Category Archives: books

My 15 Most Influential Authors

I love reading.  I’m a book fan.  For some reason God has wired me to thoroughly enjoy lots of different kinds of writing, and though I don’t get the time to read nearly as much as I’d like, it is one of my favorite things to do.  Therefore, as a tribute to my favorite authors, here is my list of my 15 most influential authors in the way I think, express myself, write, and shape my understanding of the writing craft.  The first six are secular, the last nine are Christian.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, and I would definitely encourage you to take a look at what they’ve written if you are unfamiliar with their work.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens)

I adore Mark Twain’s quick wit, incisive satire, immensely dry humor, vivid descriptions, and down-to-earth view of the world.  He has written much, but his short stories are top-notch in my opinion.  My favorites of his are: “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” “The Frog Jumping Contest of Calaveras County,” and the classics “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

Bill Peet

Without question, my favorite children’s book writer was Bill Peet.  His imagination, creativity, illustrations, and uncanny ability to bring fiction to life before his readers’ eyes make him an absolute joy to read.  A great overview of his material can be found in his “Autobiography,” but I would also commend to you “Cappyboppy,” (about a pet capybara) “The Wingdingdilly,” (about fantastic multi-animal wild creature) “Big Bad Bruce,” (about a bully bear who is shrunk to the size of a pebble) and just about anything else that you can find.  They are great reads, and thoroughly entertaining.

Louis L’Amour

Another author I’ve recently re-delved into is Louis L’Amour.  He wrote mostly western short stories and radio dramas.  L’Amour’s skill with plot development, his economic use of adjectives to provide full but descriptions in just a few words, and his ability to lead the reader to anticipate the plot are excellent, in my opinion.  His plot turns are interesting and leave the reader wanting to turn the page, but follow a set course that is sensible and grounded in historical fact.  He is an historian-turned-author, and he is truly excellent with the western genre of literature.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of any story that has Chick Bowdrie in it (his quintessential leading character – also a Texas Ranger), or pick up his dramatized audiobooks.  They got me through the vast majority of my childhood in the back of my family’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

Robert Frost

This great American poet is well-know by many, and well-loved by me.  Poetry is fairly difficult for me to analyze and dig into, but the exception to that rule is Robert Frost.  I love him for his poetry construction, creativity, imagery, and symbolism.  His melancholic but hopeful tone in much of his writing speaks deeply to me, and I am awestruck with his use of words and weaving of concepts.  He is an excellent poet, and I find myself thumbing through his collected works (which I received as a gift from a dear friend) from time to time.  I would commend to you “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” but there are many more that are well worth your time.

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is, in my opinion, the master of puns and a genius in humor, poetry, rhetoric, plot construction, and almost every other literary category that one could be awesome in.  Though I didn’t like the way I had to dissect his art into meaningless pieces when I was in school, I dearly love and am very much entertained by his work.  My favorites of his are: “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Merchant of Venice,” (probably my favorite) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  I plan on reading “Twelfth Night,” and “As You Like It” sometime soon.

Charles Dickens

If Shakespeare is the master of puns, in my opinion Charles Dickens is a master of all the literary devices (foreshadowing, foils, etc.).  His descriptions are vivid, and his plot construction – though complex – is excellent.  Without question my favorite book of his is “A Tale of Two Cities.”  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.  You might want some coffee, though… he can be a bit dry and wordy.  But I like him.

The Apostle Paul

I don’t believe any other human has influenced me as much as Paul.  God used him to write the majority of the New Testament, and his writings are among the richest and most influential in the entire Bible.  I love the way Paul writes – he typically sets up a line of theological reasoning and then moves to application after setting the stage.  He has also informed my own personal letter writing, and brought much clarity to the gospel in a myriad of contexts.  My favorites in Paul’s corpus are Romans and Philippians – both for their theology, their honesty, their accessibility, and their clarity.  I dearly love Paul and look forward to meeting him someday.  If you haven’t read much Paul, you should read your Bible.  It’s pretty good.

C.S. Lewis

One man that I deeply respect, resonate with, and cherish is C.S. Lewis.  He is immensely creative and practical in his approach to theology, and even dabbles in apologetics.  His letters to friends and acquaintances are exemplary, and I hope to someday have a body of letters that rivals his for their application of the gospel, their accessibility, and their respectful honesty.  For my money, I suggest “Mere Christianity,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Efficacy of Prayer,” (from ‘The World’s Last Night and other essays’) and “The Weight of glory.”  The Chronicles of Narnia is excellent as well – I loved those books when I was much younger and plan on reading them to my children someday, Lord willing.  As a side note, I got to visit his favorite pub called ‘The Eagle and Child’ when I was studying abroad in Oxford one summer.  I sat in the very booth that he and the other ‘inklings’ occupied when they stopped in for a brew and conversation.

John Piper

I am deeply indebted to Dr John Piper for drawing a very crucial conclusion for me: that is, that God’s glory and my joy need not be divested from each other – in fact, they are one in the same!  Piper brings to the table a great deal of gospel clarity, and more than any other author I know shows his delight in living with joy in Christ.  He is also one of the more thorough writers I’ve come across.  He will usually examine and exhaust a topic before moving on – which can be both a blessing and a headache.  I have read much of Dr. Piper’s work, but I would definitely commend to you his most widely known contribution “Desiring God.”  It is his thesis and serves a foundation for the vast majority of his other writings.  God has used Dr. Piper in my life in many ways, and for him I am immensely grateful.

Mark Driscoll

If John Piper is bold and Charles Dickens is wordy, Mark Driscoll is bold and abrupt.  He is an astoundingly intense man, and his Christ-driven boldness and missional thinking for the sake of the Kingdom of God is a huge blessing.  In his boldness and passion for Christ, I have been able to see in his letter writing a beautiful contextualized gospel clarity and pastoral tone.  Though all his books and sermons have been very formative for my life and walk with Christ, I must say that my favorite is his collection of letters called “Death by Love.”  It is heart-wrenching, honest, gritty, and beautiful.  Though we live in very different places and have very different backgrounds, I’ve found that God has used Driscoll in many ways to shape my thinking, leadership, and writing.

D.A Carson

I must say that my current favorite author overall is Dr. Don Carson.  He is arguably one of the smartest men I’ve ever gotten to read, and his understanding of the Scriptures are come of the most clearly articulated applied wisdom I’ve ever seen.  He is an academic man, but his writing carries a tone of accessibility as well – incredible depth paired with personal insight.  He is becoming more of a household name, but as of right now is fairly unknown in the broader spectrum of Christian writing.  Rest assured, he is one of the best writers I’ve come across.  I commend to you just about anything he has written, including his commentaries, and especially what is currently on my bedside table: “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” (a discussion of prayer that stems from Paul’s prayers in Scripture).  My seminary Greek and New Testament professor, Dr. Paul Hoskins, also studied under Dr. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago for quite some time.  He’s smart too.

R.C. Sproul

A great example of an old-school pastor who has spent many years in ministry, but who has decided to become conversant with the recent generations so that he can share the wisdom God has given him is R.C. Sproul.  He possesses great pastoral wisdom and theological depth, and carries the tone of a very highly educated and very friendly grandpa.  Though there are a couple of places that I differ with him theologically, I love his writing and would commend to you “The Soul’s Quest for God.”  It is excellent, and it will be a catalyst in your walk with Christ, I assure you.

Jonathan Edwards

The Puritans were an interesting sect of Christianity back in the day, and the Puritan of Puritans was Jonathan Edwards.  I love his writing because it depicts a depth and emotion in writing that is rarely duplicated – especially this day in age.  John Piper is basically a reincarnated Jonathan Edwards in his theology, but Edwards stands alone in his writing and preaching.  As the most influential American theologian (in my opinion), he is brilliant, insightful, and preaches the glories of Christ in ways that I aspire to someday.  I would encourage you to read “Religious Affections,” or any of his sermons – I’ve not read a bad one yet.

Charles Spurgeon

If there is one man in history that I feel I identify with more than others, it is likely Charles Spurgeon.  I love his writing because of his pastoral wisdom, the beautiful vivid imagery that he brings to life in his sermons, and his sheer rhetorical ability.  I have read a fair amount of Spurgeon, but I would say that any of his sermons are worth a read (I have read some of his early stuff that isn’t very good), and definitely pick up “Lectures to my Students” if you’re involved in ministry at all, or thinking about doing so.

John Owen

Finally, the most heart-wrenching author I’ve ever read in terms of his depth, blunt force, and articulation of sin and battling it is John Owen.  He says in just a few pages what many men take volumes to convey.  I’ve never come across anything of his that didn’t make me weep for my offense to God, and I am grateful to God for this man’s writings.  In my opinion, God has given the modern church an immense gift in the writings of John Owen, and I would recommend anything he has written. Some of his writing is very thick and hard to understand, but it should be no problem if you get an updated version of his works.  If you’re a Christian and you sin at all, you need to read “The Mortification of Sin” and make sure you have some serious time set aside to do so.  It is not long, but it will rip your soul and speak hard gospel-centered truths to you about how to lay your sin in its grave.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got – you now have my most influential authors… do with them what you will.  If you have any suggestions, I’d be more than happy to entertain them.  Otherwise, enjoy, read, and thank God for the men and women he’s allowed to speak the gospel into our lives.

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Book Review: “What He Must Be…”

“What He Must Be… if he wants to marry my daughter”
by Voddie Baucham

Rating: 4.5/5

The Short Review:
This is an excellent book that I highly recommend; pretty much everyone should read it.  Seriously.

The Long Review:
As a single guy (an introverted one at that), I do a lot of thinking – especially about marriage, family, and dating.  I’ve read quite a few books about dating and courtship, but none have challenged me as consistently, as thoroughly, or as deeply as “What He Must Be.” Dr. Baucham takes a gospel-centered view on preparing for marriage from a father’s perspective, and he does so in an engaging, widely applicable way.

Dr. Baucham’s primary audience is both young single men and fathers of daughters, but his understanding of what the Scriptures lay out for marriage is one of value for single ladies (especially those without a spiritually strong father), for couples without children (for laying a blueprint for intergenerational legacy), and pretty much anyone else who cares to delve into the countercultural biblical view of marriage.

The first chapter lays out an incredible vision for building and planning for multigenerational legacies in families, which stands in stark contrast to our culture’s ‘microwave mentality’ and lust for instant gratification at all costs.  In chapter two, Baucham goes on to present a gospel-centered view of the ministry of marriage – that men have an obligation to be the spiritual leader in the home, which involves being a Christ-like husband and father.  The third chapter goes more in-depth with the role of a father in his daughter’s life as her spiritual protector, provider, and primary male influence.  The next five chapters deal with non-negotiable qualifications for men who are of marriage-quality.  Baucham asserts that an aspiring husband must be: a Christ-follower; prepared to lead (and do so in a Christ-like way); committed to fathering children; and must be a protector, provider, and spiritual leader for his home.  The last two chapters challenge fathers to step up and protect their daughters in very concrete, practical ways, and to do their part to ensure a spiritual legacy by discipling and sharpening their future sons-in-law for the sake of their grandchildren.

What He Must Be has left a deep imprint on me and has emboldened me to step up as an aspiring husband and father.  Dr. Baucham’s understanding of the Scriptures as they address men in relation to marriage has challenged me, driven me to Scripture and prayer, and I pray has made me a better man.  Though the effects are largely untested as of yet, I hope that time will tell that God has used What He Must Be to shape me into a man of multi-generational vision and excellent character who pastors his home well, honors his wife, and protects his daughters’ hearts – just the way God intended for daddies of little girls to be.

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Fight Clubs – Gospel Centered Discipleship

One of the things we strive for at CityView Church (where I am currently the Pastor for Spiritual Formation) is to live authentic Christ-focused lives that emanate the gospel in every way possible.  One way that we’ve decided to equip our people with is through implementing Fight Clubs – a type of gospel-centered accountability and discipleship group that we borrowed from some guys down at Austin City Life in Austin.  Take the time to check out www.gospelcentereddiscipleship.com for more details and to stay up to speed on what these guys are doing.  It’s a tremendous ministry and it’s been huge for me personally.
 

What are Fight Clubs?
The basic idea of a Fight Club is that you have a group of two or three same-gender Christians who are committed to growing in Christ in accordance with Scripture. These folks will meet regularly (at least once ever couple of weeks) and study the Bible with a direct focus on sharpening each other and living out God’s Word.

There are three rules for Fight Clubs:
– Know your sin (Where are you inclined to sin, what form does that sin take, and what is ultimately the source of that sin?)
– Fight your sin (How do you go about living in obedience/victory/redemption rather than just treating the symptoms of your sin?)
– Trust your Savior (What does the Bible say about you, your sin, and Jesus?)

The format for a Fight Club is “Text-Theology-Life” – in other words, studying God’s word in such a way as to put it directly into our lives. To begin the meeting time there is a focused Bible study (I recommend about a chapter’s worth of reading or less with a few discussion questions) and from that content the group deduces some theological concepts about God, Jesus, and themselves. The group then discusses actionable items to put into their lives before the next meeting or for a longer-term set of goals. From then on, they keep each other accountable to those items and pray for each other throughout the week. The next meeting is another section of Scripture and the same process of gleaning theological understanding that the group can put into their lives.

Where Do I Start?
The best thing you can do to get oriented to the topic of accountability/discipleship groups is to pick up a copy of Jonathan Dodson’s book “Fight Clubs.” You can only find it here for $8.50 plus shipping. If that doesn’t work for you or if you’re not in the mood to read 60 pages, download a copy of this “Fight Clubs Overview” document.

The next thing you should do is take a look at this document “Fight Clubs Orientation” that consists of bullet-point take-aways from the book, my heart for this ministry, some practical how-to tips for making sure Fight Clubs are done well, and finally some potential road blocks and benefits of doing Fight Clubs.

What’s Next?
Now that you’ve gotten a (hopefully) decent understanding of what we’re after, it’s time for you to get into your own Fight Club if you’re up for it. Talk with people that are in your life group or other close friends at CityView about starting up a Fight Club and contact us if you have any questions. If you don’t have anyone in particular that you’d like to start a Fight Club with, let us know and we’ll do our best to introduce you to other people who are in the market for a Fight Club.

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Clearly Ambiguous

This made me laugh out loud because it characterizes so much of what academic writing entails (and I used to be a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan)… And I confess, I have definitely done this from time to time in my seminary career. (Side Note: I have also written several book reports on books I haven’t read… but that’s another blog post altogether.)

Why is academic writing so boring and inaccessible?

It seems to me that the smartest people don’t write up in the clouds so that you need a dictionary alongside their book or article to understand what they’re trying to communicate. Instead, the most brilliant writers know their readers well and write in a way that is challenging, yet easy to digest and interact with.

What are your thoughts – have you ever encountered this scenario?

What authors are easy to read? Whose books require wikipedia and dictionary.com?

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My Battle Axe and Weapons of War

I’m so very thankful for the wisdom of men and women who have gone before me into ministry and have felt the need to offer advice and direction to those following similar paths.  Charles Spurgeon is one such man who has impacted countless souls for the sake of Christ both before and after his death.  “Lectures to my Students” is a collection of manuscripted lectures given by Spurgeon to the young men in training at his seminary, and it has proven to be one of the most helpful, challenging, and encouraging books that I’ve read to date.  I would encourage any who have felt the call to ministry or seminary to read it and take his advice to heart.  What follows is a reaction to one of my favorite quotes from “Lectures” which rests in a wooden frame on my desk.

“It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war.”
– Charles Spurgeon (from ‘Lectures to my Students’)

It seems to me that all too many seminarians fall into the trap of writing papers, reading books, and being concerned with climbing the ministerial ladder… and seminary does train you to do those things.  But let us not forget our calling – to minister to people, and to administer the Word of God correctly, by the power of the Spirit, under the authority of Christ, to the glory of God.   While ‘stocking the library’ can bring new ideas to light, share experiences, and sharpen the mind, it can become a pursuit that allows the excuse for avoiding ministry and inflating the ego.   And while ‘organizing societies’ (conversations over coffee and/or lunch, etc.) is the medium of a precious sort of ministry, it can take precedence over those times that fill our tanks so that we can be sharp during such conversations and offer that bit of wisdom, that spiritual insight, or that word of encouragement that makes such meetings worthwhile.   Finally, as a strategist I am no stranger to spending countless hours ‘projecting schemes’ and getting ministry-oriented things organized in my head.  However, if this energy is divested of both the foundation and the end goal of such plotting – that is, the glory and renown of Christ – then it is less than in vain.  Obsessive planning and ‘strategery’, when pursued without having been anchored in a solid consistent walk with Christ, become filled with prideful sin (self-importance and self-reliance) and will rarely be honored by the Lord.

And let us not forget that all of the theological training, exegetical papers, and seminary professor recommendations on our resumes will be completely useless if we neglect the culture of ourselves and fall into egregious sin that disqualifies us from serving as shepherds.
[As a quick aside, if you find yourself struggling with sin while serving in ministry, please, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, do not let yourself become a wicked pastor.  Get help; pursue repentance-oriented counseling, resign from your position, or begin by confessing your sin to another pastor before it finds you out and you must deal with it publicly.  Enough men have walked down that path – we do not need any more.]

Getting back to my original train of thought, it is not as though stocking libraries, organizing societies, and projecting schemes is bad; rather, they are all secondary and we should treat them as such.  Do them in as much as they further your sanctification and help you develop your spiritual faculties.

God has called us to the ministry – not our books, not our social schedules, and not our church planting proposals.  He has called us to steward our minds, our bodies, our hearts, and ultimately our walks with Him in such a way as to serve him faithfully and glorify him with our successes and our failures.  So do spend the appropriate time relating to God and anchoring your soul in Him first and foremost every day.  Read the Bible regularly and conform your life to its mandates rather than conforming the Word to your life and in so doing justifying sin.  Get to know yourself, find out where and when you are most vulnerable to sin and build up your defenses so as to not fall into Satan’s numerous traps.  Honestly examine your soul and let the Holy Spirit show you where the rough and unpolished areas of your life are.  Find true biblical accountability and have the hard conversations that will lead to solid growth – do not allow yourself to get by with the auspices of battling sin, all the while allowing sin to fester and rot the foundation of your ministry.  Pray fervently for the Gospel to continue transforming you and your flock, for without it we are adrift and most of all to be pitied.

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