My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!





Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder





What Should Christians Write About?

8 12 2011

“Christians should write about what God wrote about. Everything in the arts is imitation in some way shape or form; godly, gracious, good imitation. Christians should write about what God wrote about, which is to say: oranges, orange rinds, mammoths, clipper ships, marriage, conversion, hanging off of cliffs and watching the river flow. And everything in between and on either side of any one of those things.”
(Douglas Wilson – Wordsmithy)





Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. Socrates wrote:

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.”

Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them. And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!

__________

* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.





To mock or not to mock

21 05 2011

So today is judgment day, and I have mixed feelings. Not about whether the Rapture might happen or not, but about how I should conduct myself in the run up to 6pm, and what I should do and say at 6.01.

To Mock

I truly think that the guys who think they’ve calculated the rapture, and the thousands who have given up their homes, jobs, and wasted thousands of dollars on this are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. And I very much want myself, my church, my faith and my Lord to be disassociated from their fruitloop theology!

So on the one hand, I think mild mockery is probably the best way. I’ve enjoyed reading some of the #rapture tweets, particularly by some Christian friends. I’ve laughed at a bit of satire and have joked about it a little. I’ll be at a wedding this evening, and think it might be kind of amusing to leave little piles of clothes and shoes out in the corridors for people to stumble across… or play a trumpet fanfare from my iPhone in the middle of the speeches. (Of course, I won’t do either…)

And I hope that my friends who aren’t Christians will look at those things and realise that Mr Camping does not speak for all Christians. I hope that they will appreciate that many Christians think this is as silly as they do, and I hope that as a result they will be able to differentiate between oddball fanatics and the real deal.

However…

Not to Mock

… I do wonder if mockery may do more harm than good. In passing Camping and his theories off as a laughable fiction, we may well give people the impression we don’t take the second coming seriously. And that could be a serious hindrance for the gospel.

Already I’ve noticed that early comments on the Camping phenomenon labelled May 21st ‘Judgment Day’ whereas more recent ones tend to say ‘Rapture Day.’ In creating a mockery of it, have we removed the fear of judgment? By mocking and joking, I do hope that we can strip away some of the nonsense, but in so doing, I hope we don’t cause people to take judgment less seriously.

Paul’s words to the Athenians are still as true and urgent as ever:

‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
(Acts 17:30-31)

I do slightly fear that in telling people it’s not going to happen at 6pm we may end up making them think it’s not going to happen at all. In so caricaturing Camping’s vision of judgment day so as to seem unthinkably foolish, do we run the risk of making judgment itself seem unbelievable?

Tomorrow I shall, God willing (!), be preaching on Ephesians 2:1-10. It’s a bold and striking passage with some hard truths to hear. I shall make no mention of the rapture, Harold, or the end of the world, but I hope to preach a message that is faithful to the difficult truths, and yet still full of hope, inviting and urging people to make a decision…

Judgment is coming. Probably not at 6pm this evening. It could happen sooner… Either way, are you ready?





Love Wins: An Incognito Sheep?

28 02 2011

Once again, Rob Bell has stirred up much discussion simply by announcing the publication of a new book…

From the start, let me say this: I like the guy. I think he is a remarkably gifted communicator and a provocative preacher. Many of his insights into preaching are remarkable, and I would far rather grab a beer with him than many of the theological heavyweights in the reformed world with whom I may be more closely aligned… for the simple reason that he’s interesting! He’s creative. He’s quirky. I think he’d be fun to spend time with. He’s a bit more edgy. He doesn’t just serve up a hunk of flame-grilled meat; he knows how to cook it sous-vide, decorate and garnish it! He’s the Heston Blumenthal of the preaching world. And there, perhaps, lies his downfall…

His new book, Love Wins, comes out at the end of March, and already bloggers are wading in and condemning it as heresy, swiftly followed by the predictable backlash of comments saying ‘how dare you? You haven’t read it yet!‘ Well… yes… they have a point. But if the promo video is anything to go by, the concerns of the likes of Justin Taylor and Joshua Harris are quite valid. It does appear that Bell is radically redefining, or rejecting the biblical notion of hell.

But then again, Rob Bell does have an infuriating habit of painting himself as less orthodox than he really is. I found that reading Velvet Elvis I regularly got annoyed at what I perceived to be him rejecting a major doctrine, only to find upon a careful second-reading that he wasn’t really denying it at all. Often he raises incisive questions in order to expose our knee-jerk fundamentalism, and to cause us to rethink how we express our doctrines. Such a strategy is high-risk! Many never recover from their initial anger, and others, not picking up the nuances, will think that his questioning gives them permission to jettison large portions of orthodox faith. Personally I would be wary at taking such large risks when the items that stand to suffer are people’s hearts, minds and souls.

I sincerely hope that this is another of those ill-advised, but typically ‘Bellian’ marketing strategies. We are greatly in need of a way of articulating hell that avoids the equal and opposite pitfalls of grace-less fundamentalism and woolly liberalism. If Bell can help us with that, I will be very grateful. But for the moment I am more inclined to echo the concern of Harris and Taylor… I am dismayed, but sorely hope I am wrong.

Leaving aside the specifics of this book though, this marks a peculiar shift in preaching technique and common sense. I am deeply saddened that we have reached a point in time where people feel that the only way to get a hearing for orthodoxy is to dress it up as heresy! Jesus warned us about:

Wolves dressing as sheep to feed on the sheep

But now we’re beginning to see a strange phenomenon:

Sheep dressing as wolves to feed the sheep

If this continues, sales in lamb will suffer, and nobody will know who to trust…





A God is for life, not just for Christmas

24 12 2010

The Christmas wars are in full swing.

Saint Knick - by Joriel "Joz" Jimenez

Scientists now claim that Christmas trees are offensive to people who are not Christians. Well that’s a new one… An object utterly unrelated to the true Christmas story now offends non-Christians. (To be honest, I find Christmas trees and gaudy decorations offensive, but for aesthetic rather than theological reasons.) Strangely I haven’t heard anybody claim offense at seeing Santa plastered everywhere, on Coke adverts, in luminescent form stuck on someone’s roof, or by way of dubiously dressed imitations in shopping centres (the majority of which, I fear, flout CRB laws with  aplomb). I can’t think why… perhaps because Santa gives legitimacy and permission to our craving for materialism?

And on the opposite side of the war, we see the seasonal billboards adorning Church buildings up and down the country, reminding people that Jesus is the meaning of Christmas. At least these have the unifying effect of making both Christians and Atheists alike cringe and consider emigrating.

‘Jesus came to sleigh your sin’

‘There’s snow way to the Father, except through him’

Ok – so I made those up… but you catch my drift.

It’s all well and good. I lament the removal of Christ from Christmas. I applaud the motives behind the billboards, even though I cringe at the design. (There seriously ought to be a Quango in charge of ensuring that comic sans is removed from all public use. If it weren’t for funding cuts…) But here’s my wish:

I wish Christians would care as much about reminding people to keep Christ in Easter as they do Christmas. And Pentecost for that matter. And each and every Sunday. And any celebration of nature, truth and beauty. And a dreary Tuesday in November when nothing of significance is in the national calendar.

As Abraham Kuyper said:

‘In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, “That is mine!”’

Tree or no tree, Santa or no Santa, don’t forget Jesus this Christmas. But please remember too, a God is for life, not just for Christmas!