a Christmas (book) list

“Am going to cross Pacific on a wooden raft to support a theory that the South Sea islands were peopled from Peru. Will you come? …Reply at once.” —Thor Heyerdahl

Every Christmas when I was a kid I got a book.

I still remember Kon-Tiki, the story of a Norwegian explorer crossing the Pacific to prove the Polynesians could have come from South America. Think of it as six men on a raft. I thought of it as an adventure of the imagination. I read it over and over. I still have it. (But there is a new hard cover copy of the 1960 edition on Amazon for $60 if you’re thinking of me.)

It’s hard to know if I got the books for Christmas because I was a bookish kid, or if I became a bookish kid because I got the books. I think it was more of the latter. But the tradition continued. We often bought a special book for our kids each year. Like the Redwall books we enjoyed together, the food filled adventures of abbey mice. Or Industrial Light & Magic , the book about computer graphics we bought for Christian over 20 years ago.

So this post begins a a two-part list of books I’m recommending for the people on your list. It will be the perfect gift-giving (or requesting) list, provided your taste in books is exactly like mine.

But first, a full disclosure. If you click on the link to the book and buy it, Amazon gives me a 6% commission. In fact, if you buy any book on Amazon during that visit I get a commission. Or if you buy anything at all. So, if you want to buy a nice new camera or large screen TVstart here.

My list is about books I’ve read this year, however. This particular post includes religious nonfiction, but if that’s not your thing check back tomorrow for reviews and recommendations about fiction and general nonfiction.

So here is the religious list:

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. If you, or someone you are buying books for, is tired of the endless critique of the church: how it fails to meet the needs of the community, is too narrow and political, and doesn’t appeal to young people, you will be glad to find two authors who say it’s not true. Kevin DeYoung and Ted Cluck provide the anti-critique, showing both theologically and statistically that the church, while imperfect, is in better shape and offers a better solution than its critics believe.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Ivp Classics). J. I Packer’s classic on the debate between election and freewill makes an effective case that both are true. He does this mostly by redefining the terms of the argument, to sovereignty and human responsibility. It’s a short, readable book that doesn’t get bogged down in too much theological detail. For the Calvinist, or the Arminian, that you love. They’ll even learn a new word: antinomy, a paradox that’s not. It’s small and cheap and you can put it in a stocking.

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. Michael Reeves provides this quick retelling of people like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. It doesn’t gloss their weaknesses or hype their strengths, offering a window into the relationships and realities of this important period in church history. If you or someone you know likes history in general they will enjoy this brief, readable digest.

Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Joel Beeke sets out to provide a basic historical and theological overview of Calvinism, not just by reviewing its theological commitments but also its ethical implications. It’s a very practical book, about faith, worship and life. It’s also a comprehensive book. Or at least a long one. Not for casual reading. But if you consider yourself a Calvinist and don’t quite know what that means, start here. Or if you’re not, and want to understand where they are coming from, that works too.

Morning and Evening. Katie and I have been reading this 19th century classic devotional by Spurgeon each morning while we have tea. You can find it online. There is even an iPhone app, either audio or text. But it’s rich enough you may want a print version, especially if you like to underline stuff. There is a lot to underline, and it would make an excellent gift for a couple seeking to deepen their understanding of God’s glory and grace.

Kinda Christianity: A Generous, Fair, Organic, Free-Range Guide to Authentic Realness. Ted’s Cluck’s lifestyle guide for young emergent Christians is funny, including, for example, a list of crucial tee-shirts. Yes, it’s a send up on McClaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. And satire is hard to sustain. Fortunately this is a very short book. And fortunately there is a soon to be completed companion version that skews young reformed Christians as well, Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder.

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Our favorite book this year. Katie and I have been through this book five times since we first read it in February, and shared it with lots of friends. It’s basically a collection of John Piper’s sermons on marriage, looking at all the different ways a marriage pictures Christ covenant keeping love for the church. You can download it for free if you want to read it yourself, but if it’s a gift you will want to buy it. You can even buy it for us, since we keep giving our copies away.

There are only about ten days left for shopping and shipping before Christmas, so, as Thor telegraphed his friends when he decided to cross the Pacific on a raft: reply at once.

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