Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Reading out the year

Bish has inspired me again - this time to review good books I've read over the past year. A selective list, chosen with difficulty - not necessarily the best I've read (you can see the full list always updating on the right, below, and ones I've posted about here).

1. Mark's gospel. It really is the best new(s) and exciting thing going, and it's been such a privilege to spend so much time in it in the course of my job. So a huge thank you to the Father for sending His Son Jesus as Messiah, to whom the Spirit testifies through Mark. Cheers to Mark for writing it, to the early church for preserving it so carefully and spreading it so zealously, to UCCF for forging ahead with projects to get it into students' hands and lives, and to my supporters for enabling me to be paid to be a part of it. Jesus is my only hope and joy!

2. Some skilful RC novelists. Reading Tolkein to my V.I. housemate is great fun in an evening hour, though as we've finished the Hobbit and a few chapters of LOTR, I now have greater sympathy for those who critique Tolkein's writing. Marvellous stories, but rather hefty sentences to read aloud! I much enjoyed Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet being on the radio, and earlier in the year got into Dorothy Sayers for the first time - appreciating her radio script The Man born to be King, her Letters to a Diminished Church and one of her many detective novels, which wasn't as good as a Chesterton. But while my Complete Father Brown is on loan to someone, I'm getting his Orthodoxy for Christmas.

3. Speaking of RC novelists, this has also been a year of growing convictions in the sweetness, truth and importance of Protestant doctrine! Which is slightly reflected in my reading - Faith Cook's biography of Lady Jane Gray being the latest, while I was also grateful that David Wells has condensed his volumous work into the less intimidating, The Courage to be Protestant. The biographies of Tom Carson (Memoirs of an ordinary pastor) and J.Gresham Machen (Defending the Faith) also contributed to this, though they also fit with thoughts I was having about...

4. The call to joy and pain: or the role of suffering in Christian life and witness. Including a book I didn't think was so true to Scripture, on eschatology, which didn't hold out much future hope in Christ's victory, and thus didn't address present pain very effectively.

5. I finally got round to Thomas Hardy, which my Mum has been recommending for years - starting with Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Marvellous holiday reading while on trains across Austria, and beside mountain lakes. Albeit a rather depressing view of the universe - it acted like some of Ecclesiastes: all is vapour under the sun - so look through the vapour and see God's work! On another recommendation, I enjoyed Le Grand Meaulnes by Fournier, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin was of course so much better than the film - but admittedly, that was enjoyable in its own way, though the replacing of De Bernières' ending with a Hollywoodisation was awful.

5. Speaking of joy and pain, this was the year of the New Word Alive book plug video, and continues to be the year in which I read of the country whose inhabitants love and hate it.

6. The gospel from start to finish - in a good few books! You Can Change by Tim Chester quite merits its own post. I've been wanting a more popular-level, personal application of the CCEF stuff (oh, and Calvin et al!) for a while, and Chester hits the spot. My students are still finding it not as accessible as some good IVP titles, but if you're prepared to meet up with someone to chat about it over coffee and Bible, it's well-worth it and gospelly helpful. I've also just read Crockett, I once was blind but now I squint, which, while shorter and with less working out of the gospel answer, does also seek to have us use the truth of the gospel to change our sinful perspectives, considering the eyes of our hearts. Goldsworthy's Prayer and the Knowledge of God was another I spent time in this year which started from the gospel (and didn't dispense with it either) in its consideration of a topic. As I prepared a seminar on prayer I set out to establish and apply gospel truths - trusting that knowing God's gospel better will encourage us in prayer more than techniques ever will. It was then rather reassuring to pick up Goldsworthy (long on my shelves!) and discover he's said all I was trying to, and that much better. The Warwick & Aston students seemed to enjoy it too, almost as much as I did preparing it. And further back, the UCCF study programme invited me to read Wenham's marvellous Christ and the Bible, which though out of print, is worth selling your Christmas ipod to get hold of. It addresses the doctrine of Scripture starting with Christ. (No, not Barthian.)

7. Lastly, this has been a year of music. A stalwart reference on the bookcase beside my armchair is the Rough Guide to Classical Music, which provides interesting and useful recommendations on recordings to buy, while I continue to read The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross - as I'm slow to appreciate some more modern classical music, I'm enjoying educating myself with this fascinating account of "listening to the 20th century".

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