Category Archives: Recommendations

My Top 10 Books of 2019

This last year has been a difficult one for me in regards to reading. I have started back to seminary for my MDiv. and have been mostly reading books for school. However, recently I have taken to audio books to so that I can listen to books for pleasure while having to read books for school. That being said, some of these books on my Top 10 list were listened to and some were actually read. None of the books below are new books. Some are decades old and a few are over a century old. I’m slow to the “classic” book scene. So, without further ado:

10. Jackson by Ralph K. Andrist (Audio)
A biography about Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States: Old Hickory.  This was a very quick, introductory type biography that went from his parents’ arrival from Ireland to the Battle of New Orleans to his presidency, the paying off of America’s debt and the Trail of Tears, concluding with (obviously) his death. If you’re an Andrew Jackson fan, this is not the biography for you. However, if you are wondering who the man was and not sure about diving into a longer biography, this is the one for you. It’s not a boring read; at times it’s funny and other times surprisingly captivating.

9. A Bully Father: Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children by Joan Patterson Karr
The actual biography in this book was not at all bad. Joan Paterson Kerr, who wrote the biographical essay (80 pages), did an excellent job writing the highlights of TR’s life. For anyone who isn’t too familiar with the 26th President, but doesn’t want to wade into the waters of a more well-known bio, like Edmund Morris’s trilogy, this would be the one I would recommend. My favorite story she told of the president was when Roosevelt went up into the attic to play with his children and their friends. One young boy turned out the lights and TR banged his head on a board. He chided the children and went down to clean the blood off his forehead. When he returned, he found the boy (Looker) who turned off the lights, stuffed into a trunk with the others sitting on it. Roosevelt could hear the fear from within the trunk and ordered the children off it. “‘Suddenly the lid opened,’ Looker recalled, “and TR looked down into my face. He was quick with his handkerchief, too, wiping my face, and almost as quick to say, “He’s broken out in a sweat! The moth-balls have got into his eyes, and may them water!” This he said, to explain his wiping away the tears which I thought was fine of him,'” (pp 79-80). I think that was fine of him as well.

For a full review, click/tap here.

8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Audio)
Who hasn’t read this book before? Me! That’s who. I have heard this book ridiculed or mocked my entire life; I mocked it as well–in ignorance. This book is actually quite simple in its approach to treating people. In some ways, it can seem that Carnegie is advising manipulation, but the goal is simply to make sure everyone gets a win-win situation. What is nice about the book is that after explaining (or even while explaining) a technique, Carnegie gives multiple examples for different aspects of people’s lives (parents, supervisors, friends, etc.). If you’ve never read it, pick up a copy (or listen on audio).

7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Audio)
Again, I’m late to the game on this. That being said, it is an interesting read. It reads as if you’re listening to someone tell the story in person. It’s as if you’re sitting by a fireplace and listening to a friend who stops and starts and makes sure you’re understanding what he’s saying. It got somewhat annoying at times, but not enough to detract from the story. However, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie (especially the Disney version with Jim Carrey, you’ve essentially read the book).

6. Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution by Myron Magnet (Audio)
This was two books rolled into one. It was a biography of sorts, but for the purpose of telling how Justice Thomas was made into the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court. From his impoverished early years and moving in with his grandfather to his short stint of liberal ideology to his becoming a justice, the reader finds such detail as to understand why Thomas is the way he is. Along with the biography is an explanation of how America has gotten into the liberal/progressive mess it is in, in which the Constitution is all but ignored, and new rights suddenly get found. I heard two interviews with the author and read a speech by him, that pulled me to read (listen actually) to this book. Definitely recommend it.

5. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
The Bible has a lot to say about how Christians are to be growing in their Christian walk. The only way to do it though is through discipline. Disciplining the body is difficult; disciplining the soul is that much harder. Whitney walks the reader through the various ways that a Christian is to be disciplined in order to grow into and maintain a healthy Christian life.

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Audio)
What a fun book! My favorite part was when Long John Silver and his mutineers were shooting up the cabin on Treasure Island with the Captain, doctor, and Jim Hawkins. My eyes were as wide as saucers wondering what would happen next. I’ve only heard bits and pieces as to what the book was about. I didn’t even know if the treasure was found. All that to say…If you haven’t read this book, pick up a copy and read. It is the quintessential adventure story.

3. Turning Every Day Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins
In seven quick chapters, Scroggins and Wright take us on a journey of evangelism. Because of my wanting to know about how to transition better, I jumped to chapter three (apparently missing that chapter four was titled “Transition to the Gospel”). Chapter three was about “Everyday People and Conversations”. The premise is that if one is having an actual conversation with someone, a problem or unwanted circumstance will eventually come up. That’s the cue to transition to the gospel. “Our conversations are never completely random or altogether open-ended. People are often looking to us to offer meaningful responses,” (p. 52). The only question is: can we give the most meaningful response? With the help of this book, the answer is yes.

For a full review, click/tap here.

2. Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney
Don Whitney has done it again. He takes something that seems to bewilder most people and simplifies it and yet enhances it all at the same time. From the first chapter, Whitney understands the struggle that most Christians have with prayer. “We can be talking to the most fascinating person in the universe about the most important things in our lives and be bored to death,” (p. 12). That statement isn’t so much an indictment against those who struggle to find prayer meaningful, but an acknowledgement that something has happened to our understanding of what prayer is. One thing I found humorous about this book is that Don Whitney says the same sentence time and again, and I am sure he did it for effect. If you pick up the book and read it, you’ll understand; I won’t give it away.

For a full review, click/tap here.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (Audio)
This was my favorite book of the year. It is also now my favorite fiction book ever written! Ain’t no way I actually read the 1,000+ pages. That’s what audio books are for. It took 48 hours for this book to be read by a professional actor. If you’ve seen the movie, as good as it was, it is not even close to the book! It’s a completely different story line (almost). The way Alexander Dumas was able to interweave every part of this book was just fascinating to me. Parts that seemed to have nothing to do with the story line suddenly show how important they were twenty chapters (I’m guessing) later. I was not as impressed with The Three Musketeers that I had listened to earlier, so I went into this book with some reservation. I’m glad I took the time to listen all the way through. It was an immensely satisfying book.

Book Review: Knowledge and Christian Belief

Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief was written as a synopsis of his much larger work: Warranted Christian Belief but is by no means a quick and easy read. While it is only 126 pages (not including index), Plantinga wrote about subjects that should cause the reader to slow down in order to think through much of what has been written. In addition, Plantinga’s writes with sophistication. At times, it seems as if he sought out the most obscure wording or phrasing possible and put them into the book. “What sort of phenomenology is involved in this epistemic process: what does it seem like from the inside?” (P. 97) is one such example. It took this reviewer a while to remember that some people do, in fact, speak in such a manner.

The goal of the book is to show that Christian belief is not without warrant. There is reasoning behind faith in general and the Christian faith in particular. To show this, the author lays out his argument in ten short chapters, going from the basic belief in God to Christian beliefs such as the Trinity, resurrection, and such, ultimately to answer defeater arguments against Christian belief (or belief in God in general). As he began the book, Alvin Plantinga quickly explained the philosophies of the detractors of faith, such as: Hume, Freud, and Marx. In doing so, arguments were made as to why these men were wrong and demonstrating that faith is not irrational, but highly rational when and if the mind is working as it ought.

For most of the rest of the book, Dr. Plantinga utilizes much of philosophy and theology of Aquinas and Calvin, putting their similar thoughts together in what he deems: The Aquinas/Calvin model of philosophy. This model basically states that there is an innate knowledge within humanity that knows there is a higher being. One does not have to philosophize or conjure up some notion; it naturally comes from within. Dr. Plantinga extended the model to other areas of Christian belief. Humanity knows there is a God, it seems then that man is made in his image yet fallen, and in need of a savior. The reader is walked through how this can all come about simply by extending the Aquinas/Calvin model.

It was in chapter four that the book began to come together a little better, but in an odd way. To this reviewer, it seemed as if faith was being deconstructed. This is the chapter from which the quote above was taken. To answer his question on the sort of phenomenology in the epistemic process, Plantinga asserts that “In the model, the beliefs constituting faith are typically basic; that is, they are not accepted by way of argument from other propositions or on the evidential basis of other propositions.” (P. 97). In other words, no one has to argue the point. Scripture is read and because one believes Scripture as authoritative or someone over them who is authoritative, he believes what he read or was read to him.

The sixth chapter is all about the Holy Spirit turning one’s affections toward God. This was by far, the most understandable and thought-provoking chapter in this book. This would be a chapter for every believer to read. Plantinga explained that eros is not simply a sexual love, but a love that has longings. That means that sex is a strand of eros, but not eros in its entirety. This eros is the love that a Christian has for God and God has for the believer as well. The explanation within this chapter can be life-changing for many believers in this world.

The objections begin in chapter seven; systematically and methodically, Plantinga dismantles the atheologian’s arguments. Beginning with higher criticism or as the author calls it, “Historical Biblical Criticism” it is shown that conservative Christians discount this way of reading the Bible because there is no warrant in their eyes to accept it. “It offers her no reason at all for rejecting or modifying her beliefs; it also offers little promise of enabling her to achieve better or deeper insight into what actually happened.” (P. 106). From there, one reads a short chapter on pluralism—the multiple and conflicting religions of the world. The author explained that a Christian believing himself to be right and all others to be wrong does not have to be egoism or elitism. It certainly can be but does not have to be.

Finally, Plantinga takes on the problem of evil. The philosopher is sure to make the reader understand that he is not writing on theonomy but is writing on how evil excludes there even being the possibility of God’s existence. This chapter was written well until he wrote these words: “The list of atrocities human beings commit against others is horrifying and hideous; it is also so long, so repetitious, that it is finally wearying. Occasionally, though new depths are reached.” (P 120). If the author had stopped there, all would be in agreement and continue on. However, Plantinga quoted from a book about such a depth of atrocity. The illustration was absolutely beyond the pale. There was no need, no warrant (to use Plantinga’s word) to put such an illustration into the book. Was not the holocaust, the rape of Nanking, or some other well-known atrocity not enough? What person needs to read such an illustration to know that mankind is capable of such horrors? How or why this got passed the editors at Eerdmans Publishing is uncertain.

For that reason, this reviewer would not recommend this book to be read by anyone. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” as it were, but it is not only a pastor’s job to put good defenses into the hands of his members, but also to protect them from harm. This pastor existentially believes that the illustration could be an assault on the mind and heart. It is possible to use the material within the book to teach a class on this branch of apologetics and leave out the illustration. It is possible to white-out the illustration in its entirety and share the book to one well-acquainted with philosophy. Given its complex language and thought process, along with the illustrations, it is believed that there are easier, clearer books on apologetics for a layperson to read if he desires to learn more.