I’ll follow the year-end traditionof many bloggers and writers and list some books that have changed my life. Some I read this year, some I have re-read, and others I want to pick up again just because.
Christian Reading to add perspective:
Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. I’ve been a Christian most of my life and belonged to many different denominations. We’ve lived in several states, attended numerous churches, and suffered again and again through the whole “church-shopping” experience. As we age, we believe we’re getting closer to narrowing down what we seek in a church. Some I just won’t go back to again, because I have this knee-jerk reaction to legalism. Other versions of Christianity that make my knees jerk–on the way to running in the other direction–would include soft-selling the gospel in the effort to be “seeker-sensitive” or “relevant.” My husband and I seek a good balance of law and gospel, mercy and justice in a church. That’s why this year’s most stunning read, for me, is Christless Christianity.
(Please understand that I am not pointing fingers at any particular church that I have attended. However, of all the reading I do, and the ideas I encounter as I read and research, I am disheartened by what I see in the Christian world.) Some quotes from the book:
It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive.
While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness.
The focus still seems to be on us and our activity rather than on God and his work in Jesus Christ.
If we are merely wayward, we only need direction; merely sick, we need medicine; merely weak, we need strength. Radical grace, on the other hand, answers to radical sinfulness–not simply to moral mistakes, lack of zeal, or spiritual lethargy, but to the condition that the Bible defines as nothing less than condemned, “children of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 3).
If the central message of Christianity were how to have your best life now or become a better you, then rather than heralds we would need life coaches, spiritual directors, and motivational speakers. Good advice requires a person with a plan; Good News requires a person with a message. This is not to say that we do not also need good advice or plans but that the source of the church’s existence and mission in this world is this announcement of God’s victory in Jesus Christ.
This book does not present new ways of “doing church”; it reminds me of the truth of the Word of God, and plants in me the desire to pursue God’s truth alone. Emergent Church leaders preach that the Bible is not enough; there must be more. I was reminded this year, in reading this book, that Christ alone, through faith alone, as revealed in scripture alone, is sufficient. I am so grateful to be pointed back again to scripture and its truth.
New Fiction Series:
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This series is labeled mostly for young adults, but I read it on the recommendation of my son, who keeps me apprised of what’s good to read. (I mostly stick with old classics.) This series presents the reader with a dystopian society: a bleak future world in which a repressed people live under a dictatorship. Every year two teenagers from each district are brought together to fight to the death. The reward: a year of more food allotments for the victor’s district. Katniss is the young girl picked for this year’s Hunger Games. The reader follows Katniss through the Hunger Games and afterward, in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the second and third books. I found them easy, exciting, and riveting. The characters are engaging, and the fantasy aspect worked well.
Old Fiction Series
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In preparation for the new Narnia movie release this winter, I re-read the series. As always, I am drawn into the world of Narnia and its delightful characters, masterfully presented by Lewis. My first read-through was in junior high. Its characters came alive in me then, and they continue to delight even now. I am eager to see the entire series made into the high-quality movies I’ve seen so far. (While the movie lines do stray a bit from the books, I try not to set my hopes too high.) My favorite has to be The Magician’s Nephew, mostly because the depiction of Narnia’s creation (Aslan sings Narnia into existence!) is breath-takingly beautiful.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read this book in college and listed it as one of my top ten favorites (although if I were pinned down to my top ten books, we might actually find them to total in the dozens). Rand’s philosophy is completely hostile to Christianity. As long as I know that, going in to a novel, I can look for whatever else the author does with her subject. Rand tells an amazing story here, a sort of dystopia, in which socialism takes over by slow erosion. The book opens with an intriguing question, asked again and again through the novel: “Who is John Galt?” Almost a rhetorical shrugging of the shoulders, this question becomes a “Who cares?” kind of slough-off. This very long novel builds in frustration and intensity to a climax no one could expect. My re-read this year left me completely satisfied but also shocked at how closely our society is beginning to resemble Rand’s dark and gloomy dystopia.
Classic New Reads (for me).
Dracula by Bram Stoker. Though I have been told many times that this was a must-read, I resisted because I really dislike evil, vampire-type novels. However, once I picked up this novel I was hooked. One might say I was mesmerized by the hypnotic, freaky vampire creature. Stoker clearly paints evil as horrid. He shows the reader that faith in God saves–not only after death but also during life on this earth. Stoker’s novel was the first in a long, never-ending line of vampire stories, which I promise I will never pick up and read (or watch on film). However, this gothic, genre-setting novel was masterfully written and perfectly produced.
The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A student of mine told me how much she loved this novel, and she wrote her senior thesis on the author’s Christian worldview. Again and again I heard from others how great this book is. So I decided to pick it up and examine it for myself. This was beautifully written, with long and tangled strands of story-lines I often found difficult to unravel. He paints the beautiful as such and depicts human nature realistically. He shows how depraved man is without God, and how man cries out for a savior and heavenly Father. This is a lovely, compelling, devastating book.
Reading List for the coming year.
This year, if I have the time, I will re-read the Lord of the Rings series, beginning with The Hobbit. I haven’t read these since high school. My husband gave me the entire Harry Potter series for Christmas. Since I devoured all seven books in two weeks a few years ago (borrowed from my children), I am certain I could use a good re-read. However, I’m disappointed that those books are not downloadable on my Kindle! (I love carrying the Kindle on the plane or a long car ride!) I also added the World War 1 and World War 2 series of books to my Kindle, by Jeff Shaara, my favorite historical fiction author. Those books I have not yet read, though I have loved all his others. A good friend just gave me a book called Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, by CFW Walther. From what my friend tells me, this will be next year’s Christless Christianity for me, filled with gems of inspiration and truth. I’m sure you’ll see some of those gems played out in this blog.
I look at my list and see how eclectic a reader I am. I like that! Don’t ever accuse me of being stuck as a reader. If you want to see my recommended list of reading, gleaned over many years of book addiction, email me. I’ll be happy to share it with you.