While on holiday I read The Shack by William Paul Young. I had heard various things about this book, both positive and negative. Personally, I found it to be a thoroughly good read and an excellent work of fiction.
As with any good novel it deals with what it means to be human in a thought-provoking way. Being unable to put the book down, I ploughed through it in two evenings. While it would be very unwise to look to a work of fiction for your theology, it does call attention to some important aspects of how we relate to God, such as coming to God in relationship with Him rather than trying to fulfil rule-based expectations.
I am also glad for the reminder that fulfilling our human potential lies in being and loving, not in doing and achieving. This message has come at me from several sources in the past year so is probably something for me to be considering more deeply and working on.
Overall, I think the strength of The Shack is in it’s perceptive look at the human condition, such things as how we justify telling a lie to ‘protect’ another person from hurt when in fact we are actually protecting ourself from emotional upheaval (see pp 189-190). This in not telling us anything much about God, rather it illustrates common human experiences.
From a Biblical and theological point of view The Shack has some significant weaknesses. It emphasizes the Trinity but in a fairly loose manner. There is also a major lack of consideration of what the cross of Christ means and an implication that there could be many roads to Christ, which I strongly disagree with. I have no problem with The Shack as a work of fiction, just be sure to read the Bible for your theology!
I am currently 42. Based on Psalm 90:10 there is some justification to think I could live another 28 years. On average I can manage to read a book a month (not including my reading of the Bible, which never ends). So, 28 x 12 = 336; a reasonable estimate of how many books I could read before I go home.
That is actually not a lot when you consider all the books out there that might be worth reading (and there a plenty that are not!), so it would be sensible to choose wisely what to invest time into reading. Therefore I am creating this list to help me target my reading.
In choosing books to read, I am trying to aim for literature that will enrich my soul – quality rather than quantity.
This list is likely to change and morph as I reassess whether certain books are ones I really want to read or not. (The numbers do not indicate priority, they’re just to keep track of how many items are on the list).
I want to thank God for an amazing little book I am currently reading. The book is Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disablity and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas, about insights gained as he raised a severely disabled son by the grace of God. It is very well written, humorous and heart-rending.
A commonly used phrase within Christian circles is ‘in the trenches’, meant to refer to people who are serving God in the midst of tough circumstances of daily life. Greg and Kim Lucas have certainly been doing that and what has been distilled from their years of difficulty and love into this 100-page book is like gold. True wisdom that is never easily gained.
I have spent days meditating on the depth of humility displayed in the chapter ‘Opposition|Humility’, and the excerpt below is from the very first chapter, challenging my perception of how big a load God could place upon me:
I hear religious-minded people say all the time with good intentions, “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. (p14)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
Thank you Lord that You still write wisdom in books by Your servants (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
549) Firewood delivered and stacked before the latest storm.
550) God kept the snow away so I could preach my sermon.
551) Kids enjoying collecting pine cones on a freezing cold afternoon.
552) Two-year-old son thinks my pathetic drawing of a tractor is wonderful.
553) The faith and perseverance of others lifting me up.
555) Cooking dinner for a change, letting my wife rest.
556) Politicians I didn’t vote for.
557) A friend searching for ways to help.
558) Getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
559) Being pursued to deal with my weaknesses.
560) Those who love me making sure I am helped.
I love reading. I particularly love reading books. Blogs and websites and short documents are fine, but they cannot compare to the pleasure of reading a good book.
Aside from a general preference for books, there are many reasons why I read. Why I am reading not only influences what I choose to read but also how I read it. Some books are read slowly from cover to cover, others are skimmed, some are dipped into as the mood takes me, and then there are the reference tomes that are only read in small bits as required.
Here are some of the reasons I read:
To be reminded: some stuff is just too valuable to leave shut up on the shelf.
To escape into a good story for a while.
Learning: some books are a challenge for me to read but I know they are good for me.
To be jarred and jolted into a deeper view of of being human.
Out of curiosity: sometimes a book just makes me want to know what it is about.
Someone else recommends the book: I have to admit that this is not always a good reason for me – I’ve slogged through a lot of books that came well recommended but just weren’t of much interest to me.
I like the author’s other books: not always reliable, but certainly more useful to me than recommendations from others.
I’m sure there are good reasons I’ve left out, maybe I will add to this list over time. Or you can add your own reasons why you read in the comments for this post.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)
To read In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson is like reading an exceptionally well written blog. Each chapter is discrete and self-contained, while all holding to the theme of living in Christ. This is not a narrative or treatise on Christ but rather, as the author describes in his preface, a tapestry in which descriptions and insights from life and Scripture reveal the person of Christ through lives lived in Him. Coming from many different angles, the articles build up an image of the life lived in biblical faith in Jesus Christ.
There is a progression in the book from the incarnation of Jesus, on to our apprehension of Him by faith, the work and person of the Holy Spirit, our transformation wrought by the Spirit of Christ, through to persevering in faith in Christ. However, it would be a mistake to read more than one chapter in a sitting, not because it wouldn’t fit together, but because the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to read a chapter is far too short to digest the meal it is for our souls. This is a book to pick up frequently for a short read before giving yourself time to ponder what you have learned, or been reminded of.
The humanity of Sinclair Ferguson is refreshingly revealed in this collection of articles, but as he writes himself, “Yes, our understanding is creaturely and limited; yet, even finite knowledge of the true God is still true knowledge.” What we get from In Christ Alone is a handrail to guide us in our creaturely and limited steps into the knowledge of Christ.
I thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians. I also recommend reading it several times, and slowly.
Reading some authors makes me feel like Hartley & Reilly panning for gold in the Clutha river – it’s just sitting there waiting to be picked up! I have a little book by John Bunyan by the simple title of Prayer, on the first page of the body of the book he writes:
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.
That one sentence is so bulging with depth and significance that I haven’t gotten to the next page yet!
In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan says he is writing for those who would rather die before their convictions do (p21), a sentiment that greatly appeals to me – reminding me of Philippians 1:21. Chan challenges Christians to move beyond a lukewarm faith and start giving our best to God rather than offering the leftovers of our lives to our creator.
I read another book over Christmas, about a teenager with deep devotion to God. The book is Night by Elie Wiesel, who was 15 when he arrived at Auschwitz. He writes:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Reading ‘Night’ has rocked my perception of the world and causes me to have grave concerns about the nature of my faith – what would suffering truly do to my faith?
Reading ‘Crazy Love’ deepened my concerns – is my faith real? If it is real, why is there so little fruit?