Erasmus, the Dutch philosopher and theologian, is quoted as saying, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” He is also quoted as saying, “Do not be guilty of possessing a library of learned books while lacking learning yourself.”
With that brief introduction, I want to provide a few book recommendations from my 2014 reading list.
(Disclaimer: These are books on topics which I find interesting and books which proved to be thought stimulators. In no way am I endorsing all positions taken within these books.)
General favorites …
This book is a follow up to The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. I recommend both books for those interested in a nitty gritty view of missions. The Insanity of God is a missionary memoir of six years spent working in Somalia. It pulls no punches. It’s not a success story. Rather, it provides a hard look at what the author calls a “descent into hell.” The Insanity of Obedience is the wisdom gained from first hand mission experience and interviews with missionaries around the world. It provides a concrete look at the call to missions and practical aspects of that call. I think this follow up provides a much needed balance to the previous book. I’ve already purchased copies of both of these books for friends and/or family. The feedback I get is something like, “I loved them – but wow.”
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with some of the work of C.S. Lewis. I realize that some of you might have just clicked away from this page due to the statement … I know. I had never read this slim volume until late in the year. I found it to be an honest and powerful treatise on the topic of grief. This is Lewis’ reflection after the death of his wife and it provides powerful commentary on faith in the midst of loss. It is simply one man’s perspective – but a good one. I’ve never had a book that I trusted as a recommendation to someone struggling with the loss of a loved one – this is now it.
Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin
I really enjoyed the uniqueness of this book. It is part biblical commentary, part devotional, and part travelogue. Martin fills this book with commentary on passages from the gospels aided by his personal journey through the Holy Land. A great idea executed extremely well. I also enjoyed hearing the perspective of a Jesuit priest. As a baptist preacher, I hang around a bunch of baptist preachers. I appreciated a different voice. Incredibly pastoral in tone and simply a great read.
From commentaries/study helps …
Preaching Christ From Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons by Sidney Greidanus
I preached through the book of Ecclesiastes in the fall. This book aided me in my preparation for that sermon series. It’s definitely a technical book for those intending to preach through Ecclesiastes (as I hope the title suggests). Yet, I appreciated the pastoral tone and care the author provided. I loved this piece from the preface: In 1976, while a pastor in Delta, British Columbia, I preached a series of sermon on Ecclesiastes. After hearing one of these theocentric sermons, a retired pastor approached me and said, “I appreciated your sermon, Sid, but could a rabbi have preached your sermon in a synagogue?” I was dumbfounded by the question, but it set me to think about the issue of Christocentric preaching.
Sermon On The Mount: The Story Of God Bible Commentary by Scot McKnight
Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount played a crucial role in my spiritual development. I remember reading it over and over again as a new believer. My fascination with Matthew 5-7 has never waned. Scot McKnight’s Sermon On the Mount contribution to The Story Of God Bible Commentary was a delight to read in 2014. It is scholarly but readable. It is deep but flows very well. I thoroughly enjoy it as a companion to the Scripture text. To the person looking for a deep study on the topic this is now my go-to recommendation.
Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Mark Strauss
This is the most recent volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. I have to admit … I’m a commentary junkie. I buy brand new volumes and I also travel the state hunting them down in used bookstores. (I found a few gems driving through Oklahoma during the Christmas holiday!) With that said – I whole-heartedly recommend this Zondervan series. I have found every volume released thus far to be excellent. The format of the series is incredibly helpful and I love the scholars they have invited to participate in the series. This volume on Mark is a great edition to the series.
From biography …
Strange Glory: A Life Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh
I will actually finish this book today. It is a detailed look at the German pastor/theologian who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945. It is not for the faint of heart. It is heavy reading. (If you’re unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer I suggest a quick Google search.) This book will not be as popular as Eric Metaxas’s recent biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy yet I think it deserves to be read by those truly interested. If you have a passing interest in Bonhoeffer – read Metaxas. It is enough to tell you the story. I have a deep interest in Bonhoeffer because his work’s Discipleship and Life Together have greatly shaped my understanding of theology and the church. I enjoyed the deep look this biography provided. I also read The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this year.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I was late to read this book (it came out in 2011) but I found it a interesting read on many levels. First, I’m an avid Apple fan. I’m typing this post on a MacBook Pro and in my view is my iPhone and iPad. My iPod is in the car. Second, it is a great study on leadership. Lessons, good and bad, run wild through this book. Third, there is a spiritual component to this book. It details a bit of Jobs’ strange search for spiritual fulfillment. Long and tedious at points but the payoff is worth it.
Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis
I’m a huge fan of college basketball. My love for it has grown tremendously in recent years. This biography covers the coaching career of the greatest college basketball coach in the history of the sport. That sounds like hyperbole – but the man won 10 national championships in 12 years. Wowzers. Again – this is a book that needs to be reserved for those with an interest in the topic. It’s long (over 500 pages) and covers each season of Wooden’s career in detail.
From the category of one of my personal areas of interest …
Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer
I have a personal interest in Jimmy Carter. Why? He is from the South. He was president of the United States. He is a Baptist. It was a great year for books on Jimmy Carter. While I’m not a fan of the title, I am a fan of the book Redeemer. The book is less of a biography of Jimmy Carter and more of an account of evangelical Christianity during the political career of Jimmy Carter. I found it balanced and a much needed perspective on the role that evangelical leaders have had in politics – good and bad. I’ve passed this one along to one family member and received “I really enjoyed it” as feedback.
A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter also released a book this year. It is a brief, hard-hitting account of Carter’s view on the topics of women, religion, violence, and power. Like many of Carter’s books, it is part fresh material and part retelling of work he has done in the given field. I personally loved Carter’s account of his interaction with his local Baptist church and the Southern Baptist Convention over issues of the Bible and gender equality. No matter your view – it is worth reading. I’ve recommend this to a few people. I’ve yet to have anyone follow up on my recommendation. My reading suggestion: Read books that challenge and stretch you.
And the biggest surprise of all … FICTION.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My reading this year took a strange turn – I started reading fiction. This endeavor was new, strange, but beneficial for me. I enjoyed reading great stories, great writers, and great themes. My recommendation from my fiction reading is the three books of Khaled Hosseini. I found the writing and storytelling to be fantastic. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading three books set in Afghanistan and gaining a perspective of this country not provided by news reports. The other two books are A Thousand Splendid Suns and And The Mountains Echoed.