At the beginning of summer, the authors of this blog posted reading lists of books we would read over summer. This is an update on what Grant has read this summer, since he leaves for Malawi tomorrow, and tonight (to be spent at Dodger Stadium as Zack Greinke pitches a gem) marks the end of his summer. For the original post, see here.
- Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ
Strongly recommend. Really does the job of focusing a Christian on the object of His faith, Jesus Christ Himself. Owen helps strengthen our views of the distinction and unity within the Trinity and is immensely practical concerning spiritual and emotional highs and lows (specifically such situations as struggling with joy in salvation).
- On the Mortification of Sin in Believers
There isn’t much new information I learned from this book, aside from coming to a good understanding of the philosophical difference between means and cause. Owen describes the mortification of sin as a means of our salvation, but, as a protestant, necessarily denies it as a cause of our salvation. I later realized through some of my other readings that this type of thinking pervades Christian writings through the 19th century. The loss of this level of thinking is probably detrimental to our churches. I would like to see someone do a survey of old Christian literature on these themes. I doubt I’ll have time to do so anytime soon.This book is an example of what is called a good book, a term most people abuse. A good book does not merely give you information that you did not have before, but is actually written well (which is certainly not synonymous with “easy to read”) and, more importantly, communicates a new understanding, or causes us to think in a new way. A lot of popular books with good Christian teaching are not in fact good books. But this is an aside.
- Thoughts for Young MenThis is something like the fifth time I’ve read this book; I did so this time in 90 minutes. It’s really more a written sermon than a book. And it does what a good sermon must do, which is bring the doctrines of eternity and redemption to bear on everyday life.
- Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’CheyneI have yet to finish M’Cheyne’s sermons and other writings, but I did finish the memoirs (biography) and letters. I sacrificed the rest on the altar of reading several new books introduced below; and I will finish this book by the end of next school year. I’ve written elsewhere how impactful this book has been on my life.
- The Reformed Pastor
This book failed to convince me that I must catechize my entire congregation, which was Baxter’s intent in writing it (so he’d be disappointed in me), but it did persuade me of the necessity for pastors (and other elders, ministers, etc.) to individually instruct Christians in their congregations, and was a great encouragement to me in developing both an evangelistic heart and a shepherd’s heart. The book is very practical regarding matters of discipleship, church discipline, and Christian unity. It’s worth considering for people in various church leadership positions.
- The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume II
Finishing this two volume set will probably kill me. But it might also transform me into some insanely Godly Christian intellectual giant, so the risk is worth taking? Two sermon pairs in particular stood out: one on the doctrine of hell and God’s wrath (mine was embarrassingly weak before) and another on how prayerless-ness is an almost sure sign of hypocrisy.
- In Love with Christ: The Narrative of Sarah EdwardsI’m tempted by charismatic errors to react strongly and deny “needless” emotional involvement in my religion. This was a good reminder to me that Edwards, who had to stand very strongly against emotional excesses that bordered on riotous mob behaviors, had a place for extreme emotion in religion. This is not particularly well written, except for the roughly 60 pages of documents from the 18th century. The remainder of it alternates between historical background (useful!) and sentimental outbursts of, “If only we were a quarter as Godly and devoted as these dead Christians! We’re so lukewarm in our Christianity!” (Not as useful!) These outbursts would be significantly more constructive if either more specific indictments of modern Christianity or more explicit prescriptive principles for modern Christianity were actually given. All in all, about three hours of reading.
- Continuity and Discontinuity: Essays in Honor of S. Lewis JohnsonThis book is definitely not for everybody, as two camps that I will refer to as “Blue Collar Christianity” and “Blond Christianity” really don’t care about this academic level of theology, and the latter is physically unable to comprehend it in this life. All well and good; we have different parts of the body for different but equally noble and valuable purposes. This is a polemic book with two opposing essays each on a number of topics surrounding the debate between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.However, the two essays on the differing hermeneutics really shine light on the core of the issue. Most (if not all) of the differences between the two camps arise from their differing methods of Biblical interpretation. That particular content would be beneficial for all Christians to seriously consider. I found my personal hermeneutic requires me to fall more under the dispensational side than the other, despite the fact that the majority of the authors of the books I’ve read were actually covenantalists (a great number are presbyterians). The reading was very enjoyable, although occasionally quite difficult.
I implied in my comments on Robert Murray M’Cheyne that I read several books this summer not on the original list, causing me to sacrifice about 200 pages of that beautiful work. That is in fact quite true. I list them below.
Books I picked up randomly during the summer:
- Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas BrooksAnother Puritan author! This book reminded me of how mindless I tend to be of satan’s active activity in the world, both in the lives of believers and nonbelievers. It convicted me of being careless and thoughtless, relaxed 90% of my time, when I should be tensed and either bracing for a blow or readying for a strike. Brooks gives a spiritual arsenal of diverse weaponry for divers situations (nerds please note correct usage of the terms “diverse” and “divers”). Brooks’ frequent references to classical, medieval, and reformation history and classical mythology are beautifully satisfying and spiritually edifying, a rare combination. I recommend the book to the general reader, even potentially as a gift to an unbelieving friend.
- How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van DorenFor years I have mocked this book for presenting in its title the concept of a book that you cannot read unless you have already read it. I repent in sackcloth and ashes. In a few weeks I will post an article entitled “How to Read Books,” which while blatantly plagiarizing this book’s title, was almost entirely written before I read this book. However, How to Read a Book validated most of my ideas, while still managing to teach me so much more about how to read for understanding instead of information, and convince me of the importance of actively reading truly great books.Adler and van Doren gave me the intellectual weaponry and appropriate terminology to confront what is a great and prevalent problem in modern Christian literature: most modern Christian books are not good books, and instead many of them are in fact bad books, regardless of the profitability of their content. This is inexcusable. Christians are called to excellence in all things. I will probably end up writing about this topic at some point on this blog.
I strongly recommend this Book. It borders on being a “must read” for anyone who wants to consider himself an educated individual. I repent of my previous ignorant remarks regarding its title.
- Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David GordonThis is an incredibly fun book, and a short, easy read. Gordon’s thesis is that our modern media culture (predominated by images and sounds) leaves men intellectually unable to prepare and present an even half-decent sermon. To quote him:
I’ve always feared to state publicly that, in my opinion, fewer than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach even a mediocre sermon, lest I appear to be ungrateful or uncharitable.
Sobering stuff. But he has a point. The ability of the modern individual to think clearly and organize self-expression in a meaningful way for the purpose of communication has been nearly obliterated by television, texting, the internet, social media, and wholly inadequate education. Gordon barely had any work to do to make this argument; it’s patently obvious that we’re in serious trouble due to (misuse of) technology.
- Appointed to Preach: Assessing a Call to the Ministry, David HeggThis and the previous book were both recommended to me during a conversation I had with my college pastor regarding considering and evaluating my desires to do full time ministry. Suffice it to say, this book is intensely practical in that ongoing process. The emphasis it puts on the dual parts of the calling to ordination (the internal call of God, and the external affirmation of that call by the church) isn’t new to me, but having these concepts clearly communicated in one place is helpful. A worthwhile book.
So just to summarize, for those of you who are looking for book recommendations:
- Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ
- On the Mortification of Sin in Believers
- Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne
- Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
- How to Read a Book
- Why Johnny Can’t Preach
I reserve the right to add The Reformed Pastor and Appointed to Preach at a later time if I find they have good rereading potential. Thoughts for Young Men is only not on this list because it’s really either a sermon or letter, not a book. Otherwise it would soar to the top of this list. Edwards is not on this list because I was reading sermon collections, not a book of his. Continuity and Discontinuity is a collection of academic essays and articles; it is resultantly not written well for the general reader.
Practically Impactful Books:
All of them, except In Love with Christ and Continuity and Discontinuity. The Reformed Pastor and Why Johnny Can’t Preach may have been more personally impactful for me than they would necessarily be for you though.
Most impactful: Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne
Must read: How to Read a Book
Book to read once a year: Thoughts for Young Men
Best written: I’m going with Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.
Most intellectually demanding (and rewarding): Works of Edwards and Continuity and Discontinuity. Glory of Christ is close.
Most unreadably small type: The Works of Jonathan Edwards
Best book: Nice try.
I hope this discussion of some books has been helpful for you. Please utilize the comments section to start interesting dialogue. I like dialogue. Even if it’s thoroughly and negatively critical of my writing, or even of me personally. Also, please ask me, whenever you feel so inclined, to ask about what I’m reading, or books in general.