Here’s a rundown of the 9 books I read in February. It’s an eclectic group with a few gems and a few rereads. Happy reading!
Run With The Horses: The Quest For Life At Its Best by Eugene Peterson
When Eugene Peterson died back in October I wrote about his impact on my pastoral ministry. If you did not read my reflection, you can find it here.
I consider Peterson a mentor, even though we’ve never met. He has taught me countless lessons through the pages of his work. He has a reserved shelf in my office. In some strange way, I find comfort in knowing his wisdom and experience is at my fingertips.
I return to Peterson books time and time again. It was fun to return to Run With The Horses this month. This book is a great illustration of Peterson’s academic capability and his pastoral sensitivity. The book covers the book of Jeremiah, not in its entirety, but in great detail. Peterson pulls certain passages throughout the prophet’s writing and provides historical details, insightful comments, and an overdose of congregational application. It is a great companion volume for those studying Jeremiah.
Here is Peterson’s rift on the passage of Scripture reflected in the book title ( Jeremiah 12:5):
Life is difficult, Jeremiah,. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling.
Eat This Book: Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson
The previous Peterson book led me to return this one. I fully admit this is not Peterson’s best book … but it resonates with me in a powerful way. At points it is choppy and lacks clear direction but its core message echoes from the pages.
Peterson argues that the Bible must be read from a spiritual standpoint. He means word of God “enters our soul as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom.” I know it sounds a bit strange but he’s standing on solid ground. John, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were both told to “eat” scrolls during their ministry. This diets allows the word of God to enter into nerve endings, reflexes, and imagination. For modern day readers Peterson argues that we must enter the Bible as participants or else “we aren’t going to understand what is going on. This text cannot be understood by watching from the bleachers ~ or even expensive box seas. We are in on it.”
Beyond a healthy argument for a devotional and experiential reading of the Bible, Peterson also does some helpful work explaining the practice of Lectio Divina and does heavy lifting to discuss translation. Even even devotes a section to his translation process of The Message.
The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential by NT Wright
NT Wright is a world renowned scholar. He’s written tons of thick theological tomes. Yet, this compact reflection is my favorite. It is a small book penned out of a love for the Psalms. Wright speaks as a scholar but speaks from a position of devotion. His love for God and his devotional reading of Scripture is evident.
Wright argues that from the the beginning of the church the Psalms were an essential part of worship. He goes as far as to refer to them as “the great hymnbook at the heart of the Bible” and the “daily lifeblood of Christians.” Yet, in modern Christian practices they are largely ignored. In the places in which they are still used they are “often reduced to a few verses” or used as “filler” pieces between portions of the worship service.
Wright fights against the common modern practice in regards to the Psalms by walking through large themes found in the great hymn book and offering reflections and insights. You’ll find nothing provocative or controversial. Perhaps thats why this book is not widely known. You will find just what the subtitle states, a case for why the Psalms are essential.
Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger
This book flew under my personal radar but seems to be widely popular among many of my friends in ministry. In fact, it was sent to me by Jason Burden, pastor of First Baptist Nederland. I appreciate his thoughtfulness and generosity.
This book grew on me with every chapter. It is essentially a book comprised of three parts told as one story. It is one part extended metaphor. It is one part business strategy manual. It is one part a primer on Christian leadership in turbulent times. For the first few chapters the three headed nature of the book turned it into a book about nothing (please pick up the Seinfeld reference). Yet, ultimately the three parts gel together for a well written, well stated, and well defended position.
The extended metaphor is an incredibly helpful illustration: Explorers Lewis and Clark were on a expedition to find a water pathway across the United States. They reached the spine of the Rocky Mountains, a point unreached by an Americans until that day. Yet, instead of finding a the Northwest Passage, the great prize sought for more than three centuries, they found more mountains. They did not find water for their paddles. Rather, they had to figure out how to canoe through mountains. This extended metaphor is layered over business strategies that focus on navigating change, developing skill sets, and leadership. These two parts are viewed from the Christian perspective of discipleship and ecclesiology and answer the question, how does the church thrive and how do leaders lead in this uncharted territory?
I’m still chewing on this one. Is it brilliant? Indeed. How will I use its content? That’s still unknown.
Eternity Is Now In Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place by John Ortberg
I came to this book via podcast. The podcast book recommendation is perhaps my favorite form of book recommendation. When an author is a guest on a podcast to promote/discuss a book, I finish the podcast with a fairly substantial understanding of the book’s content and point of view. It is easy to say “not for me” or head over to Amazon.
John Ortberg was recently the guest of the Carey Neuhoff Leadership podcast. The conversation just might be the best theology discussion I’ve ever heard on a podcast. Give that podcast a listen and you’ll get a great feel for the contents of this book.
This volume is an early candidate for book of the year. It is a crystal clear explanation of heaven, but ultimately soteriology, that is deep enough for those well versed on the topics and yet assessable for the layperson. It’s main point is that salvation and heaven is not about quantity of days but quality of life. Jesus brings life! Ortberg argues that when Jesus becomes our center we “orient ourselves toward God and his will and his love. We will want to be ever moving toward it. We will want to invite and help other people to be ever moving toward it. What matters is the orientation and posture of our lives.”
My favorite quote: “Have you ever committed a sexual sin? I’ll bet you didn’t do it while your mother was watching you. That would have taken all the fun out of it. In order to commit a sin and enjoy it, you have to be someplace your mother isn’t. In heaven, there is no place where God is not. Once you’re in heaven, there is nowhere to run to for a quick sin. If you want to gossip, hoard, judge, self promote, overindulge, or be cynical, where will you go?”
The only down side of the book is its heavy reliance upon Dallas Willard and CS Lewis. Each source is quoted numerous times in each chapter. It gets a bit predictable. Ortberg makes a point and you predict that a W&L quote will be in the next paragraph or on the next page.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
I’m working my way through the work of Jon Krakauer. This was a tough one. I had to read this a bit at a time in order to keep from being consumed by the brokenness described. Brokenness is evident in the sin of the rapist and in the wake of the rapist’s crime.
Krakauer investigates a handful of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period and documents the experiences of five victims. I’ve watched a number of interviews in which Krakauer explains that he was blindsided by the hate he received from the people of Missoula. His intent was never to display Missoula as the poster city of campus rape. Rather, he intended to submit a case study for a crime that is widespread and prevalent on college campuses around the country.
While never overtly graphic, the book is hard to read. I found myself in tears at the retelling of gruesome crimes, the fear and self doubt expressed by victims, and the skepticism of police, prosecutors, public opinion, and football fans fighting for star athletes.
The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatolie Boukreev
This volume is a spin off from my goal to read all of the works of Jon Krakauer. In his controversial book, Into Thin Air, Krakauer tells his personal story of May 10, 1996 when disaster struck as three expeditions attempted to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The disaster resulted in 8 deaths and produced a number of varied stories and explanations.
Into Thin Air points a finger at Boukreev for climbing the peak of Everest without oxygen and for retreating from the summit while many people were in danger. Krakauer’s version of the disaster is the most well known and accepted as truth by many. My copy of Into Thin Air boasts that 3 million copies are are print. I’m sure countless more have been sold and read since.
The Climb, as expected, tells a different story. Over and over again the books points out that Bourkeev saved lives that day on Everest and was awarded the American Alpine Club’s highest honor, the David A. Sowles Memorial Award, for his heroic actions. Upon completing this book and reflecting on both The Climb and Into Thin Air, I was left with a bit of sadness. People died. Fingers are pointed. Blame is assigned.
Krakauer has went on to publish wildly popular books on a wide range of topics. After the Everest disaster Bourkeev continued to climb. He died in an avalanche while climbing in Nepal on Christmas day 1997.
On Reading Well: Finding the Good lIfe through Great Books by Karan Swallow Prior
This is a favorite book genre for me ~ a book on books. And it’s a good one. Prior highlights the need to read well by taking us through a guided tour of great books and pointing out things that need to be observed. She does not talk down to readers. She does not overload us with information and points of trivia like a tour guide at a tourist trap. Rather, she walks alongside us like a friend showing us a well loved city.
The book is broken into three parts: Cardinal Virtues, Theological Virtues, and Heavenly Virtues. Each part is filled with books that highlight stated virtues. For example, in part two covering theological virtues, Silence by Shusaku Endo shows us faith, The Road by Cormac McCarthy shows us hope, and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy shows us love. I have to admit that I intentionally did not read the chapter on The Road because I don’t want spoilers. I’ll come back once I’ve read McCarthy’s classic.
As a side note, this is the frontrunner for book cover of the year. I love the graphic of a reading chair, stacks of books, a cup of coffee, and the beloved dog.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I returned to this volume when a friend recently texted “Thanks!” for recommending this book via this blog a few years ago. I originally picked up this King volume because it appears on the favorite books list of many writers. I thought to myself, “It’s worth a shot.”
It is entertaining from start to finish. The first half of the book is a biography of King’s early life as a writer. It details his struggles to break into the business and the publication of his early stories and his first published book. The second half of the book is a lucid writer’s manual. Not so much of a “how to” but a rambling dialogue on King’s pet peeves and helpful instructions.
My favorite quote from the book: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” The more I think about it the more I chuckle. If you are interested in the craft of writing it is well worth your time. You do not need to be a fan of King. I’m not but still thoroughly enjoyed his thoughts. Disclaimer: The book does use foul language throughout for no apparent reason. A personal frustration as reader.