A person’s reading list reveals a lot. It reveals even more when that person is not a student. It can reveal the utmost when that person is absolutely busy and all they have is a few spare moments to read a book. My top 10 book list is not necessarily my recent reading list. In fact, only one of these is from the past year. Part of that comes from being in seminary. I do not have an awful lot of time to have leisure reading. On my bookshelves are dozens of books which may work their way onto this list, I just do not know it yet. So, with that to say, take this list with a grain of salt. I have also chosen to keep any majorly technical books away from this list. Sure, my Greek Grammar book or my Hebrew Syntax book have radically changed my life. I now understand (semi)dead languages because of them. But they have not altered my ethos.
These books are not in order, for it is hard to place a top 10 list in actual order. Time of life changes the influence of a book. What may be extremely influential and important as an adolescent has not become only fringe important. But each book will have reasons listed by it.
- Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone Brewer, Eerdmans publisher 2002.
Instone-Brewer writes about one of the most painful topics in human existence. Nearly everyone is personally touched by divorce in some fashion. It is impossible to be in ministry and not see this topic. This book discusses the hermeneutics of divorce and remarriage, and it also has a much far reaching study than the average commentator, pastor, or theologian. Very few people look at the holistic picture of Scripture. Part of that is many do not have the time; part of it is that some assume they know the full picture; and part of it is that some do not care what the picture is. I found this book amazingly thorough. For the most part I agree with what he has to say. Some may not find that they are in disagreement. But anyone reading this book will be forced to think their views on divorce, remarriage, and the counsel of Scripture. It is a 300+ page book, so it will take time to work through, but strongly encourage it.
- The Humanoids by Jack Williamson. Avon Books, 1980
This book is a compilation of multiple short stories by a science fiction writer during the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The initial book he wrote was titled With Folded Hands, and it was his uneasy reaction to where he saw technology headed. In these short stories the robots have a primed directive, and that directive is “To serve and obey, and guard men from harm.” But this pursuit of peace and protection eventually lead to the death of humanity. Not the physical death, but the death of that which makes someone human: the ability to interact with life, to be hurt, to take risks, to make mistakes. People were no longer able to drive, cook, or be in an unpleasant mood. Robots did everything, and if someone was in a bad mood, they would be drugged into cooperation. Lobotomies were performed to insure safety. Robots ruled. Yet, all this was done in the name of peace and safety. This book made me wonder about what it means to be human. It made me wonder about the trajectory of technology. It made me wonder what I do that is in the name of self-preservation that actually just de-humanizes me. Do I seek out pleasure or mind numbing experiences and lose sight of reality? This compilation is a great read, and it is especially hard hitting in our current age of technology. It is hard to believe that the initial story was written almost 70 years ago.
- The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, by Bill Simmons, published by ESPN, 2009.
I love basketball. I love playing basketball. I love talking about basketball. Basketball is poetry in action. And, the NBA is my favorite medium for basketball. I am different than almost everyone. Most like basketball but only tolerate the NBA. I love basketball and really really really enjoy watching the NBA. This book though gave me a better way to discuss basketball. It showed me the influence of time, personality, and media coverage on this sport. Many people make claims on who was the greatest player, or greatest player in a specific position, but few really interact with the entity known as NBA history. After reading this book I see the NBA in a new light. I see how a great player is not just someone who can dribble, pass, shoot, rebound, block shots, or make defensive plays. There is an “it factor” that some simply lack. This book also gives in depth discussion on over 100 players, many games, how to decide an MVP, and much more. If you love basketball, then you will truly enjoy this book. A heads up though, the author of this book is not worried as much about language as some. There are also some stories recounted which are inappropriate for children.
- Isaiah in the New International Commentaries on the Old Testament by John Oswalt, Eerdmans Publishers, 1986 (chs 1-39), 1998 (40-66).
Many commentaries are dry and dusty, containing technical terms which no one cares about. Others are full of poor exegetical work that makes you wonder how they made it through the publishing house. John Oswalt’s commentary breaks free from all of the stereotypes. It contains fountains of knowledge about the text and brings forth refreshing insight on personal devotion. Oswalt writes in a humorous manner which is approachable to all, and it also inspires the student of the Bible to have the same goal: bring forth the truth of God in an accessible manner which evokes a response of worship in the heart of the reader.
How to Pray, by R. A. Torrey, published by Moody Press 2007, reprinted from 1904.
There is a reason why the disciples asked Jesus how they ought to pray. That reason is that prayer is tough. It is tough because there are a myriad of distractions, we aren’t sure what we want, we don’t always see God properly, and sin gets in the way of our relationship with him. This book delves deeply into the above mentioned reasons, and a few others, and shows what a heart of prayer looks like. This book was also written during a different era, so it is refreshing to hear a voice from a time when the world looked slightly different. Some of what he says will sound like legalism to some, and other things he says will sound like a spiritual loose cannon. But that is why it was a refreshing book. It peeled back the years to a time when revival was happening and there were not over a hundred years of American reactionary theology to snuff it out. If you want to be challenged in your personal walk with the Lord—read this book.
- John Calvin on Jacob wrestling God.
If you want to know what Reformation preaching and teaching was all about, then read Calvin’s commentary series. It is affordable and printed by Hendrickson Publishers. Inside of it you will find a level of spiritual devotion which is rarely seen today. Calvin genuinely longed to serve the Lord and to make his glory known. In the commentary over Genesis 32 there is a window into the personal devotion life of John Calvin. Many have a picture of this man as a cold and calculated man who was devoid of feelings. This caricature comes from people who haven’t read Calvin, do not understand the 15th -16th centuries, and also have certain theological predispositions. The true picture is that this man was deeply devoted to God, spent hours in fervent prayer, had the heart of a pastor, and longed to see people follow the Lord. That is the picture that becomes clear as Calvin discusses the wrestling that Jacob did with God. There is a clear understanding of the transformative power of prayer, and just thinking of that commentary section makes me want to spend time in prayer. It is a must read.
- Glittering Vices, by Rebecca DeYoung, Brazos Press, 2009.
As a modern Evangelical follower of Jesus Christ I grew up in a church which emphasized sound doctrine, biblical preaching, daily Scripture reading, and the avoidance of sin. I am thankful for this upbringing. But one thing that was not brought up in my background was anything that seemed Catholic. There was almost no discussion of spiritual disciplines. All I knew was that I was supposed to read my Bible and pray. I did not know there were many kinds of prayers, nor did I understand that it was alright to read the prayer of someone who has been dead for hundreds of years. I especially had no idea what fasting was. Isn’t that what Catholics do once a year? Yup, you know what that meant… I didn’t fast. But this book looks into the Seven Deadly Sins, and alongside that discussion there is an understanding built of what spiritual disciplines are and why there were an important focus of the ascetic monks of the early church (and many since then, and many still!). This book struck hard. It isn’t for someone who does not have a deeply rooted faith. Many times this book has a straightforward depiction of a sin that I knew was going on in my heart, and it shows why it is so destructive, and why the Gospel is needed each and every day. And, this book also approaches the Seven Deadly Sins from and Evangelical standpoint, which is rare to find.
- Christian Theology, 2nd, Baker, by Millard Erickson, 1998.
This systematic theology is a classic. Many Christian colleges and seminaries will have this book on at least one syllabus. Well, the 3rd Ed. at least. I bought this book on a discount shelf during a Moody Founder’s Week. I think it was 2010 or 2011. After using it as a reference for a paper or two I started to realize just how well laid out this book really is. The language is accessible, the footnotes don’t take up the whole page, and each unit has a very good discussion of the range of views on each doctrine. Erickson is a master of his craft, and it is interesting to see a book actually updated twice like this one was. It shows me how I need to handle my doctrinal beliefs: thoughtfully, carefully, and continually. The Bible is not simple. I truly believe it is understandable, but that does not mean that all 66 books are easily processed and understood. Nor do I think that each doctrine is easy to pin down. This book is a wonderful reference that is well written, and it points to Jesus Christ with every page.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, originally printed in 1890. Available by Penguin Classics.
Sin is corrosive. Pride never assists someone. This book asks the question “what if your body never bore the consequences of your actions?” and then proceeds to answer it. Dorian Gray had someone paint a picture of himself, and then it happened where that picture aged, wore down, and bore out the physical appearance of what Dorian should of have looked like after all of his sinful decisions. I do not want to give away the book, but people need to read this. If you want a graphic description of the consequences of pride, lust, anger, vengeance, and greed, then read this book.
- Milestone Comics.
Unless you read comics from 1993-97 you likely have no idea about Icon, Blood Syndicate, Hardware, Static, Shadow Cabinet, or Buck Wilde (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milestone_Media). Maybe you watched the old television series Static Shock, or read the crossover series with DC Worlds Collide, but likely you have no idea about the goal to reach the urban demographics with heroes that represent the actual demographics. I have quite a few Hardware, a few Icon, and only a couple of the Static issues. But these comics opened my eyes to racial justice issues that I was not exposed to in small town Michigan. It also addressed issues like teen pregnancy and the glass ceiling. These comics whetted my appetite for the urban issues and social justice. They also showed me that not every issue is a simple yes or no matter, but rather there are ambiguities based upon life situation. I wish I had every comic published by Milestone.