I read a dozen books this year! Here is a little review for each of the first six:
Walking with God through Pain & Suffering, Timothy Keller *****
384 pages. Theology of Pain and Suffering. Difficulty (1-5): 4.5
Questions about pain and suffering and a good (?) God top the intellectual-theological charts for millennials, whether Jesus-follower or not. Keller divides his book into two sections: one section to tackle the philosophical questions about pain and suffering, the other section to address the pastoral needs of a person who is actually in the midst of pain and suffering. (After all, these are two very different people with radically distinct needs.)
It was a step of faith for me even to read this book because of my own recent season of spiritual darkness. I found it very encouraging and very freeing as each of us continues to wrestle with hypothetical and real experiences of pain and suffering. One of the thoughts that stuck with me was that our tendency as humans is to 1) fly over and above suffering (transcend) via denial or shallowness and/or 2) lie down in the mud of suffering and let it mow us over. Keller’s loving challenge is to firmly grab God’s hand and walk with God through suffering.
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby ****
131 pages. Memoir. Difficulty (1-5): 2
No, seriously. For that reason alone, perhaps, this memoir is worth reading. At one time on top of the fashion world in France, suddenly Bauby found himself in a hospital with lock-down syndrome: a mind fully cognizant, a body entirely paralyzed. Except his left eyelid. He writes with beauty and with sarcastic wit about his experience.
Experiencing God: The Three Stages of Prayer, Thomas H. Green ***
128 pages. Spiritual formation. Difficulty (1-5): 3.5
In his characteristically straightforward style, Green writes about the inward and outward journey of prayer. Contemplatives at heart, Green and I think in quite similar ways, though he has been on the journey far longer than I. No matter – I felt very spiritually affirmed and bolstered by this little book. Green says,
The whole third stage [of prayer] is meant to bring us from a spirituality which is affective but essentially still self-centered (although we don’t realize it when we are young) to a spirituality which is affective but much more other-centered. Such a spirituality, although it is affective (that is, it’s of the heart), may not involve the emotions very much, and that can be very puzzling to people. Why? Because the emotions by their very nature are appetites… Our emotions are never truly altruistic. They don’t give; they only take.
Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey ***
257 pages. Theology of Women in the Kingdom of God. Difficulty (1-5): 3
My friend Jody McComas read this book last year; I saw it on her book list; I felt like I was supposed to read it. So I did. With her laid-back, genuine, and conversational style, Bessey tells her own story of Jesus leading her toward greater and greater freedom as a woman in ministry. She does so with compassion, humility,
and global vision. Scriptures in hand, she gave me permission and prompting to keep moving in the direction of greater and greater freedom in my own life in this area.
Answering God: Using the Psalms as Tools for Prayer, Eugene Peterson *****
160 pages. Spiritual formation. Difficulty (1-5): 4
I think I talked about this book more than any other book I read this year. The plain message that God used this book to imprint forever on my unfiltered thoughts and raw heart: You can pray anything to God. He can take it. Classic Eugene Peterson and perhaps my favorite Eugene Peterson ever. I will definitely read this one again and again and again. If I can ever get it back from the long line of people I’ve lent it to…
Christ Plays in 10,000 Places, Eugene Peterson ****
384 pages. Spiritual theology. Difficulty (1-5): 4
I’ve spent the past three summers with Eugene. Meaning: As many summer mornings as I can muster, I sit on my back porch before my boys wake up and I let Eugene mentor me. This year I started in April and finished in September and I read three books instead of just one. But, in my defense, this summer was an incredibly long, Indian summer. I’ve stuck with Eugene because he challenges me in a way where I’m not just fist-pumping ‘Preach it, brother!’ through everything I read. I mean, I guess I don’t do very much fist-pumping in general, and I don’t call anyone ‘brother’ except, well, my actual brother. But you get the idea. There are some authors who, when you read them, it’s kind of like their just preaching to the choir. I try to avoid this as much as possible, and so I read Eugene.
Christ Plays is the first of five books in Peterson’s spiritual theology series. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter in which order you read them. Rich in poetic prose and deep in spiritual thought and practice, Christ Plays is thoroughly life-wrecking in the best of ways – par for the course in this series. Peterson keeps turning the ways of the world upside down to show you the ways of Jesus. His sections in this volume are: Christ Plays in Creation; Christ Plays in History; Christ Plays in Community. A long haul, but definitely worth the trip.
Did you read a book this year that impacted you? I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below!
And stay tuned for a review of the final six books. 🙂