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





Thoughts on Violence…

22 11 2011

My posting here has been somewhat spasmodic of late. The busyness of life, work, finding a new house, starting an MA etc has squashed out some of my more frivolous activities such as filling the ether with my rambling thoughts. But in case you fancy reading articles I’ve posted elsewhere, here are a couple of links:

About a week ago I wrote an article over at whatyouthinkmatters.org entitled ‘Who Would Jesus Punch?’ trying to model how to begin thinking biblically about an issue like violence in sports. It generated a little debate (and even gained a response from the venerable otter St Stuffed Shirt. I’m honoured, I think) and as a result we’ve started a little mini-series on issues surrounding Christians and violence.

Matthew Hosier kicked off the series yesterday with ‘War and Peace pt 1’, providing a brief historical overview of the debate on war and pacifism: a particularly helpful read if you don’t have the time or inclination to dip into the voluminous sources from the early church and theologians of the middle ages. And today the first of my posts has gone up: ‘The Right to Bear the Sword the State has’, looking at Yoder on Romans 12-13 (see what I did there?) It won’t answer (m)any of your questions, but hopefully will raise one big fat one at the end, to which I’d love to hear some responses. (Pop them on that site rather than here, so everyone can join in the discussion)

The series will continue all week… Enjoy





Eagerly Desire the Gifts…

6 09 2011

If you find yourself at a loose end today, check out part two of the series in response to Douglas Wilson: Eagerly Desire the Gifts, Especially that you may Write Scripture over at whatyouthinkmatters.org in which we look at whether prophecy and scripture writing are necessarily the same thing!

Read, cogitate and join the conversation!





On closed spigots and private spirits

2 09 2011

Should you feel so inclined, you can check out a new post of mine, uploaded today at whatyouthinkmatters.org entitled ‘On closed spigots and private spirits.‘ This is part one of three posts raising some questions on Douglas Wilson’s theology of Spiritual Gifts.

The website has got some good traffic these last few days, and an increasing number of people interacting through the comments. So why not give it a read, check out some of the previous articles, and join in the conversation!





Getting my junk together

31 08 2011

I have an annoying habit – which may well be on account of my gender – of leaving items such as keys, my wallet or loose change scattered in random parts of the house. I walk into the house, and tend to just put down the items on whatever flat space happens to be available at that part particular moment in time.

Having been irritated by this for quite some time, my wife has devised a simple but brilliant solution: a small rectangular plate, approximately 12x5cm, which resides permanently on the bookshelf. This is my space, and we have an agreement that all my random items are to be placed on this plate, and on this plate alone. Not every possession I own, of course, just those little things that I’m tempted to dump on windowsills and promptly forget about. And it works the other way round too; if I fail to put my keys there and instead place them in some unhelpful location, upon finding them, Helen relocates them to the plate. Thus my junk is confined to a 60cm² piece of porcelain.

In recent months I have been scattering thoughts in too many locations around the web – an article here, a blog post there – and I’ve tried not to duplicate material too much for fear of boring absolutely everyone at every juncture. But now even I’m losing track of what I’ve written and when, and so I think the time has come to put all my junk in one place.

So consider this blog something of a porcelain plate!

When I write articles elsewhere, I’ll link to them here as well. That way, everything I say, do and write is in one searchable location, and perhaps I’ll remember where I’ve left my thoughts, should I ever have need for them again.

And so I start with something published today… This is a talk I gave at Newday 2011 called God’s Plan to Change the World, which can be found at the Everything Conference website along with an interactive presentation, my first foray into the wonderful world of prezi.

It was a fun challenge to try to articulate something of the Everything concept to 14-18 year olds… you can be the judge of whether I succeeded! At least, if nothing else, it was amusing making everyone look as stupid as my sister did:


Enjoy!





Oh for truthful beauty, and beautiful truth…

2 08 2011

Trevin Wax has posted a brilliant comment on Chan and Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell, in which he’s picked up on a concern I’ve had for sometime with the battle between the Emergent and Reformed camps. I’ve been meaning to post something to this effect, but he beat me to it, and did a brilliant job.

Read the whole thing, please, but here are some of the key sections I would like to comment on:

‘Chan and Sprinkle approach this topic from an analytical, exegetical point of view. And […] at the exegetical level, the book succeeds. But that’s not where the battle is being waged. No one is discarding hell because of the convincing nature of Bell’s eisegesis. No… people are following Bell because of the compelling way he has made his case.

Chan and Sprinkle are analysts. Bell fashions himself as an artist. (It’s no coincidence Bell’s first book is Velvet Elvis.)

Chan and Sprinkle are theologian-pastors. Bell fashions himself as a risky explorer.

The power of Love Wins is not in Bell’s exegesis or in his thoughtfulness. The power of Bell’s book is in its aesthetic qualities. Bell is appealing to the sentiments and emotions in a way that proves effective for many disaffected evangelicals today.

Bell’s book is troublesome, not because it is a thoughtful representation of the optimistic inclusivist position. (See Clark Pinnock’s work if you’re looking for that!) It’s troublesome because it is seeking to make inclusivism beautiful. Bell succeeds at “dressing up” falsehood. Meanwhile, his evangelical critics aren’t even bothering with the wardrobe. We are Nixon, and he is Kennedy. From a purely rhetorical, debating standpoint, we win. But Bell understands the medium.

What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

I’m not calling out Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle alone on this. God bless them – they care about precious truths and they are working to preserve them. No, I’m indicting myself in this too. We struggle in the area of aesthetics, and I’m not sure why. After all, the Reformed wing of the church is influenced by Jonathan Edwards, who wrote more about beauty than virtually any theologian in Christian history. The study of true beauty is the study of God. So why doesn’t the result of our study reflect that?

[…]

The problem with the responses to Love Wins is that, while we are experts at critiquing Bell’s vision of God, we aren’t stepping up with a more compelling portrait of God’s magnificence. We are scribbling down our thoughts under Bell’s chalk drawing instead of taking up the paint brush and creating something that reflects the beauty of biblical truth.

We can write 50-page criticisms of The Shack. Meanwhile, men and women like William Young continue to craft great stories. We grasp the issues, but others grasp the medium.

Beyond that, we often appear pedantic in the grasping of these important issues. In the study of the communication arts, there is a part of the brain known as Brocha’s Area which acts like the gateway to whether people actually listen. Surprising or intriguing Brocha is one way to get that door to open – something that art in its many variations is capable of doing.

Erasing Hell is functional, but not beautiful. From a functional point of view, I recommend it. But I think we need to be pushed on the beautiful side of this equation as well. The gospel shouldn’t shut down our imagination, but rather fuel it and direct it toward the beauty that is inherent to the truth. We need more than analysis; we need artistry.’

He is absolutely right.

The thing I found most frustrating in the whole Love Wins fiasco was the lack of creativity, compelling writing and aesthetically-evocative engagement I saw coming from those who defended an orthodox position. As Wax said, we can write the 50 page responses with proof-texts galore, but they’re the ones writing the good stories.

I could list half a dozen responses to Love Wins which I think are genuinely, biblically excellent. DeYoung’s tome is outstanding. Carson’s Gospel Coalition session is very helpful. But neither of them has that ‘I must turn the page’ factor. None of them has me holding my breath, or causes a tear to form in my eye like Bell does when he pleads with me “but don’t you wish this were true?”

So we saw papers, articles, blogs and debates with people who dotted every I, crossed every T and painted a picture of a God with no heart, soul, or emotions. (Perhaps ‘painted a picture’ is too artistic a term: I fear ‘chalked up an equation’ may be more apt). In fact, sometimes I wonder if the god they defended wasn’t some wizened old coward with his hands tied, mumbling feebly “I really wish I could help… genuinely I do… but logic prohibits me!”

The thing we have to remember is that it is not, on the whole, those with neo-reformed predilections who are being swayed by Bell. It’s the emergent, arty people; those who’ve often been hurt by churches, or who tend to (rightly or wrongly) be wary of black and white statements and hardline positions. It’s the disaffected and suspicious; those who need to be wooed rather than lambasted. Therefore we can’t simply expect to speak to them in Reformedese, and imagine that they will respond positively. We need to engage with them on their terms, in their language, in a style they’ll understand and warm to.

So nobody with a predisposition to engage with the emergent style is going to take kindly to being handed a missive by Carson, or an angry rant by Driscoll (for different reasons: one has a lot of academic clout, but sometimes feels a little dry, and the other has a loud voice that gets people’s backs up immediately, irrespective of the content). That would be somewhat like complaining to your local street cleaner that he missed a spot, but doing so in finely honed, point-perfect, totally abstruse and impenetrable Latin. You’re simply speaking a different language!

(Ok, maybe it’s not quite like that. No offence to emergent guys or street cleaners… But there is an issue of language at stake here: tone, style, timbre and vernacular. And we can’t assume that because we technically speak the same language: ‘English’ we speak the same form of English.)

You can’t just approach someone who loves grey areas and say:

‘Look, it’s just black and white! There’s no middle ground and you have to choose!’

But you can say gently and with a winsome tone:

‘Sure, that looks a bit grey. But there are even different shades of grey. And surely you can see that this shade of grey is darker than that one… and hey, this shade of grey is only one step away from being black.’

And thus we woo…

Ultimately, whilst I may favour the Reformed perspective, I am drawn to beauty. And I wish beyond wish that there were more people from the orthodox perspective writing with the same level of creative engagement as some of the emergent guys. Because frankly, some of the Reformed guys make me want to switch sides… Call it petulance, but I have artistic tendencies that are often unfulfilled by many of the guys I read or listen to. I have the odd postmodern gene bobbing along in my bloodstream, and if my head-shape were a little more regular, I daresay I might be tempted shave my hair and wear emergent, thick-rimmed glasses… If you catch my drift.

I want truth and I want beauty. Surely that’s not asking for too much?

We need to find ways of turning phrases, and painting vistas that are compelling and evocative, not simply perfectly lined up, puritanical and soulless. I don’t want to write (or read!) books that make people go “Well, I guess I have to believe that, even if I don’t like it, because at the end of the day he showed me more proof texts than the other guy.” I want to write and read books that make me see the beauty of unpopular doctrines.

As I write, I am on the train on the way home from speaking at a seminar at the Newday youth festival. At the end of the seminar a girl came and asked me if in the new creation she would remember her non-Christian friends. And if so, how could she remember them without feeling a sense of sorrow at their absence. We spoke for a while and settled on the fact that there will be a good number of things that we will come to with a fresh perspective “when we’ve been there ten thousand years.” Perhaps one of the reasons we won’t feel sorrow is that we will be captivated by a new understanding of judgment; one that emphasises justice over emotive-offence; one that sees things from God’s perspective at last. And the things that once seemed abhorrent may then shine like precious jewels.

If only people could begin to write in such a way as to help us see like that now… Oh for truthful beauty, and beautiful truth!