Posts Tagged ‘iain h. murray’

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.


What were your favorite books of 2011?


Cannonball 36: John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and FlockJohn MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I meet someone new at church and strike up a friendship, one of my favorite questions to ask is: “So, how did you become a Christian?” Many people light up as they recount with joy how God opened their eyes to the beauty of the gospel, and how He has done such a mighty work in their lives and hearts.

Iain Murray’s new biography of Pastor John MacArthur was a joyful testimony of God’s work in and through this remarkable man.

Murray is, in my opinion, one of the best biographers of our day, and certainly the best Christian biographer. He brings his subjects to life on the page. He doesn’t just rattle off dry facts about their lives, but gets enough inside their heads to show you the man behind the writings. His two-volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was extensive and in-depth, and it was clear that it was a labor of love for Murray, who served as Lloyd-Jones’ assistant for three years.

His biography of John MacArthur is admittedly just an overview of the man’s life so far. As he’s still alive, the full story is still being written. But Murray is a friend and admirer of MacArthur, and he saw fit to commit to print the testimony of some of the more major events of MacArthur’s life, including the significant impact he has had on evangelicalism today.

twelve extraordinary women

One of my most prized possessions: an autographed copy of MacArthur's Twelve Extraordinary Women, made out to "Jelinas." That's right: MacArthur calls me by my nickname. (Click pic for backstory)

I personally owe a great debt of gratitude to John MacArthur for much of my own Christian growth through his books, sermons, and even for the establishment of the Master’s Seminary, the school from which my own church’s pastors graduated. So it was stirring to read about how God called MacArthur to pastoral ministry, and then gave him an exceptional commitment to preaching and teaching the Bible and making it the authority, letting it inform his convictions and views instead of simply imposing pre-existing opinions on it. It shows in his writings, it shows in his preaching, and it shows in his life.

Murray touches on most of the important events of MacArthur’s life and public ministry, and reading about God’s faithfulness to glorify Himself through this faithful servant of God was a real encouragement. I love reading Christian biographies because I often marvel at the ways in which God has used ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and this always reminds me that the same God who made them extraordinary is the same God who makes me extraordinary.

There may never be any interest in my biography, but God knows my testimony, and He rejoices in it as much as He does MacArthur’s. Someday in heaven, MacArthur will hear me share the testimony of God’s faithfulness to me in my life, and his heart will be filled with praise because of it.

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Cannonball 36: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Murray’s first volume on the life of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I was practically foaming at the mouth to read the second volume.

It did not disappoint.

This look at the second half of Lloyd-Jones’ ministry covers his ministry at Westminster Chapel, his relationship with InterVarsity, his eventual rift with this ministry, spiritual depression, illnesses, and, above it all, his supernatural faith in a supernatural God.

Murray painstakingly researched his subject. I’m sure that his personal admiration for the man made that process a lot easier. And, through Murray’s faithful research, people for generations to come will have a clear picture of this man, whom God used so mightily in His kingdom’s work.

It’s hard to put into words what I enjoyed most about the biography. I enjoyed so many different things. Murray shows Lloyd-Jones’ unwavering conviction that the Word of God is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). He also shows Lloyd-Jones’ spiritual sensitivity in dealing with controversial issues.

But he also paints the portrait of the pastor as a family man. He was devoted to his wife and daughters, and could hardly stand to be separated from them. He was a die-hard patriot, and Wales was the home that he loved more than any other place in the world, despite his faithful ministry in London for so many years.

He looks at the Lloyd-Jones’ life during World War II, and how it changed them as it changed the nation.

Above all, Murray faithfully shows what Lloyd-Jones himself believed with fervor: that he was just an instrument, and the true skill lay in the hand of the One who wielded it. While it’s clear that Lloyd-Jones was mightily used to promote the gospel and the kingdom of heaven, all the praise goes not to Murray or to Lloyd-Jones, but to the God of heaven.

I benefited greatly from reading about Lloyd-Jones, as well as from reading excerpts of his writings that the author saw fit to include. I look forward to reading more of Murray’s biographies in the future.

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Cannonball 34: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 by Iain H. Murray

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones the First Forty Years 1899-1939David Martyn Lloyd-Jones the First Forty Years 1899-1939 by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually didn’t know much about D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones before my friend Mark lent me this book. I’d heard his name attached to Christian quotes here and there, but I didn’t really know much about him, his ministry, or his legacy as a pastor and preacher in England.

Well, Iain Murray has opened my eyes to the treasury of wisdom contained in the words of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Murray is a faithful biographer who actually had the privilege and blessing of working for the subject of his biography. He presents a faithful telling of Lloyd-Jones’ early life, upbringing, conversion, early medical genius, and sacrifice of that genius for the sake of God’s call to a pulpit ministry.

Lloyd-Jones loved the Word of God. God gave him a special gift to understand and teach the Scriptures to people. He also had a special gift for evangelism. God used his gifts many times to convict people of their sinfulness and need for a Savior: Jesus Christ. God used him to bring about a sweeping spiritual revival in England.

Murray includes excerpts from Lloyd-Jones’ sermons that really drive that point home. I wish I’d written down the passages in the book that impacted me most; he had such a clarity when it came to the Word of God.

And Murray is, in my opinion, the most talented Christian biographer of our generation. I was first introduced to his biographies when Cornerstone Bible Church‘s pastor James recommended his Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.

His account of Lloyd-Jones’ early ministry is a gripping read, and a testament to God’s faithfulness in the life of one man. One of my biggest takeaways from reading both of these biographies is that the same God who used Edwards to spark the Great Awakening of the 1700s and the same God who used Lloyd-Jones to bring revival to England in the 1900s can bring revival to us today.

I pray that this would start with Cornerstone Bible Church, and in my own heart.

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