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Entries in Reading (42)


Favourite Reads of 2015, and a look at what's coming

I didn't read a lot of books in 2015. The winter and spring were very difficult times, and during that time, I didn't read much. When I did, I read the bible; a lot. Especially the Psalms. Some weeks, I would read through the entire book. I have one of these, and it was with me beside my bed for times when I couldn't sleep, and it was near the couch when I was knitting or watching t.v.

Once the fog started to lift, I did begin reading more. Here are my three favourite reads, in no particular order.

Running Scared, by Ed Welch. This is a book about fear and anxiety, but it's so much more. It does a great job of encouraging the reader to really examine her relationship with God, and her understanding of who he is. Someone who doesn't struggle with anxiety would learn a lot from this book.

Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney. I did a review of it at Out of the Ordinary, so I won't say much here. It is a book about praying the Word of God, and he does focus on the Psalms. Since I was very much in that book, it was a great companion. It's a book I'll read again.

Hebrews, Richard Phillips. When I began preparing to teach Hebrews, I solicited opinions regarding a commentary, and this was recommended more than once. I have about five volumes from the Reformed Expository series, and this is my favourite. The insights are wonderful. This is not a technical commentary, but it has helped me understand the text very well. It is perfect for devotional reading. If you are interested in this series of commentaries for your bible reading, I recommend starting this with this one.

Looking ahead to 2016, I don't have much of a list. I received the course syllabus for my hermeneutics class, and ordered some textbooks. We have one required text and a collection of recommended ones. Quite providentially, I already have three of the recommended ones, but I purchased two others.

My required text is Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard. I'm only familiar with Blomberg. The two other texts I purchased were An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, by Moises Silva and Walter Kaiser. My prof this past semester referred to Kaiser a number of times, and I've read books by Silva, so I ordered this one. I also ordered Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. The table of contents intrigued me, so I ordered that one. I have three big papers due over the course of the semester, as well as weekly assignments. I think the extra resources will come in handy. 

I have a few books for pleasure lined up for over the holidays. Right now, Openness Unhindered is on the list, as is The Distinctives of Baptist Covenant Theology. I'm almost finished God's Battlefield for the Mind. When that's finished, I'm going in a totally different direction, and reading The Famine Plot, which is about the Irish Famine. I've read two other books by the same author, and this one sounds interesting.

Who knows how the reading will go over the year? Life interrupts, and I want to keep room for family, friends, creative pursuits, and of course, hockey! I don't know how many books I'll read, and I don't know if I'll even keep track. But I plan on reading.


Tips for bible reading

I've noticed quite a few people sharing their favourite reads of 2015 as well as their plans for what they will read next year. Once New Year's gets closer, we will see many sharing about reading through the bible in a year.

Some folks don't enjoy reading through the bible in a year, because they can't stop and ponder long enough. I'm sort of that mindset. Having read through the bible in three months this fall, I think I'd rather read it at that pace, because then the rest of the year can be used to focus in more closely on particular parts of the bible. If someone didn't want to try reading in 90 days, one could draw up a schedule for reading the bible in six months. I read the bible for an hour a day, around 12-14 chapters, and I finished in three months. I think one could easily set a target of six to eight chapters a day and be finished in less than a year. If you're interested in a schedule for a 90 day reading one, I found this one. I began using it, but ended up using it only as a guideline.

One of the problems of reading through the bible, of course, is hitting the wall after Exodus. Personally, I hit the wall at II Chronicles. Leviticus was way more interesting. It can be daunting to think of reading the whole bible. I want to share some tips that helped me.

First, look for themes. I think it gives focus to our reading. I looked for the theme of covenant, God's holiness, and redemption. When I got to Leviticus, I looked for the theme of clean/uncleannesns. As I read through Psalms, I paid attention to the word "steadfast." Once I got to the New Testament, and I began to see repeated themes, it was even easier to concentrate. I used a pencil crayon and marked words in my bible. I wrote down favourite passages in my journal.

I found listening to the bible very enjoyable. I love Max Maclean's recording. I enjoyed listening to the Psalms, especially. They were, after all, written to be heard. I found much of the poetic literature easy to listen to. I listened to the entire books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Lamentations. I was surprised how quickly I was able to hear the repeated words and themes. We are such a visual culture; I think it's good to hone our listening skills.

I would also suggest having someone to read along with. I don't necessarily mean reading together (although you could do that), but keeping in touch with a friend for support and encouragement. I like accountability, and knowing that I had to give a report to my prof about my reading helped. Not everyone is a check list person, but some people really benefit from a tangible list to tick off things. And of course, there is always a cell phone app for that. 

I love reading. And I love reading about what books are coming out, and what books are good. I can't forget to read my bible, though. And more and more, I think I need to be thinking about what I read more. That's where memorization and meditation on the Word becomes helpful. But that's a post all its own.


Make 2016 the year where you dig deep

It's that time of year again: reading plans abound. There is no shortage of inspiration for those who want to read more. For some, having a reading schedule adds the needed impetus to read. It helps them stay focused. I am not one who does well with reading lists. I'm more of a "follow the bunny trail" kind of reader. Any time I start a reading list, inevitably, I deviate from it.

In recent years, it has been my desire to finish the many unread books on my shelves and to ignore the cries of "you must read this!" I had to buy textbooks for January, so my book budget is blown. I have also found myself having forgotten a great deal of books I have finished not that long ago, especially books I have read for review. I was trying to share with a friend about a book on my shelf, and I couldn't really give her much but a very bare outline. I want to spend a little more time in my books, not plow through them.

For those who don't find reading lists compatible, I have another suggestion: dig deep. Find a subject, a person, a doctrine, a book of the bible, and read everything you can about it. I began doing that a few years ago with Lucy Maud Montgomery. I read her biography, and it started there. I read books other than the Anne of Green Gables books. I read her short stories, her poetry. I read critical works of her material. I began reading her selected journals. I'm still not entirely finished. There is another volume in her journals which I have yet to finish, her last one. I had to take a break from those boooks, because I'll tell you, the last years of that woman's life were dismal. For anyone who thinks Montgomery's works were autobigraphical, think again. Some of the elements of her work were, but not the happy parts. If you want to catch a glimpse of Montgomery in her fictional characters, don't look at Anne Shirley. There was no happily ever after for Montgomery.

As I read books about Montgomery, I followed the footnotes and found other interesting subject matter that piqued my interest: a book about women's participation in World War I, books about children's literature, fiction written in the World War I era, a book about Canada's participation in World War I. These may sound as boring as toast to some, but reading is a personal thing. What bores one person energizes another. 

If you're looking for a reading plan this year, and you are not sure that a list is for you, or if you're pretty certain that you might be lucky to have time to finish 5 books let alone 50, try digging deep. There is a great reward in that.


One is the loneliest number

A while ago, my dear friend, Persis, sent me a book about women's issues. The book is called Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism, by Rebecca Groothius. I knew who Groothius was before reading the book, and I knew that this book is written from a perspective with which I have disagreements. In reading this, I have not fallen of some sort of theology wagon. There is value in reading things which challenge or thoughts. There is my defense for all three of my readers.

The book, as the sub-title indicates, is about the tension between what is seen as tradition and what is seen as feministic. It's very enlightening. Groothius has done her homework. So far, one of the most compelling things I have read is her comment about the danger of individualism:

At the core of virtually all modern ideology is the creed of radical individualism. The individual -- his or her rights, needs, desires, and so forth -- is considered paramount and absolute. The individual's basic responsibility is see to be herself or himself, rather than to others. This consummate self-centeredness, in whatever sphere it is applied, inevitably results in the breakdown of friendship, marriage, family, community, and society. The problem inheres, then, not in the idea of women's rights per se, but in basing an understanding of women's rights on the humanistic world view of radical individualism.

Quite a few years ago, I took the one and only political science course of my university education. The author of the textbook echoed similar thoughts, pointing out that our political convictions will arise from whether we see the individual or the greater good as paramount. This is also applicable in our life of faith.

We come to Christ on our own. We do not come to Christ through church membership, or on the faith of our parents. That much is clear. But once we are born of the Spirit and members in the body of Christ, the principle of community and thinking outside ourselves becomes crucial, just as Paul says in Romans 12:3-8:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Yes, we are individuals, but we are members of one another as well. Individualism taken to an extreme is ultimately not good for the Body of Christ. And I don't think it's good for society, either. There are days when I look around, and the words of Judges echo in my head: "And everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

I'm not sure what else I will learn from this book, or how it will challenge my thinking, but this principle of the danger of extreme individualism is something we all have to be aware of, whether we're talking about serious issues in the church or just living our day to day lives in the privacy of our homes.


Yet another post about books for women

Can you stand another post about women and reading? It's been on my mind, not just because of Melissa's post from Monday, but from other reading I have done. 

If one is a reader, she ought to read good books. Good books edify, challenge, and help us to think. We must not think that being well-read makes us "better" than a woman who does not read much. Sometimes, it's good to get our noses out of the books and get busy serving, too.

I think it's good that we read a variety of books, too. There is nothing wrong with reading a good fiction book, or a biography of someone who wasn't a Christian, or a book about a health or science issue. Reading is a joy; we ought to read things that make us feel joyful. God has graciously gifted people with the ability to write with eloquence; yes, even non-Christians. I think a little fiction never hurt anyone. 

What makes a book "good?"

A question has rolled around in my mind, though, when I have read articles about the dearth of wise reading choices among Christian women: what makes a book "good?"  How do we know we're reading a bad book? Is it just a matter of taste? I think in some respects our pre-suppositions will be a huge determiner in that regard. Someone who embraces Reformed theology may have a different views of what is a good book as opposed to someone who is not.

Like all of our decisions, Scripture must inform our thoughts. I think when it comes to directing women (and men) to wise reading decisions (as well as what they watch on television, at the movie theatre, or the music they listen to) the beginning of wisdom in that area is a knowledge of Scripture. While we won't find specific directives of "read this, but not that," we will find guidelines about what is good to fill our minds with.

I think we women need to look for books that will help us understand the bible better. Yes, that means "how to" study books, and "why we study" books, but it may mean books on how to interpret correctly. I think that in addition to reading reviews to learn about books, we should also be reading commentaries, because that will help us understand Scripture better. Reading a commentary is like watching someone else who has expertise unfold the Scripture for us.

Flashback to 2013

Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote two years ago about why I think women ought to read commentaries:


While there are books galore out there, covering a myriad of topics for women, written by women, I highly recommend reading a commentary...

What is the value of this?  It focuses us back to the bible.  While a book on parenting, or marriage, or how to deal with anxiety are good topics to explore, something that really gets me into the text is essential. Commentaries get me deeply into the word, and as I meditate on it, my mind is filled with truth, and that equips me to first deal with whatever issue I may be working on, and second, enables me to evaluate the content of other books I am reading.

Women read a lot of books.  What are we reading?  Are we reading methods for a better life or an easier time, or are we reading books that take us back to Scripture? Are we reading critically?  And by that I don't mean with a critical spirit, but with a discerning eye.  

In addition to the Reformed Expository series, there are other similar commentaries.  John MacArthur's commentaries on the New Testament are more like sermons.  Dale Ralph Davis has a series of commentaries on the Old Testament.  Look for books by Martyn-Lloyd Jones that deal with bible passages. His series on Romans  is 15 volumes, and his series on Ephesians is 8 volumes. Those are obviously for the very ambitious reader.  I've read the first volume from his series on Romans, and it's rich teaching. I'm currently beginning his book Life in Christ, which is a study in I John. If you want a really deep study of the Sermon on the Mount, get into Lloyd-Jones's book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount; it's excellent. These are not technical books; they are taken from sermons he preached.

Getting into the word is an obvious must for the Christian, but with all that good reading out there, we can often read very quickly, rather than really dwelling on things.  A commentary will help us slow down a little, and get us really thinking about what we're reading.

Where You Can Find Suggestions 

In addition to the commentaries mentioned here, I would also recommend the series The Bible Speaks Today. The volumes are meaty witout being overly technical. John Stott is editor of the New Testament series, and I have read his book on Galatians, and am in the midst of using his commentary on Ephesians for my Sunday school class.

Ligonier has a series of posts recommending commentaries for all of the books of the bible. Many of them are much more academic type commentaries, but if you read the whole post and check out the "Runners Up" section, you will find more popular level ones. Tim Challies also has a list of suggested commentaries, and he includes a more popular level book in each post.

Spiritual insight comes from the Spirit, and he speaks loud and clear in God's Word. That is always the first book we should consider when we evaluate our reading habits.

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