2018 Reading Plan

I’ve made the offer again to let others choose my reading list, and sadly I have not gotten nearly the response as I have in years past. I think getting so precise on my themes for the year affected that, and it’s certainly reasonable to think that the more narrow my focus the fewer people will have books that meet the criteria.

For this year I wanted to focus on books that are either about other religions or were published at least 100 years ago. The list is not that long because I’ve learned from past years that I never complete any list made in January because other books end up getting added for various reasons. My goal is to work on books from prior years as I have time in 2018.

Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield. The author lived at the turn of the last century and was a well known leader in the defense of the reliability of the Bible against critics of that era. Of course the critics never stopped so I’m interested to see how his setting is different than our age and how he handled those who denied the inspiration of the Scriptures.

Sharing Your Faith With a Hindu by Madasamy Thirumalai. This book was recommended by a friend so it made the list. By the title it’s clear that it will be a Christian take on Hinduism so there is always a risk that the presentation of what Hindus actually believe will be skewed, but I have a second, more neutral book on Hinduism on my list as well.

Holiness by J.C. Ryle. This book was one of the top things I read in 2012 and it’s time I re-read it. Ryle was a faithful gospel advocate in the U.K. in the 19th century but his wisdom and insights are powerful today as well.

The History of Mr Polly – HG Wells. My friend Nick sent me a list of the Guardian newspaper’s best 100 books of all time which started a discussion of those we had and had not read. We’re going to read this together.

Holy War by John Bunyan. Bunyan’s famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress, also made the Guardian’s list. This book is lesser known but I have friends who contend it is actually better than Pilgrim’s Progress so I’ve added it to the list. Written in 1682, it is probably the oldest book on the list (if I don’t add On the Incarnation by Athanasius). I already own the Complete Works of John Bunyan, so I’ll try to read it in the original vernacular, but may need to switch to an updated version so I’m not bogged down.

Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs by Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner. I got this book at a used book sale for 25 cents shortly after deciding to focus 2018 reading on non-Christian religions. When I got it I didn’t know anything about it, but it turns out some of my friends know the authors. Another book written from a Christian point of view so I’ll try to add something on Islam later in the year by a practicing Muslim, or maybe just read the Qur’an.

Hinduism, A Very Short Introduction by Kim Knott. I got this book at the same book sale. The #1 thing I liked about it was that it was also 25 cents. It’s only about 120 pages which means I’m likely to finish it. The author doesn’t seem to be a practicing Hindu, which would be better, but she is a credible academic and the work is published by Oxford University Press so I’m cautiously optimistic.

A New Buddhist Path by David Roy. I have to admit that I didn’t know there was an old Buddhist path, so reading about the new one could be over my head. Still, I’m hopeful there will be enough background in this larger than average book to keep my feet on solid ground and for 25 cents at the same book sale it seemed like a risk worth taking. (It gets fantastic Amazon reviews.)

The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DiBois. In a year where I didn’t get as many suggestions as usual, this book got two votes so it automatically makes the list. I’m guessing it’s not about white people, so that will keep my goal alive of reading things written by people who are not like me about people who are not like me.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. My favorite librarian recommended this so I’m sure it will be wonderful given the thousands of books she sees every week that she didn’t recommend.

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Purpose Driven Life Reviewed (final)

Well, it’s been a journey to get through this book and the additional time has given the more opportunities to reflect on it than had I just rushed through it. The book is very light reading and it would be easy to finish in under a week to a reader that is committed to finishing it. Rather than give a point by point review of everything I liked and didn’t like I thought I would group my comments.

Likes

  • As I said above, it is very easy reading. My friends who did not finish high school could probably read and understand everything in it.
  • Warren is trying to address a common problem of professing Christians living meaningless lives without any emphasis on eternity.
  • There are certain points that he makes in the book such as God’s claim on the life of a Christian or the idea that the Christian life is to be one dedicated to serving others that are totally biblical and in short supply in our consumer driven churches.
  • I appreciated his emphasis on churches being a group of people committed to one another and to Jesus. (“Attenders are spectators from the sidelines, members get involved in the ministry”, p 136)
  • He can be very effective in using analogies and illustrations to make his points for him (for example when explaining that growing in Christ is meant to be a lifelong pursuit rather than a lightning bolt moment he says “When God wants to make a mushroom, he does it overnight, but when he wants to make a giant oak, he takes a hundred years”, p 222)
  • Chapters 10 on the heart of worship and chapter 29 on service are perhaps the best chapters in the book.
  • I have to admit that upon reflection, some of what initially rubbed me the wrong way ended up being an issue of improper emphasis rather than outright error.

Dislikes

  • By far my #1 complaint about the book and the reason I could never recommend it is Warren’s willingness to twist the Scriptures to get verses to say things he wanted to be able to say. This is true in the majority of the verses he cites. He tries to explain his use of so many different versions by saying other versions make verses more clear, but in reality he often chooses translations that do not hold the original language’s meaning if they include a particular work he wants to use. So on page 141 when he chooses the GWT version to get the word “sympathetic” in English, he abandoned the truth that the word the GWT translates “sympathetic” every other version translates “compassionate.” The only reason he did that is he already talked about compassion and now he wanted to make the Bible say what he wanted it to say. (The Greek word is oiktirmos, and you can see this by simply looking up Col 3:12 on biblehub.com). He does the same thing over and over which sadly I find sinfully dishonest.
  • Beyond that, there are just too many places in the book where he introduces psychobabble where the Scriptures have a voice. Psychology has some uses and I wouldn’t ever throw it overboard completely, but when the Bible has a competing claim, the Bible must win. Warren doesn’t seem to believe that – he believes things like “the more you fight a feeling, the more it consumes and controls you. You strengthen it every time you think it.” This is nowhere in the Bible but I did see it on Oprah once. This is most evident in his series of chapters on SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience). Over and over he introduces concepts about who we are as people that are formed more by Dr. Phil than the Apostle Paul. When he introduces concepts like our “emotional heartbeat” to tell us where we should be serving he completely removes the supernatural from the equation. He seems to believe that God has hardwired people a certain way from birth and this never changes. To the contrary, the Apostle Paul said that he BECAME all things to all men that he might win some (1 Cor 9:22). I get why this is a popular stance to an American church that cherishes comfort above all else, but it’s just nowhere in the Bible.
  • Those two reasons alone would be enough to sink this book but there are more reasons to dump it. Warren will occasionally introduce sin, but not God’s wrath. I don’t remember seeing the word “repent” anywhere, even though the Reformers thought it was critical to the purpose driven life (see esp. Luther’s 1st thesis). He prefers to talk about hurts, flaws, or mistakes. He writes about Christianity mostly in terms of the benefits it brings in the here and now rather than either the heavenly reward Paul and the author of Hebrews tout, or even as an escape from the wrath of God.

Overall, this book is much less bad than I thought it would be but it’s nowhere near good enough to recommend to anyone.

Purpose Driven Life Reviewed (2)

As I promised, I’m taking this review in sections as the author asked the reader to do. Granted my sections are bigger than his, but I trust I’m honoring the spirit of what he intended.

I’ve just finished day 20 of 40 and my giant takeaway is that I don’t hate the book as much as I suspected I would. There are many things in the book that are helpful and if believers actually did them would transform their lives. For example, Warren spends day 13 talking about worship that pleases God. He goes out of his way to say that all of life is essentially worship, not just the music time during a weekly gathering on a Sunday morning. I am amazed how many people identify worship exclusively with music when that concept is nowhere in the Bible. The chapter includes some negatives like the paragraph on nine ways people draw near to God which is more Dr. Phil than Peter, Paul, or John, but for the most part Bible Warren gets this one right.

There are lots of things I think he misses like how the holiness of God ought to terrify us or the Kingship of God ought to make us willing subjects or the transcendence of God ought to amaze us. He does more or less treat people as consumers and Christianity as the product that offers the most fulfilling life with the best benefits. But there is a lot of good mixed with the bad – certainly a lot more than I expected to see.

And I think that has been par for the course for most of these 20 chapters. For every time he chooses to talk psychobabble, there is good biblical instruction. For each time he makes the Kingdom of God sound like a shopping mall, he calls professing believers to some kind of accurate biblical commitment. For every time he abuses the Scripture with tortured interpretations or swaps out a Bible translation until he finds an English word he prefers, there is a time when he simply presents a passage in the proper context and calls the reader to respond.

Halfway through, this is still not a book I would recommend to anyone. The people I hang around are not likely to read more than a handful of books this year and there is just too much mixed content in here to have it push a good book off the list I would recommend for a light reader. But I am glad to have picked it up and had some preconceived notions of Warren get dispelled in the process.