On January 1st I started and finished Tim Challies’ new book “Do More Better.” Here is my one-minute review:
“What’s it all about?”
Do More Better is a “short, fast-paced, practical guide to productivity” that will “help you learn to structure your life to do the most good to the glory of God.” It seeks to equip the reader with both the knowledge and skills to live a God-honouring, diligent, calm, productive life within a frenzied world.
“Should I read it?”
Yes. Do More Better’s first chapter is worth the price of the book alone. When I was 20, Stephen Covey’s First Things First changed my life by giving me a new way of understanding time/life management. Do More Better is a shorter but better book than First Things First. I especially appreciated the book’s focused insistence on centering the entire goal of productivity on the glory of God (as opposed to one’s personal vision for their life). Challies’ book may end up being just as formative in my life now as Covey’s book was then. This book immediately and dramatically impacted how I live as a Christian. Do More Better is an exceptional resource that everyone needs in their discipleship toolbox!
I just finished reading Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. Here’s my one-minute review:
“What’s ‘Preaching’ all about?”
Preaching is a book designed to help people “present the Christian message of grace in a more engaging, passionate, and compassionate way.” Notice I wrote people and not pastors. While Preaching will find a place of prominence in every thoughtful pastor’s bookshelf, Timothy Keller’s book is aimed at anyone who desires to learn how to communicate the Christian faith in a way that challenges and changes the hearer. Therefore, it’s meant to be a resource for those who teach the Bible in a variety of contexts beyond the pulpit.
“Should I read it?”
Yes. I can’t imagine a Christian who wouldn’t be deeply impacted by reading this book. Ironically, Preaching isn’t simply focused on how to preach, but how to unleash the power of God’s Word in an age where skepticism reigns. It’s an invaluable resource to pastors/teachers, but its discussion about how to get to the gospel from every biblical text is required reading for every Christian. I especially appreciated Keller’s chapter on preaching to baseline cultural narratives that often keep people from fully embracing the Christian message.
More than a how-to manual on preaching (although it’s imminently practical in this regard!), Preaching is a book that challenges you to read and apply Scripture Christocentrically. In the process, Preaching reveals how doing so will lead to lives being transformed, beginning with your own.
I just finished reading Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity by Kate Harris. Here’s my one-minute review:
“What’s ‘Wonder Women‘ all about?”
Part of the new “Frames” series by Barna Group, Wonder Women looks at the unique challenges that women face in today’s world. It’s an attempt to reconsider how our definitions of vocation, calling, and motherhood need reframed (see what I did there?) if women are going to have a coherent sense of personhood and purpose. Wonder Women dives into the fray, and over a meager 84 pages attempts to provide women with an alternative vision for how their lives can find a greater alignment to both Christ’s kingdom call and personal sanity!
“Should I read it?”
Yes. It’s short, so it’s a breeze to get through. But for all of its brevity, Wonder Women packs a punch. It’s not exactly a “how-to” book on how to manage it all as a modern mother. If you read it as such, you’ll be disappointed. Instead Wonder Women seeks to work on a different level. It’s trying to introduce new ideas to an issue that suffers from a litany of hackneyed “solutions.” Harris’ reflections on identity and calling, and her distinction between balance and coherence are especially helpful–and not just for women! While the target audience is women who feeling burdened to “have it all and be it all,” I really enjoyed Wonder Women. It has given me new insights into the nature of calling and vocation, and has helped me better understand the core tensions that the women in my life face each and every day.
I just finished reading through the first five books of George R.R. Martin’s gargantuan low-fantasy epic “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASoIaF). Here’s my one-minute review.
“What is A Song of Ice and Fire all about?”
Wikipedia sums up this massive series well:
The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place on the fictional continents Westeros and Essos, with a history of thousands of years. The point of view of each chapter in the story is a limited perspective of an assortment of characters that grows from nine, in the first, to thirty-one by the fifth novel. Three predominant stories interweave: a dynastic war among several families for control of Westeros; the rising threat of the dormant cold supernatural Others dwelling beyond an immense wall of ice on Westeros’ northern border; and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king murdered in a civil war shortly before her birth, to return to Westeros with her fire-breathing dragons and claim her rightful throne.
“Should I read it?”
Maybe. The world George R.R. Martin has created is a complex, dark, and interesting one. It’s profoundly Nietzschean in its worldview, which makes for some very dark reading as characters pursue power at any cost. This is not the hopeful, inspiring fantasy of Tolkien! However, I believe ASoIaF offers an interesting glimpse into the heart of darkness that beats within each of us. Westeros is a world where common grace is absent, and humanity lives by the simple maxim, “might makes right.” I’m fascinated by how popular this book series has become. I think whenever something strikes a nerve within the public consciousness, it has something to teach us about what our cultural aspirations are centred around. I believe ASoIaF teaches us many things in this regard, although the lessons on offer are rarely hopeful or encouraging.
Today I finished a short, punchy book by Walter Brueggemann called Journey to the Common Good. Here’s my one-minute review.
“What is Journey to the Common Good all about?”
Brueggemann is a brilliant Old Testament scholar who draws powerful connections between the decisive events of the Old Testament (e.g. enslavement, exodus, Sinai covenant, exile, etc.,) and our contemporary political and social landscape. In just 115 pages, Journey to the Common Good contrasts the life-defining narratives and values offered by the empires of this world (both ancient and modern) against those of the kingdom of God. Brueggemann offers Israel’s journey as a nation as the pattern for how the people of God today can release themselves from the empire’s distorted values of wisdom, power, and wealth, and embrace the values of God’s kingdom; values that lead to common good flourishing for all. Brueggemann believes the realization of this kind of communal life can only be achieved through “neighbourliness,” covenanting, and reconstructing a social imagination based on the distinctively prophetic texts of the Old Testament.
“Should I read it?”
Maybe. Journey is a dense book. There’s absolutely no filler. There’s no feel-good stories, humorous quips, and I don’t remember one illustration. It’s a fiery, intense book. On the positive side, that means the book ends up being a scant 115 pages. On the negative side, its literary intensity and compactness doesn’t offer a lot of breathing room. Personally I found Journey to be incredibly stimulating, but I could see how many people might not connect with Brueggemann’s material due to its “no nonsense” approach, and due to the fact that there’s no emotional bridge into the subject matter. Journey is the very definition of a Mind type book! That being said, for those looking for a rich and insightful analysis of why Christians ought to be committed to the common good, and ways to practically subvert empiric values that demean and dehumanize, this small book will have a big impact.
Just finished reading Playing God by Andy Crouch.
Here’s my one-minute review:
“What’s ‘Playing God’ all about?”
Playing God is a book that explores the complex issue of power; its uses, abuses, and potential for redemption. Crouch’s overall thesis is that power is a gift from God that should neither be uncritically embraced nor fearfully avoided by Christians. True power, Crouch believes, holds tremendous redemptive potential when channeled through humanity’s deepest calling to be image-bearers of the true God. Playing God explores how corrupt and abusive power is always rooted in idolatry and injustice, while making it clear that Scripture provides us with an understanding of power that can lead to life and flourishing for all.
“Should I read it?”
Maybe. Given my personal passion for the topic (I devoted an entire chapter of my book Mere Disciple to the topic of power!), as well as the depth and breadth of Andy’s insights on this topic, I wish I could offer a yes without hesitation. However, Playing God is not a light read. It’s very dense in parts, and I’m not sure it’s quite as accessible as I would have liked. While Crouch does a remarkable job of dealing with a spectrum of issues tied to power, I’m not sure if Playing God would be a good starting point for someone looking to wade into the immensely important topic of power and our use of it. I would never discourage anyone from reading through Playing God, but if you pick it up just realize that it’s going to feel like work some of the time. That’s not the end of the world, but I could see some people not having the fortitude to push through some of the more philosophically dense chapters, and deciding to leave Playing God unread. Which would be a shame, because Playing God offers inspiring, uncommon, and dynamic insights into how Christians in all spheres of life should understand and use power.