Book Reviews: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, plus the best of 2013

If you’re looking to put together a summer reading list, here are five ideas to get you started. These are some of the best books I’ve read in 2013. Enjoy!

Book Cover - Crazy BusyCrazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung (Hard copy | eBook)
Kevin DeYoung is one of my favourite Christian writers, mostly because his books are thoroughly biblical. He refuses to use Scripture superficially, but digs deeply and carefully into the riches of the Bible in all his books. In doing so, he helps you see how to handle the Bible for yourself. On top of that, he is just a flat-out good writer, particularly because he gets that clarity (not obscurity) is a virtue for anyone wanting to expound the Bible and help people to understand the things of God.

The title of his latest book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem, probably grabs your attention without much help. If you don’t know what it is to feel crazy busy, then rejoice and be glad – and skip this book. But if you’re among the other 95% of the population, then it’s absolutely worth your time. DeYoung doesn’t just dig through the Bible to find some self-help bromides to aid us in our busyness. Instead, he goes back to basics, addressing the theological roots of why our lives feel so manic, yet managing to apply his findings to real-life situations like parenting, setting good priorities, and monitoring your use of technology. The publishers have also produced some excellent resources at crazybusybook.com (including a study guide) which will help book clubs or staff teams wanting to read the book together.

Book Cover - Secret ThoughtsThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (Hard copy | eBook)
This book has been reviewed in plenty of places since it came out (no pun intended) last year, and for good reason. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s story is truly remarkable, and really important in the current climate. In a wonderfully written personal memoir, Butterfield chronicles her journey from being an aggressively left-wing, anti-Christian feminist – living in a lesbian relationship and ensconsed in a university teaching post that required her to maintain her worldview – to her ‘unlikely’ conversion to a living faith in Jesus – including her subsequent marriage to a Christian pastor.

After reading this book at the very beginning of the year, two things have stayed in my mind:

  • The importance of long-term, relational evangelism. Butterfield details how a local pastor, Ken Smith, devoted significant time to her, showing genuine hospitality and developing a real friendship, while still being prepared to poke and prod her where needed. “I had been the beneficiary of real Christian evangelism,” she writes. “Ken Smith spent time with me – and not just spare time. He spent pricey time – real time. He didn’t hide behind bumper stickers or slogans.” No one is beyond God’s reach. But humanly speaking, where considering the claims of Jesus will mean massive changes to a person’s belief system and/or lifestyle, long-term evangelism is absolutely vital. Butterfield’s incredible story proves that.
  • What I remember more than anything else is the recurring phrase Butterfield uses to describe her conversion to Christian faith: a train wreck. For example, she writes in the acknowledgements: “This word – conversion – is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God. I know of only one word to describe this time-released encounter: impact. Impact is, I believe, the space between the multiple car crash and the body count. I try, in the pages that follow, to relive the impact of God on my life.”

Those of us who are already Christians – especially when we’ve been Christian for a long time, and inhabit our relatively comfortable Christian sub-culture without a thought – need to be reminded: when we ask people to consider Jesus, yes, we’re offering the best way to live and the greatest news in the world. But we’re also offering something that has the potential to turn a person’s entire life upside down. We’re inviting them to experience a train wreck. It’s a perspective that might helpfully shape how many of us think about evangelism. At the same time, it’s a story that will leave you wonderfully encouraged, hopeful and thankful to God.

Book Cover - Open AgassiOpen: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (Hard copy | eBook)
I read two biographies (of non-Christians) this year: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and Open. Isaacson manages to capture one of the most compelling, important, and polarising figures of recent history, along the way offering a fascinating overview of the digital revolution.

However, out of the two, Open gets my vote. I love sport – and if you don’t, this might not be the book for you. But that’s not the best thing about this memoir. I couldn’t put it down because Agassi is brutally honest. As the book starts, he makes a startling confession: he hates tennis. And it doesn’t take long to see that he really means it. Tennis is to Andre Agassi as the One Ring was to Gollum: he both loves it and hates it. Agassi’s reasons for that are unique (his overbearing father being at the top of the list), and yet there is something universal about his confession. So many of our passions become like that. As we become enthralled by them, we come to love them, while at the same time hating the way they capture us, destroy us, let us down – promising much, but delivering so little. For those with eyes to see, Agassi’s life story is a cautionary tale about the power of idolatry.

Book Cover - One ForeverOne Forever, by Rory Shiner (Hard copy | eBook)
It seems like the Christian doctrine of ‘union with Christ’ is on its way to becoming ‘cool’. The days of marketing material on this idea as being about ‘the really important doctrine that no one ever talks about’ are probably gone. Con Campbell has just released what looks like the in-depth book on this subject, while Desiring God’s 2014 Conference for Pastors tackles the same topic. But if you’re looking for an easy read to introduce you to the riches of union with Christ, One Forever is undoubtedly the place to turn.

A confession: I edited this book, so have a slight conflict of interest here. But another confession: editing this book was good for my soul. It’s written with warmth, humour and (the good kind of) simplicity, opening up the New Testament’s rich teaching on what it means to be ‘in Christ’ in a way that’s accessible yet profound. Rory writes really well, so it’s a brisk and enjoyable read (important criteria for summer reading, in my book). You’ll get through it in an afternoon, but have plenty to think about and give thanks to God for once you’re finished.

Book Cover - Gilead Marilynne RobinsonGilead by Marilynne Robinson (Hard copy | eBook)
This is simply a delightful book. It’s like your favourite blanket on a cold, rainy afternoon. Set in middle America in the 1950s, Gilead is written in the form of a series of letters by Congregational minister John Ames, to his young son. As Ames nears the end of his life and reflects on rather unexpectedly becoming a father (after marrying for the first time in his sixties), the letters are a chance to share a lifetime’s worth of wisdom with his son – perhaps even to parent his child from beyond the grave. Because the book looks back over a lifetime of ministry, pastors may feel a unique affinity with Ames and some of the questions he faces. But this is such a rich, insightful book that anyone will benefit from reading it. Gilead is not really about Christian ministry; it’s about the relationships that matter most, about learning to delight in the simple things, about growing old with grace and godliness, and trusting God through life’s ups and downs. Once you grasp how to get inside it (which doesn’t take long), this is a beautiful, memorable book.

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