Saturday, March 25, 2006

Non-Fiction Top 10

10. Gary Chapman: The Five Love Languages

The rest of my list is pretty "heady" stuff, but this book is pure practicality. If you ever want to make a serious go at loving someone, particularly with the type of love that marriage calls for, you really ought to read this book. It is deceptively simple. The principles expressed are such that when you read them you figure you knew them already. But I'm sure they take a lifetime to perfect. Which tells you that the author is on to something. Love should be exactly that: accessible to the youngest mind and the freshest relationship, yet so deep that a lifetime commitment cannot plumb its depths. Now that I think about it I really need to read this book again.

9. Tony Campolo: Partly Right: Learning From the Critics of Christianity

Someone once described Campolo as a "sweaty-toothed youth speaker." He's intense, and to be honest I was surprised to be reading a book by him for a philosophy class. But he really hit me where I needed it to hurt with this one. "All truth is God's truth," they say, and sometimes the truth the Church most needs to hear may come not from within but from without. Even if those outside our faith may not command our allegiance as Christ does, God may really wish to speak through them and when he does we better listen. After all, if all we ever read is what flies off the Christian book store shelves we may only ever read what we want to hear. Campolo does a great job gleaning great (and biblical) stuff from some generally disregarded sources, and the tag line on the book says it best: "We have met the enemy and they are partly right." This book is a good listen in humility, truth, listening skills, compassion, and general revelation. It changed the way I approach people, or at least the way I'd like to.

8. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter: The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed

This book is a breath of fresh air for those who are disillusioned with the culture at large but who are also unsatisfied with the reactionary stance of the ever-popular counter-cultural movement. The authors give some great perspective to the whole trend of "culture-jamming" and unveil it as the same culture as the one before with little more than a different product to sell. More to the point, what the "culture-jammers" are selling is the product of "difference". In fact, the authors show that the desire to be different is what makes our capitalist culture succeed, which is ironic since this is the very culture the culture-jammers claim to want to undermine. I'm not sure I fully agreed with everything these guys had to say, nor do I think they offered a coherent alternative to the two extremes of the cultural bend, but they made me think of stuff in a way I hadn't before and I appreciated the perspective-balancer. Too many people are throwing out too many babies with the proverbial bath-water, and while I'm sick of the tepid water myself I think its time we saved the babies and took a hard look at the quality of our tub. (This worn out metaphor does not make an appearance in the book. They are far more eloquesnt than I.)

7. Donald Miller: Searching For God Knows What

This is the most recently read of all the books on my list, which tells you its quality since I think retrospect is usually needed to really recognize a book's value or impact on your life. Truth is, I could easily have included Donald Miller's first book in this list as well, but this one in particular really got me. I wouldn't necessarily say I need convincing of my faith repeatedly throughout my life, but it sure is wonderful to have the faith driven home in a fresh new way by an author from my own generation. Donald Miller may very well be my generation's own CS Lewis. His conversational style and contemporary outlook bring new vitality not only to the mundane things of life but to some of the deepest convictions of Christian spirituality. This book in particular is a great argument for the faith, without coming across as an argument at all. Its just honest. And this honesty would be well taken by the churched, unchurched, and dechurched alike.

6. Annie Dillard: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

This book you could read one sentence at a time for 10 years and never get bored. I heard that Annie Dillard's writing philosophy is not to use a single word unless it achieves a specific purpose. So you would think she has a lot of short sentences and short books. But this book is a regular length. She just quite simply has a mighty way with words. Every single one is packed with a punch of life and majesty. In this book she can take an ordinary thing such as a leaf or an cloudy day or a trail of insects on the curbside at a rundown gas station and pull out of it more frightful beauty and terrible glory than we ever realized was there. Stuff we drive by every day is for Dillard the key to the universe, and reading this book alone can exponentially increase your awe and gratitude for life. Not only that, but reading this book was the first time I ever enjoyed reading for the plain sake of the reading itself. A pure delight.

5. Henri Nouwen: In the Name of Jesus

I read this book in two hours, cried for awhile, and then phoned my brother and talked for an hour. Then I picked it up and started reading it again. I've never known anyone else to be impacted quite the same by this book, so maybe it just got me on the right day. But it puts a revolutionary spin on the way followers of Jesus really ought to be approaching leadership. It is so revolutionary I don't think you'll ever see it catch on. Its just not ever really going to get noticed, and it certainly won't be popular. It is pure servanthood, teamwork and humility in the steps of the Saviour and it changed the way I look at my role in the church. I doubt I'll ever totally live up to the calling of this book (because I know myself too well), but if I die having forgotten it and never tried I imagine it will be one of my greatest regrets.

4. Tracy McCary Rhodes: Contemplating the Cross

I'm working my way through this 40-day devotional this winter for the third time, and it is hitting me in new ways as well as driving old pegs deeper into the soil of my heart and soul. This is a great thing to read through on the build up to Easter, but you could do it anytime. Like Dillared with her leaves and insects McCary Rhodes unlocks the power of Jesus' passion almost one verse at a time, leaving a person with the distinct impression that there's more to each "jot and tittle" than previously thought and that there's more to the passion of the Christ than has ever been captured in a full length film.

3. Francis Schaeffer: True Spirituality

If McCary Rhodes helps you appreciate the cross of Christ, Schaeffer turns around and helps you apply it to your life. Because of the time in my life when I read this book and the mental, emotional and spiritual turning point it ended up being for me it perhaps deserves to be number one on my list. I have since read the two classics that follow and cannot deny their supremacy as works of non-fiction literature but I have no hesitation of grouping this lesser known book along with the giants. Schaeffer is very logical in his presentation of what he calls the "substantial" ramifications of the gospel of Jesus Christ on our lives here and now. I'm not sure I ever saw the real implications of my faith on my relationships with God, others and my very own self until I read this book, and I quite honestly haven't seen them articulated as well for my liking anywhere else.

2. CS Lewis: Mere Christianity

I tend to read books with a pencil in hand and if I own them and like them I underline like crazy. But I quickly realized that with this book if I did that I would pretty soon end up underlining the whole book. I'd save a lot of time just underlining the parts that didn't profoundly stick out at me. I've since gone back to the book with a bit more of a level head, but when I first finished Mere Christianity I told my family that it really ought to be the 67th book of the Bible. Realizing of course that the Bible is a "closed canon" I now only suggest Lewis' masterpiece as an epilogue or an appendix. Truly I'm not sure if you can find such a straight-forward and compelling assessment of the theology of Christianity as you'll find in these pages. I keep coming back to it again and again.

1. GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy

This is actually really an autobiographical account of Chesterton's coming to faith, but since he has an autobiography as well, and since this transcends mere memoir I have to include it here. I have connected with the person of Gilbert Keith Chesterton so deeply through his writings that this his finest work can have no other place than top of my list. The humility and humour that GKC brings to the reasonable defense of the orthodox Christian faith is to me the embodiment of speaking the truth in love. The content of the book is refreshing and true ot life, and I wish the man behind it were alive today because he would do a lot to wake up the Church. Crusty Christians would lighten up and weak-minded would be strengthened. And those outside of the Christian faith who wish to stay that way, like CS Lewis himself said, "cannot be too careful of their reading."

Honourable mentions:

Donald Miller: Blue Like Jazz
Philip Yancey: Rumours of Another World
GK Chesterton: The Everlasting Man
Philip Yancey: The Jesus I Never Knew
Philip Yancey: The Bible Jesus Read
William Craig: Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics
Rob Bell: Velvit Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
DA Carson: Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church
Stephen Evans: Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God
John Ortberg: Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them

Friday, March 24, 2006

Books Well Worth Reading

In the next while I plan to post top-ten lists of my favourite books in three different categories: non-fiction, fiction, and auto-biographical (which may include biographical works as well). You'll find the first installment of this "series" in the next posting below.

Lists like this come perilously close to a veiled form of intellectual bragging, but they can be fun, and for those who like books, they can also be quite a telling sort of abbreviated life story. To me, the greatest books are those that are enjoyable to read and also make a life-impact. I am very thankful for each of the books that I will name, and I'll try to explain why.

Heaven knows it was word of mouth that made me read many of these, so I figure perhaps by talking them up I can pass on the favour. I recognize that lists such as these are utterly subjective -- but I don't think that renders them meaningless, and I hope they spark your curiosity. (If you feel like making comments on my rankings or leaving suggestions for related books, please do!)

Now, having introduced these lists with appropriate humility, let me tell you quite frankly: These are the greatest books I think you could ever read. No kidding. I dare you to try one.