Book Briefs

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Some long plane flights over the past couple months, which means a longer list of books. I’ll stick with the popular-level books for today and save the academic books for later.

Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Baker Books, 2017). I appreciated Crouch’s balance in embracing the good that technology offers, while also exhorting us to put technology “in its proper place.” His Ten Tech-Wise Commitments are memorable and helpful. “We want to create more than we consume” is the one that stood out most to me and my wife. Crouch is refreshingly honest about where he is a good example to follow and where he doesn’t quite live up to his ideals. At the same time, I found some of his inspiring advice—which seems to have worked with his two children—to be unworkable with, say, eight children.

Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story (Multnomah, 2018). When it comes to sexuality, singleness, and marriage, we need all the good books we can get. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel is part biblical exposition, part theological exploration, and part pastoral exhortation. Christopher has given us a clear-eyed and warm-hearted work that will inspire and encourage the weary as well as instruct and (gently) correct those who have been more shaped by the culture than by the way of Christ.

Jamie Dunlop, Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry (Zondervan, 2019). Almost every church has a budget. And yet too many churches give little thought to the spiritual dimensions of planning, developing, and communicating a budget. That’s what Jamie means to remedy in this immensely helpful book. While my Presbyterian sensibilities may quibble here or there, I’m grateful for a terrific resource that is so biblical, practical, and wise.

Kevin G. Harney. No Is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted (Zondervan, 2019). I’ve known Kevin for more than 20 years, back when I was a student pursuing ministry in the RCA and he was pastoring a large RCA congregation in the Grand Rapids area. He’s been a friend to me over the years. Now I’m in the PCA, and Kevin pastors a megachurch in California. Kevin has always been a disciplined writer and a man not afraid to state his opinions. Both traits come together nicely in this well-titled and helpfully designed book. With 54 short chapters about saying “No,” you don’t have to wonder what the book’s big idea is all about. Nothing revolutionary, but lots of good illustrations, practical advice, and spine-stiffening courage for saying “No” to most things, so we can say “Yes” to the best things.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (Portfolio/Penguin, 2019). After reading Newport’s earlier book on Deep Work, I was eager to get this follow-up volume reducing digital distraction. Newport wisely observes that we are succumbing to screens not because we are lazy (though that may play a part), but because billions of dollars have been invested to push us into digital addiction. The call for digital minimalism, therefore, is not about efficiency or usefulness, but about autonomy. Like Newport’s book on work, I find this one easier to agree with than to put into practice.

Eric Dezenhall, Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal (Twelve, 2014). Glass Jaw is the story of how David has become Goliath, and Goliath has become David. Dezenhall shows how powerful individuals and organizations are more susceptible than ever to reputational attacks, and how much of their approach to crisis management is misguided. In an age where humiliation has become monetized, I dare say that everyone leading a significant institution or organization should read this book. Although the examples are dated (e.g., circa-2014 stories about Paula Deen and General McChrystal), the advice and observations have never been more relevant. Like: It’s easier to start a fire than to put one out; sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s a smoke machine; social media is an offensive weapon and of little use in defending one’s reputation; picking a digital scab may infect the wound; and the object of crisis management is not to get people to like you, but to get people to move on. In the end, Dezenhall paints a pessimistic picture, arguing that if your reputation is attacked (fairly or unfairly) often the best smart people can do is make things a little less awful.

Michael R. McGowan and Ralph Pezzullo, Ghost: My Thirty Years as an FBI Undercover Agent (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). Big takeaway: Don’t become an undercover agent unless you are really good at lying and don’t mind hanging out with some terrible people. Important work, but I’m glad it’s not mine. Still, a fascinating look at one agent’s harrowing experiences. Warning: explicit language throughout.

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