Some of my favorite posts to read are book reviews and recommendations. It helps broaden out my reading list and keep it fresh. Also, I enjoy seeing how themes about the human condition and experience intersect in various ways. When I read, I like to tag each book with themes for reference for illustrations in my preaching. I’ve provided some tags below if they are of some use or interest to readers.
Here are some of the books I enjoyed this Summer.
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett. After moving out of poverty and into the Dutch House, a mansion in suburban Philadelphia, Cyril Conroy thinks he is entering into a paradise. Instead, what follows is a gripping account of a family struggling with the ongoing effects of a paradise lost. As questions linger and relational wounds fester, siblings Danny and Maeve face the ones who’ve hurt them. The story drives you to see that everyone has clay feet and that there’s often much more to the story than what you see. I listened to the audible book narrated by Tom Hanks. It was outstanding. Themes: Fall, Exile, Redemption, Family
R.C. Sproul: A Life, Stephen Nichols. R.C. Sproul’s life continues to shape the church even after his death in 2017. Many people, like myself, feel like they are walking into one of his lectures already in progress. We assume the man without knowing him. This is why a biography like this is so helpful. Stephen Nichols tells the story of Sproul’s life by pulling the thread of important influences in his life. Watching how his relationships and experiences shaped him was like a multi-part sermon on the doctrine of providence. I came away encouraged afresh to do the regular work of prayer, study, and teaching. And perhaps most surprising of all, I was refreshed to read of Dr. Sproul’s loving relationship with his wife. What a treasure this book is. Themes: Pastoral Ministry, Marriage, Providence
The Midnight Library, Matt Haig. Everyone lives with some degree of regret, wondering how things might have been different if they did things differently. Too much of this can eat you up and lead to despair. The Midnight Library is a tour through what would’ve happened if things were different. And, as we’d expect, it’s not always what we might think. Through the life of one woman, Nora Seed, readers see the implications of the various changes. I found the book to possess a couple of key attributes: it was entertaining and thought-provoking. Like an enjoyable walk without much elevation, the path through the book left me refreshed and invigorated—especially concerning the small things of life. Themes: Providence, Stewardship, Death, Regret
C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography: The Early Years, 1834–1859, Spurgeon. I regret to say that while I’ve often intended to read Spurgeon’s autobiography, I’ve never picked it up. This summer’s road trip afforded me the perfect opportunity. Listening to Spurgeon’s own reflections about his life and ministry rebuked my procrastination. His preaching and writing continue to shape our generation. But it was how much he put his heart and soul into his ministry that struck me. We read of a man who is laser-focused on his calling to preach Christ from the very beginning. This resolve only served to make the cuts of criticism deeper. I also enjoyed hearing his wife, Susanna’s reflections. The book reminded me afresh of the glory of Christ and the need for all Christians—especially pastors—to faithfully plod, day after day, in the ordinary so that Christ would be seen as extraordinary. Themes: Preaching, Evangelism, Marriage.
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick. The late 18th Century is one of my favorite periods in history. As pastors, we often focus on what was happening in the church during the periods of the First and Second Great Awakenings, but the historical events enveloping it are also significant. In the second book of his trilogy, Nathaniel Philbrick focuses on the Revolution’s most famous person, George Washington, and it’s most infamous, Benedict Arnold. As is often the case, the historical details reveal the complexity of the matter. Piecing together the events, Philbrick portrays Arnold’s bravery while also showing his selfishness. He is also not shy about highlighting some of Washington’s shortcomings while highlighting his relentless pursuit of what he thought was best for his country. There are great lessons here about the fruit of humility and the deadly poison of pride. Themes: Leadership, Providence, Pride and Humility