It's been awhile since I've written anything specifically for this blog, so thought I'd kick off the new year with a highlight reel of my reading in 2012. Maybe this will give you ideas for your own reading and study in 2013.
I read several books for the first time last year that were spiritually enriching. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung's Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies is a beautifully written, deeply informed, and powerfully convicting take on the traditional seven deadly sins, or "capital vices," first catalogued by Evagrius, John Cassian, and Gregory the Great. This book was something of a catalyst for digging much deeper into the vast literature on the capital sins that will lead to a series of sermons and hopefully a book of my own.
Another book that was truly beneficial was Gerald Sittser's Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. Sittser has an amazing grasp of the full swath of Christian history and, while writing from a solid Evangelical perspective, draws enriching insights for spiritual life today from all these varied traditions. This book isn't just a great read, it's a wonderful introduction to many other books and will serve as a reference manual for my reading for years to come.
Michael Reeves' Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith is a delightful book, and not just because of its title! Reeves writes with both jocularity and profundity (that means he's both funny and deep) - two qualities that aren't easily combined. He's a great teacher and this is a great book that takes readers right to the heart of the Christian faith, while managing to introduce a fair bit of church history along the way. I loved this book! I hope you'll read it. (It would be a great companion, by the way, to my other favorite book on the Trinity, Fred Sanders' The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.)
One of my long term goals is to read through the complete Works of John Owen, and last year I finally finished reading volume three on The Holy Spirit. Contrary to what some people may think, I don't read particularly fast, and the Puritans especially take time. But I always find it worth the effort, even if it takes me several years to complete a volume (as was the case with this one). There are some real gems tucked away in this book, which is really the first four of nine books, which together make up Owen's Pneumatologia, a magnum opus on the Holy Spirit that is probably still unsurpassed in English. Here's my favorite quote (which, incidentally, shows that a gospel-centered approach to holiness is not a 21st century fad): "Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls."
It's no secret that my other favorite writer is C. S. Lewis and a couple of books on Lewis deserve mention. Besides rereading several of Lewis's books, I also read for the first time Lyle Dorsett's Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis, Corbin Scott Carnell's Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C. S. Lewis, and David Downing's Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy. Each was excellent, but if you just want to pick one, read Dorsett.
The most helpful book I read related to pastoral work and ministry was, hands down, Tim Keller's Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. This may be the longest contemporary book on pastoral ministry I've read, being almost 400 double-columned pages long, but it is also one of the best. Contrary to many books with the word "church" in the title, this isn't a step-by-step guide on how to introduce a program that will revolutionize church life. Don't read this book if you're looking for silver bullets. Instead, Keller presents a comprehensive theological vision for ministry that requires rigorous thought, personalization, and application. Few people could read this book without being rebuked and challenged on some front or another. But it's also a very hopeful book that both stretches your thinking and lifts your gaze to God himself. Must reading for any church leader.
Bruce Gordon's Calvin is the best biography I read last year. Critical, yet sympathetic, this is a book that introduces you to Calvin the man, rather than Calvin the legend. The result, for me at least, was both increased respect on one hand, and the sense that I might not have liked Calvin that much if I actually met him, on the other! His tirelessness and personal sacrifice for the gospel were certainly commendable and inspiring. But some of Calvin's other character traits are much less attractive. This is exactly the kind of biography I like and think we need. It's honest and shows that even one of our greatest heroes had feet, and maybe calves and thighs, of clay. No hagiography here.
My favorite novel of last year was Alan Paton's beautiful Cry, the Beloved Country, one of the best pieces of literature to come out of South Africa. It's a book about racism, fear, injustice, and grace. It will make you cry. I could barely put it down and look forward to reading more from this author. Honorable mentions for fiction: The Children of Men by P. D. James (great dystopian science fiction, with theological themes), and Bram Stoker's classic Dracula (which is a far cry from Twilight. In Stoker, vampires are evil).
Finally, over the past couple of years I've taken my lifelong love for superheroes a step forward by reading a number of graphic novels. Two of my favorites are Jeph Loeb's Batman: The Long Halloween (one of the inspiration's for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy) and Mark Waid & Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, which is worth reading for the art alone, although it's a great apocalyptic story as well.
What did you read in 2012? What books would you recommend for me and others?