Last weekend, I lectured on Philippians, taught Sunday School (on the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6), and preached twice (Psalms 6 and 7) at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The lectures, given for the Bucer Institute, should soon be online here or here. I had a great time in Louisiana. My last visit was six years ago, and I hope my next visit isn’t that far in the future.
In the Portland airport, on my way back home, I read a new book on eschatology by Auburn Avenue’s associate pastor, Duane Garner. Here are a few paragraphs to whet your appetite. In the context, Garner has been talking about Hal Lindsey’s recommendation that Christians retreat from society because things are going to get worse and worse until Jesus returns:
What is most disturbing about Lindsey’s writing here is that he talks about retreating from a culture that he helped create. When he wrote his first book, the abortion issue had not yet gone to the Supreme Court, homosexuality was still taboo, drugs and pornography were nowhere near as prevalent or as accessible as they are today, marriage was still viewed as a sacred union, and outside of a few areas of this country, it was still expected that nearly everyone worshipped in a Christian church on the Lord’s Day. Then Lindsey came onto the scene proclaiming that we are living on what will soon be the late great planet Earth. Christians accepted the hype and retreated into their homes and their splintered churches while the world went to hell.
After thirty years of this end-times hysteria, the church has fallen from her former influential position in society. Without any plan for the future, and hardly a plan for the present, the church has lost every single significant cultural battle that has faced our generation. The church keeps thinking that if she can just hold out a little longer, Jesus will come back and everything will be all better. After all, any effort to make this a better world will only delay the second coming.
What they miss in the midst of all this madness is that Jesus placed his church in a position to succeed at her mission. He fully expected her to complete her work and we should not expect him to return until she is finished. The failure of dispensationalists to see that the world is already under the Kingship of Jesus Christ has led them to accept defeat at the hands of a powerless enemy. Like the Israelite spies who viewed the land of Canaan and shook in fear at the giants they saw there, dispensationalists do not believe their God is mightier than the giants and they do not believe him when he promises to crush the head of the serpent through the means of his triumphant church. — Duane Garner, Why The End Is Not Near: A Refutation of End-Times Hysteria (Monroe: Athanasius Press, 2008), pp. 37-38.
Sad news: Fabchannel, which for nine years has been presenting some great concerts, is coming to an end. Too many music labels don’t want them broadcasting concerts of their artists. They’ll have the concerts up for one more week, till March 13, and then … they’re gone. What a pity.
Here are some of the concerts I’ve especially enjoyed:
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/joe_henry_concert/2008-02-12″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/joe_henry_concert/2008-02-12″>Live Concert Video – Joe Henry</a>
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/maria_mckee_concert/2005-06-15″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/maria_mckee_concert/2005-06-15″>Live Concert Video – Maria Mckee</a>
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/james_hunter_concert/2008-10-13″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/james_hunter_concert/2008-10-13″>Live Concert Video – James Hunter</a>
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/andrew_bird_2007_concert/2005-05-01″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/andrew_bird_2007_concert/2005-05-01″>Live Concert Video – Andrew Bird</a>
Andrew Bird (again)
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/andrew_bird_2007_concert/2007-05-24″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/andrew_bird_2007_concert/2007-05-24″>Live Concert Video – Andrew Bird</a>
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/lizz_wright_concert/2008-10-29″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/lizz_wright_concert/2008-10-29″>Live Concert Video – Lizz Wright</a>
<a href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/bettye_lavette_concert/2008-04-09″ mce_href=”http://www.fabchannel.com/bettye_lavette_concert/2008-04-09″>Live Concert Video – Bettye LaVette</a>
There are many more concerts up, including Iron & Wine, The Arcade Fire, Ron Sexsmith, Simple Minds, Shawn Colvin, Luka Bloom, and Solomon Burke. Enjoy them while you can.
For several years now, usually in January, I have posted a list of the books I enjoyed most during the previous year. This year, it got delayed. But here, at long last, are the books I enjoyed most in 2008, listed in alphabetical order:
* Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. This is the first of Aiken’s alternate-England series and the only one I’ve read. I read it aloud with Moriah in the January and February nights leading up to the birth of our son, and we both enjoyed it a lot.
* Andi Ashworth, Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring. Superb. This book reshaped the way I viewed a lot of my caring work as a pastor. See all the quotations from this book elsewhere on this blog.
* Edward Ardizzone, Tim to the Rescue and Tim and Lucy Go to Sea. I mentioned Ardizzone’s Tim series last year and these two volumes are on the list for this year. Wonderful art and good adventures. I see that last year, when I listed Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, I didn’t mention one of my favorite scenes: Tim sitting on the edge of his chair in the old sea captain’s home, with a big jar of tobacco on the mantle of the fireplace and a bottle of grog by the captain’s side. The text says something about the captain telling Tim sea stories and sometimes allowing him to have a little sip of grog, “which made Tim want to go to sea even more.” Do you ever find that sort of thing in today’s children’s stories? I should also mention that Ardizzone did the illustrations for an edition of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales which I read repeatedly and enjoyed greatly this Christmas season.
* Doris Betts, Souls Raised from the Dead. Some parts of this story didn’t work for me, and it dragged a bit in the middle. Nor am I sure what exactly to make of the ending. Still, in places it was very moving. Okay, that’s not a rave review and my memory of the book is now fuzzy enough that I can’t recall why I rated it as highly as I did when I first read it. But there you are. I must have liked it for some reason.
* Wendell Berry, A Place on Earth. A beautiful and powerful work. Few authors present the beauty of ordinary life and the beauty of hard work as well as Berry does. How can you spot a good guy in a Wendell Berry novel? One clue is that his workspace is organized, all his tools are put away or his fences are mended or he has mastered the skills of his work.
Two passage stand out in my mind, both involving the character Old Jack, who lives in a boarding house. In one, he goes to see his old farm and notices how well the man who is leasing it is farming the land. In another, he gets fed up with sitting around and waiting to die and goes out to cultivate the entire back yard. Both are remarkably moving considering that farming is not one of the topics most people find gripping, I suspect. At the same time, though I’ve heard that Berry is a Christian, it seems to me that there’s something almost Stoic going on here. Not Stoic in the sense that a true Stoic is emotionless, but Stoic in the sense of “there’s nothing else you can do except bear the pain and keep going.” Surely the gospel offers something more than that, and so there seems to me to be a deep emptiness in this novel.
* John Buchan, The Path of the King. This is a collection of stories all based on the idea that “blood will out.” The first story presents a boy who is the son of Norse king, and so “royal blood” runs in the veins of all his descendants, whether they are rich or poor, good or evil, and so forth. Each story shows you another descendant, and you can trace the line all the way down to … Abraham Lincoln, the “last of the kings.”
The whole “blood will out” thing strikes me as silly, though I imagine a lot of people have bought into it over the years. So just ignore it and enjoy the stories. Some of them are better than others, but many of them are particularly good.
* James P. Blaylock, Land of Dreams. The blurb on the front cover of the edition I own compares the book to Ray Bradbury, likely with his Something Wicked This Way Comes in mind. That’s because this book, too, involves kids and a carnival. But it’s really nothing like Bradbury. Bradbury’s book is great, but this isn’t an imitation of it. This is vintage Blaylock, complete with weird twists, lots of humor, and a rambling plot involving food. A lot of fun.
Speaking of fun, here’s the epigram at the beginning of the book:
Saint-Beuve, as he grew older, came to regard all experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few years ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether you should read in Chapter XX, which is the differential calculus, or in Chapter XXXIX, which is hearing the band play in the gardens. — Robert Louis Stevenson, “An Apology for Idlers.”
* Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One: From Adam to Noah, Genesis I to VI 8. Cassuto is a very careful commentator and, even though he’s sometimes wrong, always worth reading because he discusses and notices things others often ignore.
* Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out. I read this book for the second time last year. There are some areas where I disagree with Driscoll, but there is still so much helpful stuff here that I’ve included it on this list.
* David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith. See my blog entry for an appreciative review of this book.
* Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology. I argued with this book at least as much as I agreed with it. You can find some interaction with Gage elsewhere on this blog. Sometime, I may post my lengthy list of disagreements. At the same time, there was enough good stuff, and (what is sometimes equally important) enough thought-provoking stuff, that I included on this list.
* David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring: Ministry without All the Answers. An excellent book on pastoring. Early in the book, Hansen talks about his predecessor, whose ministry seemed to be fad-driven. Hansen himself says that early in his ministry he fell into task-driven ministry, checking off items on his To Do list. Now, however, he says that he really doesn’t work. What’s the essence of his day as a pastor? “I read the Bible, pray, and visit with friends.”
Of course, that entails a lot of other stuff, but that really is the heart of the pastor’s work. In fact, after reading this book, I’ve sometimes said that it seems as if the pastor ought to be the guy who has leisure and free time so that he can spend his time with you. So much of my pastoral work in the community happens when I’m sitting in coffeeshops reading, and so much more of it happens when I’m visiting with friends.
This book caused me to reevaluate a lot of what I have been doing in ministry, and I’m still reevaluating and changing as a result.
* Judith Jones, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Never heard of Judith Jones? That’s not surprising. But you’ve heard of people she’s worked with. Jones was the food editor at Knopf who brought out such books as Julia Child’s big fat volumes on French cooking, among many others. Although this book, while interesting, tended to become a brief discussion of various cookbook writers, it’s included here to reflect my enjoyment of her discussion of food.
And while I’m talking about food here, let me say that one of the books I enjoyed most this year is one I didn’t read all the way through: Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. With the help of this book, I have become the breakfast chef at our house. We’ve been feasting on custard filled cornbread, wonderful buttermilk pancakes, ginger pancakes with green mango fool, superbly tangy lemon pancakes with raspberry jam, fluffy cream biscuits, butter basted eggs, and a host of other breakfast edibles.
* Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Another food book. I don’t know that I buy everything in this book, but I certainly did enjoy Kingsolver’s love of local, in-season food.
* Peter Leithart, The Baptized Body. A very helpful book, focusing on the question of what baptism actually does to the person being baptized. Leithart uncovers the assumptions about the world and about people that underlie infant baptism and believer baptism, challenges some of the terminology we often use when we talk about baptism (e.g., “sacrament,” “means of grace”), deals with the problem of apostasy, and includes a helpful fairy tale of sorts.
* Peter Leithart, Solomon Among the Postmoderns. All too brief, this book may show you that you’re more postmodern than you think. Leithart deals fairly with postmodernism, points out ways in which its critique of modernism is helpful, and shows how biblical wisdom is even more helpful still.
* C. S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927 and Collected Letters Volume 1: Family Letters 1905-1931. I have been reading through Lewis’s letters, accompanied by his diary for the years he kept one, for over a year now with great enjoyment and great benefit. In one of his early letters, Lewis comments (to his father, if I recall correctly) about those people who die and have their letters published in multiple volumes. How do they manage to write so many? This volume, which is itself 1057 pages long, is the first of three. I’ve been reading at the rate of roughly five pages a day on weekdays, which may be the best way to do it. Along the way, I have learned a lot about Lewis’s early life and especially the period leading up to his conversion and his return to the faith and to the church.
*C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. I have read this one several times recently, this time to our weekly Bible study group, and each time the reading has been profitable.Â There is a load of wisdom here!
* Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer. 2008 was my agrarian year, or at least an introduction to it. No, I’m not really an agrarian. But I do believe that the agrarian writers often have a lot of wisdom to offer. Logsdon’s book contained a lot of material about farming that I don’t need to know at this point, but I found it all quite enjoyable.
* George MacDonald, Phantastes. This is the book that C. S. Lewis said “baptized” his imagination. I don’t pretend to understand it, though I can catch glimpses of what the allegorical elements might mean. Highly strange, but fun.
* A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. I don’t remember that I ever read these when I was a child. What I missed! Now, I’ve had the pleasure of reading them to my daughter and then retelling them again in the evening, sitting by her bed in the dark before she goes to sleep. It’s a shame to think that someone has now been authorized to write more official stories about these characters. Leave them alone. They’re perfect as they are.
* Alice Munro, Dance of the Happy Shades and Other Stories. Munro is a master of the short story.
* Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I don’t know enough about farming and food to evaluate everything Pollan says here. But there’s a lot of good stuff in these books, and Pollan writes well. What I appreciated most about the second one is Pollan’s rejection of “nutritionism”: “Don’t eat nutrients; eat food.”
* Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace Revisited and The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Very practical. I wish I had learned this stuff earlier!
* Joel Salatin, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food. While it isn’t beautifully written and while I quibble with parts of it from time to time, I appreciated Salatin’s tips on buying good food from farmers.
* Eric Sloane, Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake 1805 and A Reverence for Wood. These are beautiful books, full of the sort of lore about such things as barn building and the way old mills work that people knew in the past but have largely forgotten today. Sloane hasn’t forgotten.
* Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. Very enjoyable travel narrative.
* Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. Again, I didn’t read these when I was growing up. I don’t know how I missed them. Maybe I thought they were for girls, though I’m pretty sure my sister didn’t read them either. But I’m glad I’ve read them now, with my daughter snuggled in my lap, getting ready for bed.
* Douglas Wilson, Future Men. Very solid stuff on raising boys. I have one now, and I’m realizing how I have to change and mature to be his father. Recently, I’ve been going back through this book a page at a time and praying for my children with regard to whatever is on that page.
* P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves. Very funny.
* Gene Wolfe, Pirate Freedom. When I read this book, I didn’t think there was much to it. It’s a pirate story, but Wolfe skips over some of the parts I expected to be the most exciting, and it’s introduced as a sort of time travel story. Later, when I read some of what others have written about it, I realized it was far more complicated and puzzling than I first thought. Ask yourself, “If the main character traveled back in time at the beginning of the story, who else might have done so? And what’s really going on here anyway?”
* Gene Wolfe, Starwater Strains. Short stories, some better than others.
* N. T. Wright, Simply Christian. Marred by a few things, this is really a very good book of apologetics, a helpful introduction to the faith.
* Vinita Hampton Wright, Dwelling Places. A very good novel.