I love to read. And I like to recommend good books. Over the last 14 years, I’ve written book reviews on this blog but have recently concluded that the process of writing a review takes more time than I have available. In evaluating this, I’ve decided that I can get near the same effect by jotting down a paragraph or two from some recent reads. And I figured, there’s no better time to get started than in a global pandemic.
So here’s the first Recent Reads from this past month.
Churchill, Paul Johnson. There are countless biographies on Churchill, but I was looking for something accessible and quickly paced. I think Johnson does it in this one. There is enough emphasis upon Churchill’s younger years to provide a useful framework for beginning to understand him without overwhelming the reader with details. There are plenty of anecdotes and great stories. (It’s Churchill, after all!) Overall, contemporary readers can benefit from an imperfect man’s steady, convictional leadership during times of difficulty.
Owen on the Christian Life, Matthew Barrett. I regularly hear people say that they wish they could read Owen, but he’s too dense. If this describes you then you should read this book. Matthew Barrett combs through John Owen’s contribution to the church in a systematic way. Readers will be treated to detailed analysis and explanation of subjects, including the glory of Christ, communion with the triune God, mortification of sin, justification, and ecclesiology. There are brief biographical chapters as well. I highly recommend the book as an introduction into the theology of Owen and as a valuable, well-sourced reference book on systematic theology.
Working, Robert Caro. This was fascinating; I couldn’t stop reading. I was actually listening to this as an audiobook narrated by Caro. In his distinct New York accent, Caro explains the process for researching and writing. Remember, Caro has twice won the Pultizer Prize and the National Book Award. It’s a privilege to get a tour of how he compiled his material for the biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. And what you learn is this: he is a tenacious researcher. As a pastor who attempts to tell a story to the congregation each week, I found some of Caro’s unusual but perceptive practices to be immediately helpful in trying to paint the picture of the original scene to the contemporary audience.
Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime, Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr. (editors). So many pastors are alone, and the ones who aren’t alone often feel as though they are. Pastors need friends. Sometimes these friends come in chapter form. Faithful Endurance is a compilation of essays from men like Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, Dave Harvey, Bryan Chapell, and Juan Sanchez. Each chapter is framed up by a question in the form of a letter. The chapter’s author then writes an essay in response to the central issue raised in the letter. What emerges is a distillation of years of practical pastoral ministry in the form of an accessible book. All pastors will find something helpful here, and most will want to give away copies to their friends. I know I have.
Them: Why We Hate Each other and How to Heal, Ben Sasse. It’s no secret that Americans are divided. It’s one of the rare things we can agree on. But why? And what’s the solution? Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse believes one of the big reasons we’re in this mess is because we have lost our sense of community. With a lack of rootedness in “tribes” we have pledged allegiance to “anti-tribes” characterized by what and who we are against. I had a hard time putting this book down. Perhaps this is because the concerns Sasse shares resonate with my own. I think his assessment is perceptive, and his prescribed way forward is compelling. Even if you don’t agree with him, I think you’ll join me in longing for a better day.
Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, Rebecca McLaughlin. I was looking to read a book on apologetics last month and penciled in McLaughin’s book. I found Confronting Christianity to be the type of book I was looking for. It’s broken down into 12 chapters, answering some of the biggest questions facing Christians today. McLaughlin’s models a tone that’s irenic while maintaining biblically faithful. As the title makes clear, she isn’t shying away from difficult topics. I found the following chapters to be supremely well-done: chapter 5: Doesn’t the Bible Cause Violence, chapter 7: Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity? And Chapter 8: Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women? In addition to the book being well-written, I found it to be a source of valuable research. This is a book to give away to Christians and non-Christians alike. I look forward to reading and discussing it with friends.
The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare, Iain Duguid. The whole discussion of spiritual warfare seems like it’s fraught with spiritual warfare. This particular topic seems to have the Devil’s fingerprints all over it. I’m thankful for Duiguid’s short but beneficial book on the last chapter of Ephesians. He emphasizes the victory of Christ and the need for Christians to be engaged in the battle. The chapters are sermons preached to a congregation, so they are not out of reach for laymen while remaining useful to the one preparing to preach.