Here’s a rundown of the 9 books I read in December. It was a great month of reading aided by a few days of vacation after in Christmas. I managed to start and finish two books plus finish off another just during the few days away. Happy reading!
Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood by Alan Roxburgh
This is a book read in preparation for my Doctorate of Ministry seminar coming up in May. I really enjoyed this one. I’ve read a truck load of books on the missional movement and the missional church. At this point they all seem to run together and I find it hard to separate them in my mind. Yet, this book is unique in its style and content.
In terms of style this book has a personal narrative tone to it. Roxburgh discusses his own interaction with the missional movement – including how he now wants to separate himself from some of his previous work. He makes the claim that much of the missional movement placed the focus solely on the church at the expense of the gospel and culture. Roxburgh’s main argument is the church needs to abandon a church-focused perspective and move towards asking the following questions: What is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities? How do we join with what God is doing in these places? He argues that church questions are a subset of these far more important questions.
The last two chapters are extremely brief (but helpful) stabs at practical steps toward application.
The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West … Again by George Hunter
This is a book I read in preparation for my final project of my Doctorate of Ministry degree. My culminating project will look at the intersection of mission and vocation. I’m interested in the Celtic movement because it was largely a layman led movement. Meaning – the bulk of the work was done my non-clergy. This concept it right up the alley of what I will be working on for my culminating project.
Hunter gives the history of how St. Patrick and his followers took the gospel to the Irish. It’s a fascinating story if you’re unfamiliar. Patrick was sixteen growing up in northeast England when a band of Celtic pirates invaded his homeland. They captured Patrick along with many others and sold them into slavery. Patrick spent his days herding cattle with a group of Christian slaves who welcomed him into the group. During his six years of slavery he grew to love his Irish Celtic captors. He began to learn their language and culture. He hoped that his captors would come to know God. One night he had a dream in which he heard a voice say “Your ship is ready!” In response, Patrick walked for several days, reached the coast, and negotiated his way on board. Years later he had another dream in which he received the call to return to the land of his captors and preach the gospel.
Hunter looks that the movement Patrick began and highlights potential reasons for the success of his ministry. He looks at how they formed community, how they involved lay people, how they preached the gospel, how they understood the culture, and how they did evangelism in a way that was unheard of at the time.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer
Here’s another book I read in preparation for my D Min culminating project. While the previous book I mentioned looks at Celtic evangelism this book provides a Quaker perspective on calling and vocation.
Palmer’s small volume is ultimately a personal narrative of his shifting understanding of vocation and how this shifting understanding played out in his own life and career. He begins by discussing how he developed an understanding of vocation from the church in which he grew up. He was taught that vocation came from an external voice, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet – someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach. He articulates how he came to abandoned this view of vocation in favor of a view that understands calling coming from an inward voice: “Calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” He details his own personal struggle with earning a PhD and seeking a career as a professor in the midst of closed doors and failures. This experience shaped and formed a new understanding of vocation.
I really enjoyed the look into the Quaker tradition. During periods of decision making Palmer made use of a clearness committee to seek God’s will and find guidance and accountability. A helpful volume.
A Wind In the House Of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims Around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ by David Garrison
This is the last of my D Min related reading for the month. This book is preparation for my D Min seminar that will take place in New York City in May. The seminar will actually be co-led by David Garrison, the author of this book. With that said, this book is wonderful. In fact, it is brilliant. I was captivated by every page. It was well-written, well-researched, and well-argued. Wink. Wink.
The book’s title is a reference to a common way of describing the Muslim word. The nine rooms in the house of Islam include: West Africa, North Africa, East Africa, Arab World, Persian World, Western South Asia, Eastern South Asia, Turkestan and Indo-Malaysia. The book opens with a brief history of Islam and ten critical issues of our day. Garrison then devotes a chapter to each room. He tell stories of how Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s incredibly specific. He gives first hand accounts via interviews with people with boots on the ground and with individual who have moved from Islam to giving their life to Jesus Christ. He discusses the ups and downs, the successes and failures. The book concludes with points of application moving forward.
This book needs to be read along with a primer on the Muslim faith. The two books in tandem would provide a great start to understanding Islam and ministry to the Muslim world.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
In last month’s log I discussed attending a lecture in which David McCullough spoke mostly from the content of this book. Shortly after the lecture I found a steal of deal on a used copy via Amazon. I spent $5 on a like-new copy. Amazon for the win once again.
There is nothing fancy about this book. It tells the story of the Wright brothers in a crisp and clear fashion. In comparison to other works by McCullough the book is down right short. It is a mere 254 pages of actual content. Yet, in typical McCullough fashion the book is informative, readable, and enjoyable.
The Wright Brother’s story is one that I believe is under told. They were pioneers of the airplane and taught the world how to fly. We know the bare bones of the story … but not much more. McCullough tells the story of two brothers who used the profit of a bicycle shop to fund a dream of keeping a man in the air. They grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing. Believe it or not they even learned things without the benefit of Google or watching a trillion youtube videos (that’s my go-to method). They never stopped learning. They never stop trying – even when it came at a cost. They faced ridicule from others that deemed them dreamers at best and failures at worst. They faced the consequences of a dangerous pursuit. Both brothers crashed numerous times in pursuit of flying. Yet, the most tragic came when Orville was in the air with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge during a flight demonstration. A part failure caused the plane to crash and as a result Orville suffered a fractured leg and hip, and four broken ribs. Lieutenant Selfridge died.
It’s a powerful story of the relentless drive to achieve. I will continue my quest to read all the works of David McCullough.
Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged A Nation by John Ferling
Yes. Another book stemming from my year-long obsession with Alexander Hamilton. This is another gem. I love the artwork on the cover and I love the story within the pages. At this point, having read a small shelf full of books on Hamilton, I have the bulk of his story committed to memory. Yet, as the titles suggests, this work takes a particular aim at the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton.
While both men served in the cabinet of George Washington, they had a contentious relationship due to keen intellect and drastically different opinions and philosophies on how the young country should function. At the core, Jefferson sought individual liberty pushing for an extremely egalitarian society with a limited national government and powerful states. Hamilton feared the failure of the young nation and fought for a powerful national government to provide security, stability, and prosperity. This led to numerous spats that actually forced productive debate and concrete solutions. Boy, those were the days.
The book takes many high points of the Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton story and views them though the lens of the rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton. This provides a quick read and an in-depth look at stories that have recently become familiar to me.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
During the bedtime routine, I’ve now finished reading the second book in the Narnia series to my daughter. It is so much fun. While she enjoys it, I’m sure I enjoy it ten fold.
This is my favorite book in the series and I was so glad to see my daughter grasp the story and enjoy it as well. When reading the final few chapters that result in the death of Aslan (Sorry for the spoiler. But you really should get around to reading this one), she exclaimed, “But Aslan is Jesus! He’s not going to stay dead! He’ll come back to life.” I wish I had the audio recorded. And the pure joy of hearing the resurrection story.
Since I’ve already let a spoiler out of the bag … please allow for more spoilage. This book shows the consequence of Edmund befriending the White Witch. I love the image that it is always winter but never Christmas in Narnia due to her curse. Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy wind up in Narnia and face peril due to Edmund’s mistake and the evil of the White Witch. Yet, Aslan is on the move. With the appearance of Aslan, comes the appearance of Christmas. Aslan gives his life to save not only Edmund but all of Narnia. Yet, as my daughter noted, he doesn’t stay dead.
It is a beautiful depiction of John 3:16 along with the power of the resurrection.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This is the book of the year in the literary world. It has won the National Book Award for fiction among many other awards and accolades. To top all of that – it was selected for Oprah’s book club. Yeah, it’s kinda a big deal.
It follows Cora and Caesar, two slaves who make a run for freedom via the underground railroad. Yet, its a literal underground railroad. Ya know … the kind of railroad with the tracks, boxcars, and conductors. I was immediately turned off by the premise due to the child-like nature of the storytelling device. Yet, the writing and imagery is simply fantastic. It grabs you and forces you to pay attention. Whitehead uses another literary device as well. As the underground railroad takes the characters to different states, they arrive in different time periods depicting the struggle of African Americans. It is also clear that Whitehead did not right a piece of pure historical fiction. While set in historical time periods, Whitehead often plays the “What if?” game as he develops the story.
I admit that I struggled during the reading of this book. Not only did I struggle with the difficult subject matter of slavery but also with the literary elements of the book. Since completing the book I’ve read numerous reviews and watched numerous interviews with the author. It is clear that I missed a great deal in my first reading of the book. This is a book that I undervalued in the first reading but will gain much from a second reading of the work.
The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
I’m a bit hesitant to include this on my list. I did in fact read the book – but I did so when no one was watching me. It is outside of my typical reading lane. Far outside. Far, far outside. Yet, I purposefully read it.
This book has been a book selling phenomenon. I listen weekly to a number of book podcast that report numbers on book sales. This was released in 2015 but continues to sell and sell and sell and sell. It has dominated bestseller lists and has contributed to a trend of including “girl” in the title of books. A recent Forbes List reports that the book resulted in Hawkins making over $10 million in 2016.
I wanted to read it because many other people are reading it. I also wanted to read it because the story line focuses on a number of people living out broken lives. I don’t enjoy devastation for the sake of devastation but I am interested in a secular view on brokenness. As a preacher of the gospel I speak into broken lives and preach reconciliation through Jesus Christ. I wanted to glimpse into Hawkin’s depiction of brokenness and see if she offered solutions. Perhaps an ambitious reasoning for reading a work of pop fiction … but I did it nonetheless.
In the end, Hawkins doesn’t provide any solutions but she does tell a page-turning story. The broken lives of numerous people intersect due to one girl … you guessed it … on a train. In the midst of a fast-paced fiction, Hawkins touches on the serious topics of alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, adultery, and the death of a child. It has sporadic use of bad language and a few graphic scenes depicting domestic violence. At the end of the day … it’s a thriller novel with details that will quickly be forgotten. Yet, I appreciated the effort made to look at big subjects.