Sunday, December 26, 2010

20 books John plans to read in 2011

I wrote a similar list last year. I finished 17 of those books, and am currently reading the remaining three. I'll use the same categories again.

Four novels:

Psmith, journalist by P. G. Wodehouse 5th - 18th February

I think this will be the 15th Wodehouse book I've read. He wrote 96 of them, so if I read two a year, I'll have read the entire Wodehouse canon by the time I'm 75.

The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge

Abraham Kuyper's fiancée gave him this book to read in an attempt to convert him to orthodox Christianity.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

The 1952 film version of this was one of my favourite movies when I was young, but I never got around to reading the book.

Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

Four books of theology or Biblical studies:

The Handwriting on the Wall by James B. Jordan 3rd January - 14th April

This is a commentary on Daniel by one of my favourite authors. In Semester 1, 2011, I will be helping to teach a subject at PTC on the Book of Daniel, so this will be good preparation.

Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison

The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros & Cons, edited by E. Calvin Beisner 19th June - 28th August

The so-called Federal Vision used to be known as the "Auburn Avenue Theology," from a conference held at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. This book is a colloquium of writers for and against the perspective. It was published in 2004, at a time when people on both sides of the controversy were still talking to and listening to each other.

Canon And Biblical Interpretation, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew et al 4th September - 7th December

In the middle of 2010 I started a Doctor of Theology degree, looking at the portrayal of women in the Book of Samuel. I need to think deeply about my methodology, which will involve a canonical approach. That is to say, my thesis will be focusing on the Book of Samuel as a unity - not I and II Samuel, not spilling over into 1 Kings (though Bathsheba appears there as well). It will also examine the final form of the Masoretic Text. So I will need to work through issues relating to canon, and I trust that this book will help me do so.

Four books to help me in my work as a pastor:

Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer 13th - 20th January

I read a book on this topic back in May: Quitting Church by Julia Duin. But I think the perspective will be somewhat different.

The Past
or as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life by M. Craig Barnes 6th March - 21st March

Exploring Worship: A Practical Guide to Praise & Worship
by Bob Sorge
20th November - 29th December

This book is written from a charismatic perspective, but I still think reading it will help me think through aspects of public worship. I am inescapably a worship leader - the only thing is whether I do this well or poorly.

Why Johnny Can't Preach by T. David Gordon 9th - 12th January

Four more Christian books:

Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna

Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas by Kelly Monroe Kullberg 29th January - 4th February

This is a follow-up to one of my favourite books: Finding God at Harvard.

Black and Tan by Douglas Wilson 11th - 16th February

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner 1st - 11th January

I do like Lauren Winner, especially her autobiographical Girl Meets God.

Four other books

The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague by Peter Marshall

I must have been a teenager when I obtained a coin of Rudolf II. So it's about time that I learned about the man.

1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies

In Xanadu by William Dalrymple 14th June - 14th July

I love Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, where he relates his travels in the Middle East. It looks like here he does the same thing with central Asia, re-tracing the route Marco Polo took from Jerusalem to China.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

Saturday, December 11, 2010

John's December Reading

Currently Reading:

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

I expected this to be a cheap imitation of The Dumas Club, but in fact it is wonderfully original. It is a fictional portrayal of historical characters - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. - who are at work translating Dante, and then come across a series of horrible murders inspired by scenes from the Inferno.

Best Friends by George and Karen Grant

This is the fifth book I've read of a brilliant series that combines stories and quotes in a wonderful way. This volume looks at some interesting friendships throughout history, like that of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin.

Interestingly, George Grant's blog was the first one that I read. He started blogging in March 2003, about five months before I did.

Poincaré's Prize by George Szpiro

This is a popularisation of the story of a difficult mathematical problem and how it was solved. The mathematics is getting beyond me (I'm much better at typology than topology) but I love the stories - every mathematician along the way gets a mini-biography.

The Church and the Older Person by Robert M. Gray and David O. Moberg

This book is an interesting sociological study that is the product of a host of interviews with older people about church. Two things strike me in reading through them. In the first place, the vast majority of the respondents speak of the church as "they" rather than "we". Whether "church" means the pastors or elders, and whether the church is viewed positively or negatively ("they are really nice' vs. "they are really mean") even the church-goers interviewed seem to distance themselves from the church.

Secondly, there is a heart-breaking lack of understanding of the gospel among the church-goers interviewed. "I know my soul will go to heaven if I don't do anything wrong between now and then," "my conception of God is that he would never condemn us," "I have faith that I will [live forever] because I have lived a good Christian life and have been a good lady," etc. At least the authors note that "theological beliefs often fall short of the ideal held by the church for them."

Finished Recently:

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

I've read a few books on evangelism, and this is probably the best. The basic premise of the book is that it is far more effective and biblical to ask questions in evangelism rather than just tell people stuff. This is, of course, the way Jesus operated, though Newman doesn't go into that all that much. Instead, he spends most of the book looking at the questions non-Christians are asking, and how we can help them come to understand the truth by asking questions in response.
Non-Christian: You see, different religions are just like all of those blind men. None of them has the whole truth.
Christian: How do you know that?
Non-Christian: Huh?
Christian: How do you know that none of the blind men has the whole truth?
Non-Christian: Well, it's just a story.
Christian: I know. And it's not a bad one - except I still wonder how the person who first told it could say with such certainty that none of the blind men got it right...
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

I don't know why I'd never read this before, but it is one of the great American short stories, and a precursor to the horror genre. I recently read an issue of an obscure little magazine called Semper Reformanda: A Covenanter Review in which Caleb Stegall suggested that Ichabod Crane was the "most celebrated Covenanter in all of literature."

Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell

No, I haven't received a call from another congregation! But I figure that the time to think through what to do in that situation is before it happens. Another worthwhile volume from a helpful series.

The Doomsday Prophecy by Scott Mariani

Another religious thriller for people (like me) who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code. This one is not anti-Christian, however, though it is anti-wacky fundamentalist. It features a character who is purportedly evangelical and yet claimed that the Apostle John had appeared to him to tell him that the events of the Book of Revelation were going to happen very soon. Not only does this betray a non-evangelical view of revelation (the concept not the book - it goes against what Packer calls the "evangelical equation": the Bible = the Word of God), but it also suggests a very Roman Catholic view of saints. And yet, it sounds awfully plausible given the current American evangelical scene.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kara's Spring Reading

A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith

A combination travel book and spiritual memoir, this book kept me interested even though I was occasionally annoyed by the author's retelling of her love-life dramas. (I should have guessed they were coming from the sub-title, which in the British edition is something about a "search for my own Mr. Darcy." Blegh.) Smith, a 20-something girl battling chronic illness, decides to travel to England and visit all the places connected with Jane Austen. In the process, she learns more about Austen, herself, and God.

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L' Engle

How could I help but be intrigued by a first line like this: "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden..."?

Eating with Emperors
by Jake Smith

A collection of menus from various world leaders, from Queen Victoria to J.F.K., combined with recipes and historical trivia. Fun to read, but I don't think I'll try any of the recipes. Foie gras just isn't my kind of thing.

Around the World in 80 dinners
by Bill and Cheryl Jamison

A great idea for a book is hampered by the attempt to narrate from the point of view of two people. Some of the sentences are truly cringe-worthy. It's bogged down by too many details--did I really need to know exactly what went into the suitcases? And the worst thing about this combination food and travel book is that it didn't make me hungry.

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The last in L'Engle's Time Quintet, it is interesting, but too long.

The Age of Kali
by William Dalrymple

Not your typical travel book. Dalrymple's tales of India are weird and heart-wrenching by turns. In this wide ranging collection of essays, he tackles the plight of widows (including an apparent modern occurrence of sati), and interviews terrorists, politicians and a cricket star. These are tales I will not soon forget.

On Rue Tatin and Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis

Memoirs of an American food writer who moved to France, along with her husband and son, and started a cooking school. Each chapter concludes with a recipe or two. I loved these books! Loomis' rambling style is charming, and I found her observations on settling into another country and culture particularly insightful.

Amy's Bread
by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree

I'm a bread lover and a bread baker on the search for the perfect loaf. Something beautiful, crusty and full-flavoured. This book is helping me reach that goal, with lovely pictures and detailed instructions.

The Italian Baker
by Carol Field

Another good baking book, this one was especially helpful to me because of the sweet short pastry recipe, which was broken down into parts by weight. (making it easy to memorize)

Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper by Peter Leithart

During the past year, I've been reading this as a devotional during the weeks preceding communion. This method works particularly well with this book, as each chapter is a stand-alone meditation on a single Bible passage. Leithart helped me gain a broader understanding of the sacrament, in particular the aspect of a joyful feast. Highly recommended.

Cat O' Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer

I came to John one day, wanting to read a mystery but bemoaning the fact that I'd already read all the Sayers, Chesterton and Christie in the house. He gave me this collection of short, humorous stories to try. Enjoyable and unpredictable.

Monday, November 01, 2010

John's November Reading

Finished Recently:

Jeeves in the Offing by P. G. Wodehouse

I enjoy all of Wodehouse's work, but Jeeves is the best. This novel was written in 1960, around forty years after the first Jeeves stories, and surprisingly, Bertie becomes friends with Sir Roderick Glossop. Apart from that, everyone is just the same.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

This is the fourth book by Miller that I've read. It was a bit disappointing compared to Blue Like Jazz and Through Painted Deserts.

A Reformation Debate by Jacopo Sadoleto and John Calvin

In 1538, Calvin was asked to leave Geneva and moved to Strasbourg. The following year, Cardinal Sadoleto took the opportunity to write to the Genevans and urge them to return to the Catholic faith. Geneva then asked Calvin to write a response to this, and this slim volume contains both men's tracts.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The last line of this book is "I'll pray, and then I'll sleep." I read Gilead on Jean's recommendation. The narrator is a third generation preacher, who has experienced all the familial dysfunction that this entails. He comes from a fictional town in Iowa called "Gilead". This a lovely portrait of grace and forgiveness, and a book that I would particularly recommend to pastors. It won a Pulitzer, and looking at that list I think it's the first Pulitzer Prize-winning novel I've read. (I've read two such non-fiction books: Gödel, Escher, Bach and Guns, Germs, and Steel.)

Currently Reading:

Dutch Color by Douglas Jones

This is a good example of Christian historical fiction for children. I read it some years ago, and I thought I'd read it again after finishing Tulipomania. It's all about painting and tulips in the Dutch golden age. To be honest, though, it doesn't have the same magic it did the first time I read it.

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller

This has been helpful, inspiring and challenging to me. It argues that every church ought to be a missionary church, explains what that looks like, and suggests steps towards gospel-centredness.

A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel by Peter Leithart

Prudent Abigail by Juan Antonio de Frías y EscalanteMany of you will know that I have started a Doctor of Theology degree at the Presbyterian Theological College. My thesis topic is "The Portrayal of Women in the Book of Samuel". This is a very helpful overview-style commentary on the book. Can you guess which woman is in this picture?

Christian by Degrees by Walton Hannah

I thought it was time to read up on the issue of Freemasonry. Hannah describes many masonic rituals in order to demonstrate their religious and quasi-Christian nature. Hannah argues that Freemasonry is an apostate Christian sect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

John's September Reading

Currently Reading:

Selected Essays of G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton wrote around 4000 essays in his lifetime. This collection includes classics such as "On Gargoyles," "A Piece of Chalk" and "On Turnpikes and Medievalism".

Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused by Mike Dash

At the peak of tulip mania in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. And then the bubble burst. The fact that this occurred during the Dutch Golden Age makes it all the more interesting.

I started reading this book in Canberra last month, and when I visited Sydney, I had to take some pictures of tulips in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

A Food Lover's Treasury, edited by Julie Rugg and Lynda Murphy

This is a discerning collection of literary quotes about food. Some are quite lengthy excepts from novels, such as this one from Alduous Huxley's Crome Yellow:
In the middle of a pleasantly sunny little room—'it is now Priscilla's boudoir,' Mr. Wimbush remarked parenthetically—stood a small circular table of mahogany. Crystal, porcelain, and silver,—all the shining apparatus of an elegant meal—were mirrored in its polished depths. The carcase of a cold chicken, a bowl of fruit, a great ham, deeply gashed to its heart of tenderest white and pink, the brown cannon ball of a cold plum-pudding, a slender Hock bottle, and a decanter of claret jostled one another for a place on this festive board.
Evangelical Concerns by Melvin Tinker

This book is in the same genre as the Carl Trueman books I've read lately. Tinker writes in an irenic and polemic style on a number of doctrinal and practical issues - euthanasia, science, death, the Lord's Supper, territorial spirits, etc. The wikipedia article on that last mentioned topic needs more work, so I will probably add some quotes by Tinker when I've read his essay.

Finished Recently:

Love Rules

This is a series of short essays on each of the ten commandments, written by luminaries of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. The title is delightfully ambiguous: does it refer to the rules of love, or is it telling us to have an affection for regulations, or is it saying that love is the best?

Revelation by C. J. Sansom

This is the fourth Shardlake novel, and a worthy successor to Dissolution and Dark Fire. Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer investigating murders in the time of Henry VIII. This time, all the murders are inspired by the seven bowls of Revelation 16.

Primer on Worship and Reformation by Douglas Wilson

Kara read this recently as well. It's a good summary of some of the ideas I've picked up from Wilson and friends - books like The Lord's Service and Deep Exegesis. Wilson's view of worship emphasises Psalm singing, expository preaching, rejoicing on the Sabbath and covenant renewal.

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

This book is evidently inspired by Chesterton's The Sign of the Broken Sword. The theme in both stories is that of a corpse being hidden in a battlefield. In Chesterton's story, Father Brown asks, "Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what does he do if there is no forest?" He answers his question by saying in an obscure voice, "He grows a forest to hide it in. A fearful sin." In fact, in The Sign of the Broken Sword, the murderer started a battle in order to cover his tracks. Peters uses the metaphor of the leaf also: Brother Cadfael says, "There is a murdered man among your executed men, a leaf hidden in your forest."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kara's Winter Reading

I stopped reading for a while, because of sickness. Then we had company. Then we went on vacation. Lots of normal things in between. Here are a few comments on the books I've enjoyed since my last post.

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner

A small book of meditations on things like candles, prayer, and weddings. Winner muses on how to celebrate God in a Christian way, after her conversion from orthodox Judaism.

A Wrinkle in Time
and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

L'Engle is fast becoming my new favourite author. In both these books, I was immediately drawn in to the story by her compelling picture of homelife. She has a knack of writing about things that are so ubiquitous as to become unnoticed, i.e. the creak of a stairstep or the sound of a house when the refrigerator is off. These bits of the ordinary are what help me get into stories that might otherwise seem too outlandish.

Pajama School by Natalie Wickham

It's always fun reading books by friends. I am able to get a glimpse of another side of a person, through her writing. So because of this, I found this faith memoir hard to put down. However, the average person might not find it so engaging.

The Chase (A Long, Fatal Love Chase) by Louisa May Alcott

I expected this to be a bad book, and so was able to thoroughly enjoy it. It's one of those novels that would have been better left unpublished in an attic. It reads like a teenager's first effort, full of smudgy crayon characters, melodrama and with a plot guessable from the beginning. As long as you don't take it too seriously, it's great fun.

Monsoon Diary: Reveries and recipes from India by Shoba Narayan

This is my favourite sort of food book: half memoir, half cookbook. This gave me a taste of life in India, in more ways than one! I've added her recipe for Channa Masala to my regular repertoire.

Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

Not nearly so good as Blue Like Jazz. He lost me a few chapters in, probably right around the spot where he starts having an imaginary conversation with an angel. Or something. I would have preferred more talk about God, and less about people.

Turkish Cooking by Ghillie Besan

Full of tasty recipes. I tried hummus, menemen and spinach salad, among others.

Repairing the Ruins, the classical and Christian challenge to modern education. Edited by Douglas Wilson

A mixed bag of essays, focused on classical education in a private school setting. One of the best talked about how to teach mathematics in a Christian manner.

Honey for a Child's Heart
by Gladys Hunt

I read this while on vacation in Sydney. Hunt writes winsomely about the importance of reading aloud as a family, and gives many interesting book recommendations.

Psmith Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

Note that the 'P' is silent. :) According to Wodehouse, New York City is full of people who read newspapers non-stop. There are also swarms of thugs with guns. Sometimes the two overlap. Not having been there myself, I have nothing to say on the matter.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I was a bit skeptical of a novel featuring rabbits. Especially rabbits who see visions. However, I kept at it, and soon couldn't stop til I reached the beautiful conclusion. This is imaginative writing at its finest. I especially like the alternating chapters of rabbit mythology.

A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Douglas Wilson

I end up reading one of Wilson's books every month or so. He makes theology and Christian living beautiful. This is a very small book advocating a return to God honouring worship as an antidote for the ills of modern, man-centered evangelicalism. Highly recommended.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett

I love this picture book: beautiful illustrations, not too long, and fun for adults as well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

John's July and August Reading

Currently Reading:

Women of the Old Testament by Abraham Kuyper

This was the first book published by Zondervan. It covers fifty women, including some fairly obscure ones such as the woman of Bahurim. Most of the devotions are fairly moralistic: in regards to the wife of Jeroboam, for example, Kuyper notes that what "the Scriptures intend to teach us by this episode" is that wives should not obey their husbands if they tell them to do evil.

Kuyper does make some use of biblical theology, though - in the chapter on Rebecca, he points out that in favouring Jacob over Esau, Rebecca is partly responsible for the enmity between Edom and Israel - an enmity that extends all the way down to Herod and Jesus.

And a number of the applications in this book are very perceptive. In discussing the Queen of Sheba, Kuyper suggests that
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Giovanni Demin (1789-1859)The Queen of Sheba was not much different from many of the young women of the higher classes among us today. They are eager to know everything.They have highly developed tastes... Had they lived in Solomon's day, they would certainly have made a trip to Jerusalem, just as they now travel to Paris and London, to Vienna and Berlin... Doubtless, they would have marveled in breath-taking bewonderment at the external beauty of the Temple at Jerusalem. But they forget one thing. They forget that a greater than Solomon is here. They forget that that greater One does not primarily ask them to appreciate the beauty of His word, but that he asks them for the surrender of their hearts... For that reason, these interesting and interested young women remain at the stage which the Queen of Sheba reached and go no farther. They come to Jerusalem. They are amazed and awe-struck. And they leave Jerusalem.
The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton by Dave Armstrong and G. K. Chesterton, Theologian by Aidan Nichols

These two books were both published last year. I am reading them in preparation for a talk I am giving on Chesterton at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Chelsea on Thursday, 3rd September at 7:30pm. If you live in Melbourne, feel free to come along.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

It always says something when the name of the author is much bigger than the title of the book. This is the third book in the Robert Langdon series, after The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Like the other two books, the front page of this novel contains a "Fact" section, this time asserting that "All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real." I don't know what "real" means in this context, but here is an example of a scientific statement in the book:
In 2001, in the hours following the horrifying events of September 11, the field of Noetic Science made a quantum leap forward. Four scientists discovered that as the frightened world came together and focused in shared grief on this single tragedy, the outputs of thirty-seven different Random Event Generators around the world suddenly became significantly less random.
This quote, on the other hand, is probably fictional rather than scientific:
Katherine had created beautifully symmetrical ice crystals by sending loving thoughts to a glass of water as it froze.

The Masters by C. P. Snow

C. P. Snow was a scientist who became a writer. This novel is set in an imaginary Cambridge college, and seems to be set around the intrigues within the faculty as they choose a new Master.

Finished Recently:

The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow

Being both a scientist and a novelist, Snow was aware of the divide that often exists between those in the science and those in the humanities - these are the "two cultures" to which the title of this 1959 lecture refers. The point Snow argues is that they don't usually understand each other, and are mutually ignorant of each other's work. He notes that not many in the "traditional culture" (i.e. the humanities) can describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but asking them to do so is, in fact, the scientific equivalent of asking "Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?"

The edition of the book that I read had fifty pages of the original lecture, plus seventy pages of introduction. But such an introduction is probably appropriate given the lecture's influence - it is, for example, included in this list of the
hundred most influential books since the war.

Travel with William Cowper by Paul Williams

William CowperI have blogged about this series before, and this volume was similar to the ones I had read on John Knox and Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Cowper is best known for the hymns God moves in a mysterious way, O for a closer walk with God and There is a fountain filled with blood - but is also notable for his struggle with insanity and depression. He had a mental breakdown every ten years: in 1752, 1763 and 1773.

The Philippian Fragment by Calvin Miller

This book is a series of fictional letters from the second century. The author purports to be the pastor of the church at Philippi. There is a lot of pastoral wisdom here, though it gets rather silly at times.

The Flanders Panel by
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

This was a rare re-reading. The Flanders Panel is a mystery novel about art and chess, and so it's right up my alley. It does, however, contain violence and sensuality, and so I am not recommending it here. One thing struck me as I read it again: not only is the painting in the story fictional, but it reflects an imaginative history of a non-existent country: the Duchy of Ostenburg, which is described as being somewhere between Luxembourg and Flanders. In fact, I only realised it was fictional when I tried to look it up on Wikipedia.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

John's June Reading

Currently Reading:

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

I somehow missed out on reading this when it first came out, but Luke recommended it to me, and now that the film is about to be released, it seemed like the perfect time to get into it. The storyline is intriguing, and the characters bemuse me.

Unfinished Tales by J. R. R. Tolkien

We watched all three LOTR films a couple of weeks ago, and that inspired me to reread this book. It fills in a number of the little details. For example, Unfinished Tales is the source of our knowledge about the Istari: along with Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey and Radagast the Brown, there were two other Blue Wizards, making five in all.

Abraham Kuyper: God's Renaissance Man by James McGoldrick

More on Kuyper. The Religion in the Public Square colloquium is only a few weeks away, and I'm busy writing my paper on Kuyper that I'm going to present there.

The Wages of Spin by Carl Trueman

From the first few essays, this isn't quite as good as Minority Report, which I read last year, but it still seems worth reading.

Finished Recently:

Pajama School by Natalie Wickham

This book is an autobiographical memoir, and I enjoyed reading how the author had been taught and moulded by the Holy Spirit over the years. In this way it reminded me of Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God.

This book is not solely about homeschooling - instead, Natalie has a lot to say about her involvement in various ministries. This includes several chapters devoted to her work with the Adventures in Character program. As its very name implies, this program is about teaching children how God wants them to live - honouring their parents, telling the truth, showing gratefulness.

The problem with this approach is that it is not gospel-centred, gospel-focused and gospel-driven. Children of all ages and all backgrounds need to hear the gospel, again and again and again. After all, the gospel is the "power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). And the gospel is not what God wants us to do, it is about what God has done for us.

There is also no substitute for teaching kids systematically from the Bible. Take, for example, this children's curriculum called Promises. One might expect it to be about keeping promises to others. In fact, it's about the promises that God has made to people. That's what children need to hear. Regardless of whether or not they are from Christian backgrounds, regardless of whether or not they are converted, sound teaching means drawing out from Scripture what God has done for us in Christ.

Sovereign by C. J. Sansom

This is the third book in the Shardlake series - detective novels featuring a hunchback lawyer in the time of Henry VIII. This one is set in 1541, when Henry was married to Catherine Howard. It's not quite as interesting as the first two in the series. The characters spend the book feeling cold and miserable, and so does the reader.

Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart

I loved this book. It's one of the best books on understanding the Bible that I've read. Leithart goes through different aspects of understanding the biblical text, constantly coming back to John 9 in order to illustrate what he means.

Leithart starts off by arguing that the text of Scripture is important: we ought not view it as a husk to be stripped away and discarded in order to get at the kernel. He then suggests that texts add meaning to what has gone before. So, in John 9:14 we are told that Jesus had healed the blind man on the Sabbath day. This crucial piece of information had been withheld until now, and it colours all that goes before. Meaning emerges as we read through the chapter.

Leithart then proceeds to discuss poetic meanings (like John pausing to tell us what the name of the pool means in 9:7) and intertextual allusions (such as creation out of dust in John 9:6 and Genesis 2:7). He also looks at structure, and notes that the interrogation of the blind man's parents forms the hinge of a chiasm. Leithart concludes by asserting the Christ-centred nature of all sound interpretation.

At times Leithart seems to get bogged down by talking about people like Spinoza and Oedipus, but this is still an excellent book for those who read theology at a first-year seminary level.

Preaching that Speaks to Women by Alice Mathews

I aim to read at least one book on preaching every year, and two things in particular stand out in this one. In the first place, Mathews raises three questions that every preacher should ask: What does the text mean? Is it true? So what? In other words, preaching involves explaining, proving and applying. Secondly, Mathews has some helpful things to say about eschewing power. That is something I really need to remind myself of as a minister. Yet neither of these things have much to do with preaching to women in particular. I finished this book wondering how preaching to women is different to preaching to men. Indeed, the great need in the church today is not that preachers learn how to preach to women, but that they learn how to preach full stop.

Monday, May 24, 2010

John's May Reading

Currently Reading:

Brave New Family: G. K. Chesterton on Men and Women, Children, Sex, Divorce, Marriage and the Family

I am giving a talk on Chesterton at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Chelsea on Thursday, 2nd September at 7:30pm. This is a wonderful collection of pieces, recently compiled. This morning I read "The Library of the Nursery," where Chesterton argues that children do not really need books of Nonsense. "Sages and grey-haired philosophers," to be sure, "ought to sit up all night reading
Alice in Wonderland," but
The child has no need of nonsense: to him the whole universe is nonsensical, in the noblest sense of that noble word. A tree is something top-heavy and fantastic, a donkey is as exciting as a dragon. All objects are seen through a great magnifying-glass; the daisy in the meadow is as large as a tree of the Hesperides, and the pebbles littered about a puddle will serve for the Islands of the Blest.

Christ and Culture by Klaas Schilder

I have been thinking through the issue of common grace in preparation for my talk on Abraham Kuyper at the Religion in the Public Square colloquium, and I thought this would be an opportunity to finally have a go at reading this book. Much of what Schilder wrote on the subject of culture and grace is a response to Kuyper's ideas:
We are fog-bound. Even the followers of Dr. Abraham Kuyper are. For years and years they talked of nothing but “God’s honour in all spheres of life.” The more scholarly ones among them constantly repeated Kuyper’s adage concerning “sphere sovereignty.” Every “sphere” of “life” had its own “sovereignty. However; often they do no more than repeat this slogan. No wonder. For Abraham Kuyper himself could not clearly explain what exactly those “sovereigns” in all those “spheres” are. One single Sovereign—that we can accept and understand But as soon as one starts to speak about “sovereigns” in the plural, each of them in his own sphere, then things become vague.

I've been greatly blessed in the past by reading Schilder's trilogy on the suffering and death of Christ. Those were rich meditations, but difficult to read - it literally took me years to get through the three books. So far,
Christ and Culture seems to suffer from the same sort of lack of readability.

Passage by Connie Willis

I don't often re-read books, but this one is just so good. It's about a couple of researchers who manage to simulate near-death experiences. This is a gripping story, and Willis is most adept at getting the reader to identify with the main characters.

Reading the Old Testament by John Barton

As many readers will know, I am starting to specialise in the Old Testament in my reading and study, and this book provides a good introduction to the different types of approaches and "criticisms" out there. I have found it useful in writing the Wikipedia article on canonical criticism.

Finished Recently:

Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

This was a difficult read, and it's hard to explain what are the three views in question. They revolve around fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. For example, Matthew 2:15 indicates that certain events in Jesus' life "fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: Out of Egypt I called my son." This is a quotation of Hosea 11:1. Now, as I understand them, Walter Kaiser would say that Hosea was revealed a truth about the Messiah, Darrell Bock would understand the passage as talking about God's Son, but that Jesus as well as Israel, fulfils that role, while Peter Enns would say that Hosea was not thinking about Christ at all, but since the whole of the Old Testament has Christ as the goal, it was reasonable of Matthew to make the connection.

This has been a burgeoning area of study in recent years, as witnessed by the massive
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, which I often use in sermon preparation.

The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction by Frederick Buechner

Last time I blogged, I mentioned how I was reading
Buechner's The Book of Bebb. I thought it would be appropriate to read some of his non-fiction at the same time. This is a collection of sermons and addresses. The title of the book comes from an anecdote about a certain Lyman Woodard who "stood on his head in the belfry with his feet toward heaven." That, says Buechner, "is a magical and magnificent and Mozartian thing to do."

Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do about It by Julia Duin

This book is about those who quit church, for such reasons as being hurt by a church, not being able to find good teaching, or not having churches take singleness seriously. Interestingly, one of the reasons covered is charismatics not being able to find a suitable church, since so many charismatic churches have, in recent years, moved away from exercising the extraordinary gifts.

Searching the Scriptures - A Feminist Introduction

The world of feminist hermeneutics is a desolate one, and I would not recommend venturing there without good reason. The essays in this book seem to be based on two premises: 1) the Bible is intensely patriarchal; 2) that's a bad thing. Still, the book wasn't quite as bad as I expected.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kara's March and April Reading


A Girl at Government House, An English Girl's Reminiscences: "Below Stairs" in Colonial Australia, ed. by Helen Vellacott

Recently, I was talking with one of the ladies at church about Kansas and Victorian history. I gave her Pioneer Women; she gave me this. What a fun read it was! It's an edited version of a book published anonymously many years ago. Helen Vellacott found an old copy in a bookshop and liked the story so much that she researched until she found the name of the author. This edition has illustrations and photos of many of the people and places mentioned in the story. It's the memoir of a girl who left England for Australia in the 1890's, and ended up working in the kitchens of several prominent leaders of the day.

Pride and Predator by Sally S. Wright

Second in a series. Dorothy Sayers wannabe, Wright, gives us a story of a Scottish minister killed by bees. I didn't like this nearly as much as Publish and Perish. But that might not have so much to do with the book, as with the fact that I'm a minister's wife.

Changing Planes
by Ursula Le Guin

This collection of short stories soon lost its attraction for me. What began as an intriguing idea (people stranded in airports visiting other "planes") soon flopped, as the stories began to look like anthropological studies. I've since been told that this probably wasn't the best Le Guin to start with.

Bobby Brewster's Ghost by H.E. Todd

Two reasons I took this took this from the shelf: I wanted to read a book that John had read as a child. And my littlest brother had just read it, and given me an enthusiastic report. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Currently reading:

Reformed is not Enough by Douglas Wilson

The Federal Vision book. And I still don't see what the big deal is. I've found the discussion of living by faith in the chapter entitled "Reformation Bona Fides" particularly helpful. I'm still thinking on this: "systematic interpretations may be allowed to interpret what the Scriptures say...but they must never be allowed to replace what the Scriptures say. We can tell we have stumbled at this place when we disallow (for the sake of our systematic understanding) a phrase or statement that the Bible itself uses." (p.54) I'm afraid I've done that before.

The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears

I'm halfway through and I still don't know what's going on. But somehow I feel compelled to finish.

Immortal Lovers: Elizabeth Barret and Robert Browning by Frances Winwar

John, Tony (my brother in law) and I were out walking the other day when our attention was drawn to a sign: Book sale, 100m. A little later, there was another: Book sale, 50m. By now, we were excited! This is one of the books I came home with. (John and Tony found several useful Bible commentaries)

Prodigal Press by Marvin Olasky

Not certain one of the major premises is entirely accurate. (Did the U.S. ever have any Christian reporting? Or was it simply that newspapers used the accepted phraseology of the day?) But still a very insightful study on journalism past and present, with a helpful discussion of the ethical issues at stake.

BookSneeze Review: Jane Austen by Peter Leithart

In this slim biography (only 175 pages), Peter Leithart endeavours to counter misconceptions of the "Divine Jane" and to reveal Austen as she was. He shows how her life was idealized in the 19th century, and compares letters quoted in older biographies with the originals. Leithart argues that Austen's satiric, sometimes cutting, sense of humour has been often downplayed or ignored. The Victorian Austen was "an Austen who could never even deign to notice bad breath, much less complain about it to her sister." (page 146)

He also comments on the current craze for all things Austen, labelling it "Janeia". He says that "Jane Austen is now what she never was in life, what what she would have been horrified to become--a literary celebrity." (back cover) Instead, he believes that she was a humble person: "She recognized her own smallness, and she achieved artistic greatness because she recognized her limitations and joyfully worked within them...." (page 153)

I've not read many biographies of Austen, so am not sure if Leithart is really saying anything new. But I found the book a concise, balanced introduction to her life, and a useful companion to Leithart's excellent commentary on Austen's novels, Miniatures and Morals.

Note: Originally, the book was written as part of the Cumberland Press Leaders in Action series, however, publication was delayed when the press went out of business last year. Thankfully, Thomas Nelson decided to print it as part of their Christian Encounters series. I was thrilled to receive a review copy from Booksneeze .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

John's March Reading

Currently Reading:

Intentional Disciplemaking: Cultivating Spiritual Maturity in the Local Church by Ron Bennett

I am reading this book as part of discussion group with my fellow PTC graduates.

Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread by R. C. Sproul, Jr.

This is an informative book. Sproul is very critical of U.S. governmental policy, and accuses it of stealing, not so much through high taxation, but through currency devaluation and excessive borrowing. It's not quite as biblical as I would like: perhaps a better title would be Austrian Economics.

Reading Biblical Narrative by J. P. Fokkelman

This is one of the classics in the field. I find the recent trend towards literary approaches in biblical studies to be quite satisfying.

The Book of Bebb by Frederick Buechner

This volume consists of a quartet of novels, the first three of which I read about ten years ago. I bought this book recently, and decided I wanted to re-read them all before I got to the one I haven't read yet. They are about a so-called evangelist named Leo Bebb, who runs a mail-order ordination business. Buechner describes his physical appearance in the following terms:
A workable, Tweedledum mouth with the lines at the corners, the hinge marks, making an almost perfect H with the tight lips. A face plump but firm, pale but not sick pale. He was high-polish bald and had hardly a trace of facial hair, beard or eyebrows even. The eyes were jazzy and wide open and expectant, as if he'd just pulled a rabbit out of a hat or was waiting for me to.

Finished Recently:

of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member by Jay Adams

As the title suggests, this is a practical manual of the way in which biblical discipline should be carried out in the church. And as the subtitle indicates, the great theme of this book is that discipline is a blessing that we dare not withhold from God's people.

One of the unusual arguments in the book is that there is a difference between excommunication and "putting outside the fellowship". In the former, the offending party is still regarded as a brother, while in the latter situation, he is regarded as a "tax collector or sinner".

A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula Le Guin

Another classic that for years I'd never got around to reading. Completely enchanting.

Visions & Voyages: The Story of Celtic Spirituality by Fay Sampson

This book's subtitle is a little misleading, as the book has much more to do with the history of Celtic Christianity than its "spirituality". But it contains a whole lot of great stories and fascinating characters.

Biffen's Millions and The Return of Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

These are both the U.S. titles. They were published in the U. K. under the titles Frozen Assets and Ring for Jeeves respectively. Light-hearted fun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kara's February Reading

Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller

Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

Two spiritual autobiographies that made me think. The first is by a man who ended up a Christian, in spite of early experiences of Fundamentalism gone bad. He challenged my ideas of what evangelism and friendship with non-Christians should look like. This must be the sort of book Kafka was talking about: "I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?" (read the rest of the quote here)

I loved Girl Meets God. In it, Lauren Winner tells of her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. She brings home to me the truth that following Christ costs something. I appreciated how her story is neither glib nor saccharine, and how she doesn't gloss over the many intellectual struggles she had along the way. I hope to read more from this author--Mudhouse Sabbath next, I think.

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

I've been vaguely familiar with aspects of Charlotte Mason's education theory for some time now. Things like reading aloud, narration, and nature study. But I've wanted to learn more. So I was happy to find this introduction to her thought on our shelves. I found myself arguing with the book as I read, and even after finishing I don't really understand the ideas behind the method.

In spite of this, I did glean some helpful things. I appreciate the admonition to parents to not act like they have all the answers, and to make sure that the children know that their parents are under authority, too. Of particular interest to me was the idea that I can help children now, even if I don't have any of my own. Being willing to listen, perhaps reading aloud to a child in the neighbourhood.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I was deeply disappointed in this book. After seeing and liking the movie, I expected a book that revelled in the delights of chocolate while exploring themes of prejudice, friendship and hypocrisy in religion. Well, I got the themes. But not much chocolate. Which is almost infuriating, considering the book's title! I was left feeling a bit depressed and confused. I couldn't identify with any of the characters at any meaningful level. Who was I supposed to feel for? The snooty, prejudiced townspeople? The rootless chocolatier who dabbles in witchcraft? The fanatical priest with a hidden past? The story seems to be saying that life is better when we throw away prejudice, help those in need, and do what we like (never mind what society thinks). Maybe there's some element of truth buried somewhere in there. But when I reached the end of the book, I was thinking of the emptiness and futility of life without Christ.

The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton

Great for someone who already likes Chesterton, but not for anyone else. Too episodic. He's not really much of a novelist. Lots of speeches, poetry and story all mixed up together.

The "Song of Right and Wrong" is often quoted at our house.

Monday, February 15, 2010

John's February Reading

Currently Reading:

The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pellegrini

This book, first published in 1948, is a memoir/reflection on cooking and eating by an Italian immigrant to the US. He reacts angrily to the culinary élite who suggest that "excellent meals require exotic and unavailable ingredients, endless hours in the kitchen and a lifetime to perfect" (page 10). Instead, Pellegrini extols the virtues of simple fare and growing one's own vegetables.

Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy Sayers

This volume contains some of Sayers' best pieces, such as "Christian Morality" and "A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus". Most of these I'd read before - indeed, several of them are reprinted in Letters to a Diminished Church, which I bought a few years ago. That latter volume, however, was terribly edited, and inexplicably omitted the first half of the address "Creative Mind". Anyway, I particularly enjoyed reading "The Gulf Stream and the Channel", which muses on how Britain's geography may affect its culture.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

This is my third Austen novel, having read Emma and Pride and Prejudice. So far, it seems to have an inordinate number of introductory chapters.

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

I received a review copy of this book through Book Sneeze. Stay tuned for a full-length review.

Finished Recently:

Visit the Sick: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Illness by Brian Croft

This is the second book I have read in DayOne's inexpensive and helpful Ministering the Master's Way series.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Kara is reading this series aloud to me - this is the fourth book we've read.

Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller

I really like this guy. This book left me wanting more.

Four Gospels, One Jesus: A Symbolic Reading by Richard Burridge

This book compares the four biblical gospels. Burridge takes as his starting point the traditional portraits of the Evangelists: Matthew is traditionally represented by a man, Mark by a lion, Luke by an ox and John by an eagle, as pictured in the Lindisfarne Gospels:

Burridge, however, give these representations a new twist: he considers these images as ones the evangelists use of Jesus. Thus, Mark portrays Jesus as a lion who bounds across the stage - "the lion bounds on, roars, and bounds off again, calling us to see him, in Galilee, somewhere." Luke, on the other hand, portrays Jesus as an ox, plodding steadily toward being sacrificed.

Although it can be overdone, we do need to recognise the differences between the gospel accounts, and avoid flattening them out into one "Life of Christ" narrative. I learned a lot of things in this book about the subtle differences between the gospels. For example, whereas Luke uses the words "joy" and "rejoice" numerous times, in Mark's gospel they're only used once each - in 4:16, when the seed on rocky ground receives the word "with joy," and in 14:11 when the chief priests rejoice over Judas' betrayal. That is to say, Mark's theology is one of "suffering and darkness".