My 2017 Reading List: February


by John Ellis

A friend asked me if I read more than one book at a time. I replied in the affirmative and added that I have a system, of sorts. I also said that I would attempt to explain my system. Briefly, and suddenly realizing that this can barely be classified a “system,” I read from a novel every night before going to sleep. Other than that, I’m reading at least two theology books at a time as well as a general interest book. By general interest, I mean whatever my interest is at the time. At any given moment, my interest could be history or sociology or theatre (I make sure to read at least one Shakespeare play a month) or philosophy or, I don’t know, books on how to build a pergola in the backyard. So, for February, I read four novels (technically, one is a collection of short stories), six “general interest books,” and eight theology books.

That means that during the second month of 2017, I finished eighteen books. Better than January, but if I’m going to finish two hundred books by the end of the year, I’m going to need to pick up the pace. At the moment, if my math is correct, I’m on pace to read one hundred and eighty books. Below are those eighteen books and a brief blurb for each one.

Update on the Daddy VS Daughter Reading Challenge: Daddy – 18 books. Daughter – 26 books.

James Madison by Garry Wills

I’ve read more compelling biographies, but, to be fair, Garry Wills’ objective with James Madison has a specific academic purpose. The biography of this country’s fourth president strives to understand the disconnect between the “shrewd constitutionalists and the hapless commander in chief.”[1] To that end, James Madison is interesting in its own right, although it’s not the comprehensive, personal-level, anecdote filled biography that many lovers of biographies probably prefer. If, however, you are interested in learning more about how one of the genius architects of this grand constitutional republic experiment could end up as such an often bumbling, indecisive, and ineffective president who brought this country into a needless war, Garry Wills’ book is for you.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller

I first read this book about a year and a half ago and picked it up again because, well, it’s a really helpful book. I greatly appreciate and have been aided by Keller’s plea to preach the Gospel every time. As he explains, “Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can.”[2] With his book, Keller also offers a helpful corrective on the post-modern belief that preaching doesn’t work well in today’s context. While preaching in a post-modern society, Keller challenges the preacher to “antagonize a society’s idols while showing respect for its people and many of its hopes and aspirations. It means expressing the gospel in a way that is not only comprehensible but also convincing.”[3] Throughout, Tim Keller gives practical and God-honoring tools to help preachers communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in all manner of contexts and to all manner of peoples.

God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey by Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger

I’m not really sure how to talk about this book without using thousands of words. Because of that, I’ll simply say that there is much in the book that I agree with and am thankful for. On the flip side, there is much in this book that I disagree with. There is also much in this book that I am still questioning and prayerfully working out. I read this book at the behest of my pastor; he and I (and others) are in the midst of an ongoing discussion about gender ontology and gender function. For the record, and so that there is no confusion about what I believe, if only given the choice between the Kostenberger’s articulation of complementarianism and any articulation of egalitarianism that I’ve heard, I will unhesitatingly choose the former. There that is.

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever

A frequent prayer request among those versed in the contemporary language of contextualization and relational approach to evangelism is “Please pray for me as I seek to build a gospel relationship with my co-worker, and pray that the Holy Spirit will provide me an opportunity to share the gospel.” While a perfectly fine prayer request, I’m afraid that many who are versed in the language of contextualization and relational approach to evangelism use that request to justify why they never actually speak the gospel into the lives of the people that the Holy Spirit has placed in their lives. In other words, referencing the sample prayer request above, the fact that your co-worker is your co-worker is the opportunity that’s being requested; the Holy Spirit answered your prayer before you even asked.

In his short book, Mark Dever issues the challenge to all believers to obey the Great Commission and speak the gospel. Beyond simply issuing a challenge, though, Dever packs his book full of practical advice for those who are called to evangelize the lost (which, hint, is every Christian).

The Divine Commodity: Discovering Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity by Skye Jethani

This is the kind of book that makes me sad. Calling cultural Christianity to task is well and good (and needed), but The Divine Commodity flirts too much with progressive Christianity and the Social Gospel for my taste. Skye Jethani also espouses a watered-down post-modern perspective on the teachings of Jesus. For the uninitiated, post-modern Christianity rejects propositional truth and only allows for narrative. So, for example, Pastor Jethani asserts, “The Gospel writers show Jesus very infrequently teaching skills, and only periodically conveying didactic knowledge. Instead the Gospels are dominated by Jesus telling stories and weaving parables. He used these verbal Trojan horses to sneak radical truths past his listeners’ defenses and in the chamber where their imaginations slumbered.”[4] Jethani is incorrect.

Jesus very plainly told his disciples that he used parables and stories in order to hide truth from the listeners. With his use of parable, Jesus wasn’t trying to sneak anything; he was trying to obscure. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t didactic nor wary of propositional truth. For example, every word in the Bible is the word of Jesus. All of the didacticism of Romans is Jesus’ didacticism. All of the poetry of the Psalms are Jesus’ poems. Not to mention that the Sermon on the Mount is quite didactic, as are Jesus’ explanations of the parables. Jesus was/is a teacher, and he used stories as didactic tools in order to convey propositional truth to the hearers/readers.

I do not recommend The Divine Commodity. It was a waste of money and time. I didn’t even mention his prejudice against a certain economic theory that has allowed our culture to better feed the poor and care for the oppressed.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Stop me if you’ve heard this one – during a contentious period of American history when divisions and mistrust were growing; during a time when racial tensions were increasing, fear of immigrants was preoccupying much of the country’s mind, and threats of violence from outsiders was a concern for many Americans, an unlikely hero emerged for the white, working class of America during a presidential election. This loud, colorful, off-the-cuff speaking candidate tapped into the nationalist fervor that frequently dappled in misogyny, racism, and anti-immigration rhetoric. Promising to return America to its former glory, this presidential candidate shocked the political establishment and won the White Hou….wait, so you have heard this story before? You are correct, that’s the plot of It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis which was first published in 1935.

On a serious note, while the first third or so of the book is very prescience, I sure hope that the rest of the book doesn’t appear prescience in a year or so. If Lewis is as correct with the last two-thirds of the book as he was with the first third, we’re in for a frightening, violently bumpy ride, ya’ll.

Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson

Our church has a fairly impressive “book nook” filled with books that are free for the taking. Many of the books, I’ve already read. In order to be better equipped to offer specific resources when people come to me with questions, concerns, or struggles, I attempt to read as many of and as quickly as possible the books in the book nook that I have not read. Understanding Baptism is one such book.

Bobby Jamieson’s short book is a concise and compelling argument for credo-baptism. If you consider yourself a paedobaptist and are curious about credo-baptism, I recommend Understanding Baptism. If you attend a credo-baptist church, but aren’t sure why your church is credo-baptist, I recommend this book. If you are unsure what either paedobaptism or credo-baptism means, I recommend Understanding Baptism.

The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner

An excellent and comprehensive study of Calvinism. For more, read my article on Limited Atonement.

The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt

The Physicists reminds me of why I once loved theatre. It also reminds me of why I considered Friedrich Durrenmatt one of my favorite 20th century playwrights. Satirizing post-WWII technological advances and the imminent moral failure of humans as they attempt to adjust to the changing ethics of science, The Physicists is biting and witty. It’s also really funny with some excellent characters. If I still had a “to direct” list, The Physicists would be on it.

The War of 1812: A Short History by Donald R. Hickey

Unless you skipped to the middle of this post, you can probably guess why I read The War of 1812. Like the biography of James Madison listed above, Donald Hickey’s books isn’t the most interesting history book that I’ve ever read (and I love reading history books), but it served its purpose. I know more about the War of 1812 than I did a month ago.

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes

The Ways of White Folks is a collection of short stories that illuminate the isolating experiences of African-Americans. Poignant, sharp, and heartbreaking, Langston Hughes’ power as a writer is on full display in The Ways of White Folks. If I were ranking the books that I’ve read so far this year, The Ways of White Folks would definitely be in the top-five, maybe top-three.

Why I Am Not a Christian: and other essays on religion and related subjects by Bertrand Russell

I first read this book close to twenty years ago. I am embarrassed that I ever took Bertrand Russell’s and his essays seriously. Let me put it this way, Rachel Held Evans is an amateur compared to Bertrand Russell when it comes to straw men. As Exhibit A – “The church’s conception of righteousness is socially undesirable in various ways – first and foremost in its depreciation of intelligence and science. This defect is inherited from the Gospels. Christ tells us to become as little children, but little children cannot understand the differential calculus, or the principles of currency, or the modern methods of combating disease.”[5] Sigh. As previously stated, I am embarrassed.

Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham Jr.

“Ultimately, what it all boils down to is what we believe man’s true problem is, and where we go to find the solution. If man’s problem is a lack of information, we rely on information alone. If man’s problem is unrighteousness, we rely on the gospel. Expository apologetics definitely opts for the latter.”[6] While Baucham’s writing style isn’t my favorite, I cannot fault the content of this book. If you’re interested in learning more about apologetics, I recommend these five books first, but Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham Jr. will definitely be an edifying addition to your library.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

Spoiler Alert …. maybe (?) … When I first opened The Girl With All The Gifts, I was unaware that it was a zombie novel. The first chapter made me suspicious. Before I had finished the second page of the second chapter (page 13), I had zero doubts that I was reading a zombie novel. Now, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have bought the book if I had known beforehand that it was a zombie novel[7], but I’m not not saying it either. If I’m going to engage a zombie story, I prefer it to be a movie or a TV show. A book about zombies seems like a waste of my reading time. The Girl With All The Gifts didn’t really change my mind. If you like zombie novels, though, I think that you’ll like this one.

Men of God: Becoming the Man God Wants You to Be edited by Trevor Archer and Tim Thornborough

I don’t think that there can ever be too many good books about recovering Biblical manhood. By Biblical manhood, I don’t mean a testosterone-fueled MMA styled out-of-balance view of manhood. What I do mean is carefully while grounded in the story of Redemption and in a God-honoring way as is unpacked in Men of God.  

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

I’ve long considered Sweet Thursday one of my favorite Steinbeck novels. My recent rereading of it confirms my opinion. A touching and unconventional romance novel, of sorts, Sweet Thursday is an engaging look at a small part of post-WWII California and the interesting people grappling with their lot in life.

As You Like It by Shakespeare

While never having had the privilege of performing in As You Like It, I have watched close to a dozen stage productions of one my favorite Shakespeare comedies.

Introduction to Logic by Immanuel Kant

Whenever I read, Kant, I’m always wondering “why am I reading this?” by the time I finish. Make of that what you will[8].

[1] Garry Wills, James Madison (New York: Times Books, 2002), 2.

[2] Tim Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 48.

[3] Keller, Preaching, 99.

[4] Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 26.

[5] Betrand Russell, Why I Am not a Christian (New York: Touchstone, 1957), 45.

[6] Voddie Bacham Jr., Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 63-64.

[7] While reading the book, I thought to myself, “Someone is going to turn this into a movie.” Lo and behold, I soon discovered that someone already had. It appears that I am one of the few people in the world who didn’t know that The Girl With All The Gifts is about zombies and that a movie based on it has already been released.

[8] Originally, I was going to write, “I read Kant because I can.” I decided that “joke” wasn’t worthy of the main body, so it’s relegated to a footnote.

3 thoughts on “My 2017 Reading List: February

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