What We're Reading

Dave and Wes (and others) review books they are reading that you may find helpful or interesting to look at yourself. 

April 2019

Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon. IVP, 2018. 263 pp.

 I met Dallas Willard only once, in the early 2000’s, at a conference in southern California. At that time I had read one or two of his books, but I didn’t really connect with his ideas or understand what he was trying to do.  However, from 2013 to 2015 I enrolled in the Renovare Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation.  Dallas was scheduled to be the primary teacher for that program, and by then my appreciation for him had deepened considerably. It is one of the great disappointments of recent years that Dallas passed away with cancer in the spring of 2013.  So I have been forced to get to know him through his writings and many youtube videos. Now his friend Gary Moon has produced a fascinating story of Dallas’s life from his sad beginning on a Missouri dust-bowl farm to his position as chair of the philosophy department at USC and his ministry of world-wide Christian teaching. Gary Moon is a good story-teller and a helpful guide to understanding why Willard is one of the most important teachers of the Way of Jesus in the last fifty years.  (DGD)

            Reading level:  Moderate

 *Realsex:  the naked truth about Chastity by Lauren Winner. Brazos, 2005.  179 pp.

 Lauren Winner is a Jewish Christian who came to faith during her graduate studies at Cambridge University.  This book may be the best treatment of sexual purity that I have ever read; it is theologically and biblically sound and filled with wise pastoral counsel. The style is quite readable and engaging. A key point in her discussion is that contemporary views of sexuality are driven by the individualism of our culture—an outlook that has thoroughly infected the church as well.  She argues (rightly, I believe) that sexual purity needs to be cultivated in community (the church) not just privately.  (DGD)

            Reading level:  Moderate

 *Invitation to Silence and Solitude by Ruth Haley Barton.  IVP, 2010.  Expanded edition.

 I recently read this book for the second time.  I am convinced that the spiritual practices of silence and solitude are essential for attaining and maintaining Christian maturity.  This book presents the author’s personal experience with these practices:  her initial resistance to the idea and then her growing awareness of the importance and benefit of being alone with God. Definitely worth reading if you have little experience in this practice but are serious about going deeper with the Lord.  (DGD)

Reading level:  Light to Moderate

*Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.  IVP, 2013. 343 pp.

Every once in a while you come across a book that is simply a delight. Sharon Garlough Brown has written a series of four novels; Sensible Shoes is the first. With grace and skill Sharon weaves together a story of four women on a spiritual journey together. These women engage with God and each other as they grieve, love, repent, pray, and learn together. These books are beautifully crafted stories embedded with tools (spiritual practices and reflection exercises) for your own journey with God. (Christine Labrum)       

Reading level: Light (but content is far from light)

Spiritual Leadership:  Moving People on to God’s Agenda by Henry and Richard Blackaby. B&H             Publishing Group, 2011.  373 pp.

Am I a leader? Do I want to be a leader?  What am I afraid of? What are my motivations, my inadequacies, my insecurities, my gifts, my calling?  These are some of the questions I had (and still have) as I approached this book.  I appreciated this book’s emphasis on leadership from God’s perspective, as well as its very thorough and practical overview.  Most of the examples, however, were men in military or business environments.  The book does a good job underscoring the fact that Christians can be spiritual leaders in non-church settings, and I would recommend it for those thinking about leadership in the marketplace.  But for someone wondering if God is calling him or her to some degree of leadership in the church, it may not answer your questions.  It didn’t answer mine.  (Janice Freytag)

Reading Level: Light

*Indicates book is in GBC Library

October 2018

Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and The Mission of the Church  by N.T. Wright. Harper One, 2008. 352 pp.

 Do you have questions about heaven and the afterlife?  What will we do in heaven?  Will we go to heaven, or will heaven come to us?  When will our bodies be resurrected?  Is God going to destroy this earth and start all over?  Or will he redeem this world and restore our role in it?  N.T. Wright addresses these and other questions.  He discusses “life after life after death” and explains how our beliefs on this subject affect our “life before death,” both as individuals and as communities.  This is a book of theology.  The concepts aren’t hard, but they might challenge some beliefs you didn’t even know you had.     (Janice Freytag)

Reading level: Moderate

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright. Harper One, 2010. 284 pp.

 Most people says the author of this book choose one of two options to guide their behavior:  either obey rules imposed upon us (by God or other people) or consult the longings of your own heart and follow them.  Wright wants us to consider a different approach which he says is the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament:  it is the call to join the story of Jesus and develop different type of character.  This means that we need to understand the nature of virtue and how it if formed in us.  There is much that is useful and instructive here if you are interested in transformation.   (DGD)

            Reading level:  Moderate

How God Became King:  the forgotten story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright. Harper One, 2012. 276 pp.

 OK, so maybe we are overdoing it on N.T. Wright, but he is one of the leading biblical scholars of our day, and he is almost always worth reading.  I have read a fair bit of his work, and this was the most helpful book I have encountered yet.  His basic argument is that most Christians from very early on in the history of the church have tended to skip from the birth of Jesus to his death as if the intervening discussion of Jesus’ life and ministry were not really important or necessary.  Wright believes that this has resulted in a significant misunderstanding of the gospel.  For my part, I think that Wright is right! . . . SorryJ.    (DGD)

            Reading level:  Moderate to challenging

 Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience by Mark Sayers. Moody Press, 2016.  167 pp.

 The author of this book is a pastor in Australia and a careful analyst of Western culture and its impact on the church.  His concern in this book is that the modern church has followed a path of cultural relevance in its effort to communicate the gospel more effectively.  The result is that we have been snookered by an ancient heresy—Gnosticism—which threatened the life of the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. We need to understand the modern manifestation of that heresy and learn to walk a counter-cultural path.  Thought-provoking reading!  (DGD)

            Reading level:  Moderate

The Me I Want To Be: becoming God’s best version of you by John Ortberg. Zondervan, 2010. 254 pp.

 The premise of the book is that the most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become. God is in the business of making us the best version of ourselves. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are not our handiwork; our lives are not our projects. We are to become the person God had in mind when he created us.

 The book is about developing spiritual disciplines, but not spiritual disciplines as we know them. Ortberg looks at the uniquely different ways people grow spiritually and encourages us to find rhythms and practices that suit our wiring and draw us near to God. There is no simple, three-step guide to spiritual growth, God wants us to have a unique relationship with him so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.   (Wes)  

Reading Level: Easy/Moderate

July 2018

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation, by Robert Mulholland, Jr. Expanded Version.  IVP, 2016. 220 pp.

Christine Labrum put me on to this book as a useful introduction to the process of being formed into the likeness of Jesus. One of the author’s key points is that formation is a process in which we surrender control of our lives to the Lord. Mulholland has some great observations about the manipulative patterns in the life of Jacob and how spiritual growth requires that he (and we) relinquish that pattern if we are to be healed.   (DGD) Reading level:  Moderate

The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering your True Self, by Robert Mulholland, Jr. IVP, 2006.  168 pp.

A sequel to the book mentioned above.  A key idea in this book is the distinction between the true self and the false self.  The true self is what the Holy Spirit wants to recover in us.  The false self is our humanity deformed by sin and the flesh. Mulholland describes it this way:  “I began to realize that underneath the thin veneer of my religiosity lived a pervasive and deeply entrenched self-referenced being which was driven by its own agendas, its own desires, its own purposes, and that no amount of superficial tinkering with the religious façade made any appreciable difference.” Many of us have had the same experience--this is why spiritual formation is difficult but necessary!   (DGD)  Reading level:  Moderate

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram, by Alice Fryling. IVP, 2017.  190 pp.

Wes and I have become intrigued by the Enneagram, an ancient guide to understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of our personalities and how God might be inviting us to grow into maturity.  The Enneagram describes nine “spaces” that are characteristic approaches to life.  Each of us tend to demonstrate a preference for one of those spaces. Living as God intends us to live in a particular space is a gift to us and to others, but each space has a characteristic distortion or sin that trips us up. Guess what my space is?  What is yours? How can this help us grow?  This is the best introduction to the Enneagram that I have read.  (DGD)  Reading level:  Light/Moderate

The Sacred Enneagram:  Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, by Christopher Heuertz. Zondervan, 2017.  268 pp.

A significantly more difficult read than the previous book by Fryling but also more insightful.  (DGD)  Reading level:  Heavy

The Lost World of the Flood, by Tremper Longman and John Walton. IVP, 2018. 180 pp.     

Walton is a professor at Wheaton College and Tremper Longman teaches at Westmont College in California. Both are OT scholars. In this book they deal with some of the details of the Noah story against the backdrop of similar stories from the ancient world. They argue that these stories have a common background in a real historical event.  They also believe that the biblical account makes use of hyperbole (a type of figurative language which uses exaggeration to make a point). Putting these two ideas together allows them to posit a real flood but not a world-wide flood.  This better accords with the readings of modern geology which provides no evidence for a universal flood.  Frankly, I was disappointed in this book because it provoked too many additional questions that the authors left unaddressed.   (DGD)  Reading level:  Moderate/Heavy

The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker. Baker, 2002. 192 pp.

This delightful, engaging book is historical fiction, but historically accurate.  The premise comes from Revelation 2:13, where Jesus commends the church in Pergamum because it did not deny the faith, “even in the days of Antipas, my witness, my faithful one, who was killed…”  Antipas shares a name with the Herod who ruled during Jesus’ day.  Was Antipas perhaps an affluent Roman citizen steeped in the emperor worship of the day?  If so, how is it that he came to be not just a follower of Jesus, but a martyr as well?  Through a series of letters from the gospel writer Luke, Antipas is exposed to the person of Jesus.  As you follow Antipas’ journey toward faith, you’ll also learn about the harsh and heartless conditions of the Greco-Roman world that the early church had to endure.    (Janice Freytag) Reading level: Light

The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation, by Craig Ott, ed. Baker, 2016.

If you are looking to get up to date fast on what is the cutting edge of “the missional conversation,” this is the book to read. “Five views” are presented, but (in good missional style), the authors engage one another conversationally and dialogically, rather than competitively or combatively. It is a book that seeks to address the question, “so what is the purpose of the church?” from a missional perspective. The five contributing authors include not just evangelical theologians but representatives from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Liberationist/Social Justice perspectives.  (Todd Mangum)  Reading level:  Heavy

April 2018

The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith

by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich. Sheffield Publ., 2005. 2nd edition. 266 pp. The idea of life-stages is helpful and important to processing our growth as believers. The means and manner of God’s work in us is not a straight line.  A deeper understanding of how we mature will help us to respond to God appropriately.  (Dave) Reading level:  Moderate

Listening to God in Times of Choice: The Art of Discerning God’s Will

by Gordon T. Smith.  IVP, 1997.  150pp. Gordon Smith is a wise student of the spiritual life and a thoughtful guide to the process of discernment. Lots of nuggets to reflect on in this little book: “We must free one another to listen to God.” “We never discern with absolute certainty.” “The most helpful place to begin [discernment] is with the principle of friendship with God.”  (Dave) Reading level:  Moderate

The Gift and the Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today

by Craig S. Keener. Baker, 2001.  213 pp. Keener is a respected NT scholar in the charismatic tradition. He argues for the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit in the church today.  On the other hand, he recognizes and critiques some of the weaknesses of Pentecostal-charismatic teaching and practice. An irenic and thought-provoking book.   (Dave) Reading level:  Moderate

Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us

by Scot McKnight. Waterbrook, 2018. 204 pp. Scot McKnight is a friend and former colleague from days at Trinity Divinity School in Chicago and a well-known NT scholar. I think this is one of his better books:  biblically focused but not “heavy.” A nice overview of the ministry of the HS. He presses home the question to Evangelical Christians:  are we really open to the Spirit’s work in our lives?  Recommended reading!  (Dave) Reading level:  Light

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)

Nancy Guthrie. Crossway, 2016.  180 pp. A very practical book that is based on real life feedback from interviews done of those who have suffered deep loss. We can find ourselves wondering how to help someone who is grieving but paralyzed by what to say. This book will give you more confidence as you humbly navigate the way forward with your grieving friend.  (Wes)     Reading level:  Light

February 2018

With:  Reimagining the Way You Relate to God
by Skye Jethani.  Thomas Nelson, 2011.  207 pp.
This is a very clever and readable discussion of five different ways that people chose to relate to God. Filled with excellent insights, this book definitely a keeper!  (DGD)
God Soaked LifeDiscovering Kingdom Spirituality
by Chris Webb.  InterVarsity, 2017.  187pp.
A good overview of the fundamentals of the spiritual life. Webb is a good writer although I enjoyed more his previous book The Fire of the Word.  (DGD)
When the Spirit Comes with Power:  Signs and Wonders among God’s People
by John White. InterVarsity, 1988.  252 pp.
Christian Psychiatrist John White provides a very thoughtful analysis of the so-called “Third Wave” of the charismatic movement based in part on personal observation and friendship with John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches.  (DGD)

The Joy of Listening to God,
by Joyce Huggett.  InterVarsity, 1986. 227 pp.
Easily read book recounting the author’s journey into a deeper life of “listening prayer.” Helpful in getting us beyond the idea that prayer is simply “talking to God.”  (DGD)
Joy Unspeakable:  Power and Renewal in the Holy Spirit
by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Harold Shaw, 1984. 280 pp.
Lloyd-Jones was one of the most influential Evangelical preachers of the 20th century. As a younger man he was deeply impacted by the Welsh revival in the early part of the century.  In this series of sermons, he discusses the need for a deep work of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives and in the church as a whole.   (DGD)
Theistic Evolution
ed. by J.P. Moreland, Stephen Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann Gauger, and Wayne Grudem. Crossway, 2017. 1007 pp.
A collection of essays critiquing (not endorsing) theistic evolution. Not an easy read, but an important book for Christians who want to deal thoughtfully with the Bible-evolution debate.  (DGD)
Power Encounters:  Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare
by David Powlison. Baker, 1995. 160 pp.
A good book to correct some of the craziness in the Christian world about the power and influence of demons. Powlison’s key point is to distinguish between moral evil and situational evil. He argues convincingly (I think) that scripture never instructs us to deal with moral evil by expelling demons.  The book is out of print, but there are some used copies on Amazon.  (DGD)