be found here!

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay (4 stars) alrassanus

The Reconquest of Al-Rassan is at hand. The three hundred year golden age of the caliphate’s rule is ending, and three characters-a Jaddite commander named Rodrigo Belmonte, a Kindath doctornamed Jehane, and an Asharite poet and soldier named Ammar ibn Khairan-are caught in the middle. The world is changing and they must find their place within it.

Now, the Reconquest is just an imaginative retelling of the Reconquista of Spain. The Jaddites are Christians, Kindaths are Jews, and Asharites are Muslims. The map that’s included is basically a sliiiightly changed map of Spain. But the thin veneer of fantasy over the historical events actually works and allows Guy Gavriel Kay to place his characters in very interesting positions where ethnicity, religion, and friendship/romance all swirl together to make some very complex and interesting choices for the characters.

This was initially recommended to me for someone who enjoys George R.R. Martin’s works because (among other things) of the way they draw on the War of the Roses for inspiration. Definitely enjoyed it and considering reading some of his other works.

JOH08BH_200x1000John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology  by Buck Parsons (4 stars)

A volume of 19 essays on the life and belief of John Calvin. The purpose of this volume (as stated in the introduction on page xvi) is “best served if the reader comes to the conclusion, ‘I ought to be reading Calvin himself!'” Measured by that standard, this volume was a success for me.

Fewer names conjure up the same mixture of adoration and abhorrence as Calvin (or the eponymous theological system of Calvinism) does. It seems people are either convinced that his views are next to gospel or the worst of heresy with little grey area. Whatever your prior thoughts, this volume sketches Calvin’s personal history, character, and beliefs and invites you to consider the man himself. An excellent introduction for those wanting to know more about Calvin.

My main critique would be that the chapters were at times of uneven quality. It is hard to avoid this when you take the anthology approach and have many different authors, but it seemed that even some of the chapters that should have had a similar focus were (literally AND figuratively) on different pages. The clearest example is the five chapters that address the doctrines of Calvinism. Some of the chapters addressed what made the doctrine of Calvinism they focused on distinct (the chapters on election and perseverance of the saints) while others focused on broader theological definitions (the chapter on atonement, for example, dealt with atonement as a concept and not the distinctives of limited atonement). Finally, I found the chapter authored by John MacArthur to be less objective and balanced than the others. Hence my subtraction of a star.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (5 stars)81sMcTc4vPL._SL1500_

This book on the spiritual disciplines is a classic for good reason: Foster both equips the reader practically and encourages the reader passionately to pursue the disciplines with the ultimate goal of communing with Jesus. He constantly brings the focus back to pursuing a relationship with the living God and cautions that rote repetition of any of the disciplines is meaningless without a thirst to know God.

The chapters are divided into the Inward Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), the Outward Disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and the Corporate Disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration). I found myself continually challenged and stretched in the best way possible. This is a book to read slowly and savor. Time and time again I found myself setting the book down to reflect or pray. Both a helpful book to read straight-through and also to serve as a reference in the future as a refresher.

What about you? What are you reading right now or hoping to read soon? Thoughts on any of these books that I’ve read?

 

Practical Meditation: Look at the Book


The Bible is unique: it stands alone among all the other books to have ever been written. And I’m not just referring to its popularity-it is unique in that it’s a library of many books written at different points in history to a people who lived long ago and yet (miraculously! Praise God!) it is still relevant to us today.

Joshua 1:8 says (in the 1984 NIV): “Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” And yes, that command was to the Israelites and referred specifically to the Torah. But the principle is just as valid for us today: we have God’s words and he invites us to spend time in them.

I wanted to pass on a resource today that I hope will encourage some of you like it has encouraged me to further study and eventually to meditate on the Word. Because let’s face it: meditation (and even study) on/about/of the Bible can be a daunting task. “Where do I even begin?” we might ask. “How long will it take?” “Can I really keep this up?” “Who will teach me?”

If you need that first kick in the pants, a gentle reminder, a fresh method, or something in between, let me suggest John Piper’s new “Look at the Book” series. In this series he shares short (usually 8 or 9 minute) videos where he takes a short text (a verse or two) and tries to understand it, study it, see how it relates to itself and other passages, and shows you how to do the same. The video is not of him, but of the text itself and the marks/highlights/underlines that he’s making using a computer. It’s simple, it’s reproducible, and it’s beneficial. I did it myself the other day and am very pleased with the encouragement and refreshment it’s been to me!

From my time yesterday
From my time yesterday

I’ll link to two videos here. First the introductory video (that restates what I’ve said in the post but much more eloquently and inspirationally haha) and then an example of one of the videos itself. Of course, if you’d rather check it all out yourself then you can go right now to the source: http://www.desiringgod.org/labs . I hope you’re blessed by this and by your resulting times in the Word of our Lord.

The intro:

The example: 

 What has been your experience in studying and meditating on the Word? Do you have a similar or different method? What encourages you and keeps you going? I’d love to hear about it! 🙂