Thinking Fiction↑

When I was younger I used to read tons of fiction. Then around high school I struggled to find good books to read. I wanted to keep reading and tried sports biographies for awhile (John Harkes, David Beckham, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley are the ones I can remember). Really reading became more of a chore than an enjoyment.

Then came college. I didn’t have much time for non-assigned reading. Though there were a few times when I’d sneak down in a stairwell and fly through a book that a professor recommended. For awhile I got into the habit of reading a book I chose the last 15 minutes before I went to bed. I was surprised how quickly I made it through a few books just doing that. Then came grad school and the workload increased and forced me to become a faster reader. I also started to find more books that I really enjoyed reading – most of them were non-fiction. It wasn’t until I was given a kindle that I started reading by choice and in volume and reading fiction.

Since then I’ve found that I enjoy fiction. It is a good way to relax but still involves more mental energy than surfing the internet or watching TV. It is also a great way to learn about new cultures. One of the best examples of that recently was Island of the World. I got to the end and felt as if I’d seen a whole world of which I’d been completely ignorant before.

So is fiction worth reading? I’d say yes. It is a window into the world. It stretches your own thinking. It engages your mind. And usually it is enjoyable!

Do you read fiction? What do you read? Why do you read?

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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:

Theology:

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←

Politics:

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←


History: 

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←

Culture:

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

Monday Night Jihad by Jason Elam←

Monday Night Jihad

by Jason Elam and Steve Yohn

Product Description

After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Riley Covington is living his dream as a professional linebacker when he comes face-to-face with a radical terrorist group on his own home turf. Drawn into the nightmare around him, Riley returns to his former life as a member of a special ops team that crosses oceans in an attempt to stop the escalating attacks. But time is running out, and it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal: to strike at the very heart of America.

My Review

To be honest, I told myself that I wasn’t going to read this book. I first saw it this summer and kind of laughed at the title. I just thought it would be too cheesy. Also, if you look at my reading from the last year (reading list) I’ve read quite a few books in this genre. So I just wasn’t going to read it, but then I started it and about 3 days later I was finished.

Part of what was so compelling for me was that I think I am like THE demographic this book was written for. First, I have been a huge fan of Jason Elam since he started his career as kicker for the Denver Broncos when I was 6 and gave me lots of happy moments growing up. All of the areas he describes around Denver are my own stomping grounds. So it is always enjoyable to read about that. I could have been one of the characters in the book: carrying concessions up and down the stands at games, stopping at Chick-Fil-A for Dr. Pepper even more than the great chicken. It was a book that I just identify with! So that made it fun to read. I was also pleasantly surprised with how they handled some of the issues in the book.

This book is explicitly Christian fiction. The authors are both committed followers of Christ, I don’t know for sure but expect they would identify themselves as Evangelical Christians, and that informs their writing. Unfortunately, there have been some Evangelical Christians who have been extremely misguided in their understanding of and approach to Islam. I was afraid this book would fall into that category but I don’t think that it does. The author’s intentionally show the vast difference between the majority of Muslims and those who engage in terrorism under the banner of Islam. They also show some of the reasons why terrorism happens beyond “the Sword verses and Islam is about violence” explanation, there are often political reasons and personal loss that drive many to do what they do.

I was grateful for the way the authors handled this subject. While there are certainly major differences between Christianity and Islam and the authors do not shy away from them and attempt to articulate why it is they believe Christianity is true and Islam is false, they do not resort to the hate-mongering, Islamophopia that some have done.

As far as the plot and character development itself, the book is somewhat predictable. The characters are likable and I just genuinely enjoyed the book. The descriptions of PFL (not to be confused with the NFL *wink wink) life are great and knowing they are coming from a 17 year veteran gives it credibility (even still I wondered if there is really THAT much puking??). The descriptions of military and law enforcement are plausible at least.

If you are looking for Christian fiction for a teenage+ guy this would be a solid choice. It’s got a lot of the things guys love (football, guns, violence) and is plenty of fun. I got this for free a few months ago but there are now 4 books in the series so we’ll see if I am able to keep away from reading the rest of them!

If you need an example of why Jason Elam holds a special place in my heart, besides just always being a genuinely good guy, this is just one of the 436 FG’s he made in his career:

 

What I’m Reading Now↑

The weather has gotten colder. Lately we have had a lot of rain. What better to do than take a cup of hot apple cider and curl up with a good book! Okay, so have done that some, but more often with a three hour round-trip commute to school am reading on the often cold and always crowded bus.

So what am I reading now? I just updated the Reading and Reviews page with a few of my recently completed books. Check out yesterday’s review of Aaron Armstrong‘s book Awaiting a Savior←.

I am also still in the midst of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy which is a great biography (a few quotes from early on) and has caused me to think a lot.

For one of my classes I am reading Turkey: A Modern History by Erik Zurcher. Not the most exciting book but a good political history.

What are you reading now? Any suggestions to add to my “to-read” list?

Awaiting a Savior by Aaron Armstrong←

Awaiting a Savior Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty

by Aaron Armstrong

Before I get to the review of the book a little background on the publisher. Cruciform Press is a relatively new Christian publisher. Some might look at that as a negative, but in this case I think it is a huge positive. They are a publisher that is built for the digital world. Yes, they still have print books, but they also are extremely e-reader friendly. Their books come out on a monthly cycle and you can subscribe to have each months book delivered directly to you the first day of the month. The book length is also ideal for the digital era. They are shorter than your average book – typically coming in between 100-120 pages- which makes them a quicker read and very accessible for a wide variety of readers. The final aspect that I’ve really appreciated is that the books they publish are Gospel saturated. They deal with a wide variety of issues – social issues like adoption and abortion, morality, family and parenting, Christian living and more – but all of them are dealt with through the framework of the Gospel. This is a refreshing approach and makes their books highly recommended in my opinion.

Now – enough about the publisher – on to the review!

My Review

This book is targeted at Christians and is a corrective on the approach that many take to addressing the issue of poverty and an articulation of a third approach that is often misunderstood. Here are the two views he argues against:

Some of us hold to a theology declaring that it is our mandate as the Church to bring about the end of poverty. Others, holding a different theology, seem content to do nothing at all and wait for Christ to return. Neither approach is acceptable. (loc. 94)

When I think about most churches that I know and the way that they engage the poor – both domestically and internationally – they fall into one of these two categories. Either “if it is to be it is up to me” or “God will wipe away ever tear from every eye, then so I don’t need to do anything now.” The approach that the author argues for is that the Bible has clear teaching on poverty that has direct implications for Christians today. That will be expounded later in the book.

The author begins with an examination of the causes of poverty. This is an important discussion and his viewpoint offers some clarity on the issue. He holds a somewhat controversial – for some – viewpoint: “The root cause of poverty is sin.” (loc. 85) Some interpret this as a “poverty as punishment” view. The author refutes this. It is not that this person or their parents sinned as a result they are in the current state of poverty (e.g John 9) but the entrance of sin in the world and the effects of the curse from Genesis 3 are responsible for man’s ultimate poverty – spiritually, relationally, and materially). With this in mind efforts that address only the material needs do not go far enough. Yet, on the same hand efforts that ignore the material needs do not go far enough either.

After looking at the cause of poverty he then turns to the biblical teaching and resulting implications. Through both the Old and New Testament there is evidence that God has a significant concern for the physical care of people – both believers and unbelievers. For those who are followers of God he expects “covenant faithfulness” and out of this Armstrong argues that it ought to then lead to “ethical faithfulness.” It is not rooted in our own goodness or morality but in the goodness of God and because in so doing God is glorified and made known to the world. It is not a matter of “legalism” that drives our actions – “I must do this so that I am right with God” – but because we are loved by God we ought to love others.

The gifts of love always precede the demands of love. (loc. 644)

More than a practical, how-to sort of book, this is mostly a book dealing with motivations and reasons why Christians ought to engage in ministering and serving those in poverty around them. Toward the end of the book there are some really helpful ideas and a framework to consider for how you can get involved. However, more than anything the author hopes to cultivate Christians and churches that are truly heavenly minded “clear-eyed, motivated, inspired, and practical in a way that no other perspective can match” (loc. 902) who understand that the Gospel teaches that loving God and being loved by God should result in real and tangible loving of your neighbor because “covenant faithfulness simply results in ethical faithfulness.”

DISCLAIMER: I received a free evaluation copy of this book. I did not receive any monetary payment nor was I required to write a positive review. I hope my comments about the book will help you evaluate whether or not the book is worth purchasing and reading.