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Christmas presents every day

Books

Christmas presents every day

Books to read before I sleep

Many readers have asked how I read lots of books. The answer is simple: I watch almost no television except for Red Sox games, and 10 p.m. to midnight is almost always reading time. Overall, I probably average 1,000 hours a year for reading books with reviews in mind: This year I reviewed 288.

Books flow into the WORLD office in Asheville, N.C., and my home in Austin, Texas. I look at the titles of all those that come to Asheville: Most go to reviewers or onto shelves where office workers can take them. Everything that comes to me I look at. Some I read, some of those I review, some of those I retain. Many books go to Christian college libraries or to a Christian study center that keeps some and gives others to students who love to get free books.

Of the 34 books highlighted in the Books of the Year section of our last issue, 11 came from Christian publishers. Nine publishers had two or more on the list: Crossway, IVP, Basic, Knopf, Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s, Discovery, and the Princeton and Oxford University Presses.

The juxtaposition of books is often providential. For example, one day I picked up Jack Wertheimer’s The New American Judaism (Princeton, 2018) and David Bowden’s Rewire Your Heart (Thomas Nelson, 2018). Wertheimer writes about how an Orthodox Jew “never spoke about God in earshot of his son, and the latter confessed he had no idea what his father’s theological beliefs were. This is hardly uncommon, largely because Judaism stresses ritual performance and deeds over belief. … Belief and religious fervor wax and wane,” so many rabbis emphasize external actions that can be repeated regardless of belief.

Bowden’s advice is the opposite. Addressing sinners (as all of us are), he writes, “The reason why your fight against sin has been ineffective is because you haven’t been fighting sin; you’ve been fighting its fruit. Trying to change your actions without changing your affection is like picking all the apples off of an apple tree and thinking that doing so will turn it into an oak. The reality is that the only way you will do something is if you want to do it.”

Sin comes from the inside and manifests itself outside. We sometimes think temptation leads to sin, but the only reason we’re first tempted is that we’re looking for satisfaction apart from God—usually in a way counter to what He commands. Meanwhile, Wertheimer’s thorough job of reporting shows Jewish/Protestant parallels: “The dramatic decline of liberal Protestant denominations may truly serve as a warning of what lies ahead for Reform Judaism.”

Part of Christian belief is understanding that the Gospels are historically accurate, and the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham Press, 2018) can help. It includes 48 essays on ancient Israel’s geography that help us understand gospel movements from ground level. We get a sense of where Jesus’ baptism took place, what kinds of storms He quieted, where demon-possessed pigs drowned, and what Herod’s Temple looked like.

BOOKMARKS

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life (Crossway, 2018) is Michael Lundy’s update of 17th-century Puritan Richard Baxter’s practical advice. Tim Chester’s Reforming Joy (Crossway, 2018) contrasts living as a slave with living as a son of God: We don’t have to perform to be accepted, flee risk because we fear failure, or try to guess what others are thinking so we can please them. Instead, God accepts us even when we’ve sinned, and we care more about His view than the opinions of others.

Shawn Smucker’s Once We Were Strangers (Revell, 2018) shows how a novelist lived Christianly by befriending a Syrian refugee. Joseph Castleberry’s The New Pilgrims (Worthy, 2015) shows how new immigrants to America are renewing churches, higher education, family values, and the economy. Alan Graham’s Welcome Homeless (Thomas Nelson, 2017) shows how a real estate developer turned to helping homeless individuals. —M.O.