2011 (Reading) Year in Review

During 2011 I set a goal to read 50 books during the year. I ended up doing exactly that. Some of them were great, others were less great. Overall, I would not say that there were any that were awful. There were definitely some highlights. Some books move so much quicker than others. I actually have come to realize that I really enjoy fiction – mystery, suspense type novels, sometimes historical fiction. I also try to read for personal intellectual growth and also spiritual growth. So without further ado here is…

2011 (Reading) Year in Review

This year I did not have a real plan for what I read. Some books were recommended to me. A few I read to supplement classes or papers I was working on. A lot of them were free on kindle and so were kind of hit or miss. Others I knew I wanted and went ahead and shelled out the money for them. In this post I want to breakdown what I read. This year I hope to be a little more intentional about my reading but I also wanted to take a look back at what I read this past year.

I was pleased overall with the consistency of reading. For 50 books you need to average just about 4 books per month. I started out well with 5 books for the first couple months. I never finished more than 6 and my lowest month (May) I finished just one book. I find that I often have more than one book going at a time. This is one of the major advantages of an e-reader. Based on a situation I can snag a few minutes of a novel when I might not be ready to dig into a more difficult book. It is interesting how many times throughout the year I would finish 2 or 3 or even 4 books within a few days of each other.

What books do I read? Well here is the list broken down by genre. I didn’t divide up my fiction, the majority of it was action/mystery with a few historical fiction novels thrown in. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between Christian Living and Theology. I’m out of grad school now and am no longer wading through theological treatise or systematic books so some were apologetics or more devotional commentaries but I felt they could be classified as theology rather than Christian Living.

I was also interested in breaking down my reading in a little bit different way. I wanted to see how my reading corresponded with the four topics I thought I’d end up blogging about here: Culture, Theology, History and Politics. I’ll admit that I probably am using the categories fairly broadly here but that’s my prerogative.

When broken down by topic they came out fairly evenly. With a slight advantage going to theology and politics and then history and culture. I tried to keep a balance of different types of books going at the same time and from a rather cursory overview it looks like I did a good job.

Best of the Books

Here are my top picks of the books I read by topic:


First Prize: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

The biography to read about one of the most interesting figures of the mid-1900s. Gives you a window into life leading up to and through World War 2 in Germany, not just the political realm but also the civil and religious events. Is also a great introduction to a Christian who truly strove to understand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus, no matter the costs.

Read my full review here: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas←

Runner-up: One God One Message by P.D. Bramsen

This is a journey that takes the reader from beginning to end through the story of the world’s all time best-selling book, the Bible. It is one part apologetics, one part biblical theology and one part story-telling. It is primarily aimed at monotheists who are interested in learning what the Bible itself really teaches. It is based on the author’s long experience in the Middle East and other Muslim majority countries and also from online interactions email correspondences.

Read my full review here: One God One Message by P.D. Bramsen←


First Prize: God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics by Monica Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Shah

Does religion matter in global politics? Don’t we live in the secular, modern world? Well then why are we talking about religion? This book argues and then responds to the fact that religion does matter in politics. Going beyond just if people are religious this book looks at how religion influences their actions in ways from terrorism and civil war to peace brokering and transitional justice. They look at two factors that largely help to explain why religious actors do what they do – 1) political theology 2) relation to the state structure. Really enjoyable and compelling book.

Runner-up: The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left by Ed Husain

This is the autobiographical story of a British Muslim growing up into the world of Islamist organizations, becoming a mover and shaker in that world, before ultimately seeing the emptiness of it and looking for something more. I would highly recommend this book.

Read my full review here: The Islamist by Ed Husain←


First Prize: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

An epic true story of the limits to which a man can be pushed and still retain his will to survive. This is a story of Louie Zamperini, someone who if you have not heard about you should, and this is the place to do it. From a world class athlete to a bombardier in the Pacific theater in WWII to a castaway  to a POW to a struggling Veteran Louie  – and others who shared his experiences – were pushed to unbelievable lengths. Many of them did not survive, for those who did none were the same. This is a great book and well deserving of the many accolades it has received.

Runner-up: The Island of the World by Michael O’Brien

This is a book about one man’s life. It is a fascinating read that will open your eyes to the highs and lows that one can experience in life. It is all about his story and through that it offers plenty of food to consider your own story. It will draw you in – and draw your mind to think about this life – and the One who created this world.

Read my full review here: Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien←


First Prize: How Should We Then Live? (: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis Schaeffer

An insightful book from one of the premier Christian thinkers of the 20th century. In this book Schaeffer traces the rise and fall of western thought and culture. It is a massive undertaking and on the whole he handles it well. In this book he argues how the truth of scripture is relevant for every aspect of life. It is one of the books for Christians looking to answer the question for how they should live and it remains extremely relevant even 35 years after it was first published.

Runner-up: The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies

Impossible to accurately summarize this in just a few sentences. This book is a must read for Christians who are beginning to navigate this new digital world. Really analyzes how technology affects us, our world and our faith. That decision “iPhone or keep my old talking only” is much more than simple addition to your life. It has far reaching affects that The Next Story helps you see and consider.

Honorable Mentions: Think by John Piper, Reset by Stephen Kinzer, Day of War by Cliff Graham, Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef, The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and all the books by Steven James.

Here’s a link to a list of all the books: Reading and Reviews


Reading Today’s Stories…12/4→

So it has been quite a while since I have posted links in this format. I’m just going to post a few blogs or videos that I’ve been reading recently.


Two coats that don’t fit | Journalist in Turkey – http://bit.ly/ucq5ep

I really enjoyed this blog post from Frederike Geerdink on learning a language and living in another culture. It changes how you see the world and how you fit into the world.

Why? Turkey suits me, to start with. But also, I have been here for five years this month, and I have reached a point of being in between countries, or, you could say, in between identities. Changing coats is a suitable metaphor for that.

Read the whole story: here

What Languages are the Hardest to Learn? « Just a Word http://bit.ly/sVngg7

Keeping with the idea of language learning, ever wondered what the hardest language is to learn? klizbarker shares an info graphic that attempts to quantify this. It’s put by the U.S. State Department and so approaches the question from an English standpoint. It’s interesting.

Check it out: here

Apologize to Peter Schiff – YouTube http://bit.ly/utN3Ii

One of the great (usually) things about the prevalence of digital media is that just about everything is documented. A friend recently shared this link that is a montage of interviews with conservative economist Peter Schiff. Admittedly, I am not an economist. I also have not spend too much time digging into the causes of the recession in the United States and Europe in the past few years. I’ve also not heard of Peter Schiff before this week. It is fairly obvious though when you listen to these clips whose conception of the future turned out to be more accurate.


Dissent Denied↓

Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent by Abdullah Saeed

The fifth article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

Saeed, Abdullah. “Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 No. 2, Summer 2011): 31-38.

This article begins with a sketch of the historical background and the practice of Muhammad and some of the early followers in relation to those of other faiths. Saeed comes to the conclusion that though with a few exceptions

religious freedom came to be regarded as a fundamental principle of classical Islamic law and theology, particularly in relation to non-Muslims. (31)

The majority of the article deals not with the freedoms of non-Muslims in Muslim majority contexts but for Muslims within Muslim majority contexts. Saeed points that laws dealing with this topic emerged during a period of “imperial expansion and internal competition” (32). These laws were used to silence opponents in order to consolidate power. They were prone to abuse then and now.

Saeed breaks “dissent” down under five different headings: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Heresy, Hypocrisy, and Unbelief.

Apostasy: After having previously accepted Islam turns away and rejects it
Blasphemy: Foul language with regard initially to the prophet Muhammad and then extended to include God, angels, and other prophets.
Heresy: Teaching that becomes a danger to the state, freethinking, outward faithfulness while in practice remaining loyal to a former non-Islamic religion.
Hypocrisy: Outward profession to Islam while continuing inward devotion to non-Islamic beliefs. 
Unbelief: One who does not believe in core beliefs (oneness of God, prophethood of Muhammad) of Islam.

These categories cover the vast majority of the laws relating to division within the Muslim community. In the second and third centuries of the Islamic era lists began to be constructed. Today there are dozens of “apostasy lists” There is no consensus on which list is correct. Depending on the location and circumstances one list gains prominence over another. These become useful in silencing dissent especially when three conditions are present:

1. The laws are worded ambiguously and are therefore easily applied in a wide range of cases;

2. there is a dominant local orthodoxy and an overbearing religious establishment to oversee its implementation; and,

3.  there is a political elite willing to support the religious establishment. (Saeed 33)

The majority of the remaining pages of the article expands on each of these conditions. It is easy to see how when these three things come together there is no room for critical thinking. The author cites a number of cases in various countries that demonstrate what this looks like. At times it takes the form of academic censure, or eliminating a political challenger. Other times these laws have led to imprisonment or execution. Sometimes the suppression takes place through official channels, the police or military, legal proceedings, etc. Other times individuals are provoked to take action against someone who a leader feels is divisive or a challenge to their authority.

What are the most significant losses from this denial of dissent?

Obviously, when physical violence or execution is a major loss. Beyond that, it hinders an individuals personal expression of their faith. If they differ at all from the dominant orthodoxy they may face opposition. It forces minority religious groups into the background. Academics and intellectuals are denied the freedom to seriously study and share their findings with society. This is why a large number of the prominent voices calling for reform in Islamic thought live outside of Muslim majority countries. Within their home countries the academic freedom does not exist to seriously engage on topics that might be seen as a challenge to the existing structures.

Whenever religious freedom is suppressed something significant is lost. Not just when one religion silences another but within the same religion. The freedom to think and question and work towards greater understanding is a valuable freedom.

For Islamic thought to move forward, Muslims in Muslim-majority states need to rethink these laws that criminalize dissent and that suppress thought and debate. (37)

What I’ve read recently↑

I’m not going to post a full review but have not written recently and wanted to at least share a few links.

If you are looking for an in-depth scholarly treatment of Turkish history (and let’s face it, who isn’t these days?) check out Turkey: A Modern History by Erik Zurcher.

I’ve also just finished God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics by Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Shah. I will definitely be writing a full review of that book in the coming days. I really enjoyed it. It is a book written by political scientists dealing with the question of “does religion matter in Global Politics?” and if so why and what the implications of that are. If it sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to check it out.

Also of note, Time magazine ran a cover story on Turkish PM Recep Erdogan. If you haven’t – or even if you have – been following the events of the Middle East over the past few months this will help give some perspective for what is going on when people talk about “The Turkish Model” or why people are looking to Turkey. Also as the USA and other western countries seem hesitant to support Syria like they did in Libya many are looking to Turkey and specifically Erdogan to take the lead. He is certainly a polarizing figure but one that is worth learning more about.