Category Archives: Writing

“The ministry of writing books” by Scott Manetsch

“Calvin’s literary corpus is well known, with around one hundred volumes published from the time he arrived in Geneva in 1536 until his death twenty-eight years later.

During the 1550s, Calvin’s literary output ranged from 100,00 to a remarkable 250,000 published words per year.

Late nights spent writing at his desk by candlelight or long days spent dictating from bed inevitably took a toll on his health and spirits:

‘I get so tired from that endless writing that at times I have a loathing for it, and actually hate writing,’ Calvin complained to Bullinger in 1551.

But true religion needed to be defended in print as well as from the pulpit.

‘I would be a real coward if I saw God’s truth being attacked and remained quiet without a sound.’

Theodore Beza also recognized the strategic value of defending reformed Christianity through print media and he encouraged colleagues such as Chandieu, Daneau, and Goulart to join him in this important endeavor.

To a minister friend in Zurich, he wrote in 1575:

‘I rejoice that my colleagues Daneau and Goulart are friends of yours, and I beg that you also exhort them to write [books]. For you see how few men we have today who are able to write with precision and substance– which is the very thing that we need.’

From Beza’s perspective, the ministry of writing books that defended the truth and edified the people of God was of vital importance for the well-being of the church.”

–Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 225-226.

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Filed under Apologetics, Books, Christian Theology, Jesus Christ, John Calvin, Puritanical, Quotable Quotes, Reading, The Gospel, Writing

The Best Books I Read This Year (2015)

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These are my favorite books that I read in 2015:

1. Newton on the Christian Life / Tony Reinke
John Newton was dramatically converted to Christ after a thunderstorm on the high seas. He then faithfully pastored two congregations for 43 years. J.I. Packer called Newton the “friendliest, wisest, humblest” evangelical leader of his day, and he was “perhaps the greatest pastoral letter-writer of all time.” (25) Tim Keller claims that Newton is “the best pastor I’ve ever seen in my life.” (23) The former slave trader encouraged William Wilberforce in his efforts to help end the slave trade in England. And he also penned the most well-known hymn in the English language. I think it’s safe to say that we can learn much from John Newton about living for Christ in this world.

To that end, Tony Reinke has written the best book in what is a wonderful collection of books, Crossway’s Theologians On the Christian Life series. “Think of this book,” Reinke says, “as a field guide meant to get dirty, dog-eared, and faded in the clenched hands of a Christian pilgrim.” (32) This “field guide” is glorious. It’s a delight from beginning to end and brimming with golden selections from Newton:

“All shall work together for good: everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.” (195)

“My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” (49)

“Have we not a Saviour, a Shepherd full of compassion and tenderness? If we wish for love in a friend, He has shewn love unspeakable; —He left His glory, assumed our nature, and submitted to shame, poverty, and death, even the death of the cross, that He might save us from sin and misery, and open the kingdom of heaven to us, who were once His enemies. For He saw and pitied us, when we knew not how to pity ourselves. If we need a powerful friend, Jesus is almighty: our help is in Him who made heaven and earth, who raises the dead, and hushes the tempest and raging waves into a calm with a word. If we need a present friend, a help at hand in the hour of trouble, Jesus is always near, about our path by day, and our bed by night; nearer than the light by which we see, or the air we breathe; nearer than we are to ourselves; so that not a thought, a sigh, or a tear, escapes His notice. Since then His love and His wisdom are infinite, and He has already done so much for us, shall we not trust Him to the end? His mercies are countless as the sands, and hereafter we shall see cause to count our trials among our chief mercies.” (17)

Newton and Reinke served me this year by calling me again and again to fix my eyes on Christ. For that, I am grateful.

2. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God / Tim Keller
Prayer is crucial. Keller writes: “Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and to be in life.” (18) He spends the next 300 pages helping his readers understand what prayer is and how to do it. Along the way Keller relies on choice lessons that he’s learned from Augustine (“Letter 130”), Martin Luther (“A Simple Way to Pray”), John Calvin, John Owen, and several others. My only beef with Prayer is with the publisher: I think we all can agree that Dutton’s decision to use endnotes in Tim Keller’s books is barbaric. So, Dutton, please do us all a favor, give the people what we want, and start using footnotes instead. Thank you.

3. Enjoy Your Prayer Life / Michael Reeves
This helpful book is brief, convicting, and life-giving. Reeves writes:

“The Son has brought us with Him– in Him– before His Father. That’s what we enjoy in prayer.” (35)

“It is the word of God, the gracious message of Christ, that awakens faith and so prayer – and so that must be the basic shape of our everyday communion with God. We need to set Christ before ourselves. That is, we hear the word of Christ in Scripture, in song, through each other and by reminding ourselves as we praise him. We should long that our eyes might be opened to see the beauty of the Lord and that we might be drawn afresh to want him – and then prayer is simply the articulation of our heart’s response. To summarise what we have discovered so far, prayer is the chief exercise of faith. Naturally we’re rubbish at prayer because we’re sinners. Yet the solution – what will give us the true life of real communion with God – is the gospel of Christ that awakens faith.” (19)

4. A Way to Pray / Matthew Henry
Henry is known for his whole-Bible commentary. But he also wrote this excellent primer on how to pray scripturally. This volume, edited by O. Palmer Robertson, is sort of like The Valley of Vision meets D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation a.k.a Praying Like Paul. Henry is helping me to grow in praying according to God’s will. (1 John 5:14) Consider this simple prayer before a meal (373):

“Gracious God, You are the Protector and Preserver of the whole creation. You have nourished us throughout our lives up to the present day with sufficient food, though we are evil and unthankful. Forgive all our sins, for by them we have forfeited Your mercies. Restore our right standing with you in Christ Jesus. Enable us to taste covenant love in commonplace mercies. Give us the grace to use these mercies and all the comforts of Your creation to the glory of Christ, our great Benefactor and Redeemer. Amen.”

5. Edwards on the Christian Life / Dane Ortlund
What is the role of beauty in the Christian life? Ortlund’s answer: “To become a Christian is to become alive to beauty… Sinners are beautified as they behold the beauty of God in Jesus Christ.” (23, 24) This book is an accessible way to introduce others to the beautiful, God-entranced vision of Jonathan Edwards.

6. The Greatest Fight in the World / Charles Spurgeon
Spurgeon’s final address to his beloved students in his Pastors College is as timely now as it was back in 1891:

“On his knees a believer is invincible.” (31)
“We need nothing more than God has seen fit to reveal.” (40)
“God’s Word is our ultimatum.” (41)
“The very root of holiness lies in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (50)
“We are ourselves trophies of the power of the sword of the Spirit.” (54)
“A good textuary is a good theologian.” (60)
“Believers in verbal inspiration should be studiously careful to be verbally correct.” (61)
“The gospel has the singular faculty of creating a taste for itself.” (63)
“There is no arguing after we find that ‘It is written.’” (64)

7. The Ministry Medical / Jonathan Griffiths
Griffiths walks through 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s last letter, and asks 36 textual questions to help diagnose the spiritual health of your ministry. I’m eager to read this volume again with my fellow elders.

8. Who is Jesus? and Why Trust the Bible? / Greg Gilbert
9Marks and Crossway continue to crank out wonderfully helpful books, especially books that busy pastors can give away to bless their church members. I thoroughly enjoyed both of these volumes by Gilbert and plan to get a bunch of copies to give away throughout the year.

9. Knowing Christ / Mark Jones
Following Jesus means growing in our knowledge of Jesus. This book helps us know Christ better. My favorite chapter in Knowing Christ was “Chapter 26 — Christ’s Names”:

“All that God has revealed to us concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, and the various names attributed to him, leave us in little doubt that His names ought to be exceedingly precious to His people. What more can be said? He is the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), Almighty (Rev. 1:8), Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8), Amen (Rev. 3:14), Arm of the Lord (Isa. 51:9), Pioneer of our faith (Heb. 12:2), Ruler of God’s creation (Rev. 3:14), beloved Son (Matt. 12:18), Branch (Isa. 4:2), Bread of life (John 6:32), Cornerstone (Ps. 118:22), Counsellor (Isa. 9:6), Faithful witness (Rev. 1:5), God (Rom. 9:5), Ruler (Matt. 2:6), Holy One (Acts 3:14), Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69), I Am (John 8:58), Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), Righteous One (Acts 7:52), King (Zech. 9:9), King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15), Lamb of God (John 1:29), Life (John 14:6), Light of the world (John 8:12), Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5), Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), the Lord our righteousness (Jer. 23:6), Man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3), Messenger (Mal. 3:1), Mighty God (Isa. 9:6), Morning star (Rev. 22:16), Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), Prince of life (Acts 3:15), Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6), Redeemer (Job 19:25), Resurrection and the life (John 11:25), Rock (1 Cor. 10:4), Root of David (Rev. 22:16), Rose of Sharon (Song of Sol. 2:1), Overseer of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25), Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), True vine (John 15:1), and Witness (Isa. 55:4). Perhaps we now have some glimpse into why Isaiah said: ‘and his name shall be called Wonderful…’ (Isa. 9:6). What is it to know Christ? It is to know his names and all that they mean. For this reason, we shall spend eternity worshipping the One whose names are past finding out.” (217-218)

10. Stuff Matters / Mark Miodownik
Materials are marvelous. That’s the lesson I learned from Stuff Matters. It’s the #1 bestseller in the Inorganic Chemistry section of Amazon.com for good reason. The book begins with a lackluster photograph of a man relaxing on his outdoor deck. The man in the photo is Mark Miodownik, a professor of materials at University College London. Captured in the picture are also ten common materials that we see and use everyday without really stopping and marveling. When is the last time you were amazed by paper, concrete, glass, graphite, plastic, steel, and chocolate? Chesterton was right when we wrote: “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” This booked helped me wonder. The chapter on chocolate is worth the price of the book:

“Take a piece of dark chocolate and pop it in your mouth. For a few minutes you will feel its hard corners against your palate and tongue but taste little in the way of flavor. It is almost impossible to resist the urge to give it a good bite, but try very hard not to, so that you can experience what happens next: the lump becoming suddenly limp as it absorbs the heat from your tongue. As it becomes liquid, you will notice your tongue feels cooler, and then a combination of sweet and bitter flavors floods your mouth. These are followed by fruity and nutty sensations, and finally an earthy, muddy taste down the back of your throat. For one blissful moment you will be in thrall to the most deliciously engineered material on earth. Chocolate is designed to transform into a liquid as soon as it hits your mouth. This trick is the culmination of hundreds of years of culinary and engineering effort, aimed initially at creating a popular drink that could hold its own against tea and coffee. That effort failed miserably until chocolate manufacturers realized that making hot chocolate in the mouth instead of a saucepan was much more delightful, much more modern, and far more widely liked. In effect they created a solid drink, made possible by their understanding and control crystals– specifically, cocoa butter crystals. The chocolate industry has never looked back.” (73-74)

11. Do More Better / Tim Challies
There are lots of productivity books out there. I found this one by Challies to be concise and clear and practical. He writes: “Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” (16) Amen.

12. The Ology / Marty Machowski
We read The Ology during our family worship in the morning and the Roark kids loved it. Deep truths, beautifully communicated and illustrated.

13. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered / Rosaria Butterfield
I was fascinated by both of these books by Butterfield. If you’re only able to read one of them, I’d encourage you to read Openness Unhindered because of her extended treatment on sexual identity and union with Christ. Secret Thoughts begins in this way:

“When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest women’s studies departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take on faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed that I was helping to make the world a better place. At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured radicals.’ By all standards, I had made it. That same year, Christ claimed me for himself and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.” (ix)

14. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena / Anthony Marra
The best story I read in 2015 was this beautiful and brutal debut novel about a surgeon in war-torn Chechnya. Marra was asked about the book’s title and he replied:

“One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a surprisingly poetic entry: ‘A constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.’ As biological life is structured as a constellation of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a constellation of six point-of-view characters.”

These characters stay with you. In a variety of ways, Constellation reminded me of Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. I’m not ashamed to say that I wept like a baby when I got to the last page. Just a beautiful, heartrending story of loss and hope and “immense, spinning joy.” (379)

While were are on fiction, let me briefly mention two other novels that I loved.

15. Crossing to Safety / Wallace Stegner
Last year was a season of transition for me, for my family, and for several of our dearest friends in ministry. So I’m thankful to have read this wise and tender novel that follows the lives of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, along with their joys and losses. When I think of Crossing to Safety, I’ll think of our family’s life on Capitol Hill: “There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness had its headquarters.” (6)

16. The Other / Thomas Tryon
This might not be your cup of tea but I couldn’t put The Other down. It’s bizarre, beautifully written, and by far the spookiest book that I’ve ever read. And the ending… wow. Tryon’s story has the power to makes an apple cellar on a bucolic New England farm seem menacing:

“I’ve told Miss DeGroot all kinds of stories about the apple cellar. She says it’s a spooky place; she’s right. Buried deep in the heart of the barn, with thick walls of New England traprock, and no electrical illumination, the room was a marvelously clandestine place. For six months of the year, October to March, the bushel baskets stood in rows, brimful with apples; onions dug out of the kitchen garden swagged from the rafters, and garlands of dried peppers, and along the shelves lay bunches of beets, parsnips, and turnips. But during the remaining months, its store of provender spent, the apple cellar served for other, more devious, employment. Shut away from the light, free from intrusion, you felt it was such a place as could be peopled by a boy’s imagination with all the creatures of his fancy, with kings, courtiers, and criminals—whatever; stage, temple, prison, down there seeds were sown, to grow magically overnight, like mushrooms. A place whose walls could be made to recede into airy spaciousness, the ceiling and floor into a limitless void, wood and stone and mortar dissolved at will. But in June, with the whole of the summer stretching endlessly before you, the apple cellar was forbidden and you had to be close and cunning not to get caught. You had matches hidden in a Prince Albert tobacco tin and a candle butt stuck in a Coca-Cola bottle for light. All was dead secret; you listened carefully, one ear cocked, fearful of discovery; you envisioned every sound a Betrayer, a Giant, a Walking Horror…” (9-10)

Did I mention the ending?

17. Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln / Richard Brookhiser
I try to spend time every year with masters of English prose. In 2014, I spent the year with Winston Churchill. In 2015, I lived with Abraham Lincoln. I thoroughly enjoyed Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. If you want a brief biography of Lincoln, check out Abraham Lincoln by James McPherson. As I slowly worked my way through Lincoln’s Speeches and Writings: 1859-1865, I stumbled across one of my favorite passages, Lincoln’s consoling letter to Mrs. Bixley, who had lost five sons in the Civil War:

November 21, 1864

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

As enjoyable as his speeches and letters were, the Lincoln book that will stay with me, and the one that I’ll return to again, is Richard Brookhiser’s Founder’s Son. Brookhiser shows how Lincoln’s “greatest curiosity was about the great things.” (301) I loved this book and I learned a bunch.

18. The Warmth of Other Suns / Isabel Wilkerson
In early 2015, a friend and dear brother in the Lord gave a sweet and challenging meditation on 1 Peter 3:8. One of his applications was, “Diversity with sympathy is key to unity. Diversity without sympathy is assimilation.” That got me thinking and I was provoked to spend more time reading books that might help me grow in understanding, tender-heartedness, sympathy, and brotherly love, especially for those who have experienced (and continue to endure) racism in all its manifold ugliness. No book served me more than The Warmth of Other Suns, a riveting history of the Great Migration told through the lives of four individuals who experienced the horrors of life in the Jim Crow South:

“Younger blacks could see the contradictions in their world—that, sixty, seventy, eighty years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, they still had to step off the sidewalk when a white person approached, were banished to jobs nobody else wanted no matter their skill or ambition, couldn’t vote, but could be hanged on suspicion of the pettiest infraction. These were the facts of their lives: There were days when whites could go to the amusement park and a day when blacks could go, if they were permitted at all. There were white elevators and colored elevators (meaning the freight elevators in back); white train platforms and colored train platforms. There were white ambulances and colored ambulances to ferry the sick, and white hearses and colored hearses for those who didn’t survive whatever was wrong with them. There were white waiting rooms and colored waiting rooms in any conceivable place where a person might have to wait for something, from the bus depot to the doctor’s office. A total of four restrooms had to be constructed and maintained at significant expense in any public establishment that bothered to provide any for colored people: one for white men, one for white women, one for colored men, and one for colored women… There was a colored window at the post office in Pensacola, Florida, and there were white and colored telephone booths in Oklahoma. White and colored went to separate windows to get their license plates in Indianola, Mississippi, and to separate tellers to make their deposits at the First National Bank of Atlanta. There were taxicabs for colored people and taxicabs for white people in Jacksonville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and the entire state of Mississippi. Colored people had to be off the streets and out of the city limits by 8 P.M. in Palm Beach and Miami Beach. Throughout the South, the conventional rules of the road did not apply when a colored motorist was behind the wheel. If he reached an intersection first, he had to let the white motorist go ahead of him. He could not pass a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly the white motorist was going and had to take extreme caution to avoid an accident because he would likely be blamed no matter who was at fault. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. A black person could not be the first to offer to shake a white person’s hand. A handshake could occur only if a white person so gestured, leaving many people having never shaken hands with a person of the other race. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal. Two whites beat a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi, in 1948, wrote the historian James C. Cobb, because the man ‘asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.’ It was against the law for a colored person and a white person to play checkers together in Birmingham. White and colored gamblers had to place their bets at separate windows and sit in separate aisles at racetracks in Arkansas. At saloons in Atlanta, the bars were segregated: Whites drank on stools at one end of the bar and blacks on stools at the other end, until the city outlawed even that, resulting in white-only and colored-only saloons. There were white parking spaces and colored parking spaces in the town square in Calhoun City, Mississippi. In one North Carolina courthouse, there was a white Bible and a black Bible to swear to tell the truth on.” (44-45)

To think that all of this happened in this country just a few decades ago. Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates were all unforgettable reads for me. The most poignant paragraph from these books was the one below from Jesmyn Ward, who tragically lost her brother, Joshua, in October 2000:

“Every year on the day he died, I wake up to the dread of another year passing. I lock myself in my room, wherever I am living, and I cry until my eyes swell shut. And at the edge of the longing, the terror that I will forget who he was and forget our lives together immobilizes me, pulls me down further, until I am like someone in those cartoons from our youth, stuck in a quagmire of quicksand, mired in the cold, liquid crush, and then: drowning. After Joshua died, my father stopped working, lived on Top Ramen and hot dogs by working odd jobs, and watched television on two different sets at the same time for hours a day. My mother cleans my brother’s grave every few weeks, picking stray grass, brushing the sand to an even smoothness. Every death anniversary, she takes to her room, closes her blinds, wraps herself in silence and darkness. Every year on his birthday, she buys mums for his grave and cleans the small ceramic figures of angels and teddy bears she’s placed around it, while Nerissa and Charine attach balloons, one for every birthday year, this year thirty-three, to his headstone. ‘I only dream of him as a child,’ my mother says. ‘He’s always my little boy.’ This is grief.” (242-243)

19. Spying in America / Michael Sulick
Can you keep a secret? The United States government clearly cannot. In this book, Michael Sulick, former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, details thirty fascinating espionage cases from the American Revolution to the Cold War. Imagine if David McCullough wrote a history of espionage. That’s what Spying in America is like. (And, while we’re on spying, if you’re looking for some fun spy novels, check out Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon books. I liked this The English Spy, The Prince of Fire, and The Messenger).

20. The Boys in the Boat / Daniel James Brown
I enjoyed several nonfiction books abouts boats this year. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is the harrowing true story of the whale ship Essex that was attacked by a huge whale that later inspired Moby Dick. Erik Larson’s Dead Wake (I follow the simple rule of reading everything Larson writes.) tells the story of the sinking of the luxury ocean liner Lusitania by the Nazi U-boat in 1915 during the first year of WWII. But my favorite book about boats in 2015 was definitely The Boys in the Boat. It’s about the quest for rowing gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I was inspired by the story.

21. Beowulf: A New Translation / Translated by Seamus Heaney
One of my favorite reads from last year was N.D. Wilson’s Boys of Blur, which is a kind of modern re-telling of Beowulf with swamps and sugarcane fields and the Everglades and high school football. So I decided to reread the original Beowulf, an epic that I hadn’t read since college. I’ll probably tackle Tolkien’s translation in 2016, but for 2015 I chose the award-winning translation by Seamus Heaney, one of the best poets in the world. It did not disappoint. Even though it’s abridged, also consider checking out Heaney’s audiobook version.

22. Thirst: Poems / Mary Oliver
A few years ago, I was in a bookshop with my wife in Cape Cod and stumbled across Thirst, a collection by a poet who lived just up the road a bit, in Provincetown, MA. I’ve enjoyed Oliver’s poems ever since. (Check out: Blue Iris, Evidence, Swan, A Thousand Mornings, Blue Horses, and Felicity). Poets are shepherds of words. They can teach us to see and to say. Oliver has mainly helped me to marvel more at the beauty of God’s creation. “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still learning to be astonished.” (“Messenger,” Thirst, p. 1). If you are looking for some wonderful poetry about the incarnation of our Lord, it’s hard to beat Accompanied by Angels by Luci Shaw.

23. The Wingfeather Saga / Andrew Peterson
I spent nearly all of 2015 traveling with my three children through the magical world of Aerwiar alongside the three amazing Wingfeather children. Peterson is a talented singer and songwriter (Dear Andrew, please bring the Behold the Lamb of God tour back to the DC area! We missed you this year). So I wasn’t surprised when we loved all four books in this bittersweet series:

My kiddos gave the following reviews:

Emmaline (6): “I like the characters. They all have creative names.”
Hudson (8): “I like the stories because they’re about a different world with interesting creatures.”
Elijah (9): “I like the Wingfeather books because they’re adventurous.”

Daddy likes how Peterson weaves the redemptive power of self-sacrificial love throughout the saga from beginning to end. “Blood was shed that you three might breathe the good air of life.” (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, 17)

The Warden and the Wolf King concludes with the following poem (516-517):

The world is whispering–listen child!–
The world is telling a tale.
When the seafoam froths in the water wild
Or the fendril flies in the gale,
When the sky is mad with the swirling storm
And thunder shakes the hall,
Child, keep watch for the passing form
Of the one who made it all.
Listen, child to the Hollish wind,
To the hush of heather down,
To the voice of the brook at the stony bend
And the bells of Rysentown.
The dark of the heart is a darkness deep
And the sweep of the night is wide
And the pain of the heart when the people weep
Is an overwhelming tide–
And yet! and yet! when the tide runs low
As the tide will always do
And the heavy sky where the bellows blow
Is bright at last, and blue
And the sun ascends in the quiet morn
And the sorrow sinks away,
When the veil of death and dark is torn
Asunder by the day,
Then the light of love is the flame of spring
And the flow of the river strong
And the hope of the heart as the people sing
Is an everlasting song.
The winter is whispering, “green and gold,”
And the heart is whispering, too–
It’s a story the Maker has always told
And the story, my child, is true.

As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

p.s. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Tolle Lege. If you like this blog, consider leaving a comment below with your favorite books of 2015. I’d enjoy learning what books you enjoyed.

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“His whole library was swept away from him” by William Symington

“To a person of these studious habits it may easily be conceived what distress it must have occasioned to have his library swept away from him. In that dreadful misfortune which befell the metropolis in 1666, ever since known as ‘the fire of London,’ the whole of Charnock’s books were destroyed.

The amount of calamity involved in such an occurrence can be estimated aright only by those who know from experience the strength and sacredness of that endearment with which the real student regards those silent but instructive friends which he has drawn around him by slow degrees, with which he has cultivated a long and intimate acquaintance, which are ever at hand with their valuable assistance, counsel and consolation, when these are needed, which, unlike some less judicious companions, never intrude upon him against his will, and with whose very looks and positions, as they repose in their places around him, he has become so familiarized, that it is no difficult thing for him to call up their appearance when absent, or to go directly to them in the dark without the risk of a mistake.

Some may be disposed to smile at this love of books. But where is the scholar who will do so? Where is the man of letters who, for a single moment, would place the stately mansions and large estates of the ‘sons of earth’ in comparison with his own well-loaded shelves?

Where is the student who, on looking round upon the walls of his study, is not conscious of a satisfaction greater and better far than landed proprietor ever felt on surveying his fields and lawns—a satisfaction which almost unconsciously seeks vent in the exclamation, ‘My library! A dukedom large enough!’

Such, and such only, can judge what must have been Charnock’s feelings, when he found that his much cherished volumes had become a heap of smouldering ashes.

The sympathetic regret is only rendered the more intense, when it is thought that, in all probability, much valuable manuscript perished in the conflagration.”

–William Symington, as quoted in Stephen Charnock, “Life and Character of Charnock” in The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol.1 (Robert Carter & Brothers, 1853), 14.

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2014)

tl-books2014-1These are my fourteen favorite books that I read in 2014:

1. One With Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation / Marcus Peter Johnson
To be saved is to be united to the Savior because Jesus is in Himself the blessings He provides. John Murray once noted that nothing is more basic than a believer’s union with Christ. My favorite book of the year helped me see that few things are more beautiful. For example, Johnson writes:

“The Son’s relationship to His Father is everything to Him, for He has existed eternally in the intimate love of His Father. The love of the Father for His Son is the source of all love and the ground of all life. It is a love so extravagant that it overflowed into the creation of the world— God the Father created all things through and for His Son (Col. 1:16). In joining Himself to us, the Son of God has signaled the recreation of all things by opening up to us the love the Father has for Him. He became one with us to make known the love the Father has for Him. But let us be perfectly clear—Jesus came to do more than preach about the Father’s love for us; He came to make this love known in us. (John 17:25-26) To be joined to Jesus Christ is to participate in the love the Father has for the Son. It means we now belong to God as His children, and the Father now loves us no less than He loves His only begotten. It is difficult to conceive of a greater benefit than this because it impossible to conceive of a love deeper than this. How incredible, then, is the doxology that pours forth from John’s pen: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are’ (1 John 3:1). Jesus Christ is our salvation because in Him, and only in Him, we share in the love that alone can be called eternal life.” (pp. 167-168)

Isn’t that glorious? Get this book and read it slowly. You won’t regret it.

2. Expositional Preaching / David Helm
I’ve been blessed through the writing ministry of David Helm. I often use One to One Bible Reading in my discipling relationships and my daughter loves the Big Picture Story Bible. His latest book is on preaching and it’s excellent. He offers wise and practical instruction to help preachers to both faithfully get the text right and get the text across. The folks at 9Marks cranked out a bunch of jewels this year, but this one was my favorite.

3. Stoner / John Williams
The first novel I read in 2014 was the best I’ve read in a while. And it’s haunted me ever since. C.S. Lewis once reviewed a book by his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, and wrote the following: “Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a review need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. They will know that this is good news, good beyond hope.” That’s pretty much how I feel about Stoner.

4. From the Mouth of God / Sinclair Ferguson
Imagine if you got coffee with a godly, wise, and seasoned minister of God’s Word and you asked him to share the greatest lessons he’s gleaned from his many decades of trusting, reading, and applying the Bible. That’s what it feels like reading this book. I read several excellent works on Scripture this year (like this one, this onethis one, and this one). But it was this one by Sinclair Ferguson that affected me the most.

5. Music At Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert / John Drury
If you love Herbert’s poetry, then you won’t want to miss this beautiful biography. Illuminating and moving throughout. 

6. American Spies / Michael Sulick
I live in a city with a higher concentration of spies than any other location in the world. Michael Sulick, a retired intelligence operations officer who was director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and chief of CIA counterintelligence, has written a fascinating study on espionage against the United States from the Cold War to the present that helps answer this question: What motivates people to sell their country’s most precious secrets?

7. Justification Reconsidered / Stephen Westerholm
This brief book is one of the most lucid and elegant treatments of justification that I’ve ever read. In a span of 100 pages, Westerholm helpfully, humbly, and critically interacts with recent proposals from New Perspectivists. Westerholm argues convincingly from the biblical text that “Justification through the gospel of Jesus Christ represents one way in which Paul can respond to the question inevitably provoked by a message of pending eschatological doom: ‘How can I find a gracious God?'” (p. 9)

8. Christ Our Life / Michael Reeves
Sometimes you know a book is gonna be good from the opening paragraph. Such is the case with Christ Our Life. Take it away Mr. Reeves:

“Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, is the Beloved of the Father, the Song of the angels, the Logic of creation, the great Mystery of godliness, the bottomless Spring of life, comfort and joy. We were made to find our satisfaction, our heart’s rest, in Him. Quite simply, this book will be about enjoying Him, revelling in His all-sufficiency for us, and considering all that He is: how He reveals such an unexpectedly kind God, how He makes, defines– how He is– the good news, and how He not only gives shape to but is Himself the shape of the Christian life.” (p. ix)

NOTE: This book will be published soon in America under the title Rejoicing In Christ.

9. The Gospel Story Bible / Marty Machowski
We used this book as part of our family worship in the mornings and absolutely loved it. Check out this sample and see for yourself.

10. With the Old Breed / E.B. Sledge
This book is a first-hand account of the experiences in training and combat of E.B. Sledge with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division during the Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns in World War II. Sledge and his comrades were swept into an abyss of war and brutality that often beggars belief. He kept copious battle notes on slips of paper in his copy of the New Testament. Years later, he wrote about his war experiences to explain them to his family.

 “War is brutish, inglorious , and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other— and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.” (p. 316)

11. Master and Commander / Patrick O’Brian
I finally got around to reading the first volume in the Aubrey and Maturin series. It was just as good as advertised. The fun thing is knowing that the remaining 20 volumes (!) are really just one long and wonderfully told story of life and war and adventure on the high seas.

12. The Gospel at Work / Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
John Piper once wrote, “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.” One of the best sentences in The Gospel at Work is one that could transform your entire outlook on your job: “Who you work for is more important than what you do.” (p. 16) The writers do a fine job showing how working for King Jesus gives purpose and meaning to the work we do everyday.

13. The Painted Word / Philip Cousineau
If you’re in love with the English language and fascinated by words, then you should pick up a copy of The Painted Word which is billed as “A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins.” That’s exactly what it is. I promise you’ll learn something interesting. Check out these two examples of things near and dear to my heart, books and coffee:

BOOK
A collection of words printed on paper and bound by covers. Tracing the roots of such an elemental word reminds me of what art critic Bernard Berenson called “the aesthetic moment,” which he defined as “that flitting instant so brief as to be timeless, when the spectator is at one with the work of art.” That’s what happened when I discovered that book comes from the Anglo-Saxon boc, the bark of a beech tree, traditionally believed to have emerged into German as buch, from Buche, beech. The page turns, and we’re into Old English boc, book, any written document. The notion is of beech-wood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but the word may come from the tree itself. (People still carve initials in them.) Latin and Sanskrit also have words for “writing” that are based on tree names (birch and ash, respectively). Book, meaning “libretto of an opera,” dates from 1768. The self-taught Cherokee scholar Tecumseh described books as “talking leaves.” The irrepressible Groucho Marx said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns on a set I go into the other room and read a book.” The first essayist, Michel de Montaigne, wrote, “Books give not wisdome where none was there. But where there is, reading makes it before.” My father was fond of the bookmarks handed out by his favorite bookstore in Dearborn, Michigan, which featured the words of Thomas Carlyle: “Blessings upon Cadmus or the Phoenicians or whoever it was that invented books.” The tea cookie inspired Marcel Proust to write, in In Search of Lost Time, “It seemed to be that they would not be my readers, but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a magnifying glass.” The ultimate mythologization of books is Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library of Babel: “On some shelf, in some hexagon, it was argued, there must be a book that is a cipher and a compendium of all other books.” Companion words include book as a verb, “to enter for a seat or place, issue tickets,” from 1841; betting book, from 1856; bookmaker, 1862. A bookkeeper was originally someone who never returns a borrowed book. (p. 43)

COFFEE
A tree, a beverage, a way of life. A beverage and a word that seems to have been around forever, but dates back only to 1598, when it appeared on the doorsteps of Europe as the Turkish kalve, from Arabic qalwa, and eventually Italian caffè. The crop grows in the tropics; the beverage is made in a café by percolation, infusion, or decoction from the roasted and ground seeds of any of several Old World tropical plants (genus Coffea, especially C. arabica and C. canephora). Its storied roots lie in the hills of Ethiopia, where, it is said, a goatherd noticed his flock capering about one afternoon. Wondering what had made them so capricious, goatlike, he watched them chewing a red berry from a bush. The roots of the word coffee probably come from the soil of Dutch koffie, from Turkish kaveh, and earlier from Arabia, where it was considered a kind of wine. Coffee entered the Western world during the Siege of Vienna, in 1529, when the marauding Turkish soldiers left their sacks of coffee beans behind when they were repelled at the gates of the city. The next day the victorious Austrians celebrated with croissants, as a tribute to the crescent moon that shone above the city the night of the attack. Coffeehouse, in merry old England, was vulgar slang for a woman who was taken advantage of, suggestive of “coming and going and spending nothing.” (p. 75)

See what I mean?

14. Boys of Blur / N.D. Wilson
Only a writer as talented as N.D. Wilson could take swamps and sugarcane fields and the Everglades and high school football and Beowulf and turn it into an amazing story. My two boys kept asking me to read and re-read the opening line of the book. They told me that hearing it read aloud was just fun. “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.” (p. 2).

As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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“These blessed servants of God” by J.C. Ryle

“Some believers are rivers of living water long after they die. They do good by their books and writings in every part of the world, long after the hands which held the pen are mouldering in the dust.

Such men were Bunyan, and Baxter, and Owen, and George Herbert, and Robert M’Cheyne. These blessed servants of God do more good probably by their books at this moment, than they did by their tongues when they were alive. ‘Being dead they yet speak.’ (Heb. 11:4.)”

–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 387.

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2013)

These are my 13 favorite books that I read in 2013:

1. Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God / Brian Rosner
My favorite book of the year is this treatment of the Apostle Paul’s repudiation, replacement, and reappropriation of the Mosaic Law. Rosner brings a humble tone, a pastoral heart, and a lucid brevity to a notoriously complex conversation. Also be sure to check out Rosner’s lectures (audio and notes) that form the basis of the book. 

2. A New Testament Biblical Theology / G.K. Beale
It’s dense. It’s too long. And it’s repetitive. Did I say it was repetitive? But Beale’s book made me treasure my Bible and inspires me to read it more and more.

3. Poems / George Herbert
Pastors shepherd people. Poets shepherd words. Pastor-poets do both. George Herbert was a pastor and a poet. I enjoyed his poems all year long. Of Christ, Herbert wrote: “Much more him I must adore, Who of the law’s sour juice sweet wine did make, Ev’n God himself, being pressed for my sake.” If you want a good introduction to his work, check out A Year With George Herbert by Jim Scott Orrick.
 

4. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (John, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3) / J.C. Ryle
My pastor preached through the Gospel of John in 2013 and good Bishop Ryle’s Expository Thoughts was my blood-earnest companion from beginning to end.

“Weak, and feeble, and foolish as it may seem to man, the simple story of the Cross is enough for all the children of Adam in every part of the globe. The tidings of Christ’s death for sinners, and the atonement made by that death, is able to meet the hearts and satisfy the consciences of all nations, and peoples, and kindreds, and tongues. Carried by faithful messengers, it feeds and supplies all ranks and classes. ‘The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Cor. 1:18.) Five barley loaves and two small fishes seemed scanty provision for a hungry crowd. But blessed by Christ, and distributed by His disciples, they were more than sufficient. Let us never doubt for a moment, that the preaching of Christ crucified,—the old story of His blood, and righteousness, and substitution,—is enough for all the spiritual necessities of all mankind. It is not worn out. It is not obsolete. It has not lost its power. We want nothing new,—nothing more broad and kind,—nothing more intellectual,—nothing more efficacious. We want nothing but the true bread of life which Christ bestows, distributed faithfully among starving souls. Let men sneer or ridicule as they will. Nothing else can do good in this sinful world. No other teaching can fill hungry consciences, and give them peace. We are all in a wilderness. We must feed on Christ crucified, and the atonement made by His death, or we shall die in our sins.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1869/2012), 229-230. Ryle is commenting on John 6:1-14.

5. Death By Living / N.D. Wilson
Wilson’s writing inspires me to see and to say. In Death By Living, he does both beautifully. But he also charged me to live. Here are three gems:

“This is a spoken world–from galaxies to inchworms from seraphs to electrons to meter maids every last thing was and is shaped ex nihilo. It–and we–all exist as beats and rhythms and rhymes in the cosmic and constant word art of the Creator God. To fully embrace and attempt to apply such a vision is… dizzying.”

“Understand this: we are both tiny and massive. We are nothing more than molded clay given breath, but we are nothing less than divine self-portraits, huffing and puffing along mountain ranges of epic narrative arcs prepared for us by the Infinite Word Himself. Swell with pride and gratitude, for you are tiny and given much. You are as spoken by God as the stars.”

“By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whores made brides and the thieves made saints and the killers made apostles. We are the dead made living.”

6. Les Misérables / Victor Hugo
Hugo’s classic was a huge investment of time but it was worth it. It’s such a great meditation on law and grace. One of my favorite passages was the description of a pastor counseling a criminal awaiting execution:

“Bishop Myriel sped off to the jail, rushed to the cell, called the murderer by his name, took his hand and talked to him. He spent all day and all night with him, forgetting about food and sleep and praying to God for the soul of the condemned man. He spoke to him of the highest truths, which are the simplest ones. He was a father, brother, friend; and only acted as a bishop to bless him. He taught him everything he could, reassuring him and consoling him as he did so. This man had been about to die in despair. Death for him had been an abyss. Standing, trembling, on the ghastly brink, he had shrunk back in horror. He couldn’t take his eyes off the fatal chinks in the wall and what lay on the other side and he could see only darkness. The bishop made him to see the light. The next day, when they went to get the poor man, the bishop was still there. He climbed into the cart with him and mounted the scaffold with him. The doomed man, so gloomy and horror-stricken the day before, was radiant. He felt his soul reconciled and he trusted himself to God. The bishop embraced him and, just as the blade was about to fall, he said to him, ‘Whomsoever man puts to death, God restores to life. Pray, believe, and enter into life! God the Father is there!’” (14-15)

7. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction / Alan Jacobs
This delightful book is dripping with wise reading counsel. The biggest takeaway: “Read what gives you delight– at least most of the time– and do so without shame.” (23)

8. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief / Lawrence Wright
This book is a meticulous exposé on the bizarre and brutal cult called the Church of Scientology. If you don’t want to read the whole book, just read Wright’s 2011 profile of Paul Haggis in The New Yorker.

9. Churchill: The Power of Words / Winston Churchill and The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill / Ed. James Humes
My fascination with Winston Churchill hung with me in 2013 and I expect it will drift on into the new year. These two books helped me appreciate Churchill’s love affair with the English language. He once remarked, “It was my ambition all my life to be master of the spoken word.” Read the following paragraph slowly and aloud. It’s masterful.  

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

10. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose / Flannery O’Connor
If you like Flannery’s short stories, then you’ll  eat up this book. Her wit and wisdom is on display throughout.

She’s witty.

  • On living with peacocks: “It is hard to tell the truth about this bird. The habits of any peachicken left to himself would hardly be noticeable, but multiplied by forty, they become a situation.”
  • On freaks: “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”
  • On bad writing: “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

She’s wise.

  • “Fiction should be both canny and uncanny.”
  • “The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”
  • “I am no disbeliever in spiritual purpose and no vague believer. I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means that for me the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in its relation to that. I don’t think that this is a position that can be taken halfway or one that is particularly easy in these times to make transparent in fiction.”

Her essay, “The King of the Birds,” is just plain delightful. I promise you that it’s the best thing you’ll ever read on raising peacocks.

11. My Man Jeeves / The Code of the Woosters / Carry On Jeeves / P.G. Wodehouse
If Allison found me laughing with a book in my hands, it was because I was reading Wodehouse. His stories are ripping and he’s “a black belt metaphor ninja.” But don’t just take my word for it.

12. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation / Herman Bavinck
If you want to read worshipful theology, then read Bavinck. I only wish I’d met him years ago.

“Every attribute of God is precious to believers. They cannot do without any of them. They desire no other God than the only true God, who has revealed Himself in Christ, and they glory in all His perfections in truth. Their adoration, their love, their thanksgiving, and praise are aroused not only by God’s grace and love but also by His holiness and righteousness, not only by God’s goodness but also by His omnipotence, not only by His communicable but also His incommunicable attributes.” (250)

13. The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 3 / Thomas Brooks
Even though I didn’t finish this entire volume, I thoroughly enjoyed the portion that I read. Here’s an example of why I lingered for months in a work called “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.”

“Sinners, don’t you deceive your own souls: sin and your souls must part, or Christ and your souls can never meet. Sin and your souls must be two, or Christ and your souls can never be one. Christ is a most precious commodity; He is better than rubies, Prov. 8:11, or the most costly pearls. And you must part with your old gold, with your shining gold, your old sins, your most shining sins, or you must perish forever. Christ is to be sought and bought with any pains, at any price. We cannot buy this gold too dear. He is a jewel worth more than a thousand worlds, as all know that have Him. Get Him, and get all; miss Him and miss all.” (203)

As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2012)

These are my twelve favorite books that I read in 2012:

1. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ / Herman Bavinck
Reading through this volume was the highlight of my reading life this year. Bavinck writes such worshipful theology. For example, after unpacking the hypostatic union, Bavinck writes: “How utterly the mystery of the union of the divine and human nature in Christ exceeds all our speaking and thinking of it. All comparison breaks down, for it is without equal. But it is, accordingly, the mystery of godliness, which angels desire to look into and the church worshipfully adores.”  (3:308).

2. Paul and Union With Christ / Constantine Campbell
Campbell examines every reference to union with Christ in the writings of the Apostle Paul. I’ve been awaiting a substantial, exegetical-theology of Spirit-wrought, faith-union with Christ for some time. This was worth the wait.

3. Instruction in Faith / John Calvin
I’d never heard of this gem of a book until Pastor Mark introduced it at Theology Breakfast earlier this year. It’s sort of like a 100-page mini-Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin writes: “True piety consists rather in a pure and true zeal which loves God altogether as Father, and reveres Him truly as Lord, embraces His justice and dreads to offend Him more than to die.” (22)

4. Smooth Stones From Ancient Brooks / Charles Spurgeon
In the preface of this wonderful collection of quotes from the Puritan Thomas Brooks, Spurgeon says: “As a writer, Brooks scatters stars with both his hands.” I agree wholeheartedly. I was so encouraged by Brooks that I dipped into several of his works. I kept stumbling into sentences like this one: “This is your glory, Christians: in the presence and sight of all your graces, to see the free grace of Christ, and His infinite, spotless, matchless, and glorious righteousness, to be your surest, sweetest, highest, and choicest comfort and refuge.” (The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 3, 86.)

5. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (John, Vol. 1) / J.C. Ryle
Before 2012, my only exposure to Ryle had been through his classic book on Holiness and the excellent posts over at J.C. Ryle Quotes courtesy of Erik Kowalker. I decided to delve more deeply into Ryle in 2012 and I enjoyed his company so much that I added him to my Canon of Theologians. His devotional commentary on John’s Gospel was food for my soul. I’m looking forward to spending more time with him in 2013. If you’re a pastor, be sure to check out his Simplicity in Preaching.

6. The Precious Promises of the Gospel / Joseph Alleine
If you’re looking for a great, short book to give away to a fellow believer who’s especially in need of spiritual comfort and encouragement, then I’d recommend this one. Alleine “impersonates” God speaking to His people by weaving the promises of Scripture into nearly every sentence of the book. My favorite section describes the day of the Christian’s death as “the birthday of glories.”

7. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness / Tim Keller
A short but very convicting read. Keller reminded me that humility is not about thinking less of myself as much as it is about thinking of myself less. 

8.Delighting in the Trinity / Michael Reeves
Reeves helped me marvel at the beauty of our Triune God. Chapter 2, on the Father’s love, was particularly encouraging to me: “Knowing God as our Father not only wonderfully gladdens our view of Him; it also gives the deepest comfort and joy. The honor of it is stupefying. To be the child of some rich king would be nice; but to be the beloved of the emperor of the universe is beyond words.” (76)

9. What I Learned in Narnia / Douglas Wilson
10. Wordsmithy / Douglas Wilson
Wilson on Narnia. Wilson on writing. Enough said. Here is my favorite quote from the latter: “As a general pattern, read quality literature, and go ‘slumming’ occasionally to remind yourself what quality is and why quality matters. And when you go slumming, enjoy yourself. Don’t act like you just came down to check out the rubes and cornpones. In the writer’s restaurant, you should know what first rate cordon bleu is and, at the same time, not be above enjoying an elephant ear or a funnel cake at the state fair.” (Wordsmithy, 42).

11. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 / Max Hastings
This is the best book I’ve ever read on WWII. Richly detailed and deeply moving.

12. Baseball and Memory: Winning, Losing, and the Remembrance of Things Past / Lee Congdon
If you love baseball, you’ll love this book. Congdon’s section on losing was worth the price of the book.

As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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