Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Notes: Recent Reads

I've read a few books over the last few weeks, but have failed to write about them.  Here's a few sentences on each book...

1. Generous Justice by Tim Keller.  Keller continues to shape my thinking on how the gospel of Jesus Christ shapes our philosophy of ministry and our personal lives.  Keller is not only an clear, influential thinker; he is a practitioner.  For that reason, I believe that Keller is helping to shape a generation of Jesus-loving, gospel-believing, city-dwelling Christians.  Generous Justice is his attempt to explain how a deep commitment to the core truths of the Christian gospel and a heart-level experience of the grace of the gospel should shape the community of believers to do justice in our world.  Keller does more biblical exegesis in this book than he has done in others (which is incredibly helpful and insightful), and then turns to how living justly should actually look in today's world.  His threefold levels of doing justice (relief, development, and reform) gives us some helpful categories to think about doing justice corporately as the church.  As community-involvement and mercy ministries grow in this generation, Keller's book will be a helpful reminder that we cannot separate works of justice from the grace of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. The Confession by John Grisham.  I've read a lot of John Grisham over the years, ever since I read his first novel, A Time to Kill, in high school (which I still think is his best).  Grisham's latest book intrigued me at the beginning because the first chapter starts with a criminal on parole walking into the office of a pastor named Keith to confess the crime he has committed.  Grisham's question in this novel is simple: how many innocent people need to be executed before we finally decide that the death-penalty should not be used by the state?  His story is set in Texas (of course) and revolves around the execution of an innocent man.  Grisham is obviously anti-death-penalty (which he has been for a long time), and this book in another good argument against the death-penalty.  However, it's just not that great of a book.  Without his normal plot-twists to keep the story interesting, I found the book feeding so many stereotypes that it became frustrating - the defense attorney is the hero, the prosecutors, judges, and politicians are scum-bags.  I wanted to like this book because I liked the question it asked.  I just didn't enjoy it very much.  More gripping to me was this New Yorker write-up about the real-life execution of Cameron Todd Willingham (read it at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann).

3. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.  This book is one of my favorites in the last year for multiple reasons.  I love good writing (Hillenbrand's prose is awesome).  I love World War II history.  I love seeing the power of the gospel in people's lives.  This book includes all three!  Hillenbrand diligently researched the story of Louie Zamperini (the last 20% of the book are her meticulous notes), an Olympic runner who fought in WWII, crashed at sea, floated on a life-raft with two other men for 47 days, and was a Japanese POW for the last two years of the war.  Simply put, his story is gut-wrenching.  The reader at times has stop reading in disbelief at all that Louie experienced during his ordeal.  When Zamperini comes back with terrible flashbacks and emotional pain from his torture at the hands of his Japanese captives, he almost ends up drinking himself to death and ruining his marriage.  However, a divine encounter with Jesus Christ at Billy Graham's first crusade in LA completely changes his life.  If your stomach can make it through Hillenbrand's descriptions of Louie's POW experience, this book will greatly encourage your faith in the power of the gospel to radically change lives.

4. Decision Points by George W. Bush.  I received Bush's biography from my mother-in-law for Christmas, and I have surprisingly enjoyed reading his account of his eight years in office.  Rather than make political points about his decisions and his views, I would like to just share one overwhelming sensation I had while reading Bush's book.  The president's job is very hard.  That's it.  I was reminded that every day the president is faced with hundreds of decisions that will impact the lives of millions of people in our country and around the world.  I sensed the strong conviction that we (as followers of Christ) need to pray for our leaders, especially our president.  Whatever we think about President Obama's politics and job performance, we need to pray for him.  We are commanded by Scripture to do this, and we are wise to lift up those who lead us.  Every day, our president goes to work with the weight of the military, the economy, and the security of the American people on his shoulders.  May God strengthen our president, give him good advisers, and grant him the wisdom to make right decisions.

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