2019 Reading Challenge

As I recently posted, I beat my goal for 2018 in terms of number, but didn’t really read all the books I wanted to read. So much so, that I am going to straight up cute and past a good bit from last year’s goal. Once again this year, I plan to lower the number of books I plan to read, this is partly so I can make sure I get to the books I really want, and because some are fairly long, but also, and I may post about this a bit later, but I plan to interact more with each book. With that taken into account, my goal this year is 20 books this year.

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I currently have 14 of them on the mantel in my living room to remind me to focus on actually getting these books done. You can check out my Goodreads 2019 Challenge page if you like list form, it actually shows 16, because I added three commentaries, but I may not read word for word, two of them, and am only counting one towards the challenge. After these 14, I have three other books (stretch goals I guess) that I’d like to get to, time permitting and somewhat depending on what review books seem incredibly interesting and what the library has available that I have requested, more on those below. The books are as follows:

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five life goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. As Sprout just turned four, I’ve added Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list the last two years, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list.

Fiction – After reading The Fall of Hyperion and Endymion (Hyperion), the sequels to one of my favorite books from 2017, Hyperion, I plan to end the series this year with the final book in the Cantos, The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion) At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the third longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. Rounding out the fiction section will be a collection of stories from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, Just After Sunset: Stories.

Christian-y type books – Only four books are planned in this category this year, though this categories tends to be the largest due to ARC books and loans from friends. Knowing God is a classic at this point, but I haven’t yet read it.

Commentaries, Theology, and Language – Because two 800 page books won’t take me long enough, I’m also picking up two more 600+ page books. First, I want to get back into finishing Bavnick so I have Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, on the list with the ridiculous hope that I will actually make it to the even longer (912 pages) Volume Four. Second, my church is a doing a 40+ week study on Mark, so I’ve picked up The Gospel of Mark (The New International Greek Testament Commentary, and will likely skim the Tyndale and Bible Speaks today commentaries as well, but I don’t think I will count them towards the challenge.

Finally, for something different in this new category I just made up, I’m attempting to gain an understanding of Biblical Greek. For that I’ve chosen Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Languages.

None of the books in this category will be read all at once, but studied or read-through, throughout the year. I’ll use the commentary as we move through the sermons and go in and out of Reformed Dogmatics, probably after each major subject. I’m not entirely sure yet how to study the Greek, but likely either a few days a week for the year, or every day for a few weeks/months. Maybe there will be some guidance in the book itself.

Devotional – I’ve typically read a whole year devotional, such as My Utmost for His Highest (my review), but this year I’m going back to the whole Bible with the M’Cheyne reading plan, which I’ve written about before. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It  looks like another great and challenging book from Peter Enns. Both Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Resources for Changing Lives and Speaking Truth In Love are pretty well known in Christian Counseling circles, so I’d like to check them off the list.

Stretch Goals – So, I have 14 books on the list, which leaves six others unplanned. These will most likely come from review request, a book someone lends me, or if one of the books on my long library list becomes available. However, if that doesn’t come through, and I finish the previous 13, I have a few other plans. One is to read another book on church history. I’m torn on what I’ve heard is the best in Christian history – Church History in Plain Language or I may start another 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol. 1: The Age of the Early Church Fathers (Grace Publications), which is the first in a four volume series (I’d love to hear from anyone who has read either or has a suggestion as to which would be better).

I’ve also had Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy on my list from 2017 and 2018, but also didn’t get to it. This book and the history one are obviously somewhat long, and can be dense, so another book I think I want to get to is The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which is a book I bought for Mrs. MMT a few years ago on the advice of MxPx front man Mike Herrera. Finally, as a pair, I was given a book that reviews a Christmas Carol from a Christian perspective, and as that is one of my favorite all time stories, I’ll read the story then the review together and then respond to both.

That’s it. Hopefully I’ll tighten down and actually get to the ones I wanted this year. Feel free to share goals or insights on any of the books in the comments.

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Book Review: Work and Our Labor in the Lord

Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Short Studies in Biblical Theology)

Rating – If you are looking for something.

Level – Short, moderate read, feels a little redundant at times

Summary
Hamilton attempts to concisely write a theology of work – why we work, what it means to work, and what it would look like to ‘labor for the Lord’. The book is broken into four main parts: work before the fall, work after the fall, work now after Christ’s coming, and finally, work in the new heavens and new earth.

My Thoughts
I’ll start off by saying I think this is one of the most difficult topics for which Christians can write. Not necessarily because the Bible is unclear on work, it is, and not because I thought Hamilton didn’t handle the theological points well. In fact, I thought he did a masterful job from a Biblical perspective; though there were occasionally odd section that appeared to have political undertones, but I guess that’s to be expected from an evangelical publication (or maybe I just read too much into it, and watch too much politics).

No, the problem is the reader. Especially me – educated, white-collar, upper-middle class reader, who has actual opportunities to think about different careers or finding fulfilling jobs. Due to the reader problem, I think books on work are hammered twice. First, because the reader looking for answers, such as what should I do with my life, do not find any and may come away disappointed. Second, because those are the readers, the authors tend to focus on that demographic. Hamilton avoids some of these trappings, probably due to his focus on theology, but they do show up. I won’t digress any further on that point.

The strength of this book is the first section, work before the fall. In our Biblically illiterate, 140 character limit culture, we miss too much of what the Bible actually says. For most of my life, I believed work was punishment for sin. I was around 30 before I heard someone point out that we worked the garden, it was one of the first commands from God and our original role in this world. So, work isn’t our punishment for sin, but our sin has corrupted out work. Hamilton does a great job of teaching and explaining this Biblical truth.

This point is expanded on in the work after the fall section as well. I especially liked the references to Ecclesiastes; which is always a great reminder of the way we view life in general, but I’m not sure I’ve seen it related specifically to work.

Overall, it is a solid book, but it left me wanting a little more. I’m probably a little too critical of Christian books focused on work, so if that is a topic you are studying you should put this book on your list. If not, you might want to skip. It is short, so that is a positive (why not just knock it out) and a negative (maybe not as in depth as you’d like). The Biblical Theology is strong, so that would be another reason to read it. So, grab this book, if you are looking for something.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

2017 Reading Challenge

As I mentioned in my review of my 2016 challenge, I’m not planning on reading as many books this year. There are a few reasons for this, one, as of last week, I have started a new job that has roughly tripled my commute. Another reason is that I am starting some course work from CCEF, before entering completely into a new master’s program with Westminster. Taking classes means specific reading requirements, but also lots of writing, so I cannot devote as much time to reading. Finally, as I plowed through more and more books last year, I ended up writing less and less. So, with what little time I have between taking classes, a new job, and a toddler, I’d like to focus a little more writing.

Anyway, to the books. I’m laying out my challenge a little differently this year. Last year, I basically just say, hey, I’m going to read a bunch of books. This year I’m listing a number of specific books, and then some categories for the remaining few.

The first group are two books that I am reading daily, one is a devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, and the other is the Bible. I’ve mentioned the M’Cheyne plan before, so I’m putting it to the test this year.

Next group, novels. If I ever finish War and Peace, I’d like to check out three other novels – Hyperion, Lolita, and Brave New World. I also have read a few books through the Kindle First thing, so, call it maybe two more from that category.

The third group is my Christiany stuff, of which there are only three. I know, that’s not many for a blog with Theologian in the title, but bear with me, more Christian life/thought type books will come out in other categories. The specific three I’d like to hit are Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy (from the great Counterpoints series), Boice’s exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, and the classic, The Plan of Salvation.

Next up, non-fiction. Again, only four of these, though it does include one ‘big-book’, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (funny side note on this, Kindle can tell if you’ve finished a book or not and obviously if you’ve downloaded a book. So, the year this book came out, it was the most downloaded non-fiction, and the least read/finished, percentage-wise, of any book). Another good one I’ve I wanted to read for a while, Misbehaving (about Behavioral Economics). Sprout just turned two, so obviously it’s about time for me to obsess over her education, so I have Einstein Never Used Flash Cards on the list. Rounding out the non-fiction list is an autobiography from Jimmy Carter – A Full Life, Reflections at Ninety – which is just a cool title. I’ll also add a stretch goal here, if I’m doing well come, say, November, I’ll through in Gödel, Escher and Bach, another big book, so we will see.

Probably the biggest category, books I need to read for school. So far this include, Marriage Matters, Hold Me Tight, The Christian Life, and Systems Theory in Action. I’ve already read two others for these classes. This is the list for just two courses. Now, in the summer, I’ll take one or two more courses, but none in the fall, so this list will grow by probably three to seven.

Finally, my review copy books. So far, there are three on my list – The Christian Lover, Pillars of Grace, and The End of Protestantism. The first two are from Reformation Trust Publishing, which has been pretty easy to use. The last one is from Netgalley, which I’m not entirely sure that I like. I’ve reviewed a few from there, but I’ve also skipped a number of them, and they’ve been taken off my list or my ability to read them is gone. Not really their fault, since I didn’t review them. However, I think I just like working with the publishers directly. I’ve requested three more from Baker, and Crossway just emailed me the other day to say I need to go pick up another one. This will round out whatever is left in my goal of 24, and any that comes after that.

So there you go, I’ve specifically called out 19 of my 24 book goal (I guess 20 of my 25 stretch, if that works) with the final five being a mix of school and review copy books. Hopefully, it will go well and maybe I can move it up to 30 in the fall, however that will probably be my max, so I can focus on other things. Of course, this is likely to be a very crazy year, so it’s possible that I won’t even hit my goal.

You can stay updated at my Goodreads page, or wait for an update that will come probably sometime in the summer.

Personal Reading Survey

One of the resources listed in R. Kent Hughes’ Disciplnes of a Godly Man (my review), is the Personal Reading Survey. In it, Hughes has contact several prominant evangelicals and asked them the following four questions:

What five book, secular or scared, have infuenced you the most?
Of these, which is your favorite?
Favorite novel?
Favorite biography?

Now, according to my editor, I can just rewrite the whole freaking thing. So, I’ll list some of the people asked, and then give you his list of books mentioned at least five times (he list all that are mentioned twice, but I don’t want to type that much, go buy the book). He asked 34 people, men and women, preachers, academics, and authors, including James M. Boice, Charles Colson, Elisabeth Elliot, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, Charles Swindoll, and Warren Wiersbe. Somewhat annoyingly, not everyone answered all the questions, or answered the correctly, so to speak.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity was the most listed book with 10 mentions, followed by
Calvin, Institutes – 8
Tozer, The Pursuit of God – 6
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest – 5
Dostoyevski, Brothers Karamazov – 5
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina – 5
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress – 5

Lewis made in on the list further down with thee votes for The Great Divorce. Tolstoy is the only novelist with two books, War & Peace also received two mentions. Three people in the survey made the list, which is pretty cool – Elliot actually had two books, Shadow of the Almighty (4) and Through Gates of Splendor (2), Colson with Loving God (2), and Packer’s Knowing God also had two mentions.

No surprise to see Mere Christianity on there. They may have been the first explicitly Christian book I ever read (if not, it was the second, after Screwtape Letters). The number of reformed people means Institutes was bound to show up. Buswell’s A Systematic Theology of Christian Religion (though one mention came from a guy that actually listed the Bible) received two mentions (though didn’t make the list in the book) and was the only other systematic to make it.

Tozer also received a few mentions for Knowledge of the Holy. C.S. Lewis had five other books mentioned (no Chronicles). Looks like Utmost for His Highest was the only devotional mentioned (though I don’t know some of the books). Maybe the most surprising is the preponderance of Russian Literature among the list for novels. I enjoy Russian Literate, having read Crime and Punishment (my review), currently reading War and Peace, with the rest of the books mentioned still on my list. They are great books, but it seems odd that they would be so common on a Christian list. Maybe it is something I haven’t gotten to yet.

So there you go, if you didn’t have enough books to read, there are some more. Sadly, I’ve read only one of those listed five times or more. Though I have Institutes on my list as the systematic and Utmost as the devotional I plan to read next year. I was torn on whether I wanted to read Anna Karina or Brother’s next, but I guess I should read both. I’m going to go buy Pursuit of God right now. Honestly, Pilgrims Progress just doesn’t interest me, but it’s place on the list makes me want to give it a try. We will see, I hope to read and review them all, but like Goodreads says, ‘So many books, so little time.’

Book Review: How to Read Genesis

How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman, III

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, short

Summary
This book is exactly what the title says it is a guidebook to understanding and reading Genesis. Longman explains what the book (Genesis) is, who wrote it, whom it was written to as well as its place among other ancient literature. He breaks down the structure of the book into three parts: primeval history, which is verses 1-11; patriarchal narratives, 12-36; and Joseph’s story, 37-50. He then wraps up with notes on how we as Christians should read it, paying particular attention to our view after the cross. That is, with our knowledge of Christ, looking back at the Genesis story and reading it looking at how it points to Christ.

Longman does not take a view of young earth nor does he give much attention to evolution. This makes sense in that it is not an exposition of Genesis, but rather a guide to reading it.

My Thoughts
This should be the starting point for anyone curious about anything in Genesis 1-11 – age of the earth, historical Adam, the flood, giants, people living hundreds of years, even evolution. A broad understanding of what Genesis is and is supposed to be will help you to understand these issues, even those he doesn’t delve too much into.

For those that aren’t as concerned with these issues, it is still a very important book in helping you understand literature that nearly defies genre or categorization. Genesis is literally the foundation of the Bible. Far too many people are quick to either throw the book out or bury their heads in the sand and just say ‘its literal’.

Every Christian should read this book to help them grow in understanding and knowledge of the Word.

Updated Reading Challenge

My 2016 Reading Challenge

Through a quarter of the year, I’m on pace to reach my goal. So far, I’ve read 11 books, which would put me on track to read about 44 this year, easily meeting my challenge of 31. I doubt I’ll actually keep this pace, but it’s a nice thought. I’m geeking out a bit with the Goodreads tracking function, because it allows you to order the books by page numbers (as in below, with the exception of Tyndale) and also tells you the number of pages you’ve read (0f books you’ve finished). I’m at 2,163 in case anyone was interested. Actually, it looks like they are only counting eight books in that number, not sure why.

Books so far:

  1. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
  2. Pirate Latitudes
  3. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
  4. A History of the World in 6 Glasses
  5. Four Views on the Historical Adam
  6. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
  7. How to Read Genesis (How to Read Series How to Read)
  8. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will
  9. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
  10. Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions)
  11. 1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)

 

I’m currently reading Bavinck, Crime and Punishment, Thinking Fast and Slow, The American President, and The Last Girl, as well as Morning by Morning.

A few more on my list (whether I get to them this year or not):

  • Novels – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Hyperion, Girl on the Train, and probably some free kindle stuff.
  • Christiany books – Don’t Waste Your Life, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Radically Normal, Lost World of Genesis 1
  • Bible Study – pretty much all the Minor Prophets, using the New American, Tyndale and Word Biblical Commentaries.
  • Non-fiction – Misbehaving, Jimmy Carter’s Reflections at 90, Sapiens