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Borrowing Brains: 2009 Reading

Just wondering…

1. What was the best Christian book you read in 2009? Why?

2. What was the best secular book you read in 2009? Why?

3. What was the worst/most disappointing book you read in 2009? Why?

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24 Responses

  1. 1) A Vision for Mission (Tom Wells) — An excellent treatment of missions. My heart was warmed by the book, and I gave a copy of it to each of our missionaries for our missions conference.

    2) Toss up between Killer Angels (Michael Shaara) and State of Fear (Michael Crichton). The first is historical fiction about the battle of Gettysburg; I read it because I live near Gettysburg. The second was a compelling story about the conspiracy behind global climate change.

    3) Wild at Heart (John Eldredge) — The book is about exploding the myths behind what real manhood should be, but the author consistently repeatedly referred to modern myths (Hollywood films) to illustrate what manhood should be.

  2. 1. The Deliberate Church (Dever and Alexander). Read and felt like all the lectures I heard in College and Seminary about how to do church actually being fleshed out in reality.

    2. SuperFreakonomics: The outside of the box thinking was engaging and the thinking behind incentives bears application to a lot of modern church philosophy.

    3. The Shack (Young). It was every bit as bad as Challies and Mohler said and yet somehow worse. Kind of like the difference between having food poisoning described to you and then having it yourself.

  3. 1) Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin — He points the reader to God’s Word and then lets the Word lay the weight of the responsibility of leading upon the reader. His philosophy is so imbued with theology that it is refreshing. His focus is on God and then on how the leader helps others to focus on Him too. Excellent.

    2) Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki — Amazing book! He thinks so creatively and articulates it so practically. I read it in one night! His discussions on so many things are applicable to church life it is stunning. His discussion on positive evangelists and negative evangelists have shaped the way I share the Gospel and what Jesus has accomplished.

    3) I worked off recommendations this year, so nothing glaringly horrible. I read Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite — The claim is that it is real-life stories followed by biblical teachings. But it was not very well balanced. More neat stories and not enough Biblical application. Most of the stories were so culturally specific (Las Vegas, where he pastors) and the Biblical application so narrow that it doesn’t translate to anywhere else.

  4. 1.) Best Christian Book. The Pleasures of God. Piper. While likely in the minority, I have not read a great deal of Piper. Several times I was told though that if I want to get to the bottom line of Piper’s theology, read this book. So I did. Loved having my mind and heart expanded with a greater vision of God.
    2.) Best secular Book. The Smartest Guys in the Room. McLean/Elkins. The story of Enron. Fascinating study of a company. Fascinating study of the human heart.
    3.) Worst book. How Should We Then Live. Schaeffer. Problematic interpretation of history. Secularization is not the issue (appears to be Schaeffer’s point) and making Christianity appear more reasonable or intellectually palatable isn’t the fix (though that appears to be Schaeffer’s conclusion). The gospel is veiled at best.

  5. Steve,

    I actually thought The Shack was one of the best books I read, in the sense that it is more gripping than I ever imagined. Especially at the beginning—as the father of 4 daughters, I wept at the vivid depiction of losing a child in such a terrible way.

    That’s not to say that the theology isn’t WAY terrible. Just that it is so well written that it’s even more dangerous than I imagined.

  6. Chris,

    I was engaged by the story line as well until I felt deceived by it.

    When an author decides to use such emotional ground for communication it magnifies what they are saying. So I came to despise my engagement with the story even as the father of one little girl I cried at the loss of this fictional character. But then I didn’t cry when God was heretically blasphemed in the rest of the book. So for me it would be like the Dan Brown books. Engaging storylines . . . weak and even bad content, excpet Brown wants to take on Catholicism and his general understanding of religion while Young tackles the very nature of God. IOW, I was engaged by the story as well and came to dislike it more for that personal response.

    Can I add Revival and Revivalism as another favorite? :-)

    Steve

  7. 1. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 1 and Vol 2. Maybe I’m a little weird (ok, not maybe), but I was fascinated by this look into Lewis’ mind. There is a volume 3 which I don’t have yet, but I found these two difficult to put down. Some of the letters were mundane, but many excellent insights along the way and also I think you can clearly see a change of heart pre and post conversion. I realize some attack Lewis’ Christianity, but from reading these letters, I think they are off base, though I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable in close fellowship with someone like Lewis.

    2. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. I ‘read’ this book by audiobook, something I discovered our library system has available for free download. Dombey and Son is a very moving story of the depravity of man and redemption (though not a Christian portrayal at all). It is sort of a less well known Dickens book, but it really gripped me, especially with the turn of events as the book concludes. (I recommend audiobooks, especially if you can get them free from your library. This last year I was driving back and forth to my parents home (18 hours) and ‘read’ a lot of books on the way.)

    3. Our friend Scott Aniol’s book was disappointing in that I thought it had great potential but didn’t succeed. Too much reliance on men and not enough biblical authority. That’s not to say it is a bad book, but I thought it could have been much better, so I was disappointed.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Let’s see. I read more disappointing books than good ones, I’m afraid.

    1. Some friends and I worked/are working through Owens Mortification of Sin. That’s tremendous. His insight into the human heart is shocking to me. A couple books I read on Hudson Taylor were excellent. And I appreciated very much Jaeggli’s treatment of alcohol, which addressed the wine issue with honesty and discernment. I’m shocked that it was met with such negativity; many are afraid of the unfiltered Scriptures, it seems. I can’t imagine how it’s re-release will do anything but *increase* the frustration; how anything was gained escapes me. I’m sure it will sell, though. :)

    2. Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating book about a (liberal) man’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan to start schools in areas that are hotbeds for terrorist recruitment. His confidence in education as *the* answer, his ecumenism, and his liberal take on politics concerned me. But his willingness to give his life for what he deems important is very convicting—another case of an unbeliever giving more for error than Christians do for truth.

    3. I read several bad books. As I said, The Shack hit me harder than I imagined; it’s beautiful—like a serpent. I read two “action/mystery” books that were engaging but which I should have stopped reading due to garbage they included. Most of my fiction reading has been of classics (written by dead people) so I was unprepared for the filth. Lesson learned. I was also very unimpressed with Ordering Your Private World, which was highly recommended when I was in college. I thought it was full of gospel-less fluff. Worst, however, was Ted Dekker’s “Christian”(???) novel called The Saint. It’s like a bad plagiarism of the Bond/Bourne series (the hero and villain are magnificently trained spies), X-Men/Heroes (the hero and villain have amazing powers), and a freshman psych book (the hero and villain have emotional issues to get past). It was embarrassingly bad. And the only thing that “Christianized” it was Dekker’s comparison of these superhero types to Samson. Seriously? I should have stopped that one 10 pages in, too.

    In short, looking back it’s very clear that I wasted too much time reading garbage this year. I’m frustrated with myself. :(

  9. 1. “Choosing Forgiveness” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. A great comprehensive overview on the topic of forgiveness. Though I assumed at the start that it was entirely about interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution, Nancy is very skillful at taking things back to their foundations, and it opened my understanding regarding the forgiveness granted to me at the cross, first and foremost. She covers misconceptions about forgiveness (for instance, the if/then posturing…”If you do ________ then I will forgive you”). She also dealt with the other side of forgiveness, and an aspect which is often forgotten…that being, the forgiver, if he/she has been obstinate and stiff armed/necked, must then in turn ask forgiveness of the forgivee. Insightful, scriptural treatment.
    2. A re-read of “Stepping Heavenward” by Elizabeth Prentiss. Not a “new” book (1800’s), but a real demonstration that human nature is fairly consistent from generation to generation…just wearing different clothes. This is the painfully candid diary of a young girl, with myriad misconceptions about wedded bliss, and how her understanding of biblical marriage gradually becomes enlightened through her battle with self will. I saw myself more times that I’d want to admit–she’s an author who paints human nature in all its true colors. A great read for any woman, and very good for young ladies.
    3. “The 7 Hardest Things God Asks a Woman to Do” by Kathie Reimer and Lisa Whittle. This one began with an excellent premise, and the list of 7 things in the table of contents was weighty and thought-provoking; but the authors did not dig nearly as deeply as the subject matter necessitated. Stories, stories and more stories (as many as 9 in one chapter). Had I not been reviewing it for Sharper Iron, I probably would have stopped after the first chapter. So much could have been done with these 7 things:
    * Have a single focus, yet multi-task
    * Be tolerant toward some things, yet intolerant toward others
    * Fail, and simultaneously succeed
    * Proceed, while also waiting
    * Hold on and, in turn, let go
    * Lead, and still follow
    * Die, and consequently, live more abundantly
    I’m still shaking my head in disappointment. :(

  10. Diane, your last sounds a lot like I felt about Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Parts of it were insightful, but I think I learned more about Yancey (his childhood, his big beef with fundamentalism, his writing successes, his trip to the White House, etc.) than about Christ. And someone gave it a blurb saying it was the “best book about Jesus he’d ever read.” Ugh.

    On the bright side (and though this is cheating, the blog owner won’t mind—I know him), I’m starting 2010 off with a bang. Keller’s Prodigal God is terrific. Devastatingly so. If you’ve not read it, move it to the top of your list.

  11. BEST CHRISTIAN BOOK: I skipped the book and watched the movie instead for How Should We Then Live. Interesting how someone else didn’t like it so much. The movie is excellent and I give it a thumbs up.

    BEST SECULAR BOOK: Elite Serial Killers by Robert Gaylon Ross. Lots of incredible information about the human heart and government, which is really the human heart in organized form. Teaser: Did you know that Lincoln’s assassin was not a “lone nut” and was working on behalf of others?

  12. Don, listing Scott’s book as your worst is brutal. Ouch. I was certain you’d come up with a Piper book you hated or something.

  13. Well your third category said “worst/most disappointing”. It certainly wasn’t the worst. I blank those out. I listed it under most disappointing. I like Scott’s work in general, and I think he has hold of some great ideas, but I just think the book didn’t achieve what he was after. Or maybe what I was looking for. So it was disappointing.

    Does that help?

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jerimiah 33.3

  14. This is a tough one. Really tough. I’m not even convinced of my answers…but here goes:

    1. The Prodigal God. I read it over and over. It’s just overwhelming.

    2. The Lord of the Rings. I read it most years, and it’s always going to top the list.

    3. The Shack. It seems I feel similar to several others here…I actually *loved* reading it. It made me think, and it portrayed a few things beautifully. But it screams that man is massive and God is small. Not cool.

  15. 1. Beyond Creation Science by Martin and Vaugn. This book is a different look at the first few chapters of Genesis. Martin and Vaugn present the view that a literal, physical interpretation of Genesis is not the only way to view Genesis. It was an eye-opening book that showed me there are God-fearing Christians who believe every word of the Bible including Genesis yet do not accept the Baptist and Adventist young earth creationism. It was refreshing to be forced to re-examine my own beliefs.

    2. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. This had the feel of one of my favorite genres, historical fiction. While it wasn’t based on actual events, it captured the heart of a master builder who’s only desire was to build a beautiful cathedral. Follett is an atheist, however, he handled the church very fairly, presenting the main prior as a very faithful and respectable man of God. The story itself is ambitious stretching over several lifetimes and over a thousand pages, but once you get into it you have to keep going.

    3. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. This was certainly a page turner as Brown knows how to keep your interest. But that wasn’t enough for me. I went into this book expecting Brown to present a different view of things based on something in reality. But in the end I was left empty holding nothing but the fantasy of Noetics and the promise that all religions are pointing to the truth that I am a god. Even if I were able to overlook all that and simply try to appreciate the story, I am still forced to suspend disbelief and Robert Langdon solves a series of riddles that are completely implausible. Best to stay away from this one unless you are looking for a meaningless but captivating story.

  16. Hey, Jason. It’s been a long time! Sounds like you’re quite a reader. I’ve not read any of these. I’m pretty belligerent regarding a literal take on Genesis 1-3, though. :) The Pillars sounds fascinating.

    In fact, several of the books mentioned here sound really good. Thanks, all, for chiming in.

  17. Chris, for some reason my reply to your remark about Scott’s book has not appeared.

    In your third category you asked for “worst/most disappointing” book. I too that as either/or, and chose to propose a “most disappointing”. Scott’s book isn’t the worst book I read, but it was the most disappointing. I like Scott, I think he has a lot of good things to say, and I was especially looking forward to his book as I think his basic premises have a lot of promise. In fact, I think I was purchaser #12, if I read my invoice right.

    However, after having read it, I felt that though it shows the promise I hoped for, it didn’t achieve it. That’s why I was so disappointed with it.

    I hope that more will come from Scott in the future, but a better effort is needed.

    As for Piper, Piper who? I never read anything by anyone named Piper.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jerimiah 33.3

  18. I didn’t mean to put words into your mouth, Don. Especially when you specifically said “disappointing” in your first post. I understand and appreciate the clarification. Sorry about that.

  19. Best Christian Book I read was The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism by Dr. Ernest Pickering. The best because from 1995 Pickering answers the resurgence of a “new” New Evangelicalism (ecumenism) coming from a number of the so-called “conservative” evangelicals and its threat to the NT church.

    Best Secular Book I read was Wyatt Earp Speaks: Written by Wyatt Earp and Others. Just a real history buff here and that one got my attention because it is a collection of letters and news accounts written primarily by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Learned much I did not know about Masterson: One tough lawman and a crack shot. And I know a direct descendent of Wyatt Earp.

    Worst/Most Disappointing Book I never finish that kind, so no entry for that category.

  20. Oops, I know a descendent of one of Wyatt’s brothers, my bad.

  21. 1. Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. Having adopted our daughter last year, I was interested in this book, especially after reading so much about it on Justin Taylor’s blog. It was well worth the read. God used it to increase my burden for adoption. It’s not just a “plan B” for couples who can’t have their “own kids”; it’s a mission, a very special means of evangelism, an incredible opportunity that our churches should be supporting in any way they can. I’ve already bought four copies that I’ve given to family and a friend.
    2. I’ve enjoyed the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. I listened to most of the books on CD. They are well written (for the most part), entertaining, and free from gratuitous and explicit bad language and scenes. They provide an interesting picture of life in Edinburgh, Scotland. And they give a vivid (and rather sad) picture of life lived with a secular, humanist world view.
    3. Hmmm . . . quite a few disappointed me. The worst were some “inspirational” fiction I picked up from the library.

  22. 1) Best Christian books (sorry, it’s a tie!)

    Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). Why? You probably won’t wholly embrace Pohl’s vision of hospitality, but she takes the way we usually think of hospitality and turns it on its head, demonstrating that the concept in biblical times was more and different than having folks from church over for a meal or the like. A very engaging and thorough book, and one that really ought to be consulted by anyone teaching or preaching on the subject. I suspect that pastors and their wives would profit a good bit from it, as I certainly did.

    Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within its Cultural Contexts (Zondervan, 2009). Why? OK, I admit it — it was the pictures! The content is generally outstanding (with a few exceptions), but the pictures illustrating the cultural contexts of the NT are unbelievable.

    3) Worst: The Shack, which I read to be conversant about the topic! Why? The contribution it is making toward the false ideas of God that are already widespread in our culture.

  23. The best book I read in 209 was Lee Strobel’s Case for a Creator. I think that all our teens should be walked through this book so that when they go off to College they will have a firm logical foundation for their beliefs and they will not fall for the lies of educators concerning creation. I wish I had this book to read when I was in high school and started to question my faith. It would have saved me from walking away from the Lord for almost 20 years.

  24. Haven’t read that, Phil. I appreciate the note and will look into it. Creation is so foundational, and attacks on the biblical account of creation inevitably end up as attacks on the rest of the faith—and it’s source, the Scriptures themselves.

    Glad you chimed in! :)

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