Posts Tagged ‘tim keller’

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.

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What were your favorite books of 2011?

Cannonball 18: Generous Justice by Tim Keller

Generous JusticeGenerous Justice by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few months ago, the elders of my church read this book. They almost immediately decided to appoint deacons to facilitate mercy ministries (social justice; taking care of orphans and widows and the poor) in our church. According to Acts 6, the church chooses from amongst themselves, so our elders asked us to nominate people that we thought were already actively ministering mercy to others.

In my mind, I was a little dismissive of the process. I thought to myself (and said aloud to a few friends), We all already know who the church is gonna nominate. Why don’t they just choose?

Imagine my surprise when the church chose me.

Me? Merciful? I just didn’t see it. I could see all of the other nominees as merciful people, and most of them were already involved in showing mercy to people in need in some way, but I was certain that my nomination was a mistake; people must just be throwing out whatever names they knew. Plus, I hadn’t given much mercy out to others; in fact, I’d received much more mercy than I’d given in the last year.

Our elders gathered the eleven nominees for a meeting, to share their vision for this ministry. I figured that I ought to at least attend before declining. I arrived at the meeting, confident that they would tell me how many meetings were required and how much work this ministry would be, and that I could then give them an emphatic “no.”

But, to my surprise, they shared that they had no idea what it would look like, and that they were asking us to be the guinea pigs for this ministry. They shared that they just wanted to bring the church more in line with the biblical model for mercy ministries, and for the church to know who they could talk to if they knew of someone in need.

guinea pig

Guinea pigs of service

I left the meeting deflated; I was no longer certain that I wanted to decline this opportunity. On the one hand, I was pretty busy with work and trying to stay afloat financially in my own life. On the other hand, I do love being a guinea pig for ministry, and I agreed with the elders’ vision for the ministry.

In this state of confusion, I headed home and read my assignment for a class I had later that evening. My assignment was to read the first four chapters of Generous Justice, but because I never read directions thoroughly, I ended up finishing the whole book in one shot.

It was one shot, but there was a lot of putting down the book and thinking and praying in between chapters. Some of what I read was almost too heavy for me to bear. Some of what I read filled my heart with such joy and agreement that I wanted to jump up and down, shouting, “Yes! That’s exactly what we should be!!”

In the book, Keller examines what the Bible has to say about social justice and how the church should go about pursuing it. He reminds us that the God of the Bible is a God of mercy; Israel was commanded to show kindness and mercy to the poor, to orphans and widows, and to aliens and strangers. He looks at what Jesus had to say about showing mercy to those in need. He talks about why Christians ought to pursue justice, and how they should go about it.

It’s his look at Acts 6 that changed the way my church’s elders think about mercy ministries. In that chapter, there are complaints by some of the widows that they’re being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The apostles realize that they can’t neglect the ministry of preaching and evangelism in order to tend to this issue, even though it’s of utmost importance. And that’s when they tell the church to choose people from among them that they trust to do this work of distributing the church’s resources to those in need.

In the past, our church had seen deacons as those who took care of the administrative needs of the church. In some churches, they’re seen as the janitors; those who serve behind the scenes and basically clean up after everybody else’s mess. I can’t believe that it took reading this book for me to see what it really is: it’s for seeing to it that the church’s resources for ministering to the needy are fairly and wisely distributed.

This book was a game-changer for me. I went from looking for excuses not to serve in this way to being eager to be a part of this biblical ministry. I also began to see how my financial struggles could help me to understand what its like for those who are reluctant to receive help from the church, and how I could serve people in need with a simple listening ear.

The following Sunday, I agreed to serve as a deaconess of Cornerstone Bible Church. In fact, all eleven nominees agreed to serve in this way. I just hope that God will guide us and help us to give some form to this nebulous ministry so that we can get to work in meeting the physical needs of the people in our church, in our community, and in the world.

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Cannonball 9: The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian FaithThe Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About two years ago, there was a “gospel revelation” at my church. We’d always been a faithful, Bible-believing church, and we thought that God was blessing us because of that. Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, played a huge role in showing us our legalism; showing us that we were counting on our own good works to earn God’s blessing instead of trusting that He would bless us by His grace alone. We believed that we were saved by His grace and faith alone, but we secretly believed that, after He saved us, we had to make sanctification and growth in our lives happen by our own power.

Two years later, I’m still learning what it really means to believe that God alone change me and make me more like Jesus. And I can tell that The Prodigal God is going to play a significant role in my continued growth as a Christian.

My pastor had been quoting this book for months before I actually read it, so I was familiar with the basic premise of the book before I began reading it for myself.

inigo & vizzini

Many people have the mistaken notion that the word “prodigal” means “morally loose” or “wayward” or “bad.” But according to Dictionary.com, “prodigal” means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” The son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was definitely prodigal; he spent his entire inheritance in no time at all.

But Tim Keller’s premise in the book (and the reason for the title) is that no one spends as lavishly, recklessly, and extravagantly as God Himself. He not only gave His own Son to pay for humanity’s debt of sin, but He also continues to give riches of grace to those who believe.

In the book, Keller examines the parable. It’s commonly thought (and preached) that the point of this parable is to show sinners that God will accept them no matter what they do. But this is only partially true. While the story certainly illustrates the sinfulness of the younger son and the mercy and love of the Father, many people overlook a third key character in the story. Actually, the older son is even more important to the story than the younger.

When Jesus told this parable, He was speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes. They were criticizing Jesus for showing kindness to “sinners.” His audience had much more in common with the older brother than the younger: they were responsible, faithful, diligent, good people. But at the end of the parable, they are outside the party, and they are angry with the Father. And they are angry because He has shown mercy and grace to the irresponsible, selfish, reckless son.

Which one is really the good son? Sometimes, it's neither.

The heart of the older brother is one of outrage at God’s recklessly abundant grace to the undeserving because, in their eyes, it’s unjust. These sinners don’t deserve grace; they don’t deserve mercy or kindness or love. But these older brothers conversely believe that they themselves are deserving; they deserve everything that the Father has to offer. But they don’t think that any of it is because of the Father’s generosity or love. They think it’s all because of their own hard work.

Keller faithfully unpacks the gospel truths contained in this parable with simple language and razor-sharp insight. He points out the common attitudes and thoughts of “older brother” types, and he corrects them with gentleness and an ever-gracious eye.

This book has significantly impacted my own view of my good works and the purpose for them. It has greatly helped me to see the sinfulness of my desire to earn God’s favor, to reject His gifts and earn them so that I may be praised and respected as well as He, and to criticize, scoff at, and belittle others because they are not like me.

But the best part is that it has reminded me that I can’t fight these attitudes by standing outside and working like a dog. No; I need to go into the party and receive grace and blessings alongside my prodigal brother from our prodigal God.

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