Maintaining a blog is both a help and a hindrance to my reading habit.
On the one hand it helps me process ideas, think through positions, and reflect in general. It prevents the formation of cognitive cobwebs. It helps me hone my writing skills. I think reading (comprehension) and writing (communication) are two of the biggest skills a person can develop in life. For a Christian, these two skills are indispensable. On the other hand, blogging seriously slows down my reading speed! If I want to maintain some sort of regularity on my blog, then reading time is often set aside to work on a post. All this to say that I didn’t get to read as many books as I had hoped this year (although I had no problem buying lots of books).
Nevertheless, here were some of the top books that I read this year (following Lazo’s definition of top 5):
1. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, by David J Bosch
This is a massive book. Although there are certainly longer books out there (this one weighs in at 519 pages… long enough for me!), this book is massive in its attempt—to provide a sweeping and comprehensive presentation of the paradigm shifts that the church’s self-understanding of its missionary dimension has undergone throughout church history. It is David Bosch’s magisterial magnum opus and was well worth my time. Its density lies mainly in its parenthetical citations, which allows access to a world of literature on missions. I found Bosch’s writing style very readable. Although he employs large words and complex sentences, I found myself gliding easily through his paragraphs. It’s definitely an academic work, but don’t worry, it’s nothing like reading Karl Barth. All in all, I found the most helpful part to be Bosch’s “turning around” the tapestry of church history (from the missionary persepctive) and showing us the intricate connection of threads and knots. The paradigm perspective I will probably keep with me forever. I ended up doing A LOT of posts on this as I worked through it—32 in all.
2. Confessions, by Saint Augustine
This book should speak for itself. I read the Henry Chadwick translation (recommended to me. Having read a lot of Proust, I’m kind of a stickler on which translation to choose). In the introduction, Chadwick says,
The work has a perennial power to speak… The contemporary reader today may find much of it so ‘modern’ that at times it is a shock to discover how very ancient are the presuppositions and the particular context in which the author wrote… For this work is far from being a simple autobiography of a sensitive man… The Confessions is more than a narrative of conversion. It is a work of rare sophistication and intricacy, in which even the apparently simple autobiographical narrative often carries harmonies of deeper meaning… Its form is extraordinary—a prose-poem addressed to God, intended to be overheard by anxious and critical fellow-Christians.
Next year I plan to read two books about Augustine (Peter Brown’s biography of him and David Vincent Meconi’s The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification), but I wanted to read this first as a basis (a belated one for me). I wanted to hear him speak firsthand at length, and not in the short excerpts that people use to make theological points (although I DID do my own 20 quotes from the Confessions post). I wanted to meet the man himself, not his theology per se. There is no other way to get know an author as a friend, than by reading him at length, firsthand, and often in passages that are never directly quoted.
3. Love Not the World, by Watchman Nee
A classic, this book is a poignant consideration of the New Testament’s usage of the term “the world” (Gr., kosmos). It has almost a devotional quality to it and would be perfect for a small group topical study. It is a series of talks and is fitting therefore to be talked about. It is learned yet non-academic in style. Don’t let its easy-going style obscure the depths of experience it opens up. It is packed with revelation. If you haven’t read Watchman Nee before, this is a perfect place to start. Read my 20 quotes post.
4. Gleanings in Genesis, by Arthur W Pink
I am working through this slowly, as a “supplemental text”, in sync with a year-and-a-half long study I am doing on the book of Genesis. Pink has an uncanny ability to synthesize revelation. This book goes through Genesis chapter by chapter and presents the pertinent points of typology or spiritual experience contained therein. It doesn’t cover everything, but what Pink chooses to focus on usually is incredibly insightful and yet succinctly laid out. Pink himself explains his intention:
In these articles we are not attempting complete expositions. They are little more than “Notes”—”Gleanings”—and our prime endeavor is to indicate some of the broad outlines of truth in the hope that our readers will be led to fill in the details by their own personal studies.
In my opinion Pink has exceedingly succeeded in this endeavor. This book would be a helpful tool in teaching through Genesis (granted that you agree with him on some basic hermeneutics) due to this succinct yet illuminating methodology. For instance in chapter 13, Pink presents twelve points on the typology of Noah’s Ark in six short pages. In chapter 14, he presents seven points on the covenant God made with Noah- its occasion, source, basis, contents, design, requirements, and token. Even if you disagree with some of the details of his exposition, most people teaching through Genesis or interested in really studying this book will seriously benefit from Pink’s study, if for nothing more than a foundation to build upon or a field to do their own gleanings from.
5. The Experience of Life, by Witness Lee
I’m only halfway through this book (173/383 pages) but I wanted to include it in this year’s list because it has already been so impactful. In this book Witness Lee lays out the major stages of our experience of Christ. He traces four major stages, viewed from their respective “dealings”, that our spiritual life passes through for our full maturity in Christ. Each chapter focuses on only one experience, presenting a thorough analysis and showing the scriptural basis, the main elements, and the connections to related experiences. Each chapter ranges from around 20-30 pages, so be prepared to dive deep! However, this book is not aimed at information, but transformation. In the Western Christian milieu where doctrinal rigor is often exclusively championed and people can be wary of subjective experience, this book adds a needed balance to our Christian pursuit. Chapter 3 on consecration has been a highlight so far.
- How to Study the Bible, by Watchman Nee
- The Law of Revival, by Witness Lee
- Top 5 books I read in 2013 (Chris Lazo)
- Top Ten Books of 2013 (Kevin DeYoung)
- TGC Staff Cite Best Books from 2013 (The Gospel Coalition)
- Monergism’s Top 12 Christian Books of 2013 (Monergism)