Ephesians 5:15–16 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!” Have you ever said that? I used to say that a lot when I was a child … especially during summer vacation! The first few days away from school are a flurry of activity with swimming, biking, and playing games … but after that, children can find themselves wondering, “What am I supposed to do next?” When I was younger, that question usually meant that I was about to do something unwise like “see if I can jump out of this tree and land on my skateboard” or “throw oranges over the fence to see how far they’ll go.” (Perhaps some of you made wiser choices than I did!)
But here’s what interesting! When Paul wrote his famous letter to the Ephesians, he wasn’t primarily addressing children when he encouraged us to use our time wisely. Kids get bored, but so do adults! And when we do, we waste our time on social media, we watch mindless TV shows and internet videos, we immerse ourselves in sports and politics … and in the end, we wonder, “Am I making the best use of my time? It’s almost time for dinner, and I haven’t accomplished anything!”
How do we make the best use of our time? How do we spend our time wisely … especially during the dog days of summer? I think one of the best things we can do is read! We can read the Bible, and we can read good, solid books that will help us grow in our relationship with Jesus. Is it a little bit more effort than Netflix? Sure. Is it more meaningful than one more episode of watching Marie Kondo fold shirts? Yes. Yes, it is. (Take my word for it.)
So with all that in mind, I’d like to give you my Top 7 Summer Reading List for 2019. These are some of my favorite books … and I think if you could read all seven of them this summer … you’ll be able to say, “I’ve redeemed the time.” Without further ado, here’s the list! (In alphabetical order.)
Confessions by Saint Augustine
I was going to summarize the work for you, but instead, I’ll quote from the back cover of the Penguin Classics edition. (It’s an excellent synopsis … and sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel.)
“When Saint Augustine wrote his Confessions, he was facing, and responding to, a growing spread of asceticism in the Roman world. His task was twofold: to explain to himself the significance of his conversion to Christianity, and to do so in terms that would convince his readers that this was indeed the one, true faith. In his attempt to achieve these aims, Saint Augustine produced a masterpiece of intellectual biography. The Confessions are written with an emotional intensity that sets him apart from the academic tradition to which he belonged, and it is this intensity, combined with ferociously self-honest analysis, that has given his work its lasting appeal. Beautifully written and suffused with philosophical and theological learning, the Confessions are an outstanding account of the search for truth by a sinner who became a great saint.”
I’ll simply add that most of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation were deeply influenced by Augustine, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. In many ways, they saw themselves as heirs of the Augustinian tradition. I first read this book in college, but it remains one of my favorites too this day.
The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
This is a book-length treatment of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s my favorite book by my favorite author. Keller examines the characters in the parable with remarkable insight, pointing out that while the two brothers show us a lot about our sinful attempts to manage and manipulate God, the real hero of the story is the welcoming Father … who “spent everything,” to welcome his children home. It’s a relatively short book at just 133 pages, but it’s one of the best explorations of the gospel that I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Here’s the description from the back cover of the HarperOne / Zondervan edition:
“A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to ‘Our Father Below.’ At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engating account of temptation – and the triumph over it – ever written.”
I couldn’t agree more! While you would certainly benefit from reading Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (allegorical fantasy / fiction) or Mere Christianity (a non-fiction work based on a series of radio addresses to Britain during World War II) … I think The Screwtape Letters captures the best of both worlds. If you’ve never read anything by Lewis, or if this one somehow slipped by, pick up and read! You’ll be glad you did.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
This is the first of two lengthy biographies on my suggested reading list. The Wall Street Journal called it “a magisterial biography,” while the Atlantic Monthly said it is, “the finest biography” of Edwards ever written. That’s certainly high praise, and it is well-deserved.
You might ask yourself, “Why should I read a biography of Jonathan Edwards?” I would answer that Jonathan Edwards is certainly one of the greatest theologians America has ever produced. In fact, it’s been argued that Edwards is the greatest philosopher and thinker America has ever produced. You probably know that Edwards was an intense preacher. (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was required reading when I was in High School.) But do you know anything about his wife and children? Did you know he was a missionary to the Native Americans in upstate New York? Do you know about his famous list of resolutions? Do you know that he once said, “I am born to be a man of strife,”?
By the time you finish this magisterial 600-page biography, you’ll have a new appreciation for Edwards and you’ll have a greater understanding of his impact on the American Church.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who vehemently opposed Adolf Hitler during the rise of the Third Reich. Unlike other notable theologians who compromised with the Nazis, Bonhoeffer opposed the tyrannical regime until his final breath. Bonhoeffer’s legacy is certainly a complicated one. How theologically orthodox was Bonhoeffer? Can we confirm martyrdom upon a man who was arrested and executed for his role in a plot to assassinate one of the most evil men who ever lived? Did he die for his faith, or for his politics? Does it matter?
These are difficult questions, but Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer’s story with what the Wall Street Journal described as “passion and theological sophistication.” By the time you’re finished, I think you’ll not only have a greater appreciation for Bonhoeffer, you’ll have a greater appreciation for his struggle to live an authentically Christian life in the face of true evil. In the end, I believe Bonhoeffer was not only a man of the church and a man of great courage, he was a man of God who died in the Lord.
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
When it comes to money, do you feel like you’re in way over your head? (I feel like that sometimes!) Do you need a little bit of help getting out of debt, buying a house, and saving for the future? If you need some old-school, practical advice about “God’s and grandma’s ways of handling money,” then this book is for you. Ramsey writes in a simple, conversational style, and the book is filled with stories, anecdotes, illustrations, and testimonials.
One quick caveat: While this book attempts to draw on biblical wisdom, I think it’s overstating things to say that this is a specifically “Christian” book or somehow represents the only way for Christians to handle money. Dave is a Christian, the book draws on Christian principles, but beyond that, I would put this in the category of “common grace / wisdom” literature. It’s been a huge help to me and my family, so if you don’t have a plan … pick up a copy and read it … with your spouse, if you have one! When you’re done, you might find yourself “living like no one else … so you can live and give like no one else.”
Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff
I mentioned this one in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would include it on the list. It’s a powerful, beautiful book written by a father in the wake of the death of his 25 year old son. It’s a very quick read … just 111 pages in the Eerdmans paperback edition … but I think it will impact you for years to come. If you’re struggling with pain and heartbreak, or if you’re trying to comfort someone who’s mourning over the death of a loved one, I highly recommend this book. As we see in the book of Job, sometimes there are no easy answers. Wolterstorff doesn’t offer any, which is part of what makes this book so captivating. I highly recommend it.
Well … that’s the list! What are you reading this summer? If you have some recommendations for me, let me know after a worship service! I’m always interested in reading good books. Good books help me make the most of the time … and great books, show me Jesus. There’s nothing better than that!