This year my reading goal is to breakthrough the ceiling of 36 books I’ve been stuck on for the last 3 years, and read 50 books! Where’d I get the goal of 50? It’s equal parts an arbitrary number I made up, and equal parts I saw a YouTube video that talked about Bill Gates reading 50 books a year. I thought, “Bill Gates is pretty smart, that sounds like a goal I should shoot for.”
Officially we hit the halfway mark of 2018 on July 2nd (Day 183 of 365) but I didn’t finish my 25th book until July 23rd, so I’m a few weeks behind pace. However, having reached the halfway point of my goal I decided to share some insights from the top 5 books I’ve read so far. I’ll follow up this post with the bottom 3 books I’ve read this year (good news is there weren’t enough not good books for me to have 5!).
Top 5 Books:
1. How To Think: By Alan Jacobs
This book made the top of my list simply because of its relevance for the cultural moment we in America find ourselves in. People have ceased to be thoughtful and nuanced in their understanding of a variety of social, political, and religious issues. Instead we have become talking heads and parrots that simply repeat what we saw on a Youtube video, or heard on a podcast. At worst we simply hide behind our screens and send “retweet” bombs completely using other people’s thoughts, positions, and words to functionally say, “Whatever this person says, that’s what I believe.” The result is that we no longer see one another as persons and neighbors but enemies that must be overcome. “How to Think” addresses these issues, clearly, concisely, and…wait for it…thoughtfully.
“How to Think” is about exactly what the title suggests, thinking. Specifically the book focuses on the cognitive process of thinking. Basically, what are the steps people take to make sound, well reasoned choices?
Here are a few key concepts that I took away:
1. The idea of repugnant cultural other a (RCO). At its core RCO ceases to see people as persons and neighbors. Instead we minimize the entirety of a person into their political, social, or religious view. Jacobs says it this way,
“All of which is to say that I may all too easily forget the political and social and religious differences are not the whole of human experience. The cold divisive logic of the RCO impoverishes us, all of us, and brings us closer to that primitive state that the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes called, “the war of every man against every man.”
2. Thinking never happens in isolation. Thinking in isolation is, according to Jacobs, impossible, and if possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is fundamentally a social exercise. As a matter of fact when someone is commended for thinking for “themselves” it often usually means that they are thinking like the person giving the compliment and not like someone with an opposing view. Think about that…
3. Rational Thought is A Combination of Reason and Emotion. Thinking is not exclusively an exercise of analytical processes’ completely isolated from emotion. Analytical thinking divides, separates, and breaks down thoughts into mental pieces. Left only to our analytical thinking we could deconstruct a thought, but could never reconstruct and form another thought. The glue that puts those pieces back together into well formed thoughts and convictions are healthy emotions. If you want to think you must tap into both your reason and emotions in order to come to clear rational judgments.
“Learning to feel as we should is enormously helpful for learning to think as we should.”
If you want to see a plethora of examples of RCO in practice simply scroll through your Twitter or Facebook feed for 5 minutes. Social media thrives on turning persons into “others” to be overcome. For a more extensive study on this topic I’ve heard “Thinking Fast ad Slow” by Daniel Kahneman is a great resource. Haven’t personally read it, but heard good things.
You can pick up a copy “How to Think” HERE.
2. How the Nations Rage: By Jonathan Leeman
I wrote an in-depth review of “How the Nations Rage” a few months ago, which you can read at the link below. Briefly, this book landed at number 2 on my list because of how well Leeman is able to tie in a Christian’s role politically into how they live out their lives corporately within a local church.
Leeman makes a few provocative arguments worth repeating here:
1. Politics or the public square is actually a battleground of gods. It’s impossible to keep the public square a neutral zone of worship because what motivates everyone are gods that drive our thinking, longing, and acting. For Christians to simply put their heads in the ground when it comes to politics functionally says the creator God of the universe has nothing to say on these issues. Furthermore, when Christians in general and churches specifically take a posture of fully endorsing a specific party we are saying to the outside world, this is exactly what our God thinks about these issues.
2. The Bible is not case law, but a constitution. Leeman recently provided a great tweet explaining this point, he says,
The Bible is not the source where a society should base its laws for daily life. Rather, the Bible is the source where we find the rules for making the rules for daily life.
If you’ve personally wrestled with the thought, “How do I as a Christian navigate our current political climate?” This books is absolutely for you. This book is a wealth of information that helps Christians think through their role in the public square, the Bible’s function in a society, as well as how both tie directly back in to the life of local churches. Well worth the read!
Pick up a copy of “How the Nations Rage” HERE.
Read my in-depth review HERE.
3. Manana: By Justo Gonzalez
Most people know Justo Gonzalez because of his two volume set on Church History. In “Manana” he takes a deep dive into the significance minority perspectives bring to Christian churches, the history of Christianity within Latino (primarily Mexican) history, the role Latinos can play in building a healthy diverse church, as well as how key doctrines have been interpreted through Greco/Roman and Western lenses over the centuries.
What puts “Manana” on this list is how the book takes the reader on a journey that shows:
1. Latino History with Christianity. The history discussed brings to light how Latinos have had to learn to assimilate to conquering nations, first the Spanish, then the French, then the Americans. In each scenario part of the way Latinos learned to survive was through adopting first Catholicism, and then on a smaller scale Protestantism.
2. Christ’s Emphasis on matching belief with practice draws Latinos to Christianity. Though Christ was initially introduced to Latinos by way of the sword, it was through the Scriptures that Latinos fell in love with the Savior. It was seeing Jesus love the poor, care for widows, heal the sick, and empathize with the plight of the sub-dominate people groups that led Latinos to Christ. The gospels showed Latinos that Jesus is a Savior who knows their pain personally, relates to them intimately, and is coming to right the wrongs they have experienced eternally.
3. Latino Spirituality Leads to A Life of Living out the Gospel. In following the example given by Christ Latinos put a premium on matching their lives to their theology. As Justo Gonzalez explains,
“Spirituality is first of all living in the gospel-making faith the foundation for life. And it is also living out the gospel-making faith the foundation of action and structure.”
If you are a Latino Christian who has wrestled with where you fit in Jesus’ Church this book is a must read. If you are someone who has never looked at Christianity or major tenants of our faith from a perspective other than a dominate lens, I invite you to give this book a read.
Pick up a copy of “Manana” HERE.
4. On Writing: By Stephen King
A sub-goal to reading 50 books this year, is to at least read 10 on growing as a writer. Some reading this post will quickly give a hearty “Amen!” to my need to improve on my writing. Others will notice that I am the equivalent of an elementary school child when it comes to punctuation (or lack thereof). Though I must pat myself on the back because 1. I know what an “Oxford comma” is, and 2. I use it like a BOSS!
So far I’ve read 20% of the books on writing I set a goal for. Yes, 20% sounds better then 2 books, whatever. Of the 2 books on writing I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” completely blew me away.
1. King does what King does best, he writes like no ones business. He is such a masterful story teller that reading the book felt like I was just chillin’ at my boy Stephen’s house listening to him talk about writing. Seriously, rarely can a book so capture my attention that I feel completely engulfed in the text. “On Writing” totally does that.
2. King gets super practical when it comes to providing pointers on growing as a writer. If you’ve had any experience with a writing workshop, Youtube videos, or actual college courses on the subject you know there are three keys to writing: read, write, review. As someone who has done none of the above King telling me those three keys blew my mind. King also does the reader a solid by helping with basic tools of the trade all writers need, a recommended booklist, and a few pages that walk through his editing process.
3. As a memoir King shares a ton of stories explaining how he came up with book ideas. For example, King became inspired to write the story for “Carrie” while cleaning the girls locker room as a janitor at his old high school. I’ll let you read the book to get the rest of the story, but I was motivated knowing literally anything, including cleaning toilets, can be used as inspiration to write.
For anyone who aspires to grow as a writer, be a writer, or simply wants to read a good memoir, this book is for you. Seriously, this is a good book.
Pick up a copy of “On Writing” HERE.
5. Generous Justice: By Tim Keller
Like “How the Nations Rage” I’ve written an in-depth review of “Generous Justice” that you can find at the link below. This book made my top five because Keller does a superb job of walking the reader through a biblical survey of justice. Systematically, Keller works his way through the Old Testament and specifically in the New Testament what Jesus says about justice.
This book is incredibly timely as justice seems to be on the lips of people across race, ethnicity, class, and political spectrums in our current day. Keller answers the question biblically, “What is justice?” Furthermore, he provides insights in to how Christians can pursue justice as a neighbor, as well as in the public square. I recommend this book to anyone who has interest in knowing what does the Bible say about justice, and how should Christians be imitators of Christ in seeking justice?
Pick up a copy HERE.
Read my in-depth review HERE.