Saturday, December 11, 2010

John's December Reading

Currently Reading:

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

I expected this to be a cheap imitation of The Dumas Club, but in fact it is wonderfully original. It is a fictional portrayal of historical characters - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. - who are at work translating Dante, and then come across a series of horrible murders inspired by scenes from the Inferno.

Best Friends by George and Karen Grant

This is the fifth book I've read of a brilliant series that combines stories and quotes in a wonderful way. This volume looks at some interesting friendships throughout history, like that of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin.

Interestingly, George Grant's blog was the first one that I read. He started blogging in March 2003, about five months before I did.

Poincaré's Prize by George Szpiro

This is a popularisation of the story of a difficult mathematical problem and how it was solved. The mathematics is getting beyond me (I'm much better at typology than topology) but I love the stories - every mathematician along the way gets a mini-biography.

The Church and the Older Person by Robert M. Gray and David O. Moberg

This book is an interesting sociological study that is the product of a host of interviews with older people about church. Two things strike me in reading through them. In the first place, the vast majority of the respondents speak of the church as "they" rather than "we". Whether "church" means the pastors or elders, and whether the church is viewed positively or negatively ("they are really nice' vs. "they are really mean") even the church-goers interviewed seem to distance themselves from the church.

Secondly, there is a heart-breaking lack of understanding of the gospel among the church-goers interviewed. "I know my soul will go to heaven if I don't do anything wrong between now and then," "my conception of God is that he would never condemn us," "I have faith that I will [live forever] because I have lived a good Christian life and have been a good lady," etc. At least the authors note that "theological beliefs often fall short of the ideal held by the church for them."

Finished Recently:

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

I've read a few books on evangelism, and this is probably the best. The basic premise of the book is that it is far more effective and biblical to ask questions in evangelism rather than just tell people stuff. This is, of course, the way Jesus operated, though Newman doesn't go into that all that much. Instead, he spends most of the book looking at the questions non-Christians are asking, and how we can help them come to understand the truth by asking questions in response.
Non-Christian: You see, different religions are just like all of those blind men. None of them has the whole truth.
Christian: How do you know that?
Non-Christian: Huh?
Christian: How do you know that none of the blind men has the whole truth?
Non-Christian: Well, it's just a story.
Christian: I know. And it's not a bad one - except I still wonder how the person who first told it could say with such certainty that none of the blind men got it right...
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

I don't know why I'd never read this before, but it is one of the great American short stories, and a precursor to the horror genre. I recently read an issue of an obscure little magazine called Semper Reformanda: A Covenanter Review in which Caleb Stegall suggested that Ichabod Crane was the "most celebrated Covenanter in all of literature."

Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell

No, I haven't received a call from another congregation! But I figure that the time to think through what to do in that situation is before it happens. Another worthwhile volume from a helpful series.

The Doomsday Prophecy by Scott Mariani

Another religious thriller for people (like me) who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code. This one is not anti-Christian, however, though it is anti-wacky fundamentalist. It features a character who is purportedly evangelical and yet claimed that the Apostle John had appeared to him to tell him that the events of the Book of Revelation were going to happen very soon. Not only does this betray a non-evangelical view of revelation (the concept not the book - it goes against what Packer calls the "evangelical equation": the Bible = the Word of God), but it also suggests a very Roman Catholic view of saints. And yet, it sounds awfully plausible given the current American evangelical scene.

1 comment:

Kara said...

No overlap in our reading... unusual! But did you know that Natalie Merchant put together a great cd of songs ("meditations on childhood"), using classic children's poems for the lyrics, one of which is the blind men and the elephant. One of my favorites of that collection.

Please forgive my unforgivable grammar.

Have a lovely Christmas, John.