“There are two types of books,” my professor said, “those of the hour and those for all time.” Thus said one of my favorite professors of literature as we met in his office one afternoon and discussed what we were reading and what we wanted to read. That conversation happened over twenty years ago. I doubt Dr. N. even remembers it, but I have kept his words in mind.
He gave me a copy of Donleavy’s The Ginger Man and told me that I might enjoy it (I’d been trying to get through Joyce’s Ulysses at the time—a sort of literary rite of passage). I still have the copy of Donleavy’s novel and have not gotten to it. But I will. There’s just so much to read and it can be difficult to know how to divide one’s time wisely.
It’s common to make resolutions for the upcoming year. However, there is at least as much value (perhaps more value) in looking back—especially upon one’s reading. Reflecting upon history (one’s own, as well as the larger context and flow of worldviews) enables perspective that prognosticating may occlude. For fellow readers, you understand the joy of revisiting your books. In 2015, I did not read as many as is my custom. However, below are five volumes I particularly enjoyed and have wrestled with. I revisit each and ask myself what idea(s) remain after having gone through them. I welcome your reflections and recommendations of books you have found worthy of the effort. The titles listed are not in any particular order or preference.
- Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur. This was the most recent book I completed. MacArthur is of course a Greek scholar, prolific writer and longtime pastor of Grace Community Church. True to MacArthur’s style, he deals relentlessly with the text of Scripture and focuses on the single meaning of each of Jesus’ parables. The book is an excellent return to the authority of the Bible amidst the melee that is endemic in literary criticism. MacArthur writes: “Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truth from self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Him, while the same parables revealed truth to eager souls with childlike faith—those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” Near the end of the book, MacArthur concludes with a restatement of his thesis:
Because truth itself is critically important, and the church today is in imminent danger of selling her birthright in exchange for a postmodern philosophy that in effect would do away with the very idea of truth.
That is ground we cannot yield. We must be willing to submit our minds to the truth of Scripture, and we must refuse to subject Scripture to whatever theories or speculations happen to be currently popular in the realm of secular philosophy.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The author relies heavily upon surveys of corporate America and academia, and fills much of the book with historical accounts of the value many introverts have brought to civilization. At other times, she puts her finger on cultural trends:
America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman Called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.
In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.
Cain delineates between extroverted buzz and introverted depth. She helpfully encourages introverts throughout. Consider the following:
If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.
- Pagans in the Pews: How the New Spirituality is Invading Your Home, Church and Community by Peter Jones. Like MacArthur, Jones is a Greek and New Testament scholar. His thesis in the book is that paganism has invaded not just the Western culture, but the church itself. Feminism, liberalism, and monism have invaded many churches. The results are seen in the breakdown of binary distinctions (male and female; Creator and creatures; heterosexuality vs. homosexuality/lesbianism, etc.). Rather than worshiping God alone, man has descended into self-worship and godless humanism:
Today atheistic humanism is on the run. The new enemy is a spiritualized view of man. He is no longer simply the measure of all things, as rationalism maintained: Man is now also the measure of God, for man is God. This new spirituality is the final expression of idolatry because it is not just disobedience of God’s laws: It replaces the divine with the human.
Dr. Jones’ terms of One-ism (all is one/pantheism/monism) and Two-ism (God and His creation are separate; Creator and His creatures/creation; binary; dualism) help to illustrate Paul’s words in Romans 1—namely, that the essence of human sin is evidenced in our behavior. We “[exchange] the truth about God for a lie and [worship] and [serve] the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Rom 1:25 ESV)
- Still the Best Hope by Dennis Prager. I heard Prager on talk radio one day a few years back. He referred to his belief in “ethical monotheism.” I could tell from that phrase that he was someone I needed to research. I bought some of his books, but this one is (in my view) his best. The thesis in his books, this one in particular, is straightforward: Leftism demonstrably fails because it starts with the wrong assumptions about human nature and about God.
One of the most helpful things Prager illustrates in the book comes in the addendum, wherein he lays out the differences between Leftism vs. Conservative values. Below is just a small sampling of his charts:
|Conservative Values||Liberal/Left Values|
|Source of Moral Standards||American & Judeo-Christian values||Individual consciences, the heart, science|
|Attitude toward Wealth||Create more||Redistribute|
|Morality||Universal||Relative (to individual/and/or Society|
|Primary Sources of Evil||The individual and the state||Socioeconomic forces|
|Humanity’s Primary Division||Good/evil||Rich/poor; strong/weak|
- Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness. I’m unashamedly an admirer of Guinness’ work, but I especially enjoyed this volume because I think he’s quite sober and winsome when dealing with the issue of how to deal with skeptics of the Christian worldview, especially if detractors are steeped in postmodernism, multiculturalism, pluralism, relativism, etc. Consider the following from Guinness:
What it means is that Christian advocacy must always be independent. It must always be consistent to itself and shaped decisively by the great truths of the Scriptures, and in particular by five central truths of the faith—creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross, and the Spirit of God.
I did not even comment on my favorite non-fiction books I read in 2015, Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes and Michael Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West. In my view, those books are so important, they deserve their own articles.
So, did I learn from my former professor’s counsel, about books being divisible between those of the hour and those of all time? Did I make wise reading choices? Admittedly, I did not include the fiction, drama, poetry, or biographies I read in 2015, but these were some volumes I particularly appreciated.