Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Christian Nonfiction Reads of 2012

I hate to use the noun "Christian" as an adjective to describe inanimate objects...but in this case I think it is helpful for separating my nonfiction into two posts. I'm using it here to mean "nonfiction books written from a Christian perspective in order to help the reader grow in her love for/knowledge of/obedience to Christ." Without further ado...

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

Evidence Not Seen – Darlene Deibler Rose****
This memoir of a South Pacific missionary turned World War II POW was powerful. To see her passionate faith in God grow and thrive despite the unimaginable horrors she endured…incredible.

Journal of Biblical Counseling, vol. 26:1 – ed. David Powlison*****
SOOOO excited that this has been re-launched! Powlison's opening editorial alone was worth the $3.99 Kindle download. Loved it. This issue in particular was a wonderful introduction to biblical counseling and a great vision-casting exhortation to the church. Subsequent issues weren't quite as exciting to me, but the first was excellent. FYI, each issue can be read for FREE online until the next one comes out (it's published three times annually).

Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps – Leigh McLeroy****
Danielle loved this one a while back, and I bought it for my mother-in-law last Christmas. She loved it so much, she gave me a copy (with a lovely inscription, yay!) for my birthday. The author’s knowledge of God, both experiential love and intellectual understanding through Scripture, are obvious. It’s a simple but lovely collection of meditations on familiar Bible stories, laid against the author’s own life stories and teaching about what these stories reveal of God’s character. I really want to use it as a writing prompt, but haven't gotten that far yet.

Reliving the Passion – Walter Wangerin****
After I downloaded a sample of this Lent devotional and found myself repeatedly underlining from the introduction, I bought the full book on the spot. The rest wasn’t quite as spectacular as that poignant intro, but I still found it a moving and helpful book for focusing my heart in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Wangerin made a powerful argument for the importance of really slowing down and fixing our eyes on the cross, for without first entering into the depth of Jesus’ suffering and the disciples’ despair, we can’t fully appreciate the joy and wonder of His resurrection.

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education – Doug Wilson***
It quickly became clear that the subtitle here should be “THE Approach to Distinctively Christian Education.” I found it extremely useful for helping me understand classical education, and it certainly challenged me to think carefully about education as a disciple of Christ. But Wilson’s tone is graceless; he takes a very dogmatic, “if you don’t agree with me, you’re WRONG and quite possibly SINNING” approach. I had to keep reminding myself that this book was the opinions of a fallible man, not inspired Scripture—it felt like he was setting his arguments right alongside the Word of God, with no room for dissent among serious Christians. Four stars for the information; two stars for the tone.

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms – David VanDrunen****/*****
A provocative and helpful balance to the Wilson book (and much more gracious and winsome!). I’m not sure I agree 100%, but VanDrunen certainly magnified Christ and left me with a very different perspective to consider. Well worthwhile, though after discussing it with some thoughtful friends, I have some more reservations--I really need to go through it again and make extensive notes. I still think it's a great catalyst for careful thought and discussion among Christians.

Just a Minute – Wess Stafford**
I absolutely loved Dr. Stafford’s first book, Too Small to Ignore. My time would have been better spent rereading that than reading this second book by the president of Compassion International. It was a little too “chicken soup for the soul” for my taste—a bit cheesy, a bit forced, trying too hard to move and inspire and change your life on every single page. Skip this and read Too Small to Ignore instead.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – Eugene Peterson*****
I lost count of how many quotes I copied from this. Peterson has a gift for distilling biblical truth about the Christian life into poignant paragraphs that illuminate and stir hope. His meditations on the Psalms of Ascent are challenging, encouraging and wise.

Made to Crave – Lysa TerKeurst*****
Ooh, did Lysa TerKeurst have my number. Not gonna lie, at one point I wanted to punch her. I didn’t want to read this, but knew I needed to (yes, skinny girls have food issues, too) and am glad I did, even though it wasn’t fun. I think probably Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is theologically stronger and more saturated with the gospel, but TerKeurst is more personal and relatable—your funny friend who has experienced victory and is coming alongside you to encourage you that you can, too. Need to revisit this in 2013.

This Momentary Marriage – John Piper****
Piper can be incredibly redundant. It felt like he spent a lot of this book telling me what he was going to tell me, and then telling me over and over. Still, he made some arguments here that I’d never heard before, and his emphasis on the fleeting nature of marriage (in light of the glorious, eternal reality it depicts) provides a helpful and necessary counterpoint to the majority of books on marriage which seem to gloss over this truth.

The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made – Mark Dever*****
It took me more than two years to finish this epic (950-page) volume, but it was absolutely worthwhile. Dever preached one sermon on every book of the Bible, and they got compiled into a book. So it provides this really helpful bird's-eye-view of Scripture, outlining and explaining the main themes of each book, showing how each one points to Christ and how it applies to us. Very readable intro-level commentary of sorts. I read through the OT by reading a chapter of this book, answering the application questions, then reading the OT book. The NT volume (The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept), which I read first, is excellent, too.

From Beer to Eternity: A Little Story of Addiction and Beyond – Gary Morland***
The first half of this short book is Morland’s personal history/testimony, which is quite amazing, but not particularly helpful or encouraging to the addict—it’s one of those “after being an alcoholic for 14 years, I got saved and never again had a desire to touch the stuff” stories of instant healing and recovery. Great for him, but not so great for the Christian who struggles with various forms of addictive behavior and has not experienced such miraculous transformation. Still, the last half of the book had lots of poignant and inspiring insights about fighting against sin. You can tell this was self-published, but I still thought it was worthwhile, especially given my own struggles with sin.

The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking – Mary Frances Bowley***
This book is less about the realities of sex trafficking and the personal experiences of victims, and more focused on one particular ministry (Wellspring Living). Many of the stories weren't even about sex trafficking at all, but rather about women suffering from other forms of abuse and self-destructive behaviors. It was somewhat inspiring and hopeful, but not what I expected--not really the book to pick up if you are looking to better understand human trafficking.

The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler/Jared Wilson***
I like Matt Chandler’s preaching a lot better than his writing. His style doesn’t translate into the written word so well. One way I evaluate a book like this is by how many times I mark or copy quotes from it; there weren't many here. I can actually imagine many audiences for which this would be an excellent, necessary book--but for someone who has been saturated in the gospel-centeredness mindset for quite some time, I don't know that it adds anything earth-shattering or enlightening to the conversation. Then again, I have to admit that I was in a fairly spiritually apathetic place when I read it, so maybe in a different season/frame of mind, I would have found it more helpful and worthwhile.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers – Arthur Bennett (ed.)*****
I can’t recommend this prayer book highly enough. The language is a bit old-fashioned, but not cumbersome or unreadable. And the theology is so rich. Beautiful, gospel-saturated prayers that stir my heart to love and trust and obey my Savior. I've had it for years, but after using Joe Thorn's daily schedule (which I also recommend), I finally have read every single prayer. This is one to revisit often.

Knowing God – J.I. Packer****
To be perfectly honest, a lot of Packer’s classic treatise on the character of God did not seem remarkable to me after having read Tozer’s similar book The Knowledge of the Holy. He was covering familiar ground, and a lot of it wasn't particularly fresh or striking. Still, though, Packer does have many of his own valuable insights and says them well; the wrap-up from Romans 8 was especially powerful. It’s hard for me to comment well on this one since I stretched it over the space of a year—and I’m afraid any lack of enthusiasm about this book says more about my own spiritual state than about deficiencies in the book. In the end, I think it deserves its reputation as a Christian classic; it is certainly a rich and thorough exploration of who God has revealed Himself to be and what our common clich├ęs (God is holy, God is love) actually mean.

Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ (An Advent Narrative) – Russ Ramsey****
I appreciate any book that gives you a sweeping view of Scripture as one big story with Jesus at the center—which is what this Advent devotional does. Inspired by Andrew Peterson’s absolutely brilliant work of the same name (please, get the album if you don’t already have it!), Ramsey takes the reader through the Old Testament stories that point to the coming Savior, then brings humanity and poignant detail to the familiar Christmas story.

Your turn in the comments: What books helped you grow in your faith this past year?


Brenna Kate Simonds, Living Unveiled said...

I just read "Beyond the Soiled Curtain" and would love to mail you a copy. I have one more copy in English :) It is about their ministry in India, but is very informative (and frightening and heart-breaking).

Ali said...

We handed out "Under the Overpass" by Mike Yankoski at last year's retreat. It's a very easy read and really just chronicles a young man's choice to be truly homeless for a few months. But it really opened my eyes to how the church is, in general, marginalizing and ignoring the homeless. Just after reading we had the opportunity for a homeless woman to live with us for a short time. It's the kind of book you read but then feel you must put something of it into action. Reads like fiction, but is filled with truth too.

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