Reading Reflections

The last book I finished was Ed Welch's Blame It On the Brain? Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience, another helpful "resource for changing lives" from CCEF. Welch (who I think did his doctoral work in neuropsychology) gives what seems to be a balanced perspective on how to distinquish between clear physiological problems that affect the brain (alzheimer's, dementia, and head injury) and sin problems that are often attributed to people's hard-wiring, though without conclusive evidence to back it (homosexuality and alcoholism) and a few things that fall in-between, where the spiritual and physiological seem to intertwine and are hard to separate (depression, ADHD). A friend has told me that the book is slightly outdated, and maybe it is. But it was still quite helpful to me in some very practical ways.

Also in the psychology-counseling genre, I've just started Eric Johnson's Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. It is a massive, 700 page textbook, written by the Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I've read about 150 pages and so far, so good. The terminology is much more technical than I'm used to and I'm finding it very educational. Johnson's book is thorough - covering everything from the history of Christian soul-care, to an appraisal and critique of contemporary versions (including Integrationalists and Nouthetic Counselors); from some stuff on hermeneutics to theological foundations for doing soul care cast in psychological terminology. We'll see if I can get through this one!

Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is back on the shelf - temporarily - while I finish up Jonathan Edwards' The Religious Affections. I've actually completed the main part of the latter, and am now spot-reading through another time and reading the related correspondence. I also need to finish the editor's introduction (I'm reading the Yale edition). This morning I read the first in an exchange of letters between Edwards and Thomas Gillespie, a minister from Scotland. I was pleasantly surprised at how edifying even these letters were! Gillespie wrote Edwards with several questions about the Affections; Edwards' response was clarifying and quite helpful in several points. For example, Gillespie asked if Edwards believed that Romans 8:28 could be applied even to the sins of saints. Edwards replied with a ten-point argument in the affirmative that managed to say, in essence, yes God will work even the sins of the saints together for their good, but it will not be as good as if they had not sinned! It's an intricate argument that I won't repeat here. I think I was most impressed by the simple fact that so much thought went into the composition of a letter! I wonder if I've ever put that much thought into a blog-post -- not to mention an e-mail.

A good companion to The Religious Affections is Gerald McDermott's Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment. It is basically a contemporary version of The Religious Affections that repeats Edwards' basic flow of thought, but with modern English and contemporary illustrations. I'm finding it helpful as a resource for sermon preparation and would recommend it to someone who wants to get Edwards' thought without trudging through tiresome Puritan prose.

Two secular non-fiction books that I'm meandering through ever-so-slowly are The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Friedman and In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore. Both of them are written in a journalistic style and are very interesting. The World is Flat may be the most important secular non-fiction book I've read in several years. It is about how the world has changed in the past decade or so and the impact that is having on economics. I would suggest this as a must-read for parents who want to equip their kids with a good education. I'll probably blog more on this when I'm finished, so I won't say more now. In Praise of Slowness is a take it or leave it book. The introduction and first chapter were well worth reading - with lots of interesting facts, stats, and anecdotes about our hurried pace of life. Other chapters focus on the "Slow Movement" in different areas: food, cities, mind-body, medicine, sex, work, leisure, and children. I've read about half the chapters and while interesting, most of the advice amounts to a secularized version of Eastern practices (yoga, Chi Kung, transcendental meditation, complementary and alternative medicine, etc.). Not a lot of take-aways here.

On the back-burner right now are Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way, the third in his series on Spiritual Theology (it's been in my reading bag for three months now, and I'm only managing to knock out a chapter or two a month); Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, which I started in Africa, but have found disappointly slow - especially since its considered one of the best biographies on Augustine; and Philip Graham Ryken's City on a Hill: Reclaiming the Biblical Pattern for the Church in the 21st Century, which is one of the better books on the church I've read (even better, I think that Dever's 9 Marks of a Healthy Church), though its not saying anything I've not read elsewhere. I plan to finish all of these over time and especially hope the biography on Augustine picks up. The last couple of chapters dealt with his conversion, so maybe things will be more interesting now.


Amanda said...

And I thought I read a lot of books. Blame It On the Brain? sounds interesting; I'd probably enjoy it. I've seen The World is Flat at the library. I think I'll pick it up when Tim and I get back from our trip. :)

Thanks for the reviews. :)

Ben Canfield said...

i just have one question...for the most part, do you speed read, pick out the main sections of the book, or read in depthly through the whole book? just wondering...

Brian G. Hedges said...

I read fairly fast, but don't usually speed-read. Depends on the book, though - if its familiar stuff or something I'm less interested in, I push the speed and focus less on comprehension. When I really get "in" to a book - in the zone, you know? - where the concentration level is extremely high, I can read very fast and still comprehend. But that's much more rare than I'd like! Too often, I'm fighting distractions, a drifting mind, rereading paragraphs, etc!

Books like Calvin and Edwards, I read slow and often highlight - sometimes take notes. It seems like re-reading serves me best - I'm working on my third time through Religious Affections.

Occasionally I do spot-read books, just to get what I want from them. I don't count them as read, though, unless I cover every page.

Amanda said...

I just finished The World is Flat. Wow. It was very eye opening for me; I don't generally think about globalization and global economics, but I will be now.

Hope all's well with your family.