Ben's Books List 2018
“Jerusalem: The Biography” by Simon Sebag Montefiore is an epic in every sense of the word. Covering 3,000 years of history is no small feat and I am including the book not to entice you to read it, but proudly proclaim that I have finally finished it after 2 years of plucking away. Others may sit down and consume this over a few weeks, but I preferred to take it in small doses. Jerusalem is the city that has sat at the center of world history and conflict for thousands of years – from its earliest moments as an encampment on a small hill called Zion, to it glory days of temples and mansions, on to its inevitable destiny as a center of conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. If you want to understand the world around you, you need to understand Jerusalem’s place in history. Ruled for 1,000 years by the Jews, for 300 hundred years by the Christians, and 1300 years by Muslims, there is a lot of story to tell. (Note: my list not surprisingly includes many books written from a Christian perspective – this "biography" however is written from a more neutral perspective)
“A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards allows me to go from my longest book of the year (Jerusalem) to the shortest. Easily read in one sitting, A Tale of Three Kings is the dramatized retelling of the interaction between three Old Testament kings: Saul, David, and Absalom. It is the story of how we react to threats, jealousy, and personal attacks. It is a powerful call to humility in leadership, where we allow God to be God. Saul threatened by young David lashes out…how will David respond? Later David’s own son Absalom schemes to take his throne from him…how will David respond? Therein lies the Tale of Three Kings. This came to me by way of recommendation of a friend in ministry, and I am happy to pass that recommendation along to all.
“The Great Good Thing: A secular Jew comes to faith in Christ” by Andrew Klavan, (a bestselling author of fiction novels) came to me by recommendation from a friend who I think would describe himself as a secular Jew. This is not a theological treatise or an evangelistic invitation; instead it is one man’s story (a man who knows how to tell a story) of coming to faith in Christ. I particularly enjoyed the back story: Klavan seems to have a gift for sharing the emotion of a person on paper – in this case his own emotion and story of growing up and how that connected much later in life to his faith journey.
“Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson was a group selection for a book group I participate in. I enjoy history and biography, and Isaacson is famous for his writing on both, so I was excited to read this one. Da Vinci is a fascinating character from the Renaissance era, considered one of the greatest artists to ever live, and there is no shortage of material to write about. Isaacson arranges the book chapters around his great works of art, which I suppose is a logical approach, but it makes the book feel a bit like a dictionary and I never felt like I was encountering the man. Still the story is fascinating, not just for what he accomplished, but for what remained started but never finished. Da Vinci kept notebooks of drawings (now famous) that largely went unfinished or were purely imaginary and fantastical in the first place. His most ambitious sculpture, a giant war horse (he preferred to paint and create – Michelangelo, his contemporary and competitor was the better sculptor) was never completed and comes down to us only in drawings. This book, while not moving, is full of these fascinating stories and details, well worth the time to read.
“12 Rules for Life: An antidote to chaos” by Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor (University of Toronto) who is often referred to as a public intellectual. Peterson took the book world, and later the airwaves, by storm in 2018 with this offering. A quick wit with some interesting insights and a penchant for offering common sense solutions, supported by a bit of human psychology for the “why.” Peterson is even better at speaking than he is at writing. Still, with chapter titles like “Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back” and “Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding,” it is easy to get pulled into his life advice offerings. It’s no Bible, but it is useful and interesting – Peterson has become a bit of a controversial figure, but go ahead and be a rebel and read it for yourself. You won’t agree with everything, but you are liable to find something good and useful.
“Canoeing the Mountains: Christian leadership in uncharted territory” by Tod Bolsinger, a pastor and professor, is my favorite book on leadership for this year. Tracing the steps and story of Lewis and Clark Bolsinger offers a long form illustration of the leadership challenges Christian leaders face in today’s post Christian society. Lewis and Clark famously and disappointingly discovered that the expected northwest passage did not exist and in that moment realized that the tools they had brought for the journey (canoes) would need to be exchanged. In a fast-changing culture, leaders (especially church leaders) often find that the tools they thought would work (because they worked before) are in fact already outdated. The challenge Christian leaders often face is knowing which tool to use and then how to maintain fidelity to the timeless message while adjusting methods. Canoeing the Mountains is a good addition to the conversation.
“How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling stories from prominent evangelicals” is a collection of writings by prominent church leaders who came into ministry with a limiting view of women in leadership (commonly referred to as complementarian) especially in the church, and then came to a more expansive position (commonly referred to as egalitarian). My own background was strongly complementarian and many of my ministry friends who I have deep respect for hold to those positions, so this was no easy read for me. This book is not a specifically theological treatment (there are many good authors tackling that job: NT Wright, John Ortberg, Kroeger, Stott, and others) but it was for me a helpful start. I first read this some years back, and it led me to take a fresh look at the Bible on this topic. In the end, this book did not sway me but it did encourage me to look more deeply and maybe with more openness than I had before. What did move me were the women I read about in the New Testament - Phoebe, Anna, Junia, Priscilla, and others. The New Testament story is full of woman in places of prominence, leadership, and proclamation, and they moved me.
“The TECH-WISE Family: Everyday steps for putting technology in its proper place” by Andy Crouch deserves to be on this list. Crouch is the former editor of Christianity Today – a thoughtful writer who always finds a way to challenge. I read this quickly some months back and then told myself I needed to come back to it: maybe I just wanted to stick my head in the sand for a bit longer. So, I am going back to it – normally I would wait and write a review when I had digested it a bit more, but this one seems important enough that I want to share it now. If your family is like ours, you are wondering how to manage technology in the home. The difference between the impact of technology on our oldest and youngest children (10 years age difference) is staggering. Our oldest started middle school with flip phones and no texting; our younger children came to middle school and now high school with smart phones, tablets, on demand video on every screen, and instant and constant access to everyone and everything. As parents we worry about content on those devices and the growing sense that they (& WE!) are at best distracted and at worst addicted. The Tech Wise Family offers some solutions: you may not use all or even most of the ideas, but it will get you thinking about how our families connect and how technology can get in the way of, or support that.