January/February (2011) Book Briefs

I’ve been hesitant in doing this blog, fearful that I might be bragging or showing off or even afraid of the perception that I’m bragging or showing off. But since reading Kevin DeYoung’s post “Doing Good, But A Little Less Than Others,” (a must-read!) I realized that we all have our particular interests and hobbies, and I’m no better for what I like (or don’t like for that matter). I enjoy reading and it consumes a good deal of my days. And to be honest, I feel like I read very little, at least compared to many of the men whom I look up to my life (one of them read ten a week; yikes!)

That said, here’s what I’ve been reading over these few months.


January/February 2011

1. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, ed. A Habitual Sight of Him: The Christ-Centered Piety of Thomas Goodwin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality (Reformation Heritage Books 2009). Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) was a Puritan pastor. This little book begins with a biographical introduction followed by 35 selections of Goodwin’s writings. Goodwin is not the most accessible of the Puritans (like say Thomas Watson); his writing style at times might be dense. But in the end I think the reader will be amply rewarded. Here’s a little nugget to whet your appetite: “[Prayer] prevails, not because of the performance itself, but because of the name in which it is made, even Christ’s name. Therefore, as a weak faith justifies, so a weak prayer prevails as well as a stronger, and both for the same reason, for faith attributes all to God, and so does prayer. As faith is merely a receiving grace, so prayer is a begging grace.” Amen and amen!

2. John Piper. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Crossway 2010). Refusing an either-or separation of intellect and feeling, of passion and knowledge, this book calls on Christians to engage their minds in the pursuit of loving God. A challenging book that has required me to think, this has become one of my favorite books by Piper.




3. Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption(Simon & Shuster 2010). This is the kind of book you begin reading and can’t put down. Louie Zamperini’s story, retold here, is an epic story you’ll probably never forget. There’s no point in giving even a general plot line. (Rumor has it that it’ll be made into a movie, starring Nicholas Cage.) Hillenbrand has the amazing ability of taking a story and weaving it into such a powerful, forward-moving prose. I plan on reading this one again.



4. Andrew Bonar. The Biography of R. M. M’Cheyne. M’Cheyne was a man of holiness who sought above all else to please Christ and live for him. Though he only lived to about 28, his life and love for the Savior and for souls continues to inspire many, including me. Bonar writes of M’Cheyne: “His soul was prepared for the awful work of the ministry by much prayer, and much study of the word of God; by affliction in his person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the depth off corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the Savior’s fulness of grace.” Read that again slowly. These are indeed the ingredients of a faithful man of God. May his tribe increase in our generation!



5. Pat Conroy. My Reading Life (Nan A. Talese, 2010). I saw this book while on break from work at my local Books & Books, and of course the title piqued my interest. I have yet to read any of Conroy’s novels, but I found this book a treat. Conroy walks through various episodes of his life in which reading to one degree or another has had a profound impact on his life. And, of course, all throughout Conroy states things in beautiful prose. Here’s one example: “Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down on contented residence in your heart.” It’s saddening to see how Conroy attributes a sort of religious role to literature; I reach for a story to save my life,” he writes at one point. But with healthy discernment many will find this a pleasurable read.


6. Paul Johnson. Churchill (Penguin 2010). I didn’t enjoy this biography as I thought I would. As an American, I don’t understand much of the British political system, and the author doesn’t go at any length in explaining. Because of its brevity, it seems this is the kind of biography for one already acquainted with Churchill. Furthermore, Churchill is a wildly contradictory figure (well, aren’t we all?), and as such, there is much that draws me to him and there is also much the repels me. I’m going to pick up another biography. Any suggestions?



7. Ronald C. White. Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (Simon & Shuster 2003). Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. If you didn’t know, it was delivered at the closing of the Civil War, forty-two days before his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. I can now not only appreciate the speech, but also see the brilliant simplicity of these words that have long captivated the American imagination. Frederick Douglas, the famed African American abolitionist and orator, wrote the day of the speech: “The address sounded more like a sermon than a state paper.” Any lover of history will find this an enjoyable read.


8. Elisabeth Elliot. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1956; reprint, Hendrikson 2008). “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” What can I say? Here’s a man who though dead more than fifty years continues to inspire countless believers to give of themselves with fiery missionary zeal. “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.”



9. Arnold Dallimore. George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, Vol. II (Banner of Truth 1980). God raises certain men through history to fulfill a special task. There’s no doubt that God raised Whitefield up in the 18th-century to be one of the greatest vehicles of awakening both in England and in the colonies. Dallimore’s two-volume biography is the most definitive. Time and again I found myself weeping as I read, praying, “Oh God, do it again!”


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