7 Worth Your Time

I had several blessings this year. I returned from a military deployment to Iraq that I deeply appreciated. I worked with some fine Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and civilians for whom I am grateful. Each deployment brings together diverse personalities, and several people stood out via their unique giftings and particular strengths. We were a diverse group, a motley crew. Because of chaplaincy’s unique inroads, I was able to work near engineers, Marine infantrymen, pilots, mechanics, electricians, fuelers, budget analysts, accountants, cyberspace gurus, logisticians, and more. The diversity of those with whom I labored found a counterpart in my reading life. I discovered several new authors. That is, they were new to me. Some of those have become new favorites. (More on that below.)

What follows is a list of seven books that particularly stood out for me. Some refined my thinking. Some convicted me. Others confirmed my deeply held convictions. If you are a fellow reader, I hope you benefit, too, from my reflections on some of my reading. This is part one of several installations as I look back on some of this year’s reading. More reviews are forthcoming. Tolle lege: Take up and read.

You’ve Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held Them in Awe This 1994 volume is edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard and is my favorite volume of short story collections I own. The selections include masterpieces by Isaac Babel, Borges, Raymond Carver, Cheever, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dickens, Welty, Munro, Joyce, Updike, O’Brien, O’Connor, and more. I am a junkie for short story collections, but the fact that these masterful short pieces are introduced by such impressive writers as Charles Baxter, Jane Smiley, Joyce Carol Oates, Ron Hansen, and Annie Dillard deepens this volume still more.

A Long and Happy Life This novel by North Carolina writer Reynolds Price was published in 1962. I read it for the first time last month. It captivated me such that I read it in a day and a half. The story of Rosacoke and Wesley, poverty and ignorance in Dixie, honor, sacrifice, loneliness, longing, and love, this story explores all of these and more in less than 160 pages. If you enjoy literary fiction set in the South of days reflected in the worlds of Eudora Welty, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, this is a great place to camp. Price has become a new favorite for me.

Pathway to Freedom: How God’s Laws Guide Our Lives A 2003 book brought about by hearers encouraging Reformed Christian pastor-theologian Alistair Begg to put his preaching through the Ten Commandments into book form, this volume is chock-full of biblical wisdom delivered by a winsome wordsmith and faithful pastor. Our lives invariably demonstrate our theological beliefs. Begg excels in connecting God’s words to our ways in the world. An excellent resource for the Christian church.

Why One Way? Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World This book was published in 2002. Written by pastor-teacher/theologian at Grace Community Church and The Master’s College and Seminary, John MacArthur elucidates in 75 pages what few other men dare. In a time when many high-profile so-called Christian teachers have caved to the “social gospel” and being “woke” to the culture, MacArthur is one of the few who holds the line. Perhaps it is because I appreciate clarity so much, but MacArthur demonstrates how the gospel always offends the unregenerate, how sin is essential to diagnose, how Jesus himself confronted the world, how Scripture—time and time again—outlives its critics, and how the Christian church needs to grow up and endure the battles we were warned of long before, and engage the emptiness of secular worldviews with complete confidence in the power of God as revealed in Scripture to accomplish God’s purposes.

The Doctrine of Repentance This is a classic of Christianity. Written by Puritan Thomas Watson, it is no wonder that Banner of Truth continues to find a market for these profound writings from the deep biblical minds and pens in the Reformed tradition. My copy is now highlighted and underscored such that one would think I had had this volume for years. Wisdom on every page in this volume.

Words made Fresh: Essays on Literature & Culture Larry Woiwode is a wordsmith, fiction writer, and thinker that merits faithful reflective reading and thought. He has become one of my favorites over recent years. He writes not only moving fiction and essays, but also of other areas with the same deftness. This is my favorite collection of his essays I have read so far. Herein he writes of Shakespeare, Reynolds Price, Wendell Berry, and more. A fine book by an important writer.

Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought Of all the theology/worldview/”history-of-ideas” books I read in 2019, this 2007 volume, edited by W. Andrew Hoffecker, is exceptional, not just in this year’s reading, but in my library as a whole. If you are a big picture worldview thinker like I am, I cannot think of a better worldview book to have at hand. An invaluable resource.






A Reading Log

IMG_1886We all have our struggles. One of mine is sleeplessness. But I’ve found at least some benefit: I can read during the nights. I’ve begun maintaining a reading log. Nothing fancy, but it helps in at least three ways. First, it helps me maintain a ledger of what I’m reading. Second, I am better able to see patterns among books and thinkers. (Some writers are worth more of my time; others have already consumed too much of it and I move on.) Third, a reading log provides a means of evaluating ideas.

Over the last several months, I have not written much blog-wise due to my current location with the military, but here is a list of some of my recent reading. In the left column is the book; the middle column lists the book’s author; and the third column is my response–usually just a fragment, phrase, or sentence or two. At the bottom are some of the volumes I’m still reading due to their length and/or weightiness. Hope you profit. My thanks to fellow readers who have pointed books and writers out to me that would have otherwise escaped my attention.

Book: Author: Response:
Suttree McCarthy Among the saddest books I have ever read. It may also be the richest book I read in terms of its delight in language and the fecundity of words. McCarthy is—his dark vision aside—a wordsmith on par with Joyce and Shakespeare.
Cormac McCarthy’s Nomads Andersen & Kristoffer A master’s thesis that was large on jargon and intellectual posturing and short on coherence and clarity.
Resolutions: Advice to Young Converts Edwards My only complaint is that I waited this long to read it. Edwards was certainly a theologian/philosopher, but in this volume, you also see he was a pastor with a love of discipling God’s people.
On Reading Well Prior A reminder that some of the world’s greatest literary pieces are explorations of the biblical worldview. A truly good book about books.
The Battle for the Beginning MacArthur I know of no other living Christian writer who is as biblical and clear as John MacArthur. In this volume, he tackles head on the mutually exclusive worldviews of biblical creation vs. macroevolution and materialism. An important book.
The Stranger Camus When I read it as an 18-year old, I thought it masterful. Now, er, hardly. A sad book about life without God, life without hope, and life without redemption.
In the Year of Our Lord Ferguson One of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. The bottom line up front: the true Christian church must always keep her focus on the truth, the gospel, Christ, and purity. Today’s pagan headlines are merely tomorrow’s fertilizer. Keep a biblical perspective.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Diaz Reminded me why I don’t enjoy postmodernism or post-postmodernism. With its trendy style of blending genuine pity with trendy pop-culture and profanity and gender politics, this is just what literary committees adore, but it makes for poor literature. Who will want to read this modish stuff in a few years? Egads.
Killing Jesus O’Reilly This could be helpful for skeptics of the Christian worldview.
Killing Lincoln O’Reilly Very enjoyable. I learned even more to appreciate Lincoln and to pity him.
Killing Patton O’Reilly Leadership for Patton was what he seemed born for. He was a patriot, a very fallen and cruel man, but also courageous like few others. When hell stared him in the face, he spat and kept right on marching. And I thank him and those he led.
Animal Farm Orwell Communism/Progressivism/Socialism fails—everywhere and always. But dogs return to the vomit. And people often act like animals.
The Catcher in the Rye Salinger Hard for me not to gush here. In my view, one of the best novels ever, esp. with regard to narrative voice, point of view, and tone. A masterpiece.
Exit West Hamid People are not reducible to religion, ethnicity, and politics. The human heart is the problem; we are sinners and we need a savior—and government is not the savior. Ever.
Kidnapped by the Taliban Joseph There are good and bad folks everywhere. Sometimes good intentions lead you into bad situations. But grace can still appear and even endure.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Angelou An anthem to the artist to sing—if for no else than himself/herself. Some will listen.
Tom Sawyer Twain I preferred Huck Finn. But similar episodes and themes are here—innocence vs. experience; corruption; escape vs. responsibility.
Blood Meridian McCarthy Perhaps the most violent book I’ve ever read (again). Horrific and beautiful. McCarthy descends into the pits of evil and reprobation, and takes us with him. There he writes in graphic detail. But it is so heartbreakingly beautiful in its expression that you endure the rapacity and cruelty and cannot see life the same way.
The Sun Also Rises Hemingway Immature adults taking themselves way too seriously and drinking way too much alcohol get mad at the state of the world, but refuse to take responsibility. This was a much better book when I read it as a 19-year old, if that helps. Probably the last time I’ll do this one.
The Sound and the Fury Faulkner A watershed book in terms of its use of interior monologue, non-linear time, flashbacks, stream of consciousness, etc.
Books Are Made Out of Books Crews A book about the books that have shaped Cormac McCarthy. Appreciative of this book.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Peterson Beautifully written by a man gifted with discernment, biblical maturity, and a pastor’s temperament.
Facing the Music Brown A book of Larry Brown’s short stories. Kind of like Harry Crews’ fiction, these are stories of down-on-their-luck southerners who ain’t got no quit in ‘em. Excellent fiction.
Larry Brown: A Writer’s Life Cash A biography of Larry Brown, of his determination, struggles, literary triumphs, and isolation necessary to create.
Everything that Rises Must Converge O’Connor It’s Flannery O’Connor. Read it. Then read it again.
Hitler’s Religion Weikhart Excellent, readable, researched book of Hitler’s worldview (pantheism).
Hillbilly Elegy Vance No matter how successful we are in the world’s eyes, we never really leave behind the boy or girl we were at 12. Our childhood affects us till we die.
A Wrinkle in Time L’Engle Childhood imagination sometimes portends divinity.
Desperadoes Hansen Literary western genre. Beautiful language. A bit slow going, at least for me.
Light in August Faulkner Rich in interior monologue. A slow read for me. The preacher was my favorite character.
Killing the SS O’Reilly There is no bottom to man’s evil.
Love Thy Body Pearcey Read Nancy Pearcey’s books. You do yourself a disservice if you don’t. Logical, persuasive, and clear. Excellent.
Go Set a Watchman Lee Even the folks we think of as ‘good’ are sinners.


Currently I’m reading Don Quixote and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Both are excellent. Maybe this helps encourage you. It at least helps me to keep track of some of my reading life and helps me plot my future reading goals. “Take up and read.”

What Makes a Hero: A Glimpse into Contrasts

This week I resume teaching World Literature to college students. I adore this course. Among the early topics is a section exploring the question, “What is a hero?” We begin the term by readingimages sections of Homer’s epics—the Iliad and the Odyssey. If the classics are the great books that everyone should have read but few actually have read, then I hope this course mitigates that lamentable state.

We examine the Greek and Roman pagan views of what makes a hero and discover therein that they were created. They were gods that came to be. Unlike the God of the Bible, Greek gods are not eternal. Moreover, they were created out of chaos. And the Greek gods deceived wantonly. To be a Greek god required duplicity. Olympus, e.g., exalted gods of treachery.

But what strikes me each time I read and teach through Homer’s epics is the destruction wrought by their pride–the gods’ and warriors like Achilles, Agamemnon, and Hector. When the Iliad opens Homer sets the epic initially as a bloody struggle of wills between Achilles and Agamemnon. Both warriors boast and taunt the other. Women have been captured and each man feels slighted vis a vis the spoils of war. When Calchas prophesies to Agamemnon, notice the pettiness and pride of Agamemnon, as he excoriates the prophet:

You damn soothsayer!/ You’ve never given me a good omen yet./ You take some kind of perverse pleasure in prophesying/ Doom, don’t you? Not a single favorable omen ever!/ Nothing good ever happens!/ And now you stand here/ Uttering oracles before the Greeks, telling us/ That your great ballistic god is giving us all this trouble/ Because I was unwilling to accept the ransom/ For Chryses’ daughter but preferred instead to keep her/ In my tent! And why shouldn’t I? I like her better than/ My wife Clytemnestra. She’s no worse than her/ When it comes to looks, body, mind, or ability./ Still, I’ll give her back, if that’s what’s best./ I don’t want to see the army destroyed like this./ But I want another prize ready for me right away./ I’m not going to be the only Greek without a prize,/ It wouldn’t be right. And you all see where mine is going.” (I, 112-128)

What traits of a Greek hero do you see here? Pride, wrath, petty jealousy, a preoccupation with glory for oneself.

Contrast this with the Bible’s pictures of what constitutes the heroic. In World Literature, I contrast the Greek and Roman views of heroism with biblical examples of the heroic. Joseph, whose story is recounted in Genesis, is one of our case studies.

Rather than being exalted as a boasting warrior like Achilles or Agamemnon, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold by them to Ishmaelites for so many shekels of silver (Gen 37). Joseph was then taken down to Egypt and sold to Potiphar. He was imprisoned. And yet he entrusted himself to God. He did not exalt himself, his strength, or his wisdom. Even when others recognized his wisdom, Joseph ascribed it to the gift of God (Gen 41:16; 45:8; 50:19-20).

Even students with only a cursory knowledge of the Bible have often heard the words Joseph recounted to his brothers: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:19-20 ESV).

The contrasts between Greco-Roman pagan views and the biblical view of heroism are nothing if not ample and stark. The Greek and Roman gods were finite, dependent, moody, petulant, fickle, self-absorbed, and prideful. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, they were amplified humanity. In short, they were like we are—sinful.

In glorious contrast, however, is the biblical view of the heroic. And the God of Scripture is instead infinite, transcendent, righteous, and altogether holy. And as to human heroes, rather than exalting themselves, readers see men like Joseph–men who suffer due to others’ sin, men who overcome evil with good, men who bore the wrath others deserved.

As my students will see through the Joseph narrative, the ultimate author of Joseph’s narrative pointed to a later Joseph who would likewise, but in an infinitely superior way, not exalt himself, but do the will of his Father. He would suffer for others’ sin, and even be made sin for them. And he would overcome evil by exiting his grave. He would bear wrath so that others would escape it. This was a different hero indeed.