What I Read in 2018

I dreaded writing this report.

When I thought back to the past year, I remembered having read only one or two books worth sharing with you all in my annual What I Read post. I was embarrassed because as an author, I feel like it's my obligation to be reading deep and wide in order to hone my craft, become more knowledgeable in my subject matter, and to support the concept of reading as a whole. How could I, someone who aims to write books for a living, expect people to read what I write when I didn't read anything all last year!

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But when I reviewed my list of finished books on Goodreads, I discovered all my fears were for naught because I actually read a healthy slate of books in 2018, saving my authorial face for another year. (Excepting, of course, that I just shared with you my insecurity and fear of hypocrisy.)

I've got four books to share, which, while not the largest number a person could muster, is a good clip for me. Nevertheless, just the past few weeks, I've felt a growing urge pressed into my subconscious to read even more than those I finished this year. I know of course that quality is more important than quantity, but I have many books I want to read. Books about martians, books about marketing, and books about Christ. Books by Carrie Fisher and Ray Bradbury. Books that will increase my understanding and appreciation of Jesus Christ and the world in which he operates.

If you only read one book this year, it should be my forthcoming book The Last Lessons of Christ. (Seriously, this one will knock your socks off.) But if you read two books in 2019, might I suggest one of these?

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ

This book is unique. It takes a good couple of chapters to grasp the structure and flow of the book, but once you settle in you'll be enchanted by how Wayne Stiles weaves his travels throughout the Holy Land with events from the gospel stories.

One part travel diary, one part Bible study, Dr. Stiles helps add flesh to the bones of the Scripture. As one who's never been to Israel (and I'm guessing you haven't either) this book was a great aid for envisioning what life looked like in the Biblical narrative and where the events took place.

But Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus isn't some haphazard collection of travel notes. Stiles dives deep into many passages, illuminating phrases or verses in a new way. One passage I found particularly insightful is his writing on Jesus and miracles:

The rulers’ rejection of Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom on that day [in Matt. 12] represented the most determinative event in the ministry of Christ. From this moment on, Jesus began to withdraw and postpone His offer. His answer to their demand for a sign confirmed this tragic pivot. . . they had already rejected His signs. He would show them no more miracles to validate His offer. None, that is, except one: the sign of Jonah, meaning Christ’s resurrection after three days (see v. 40). Like Israel of old, the leaders of Jesus’ day still wanted a king like all the other nations. Jesus miserably failed their expectations.[1.]

If you're at all interested in the context or history surrounding the gospel accounts, you'll enjoy this book. (Note: The Kindle version of this book does not include photos contained in the print version. Instead there are simply placeholders stating the photo was omitted due to "rights restrictions.")

Even if I never make it to the Holy Land, I'll be able to say I've been there in my mind thanks to Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus.

I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist is one of the best books I have read in years.

I know that's a bold claim, but I assure you it's not hyperbole. I enjoyed it so much that after reading the Kindle version, I bought a physical copy for my 14-year-old son to read over the summer. (You're welcome, Tom.)

That's the beauty of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. It's an incredibly deep dive into apologetics and worldviews while at the same time remaining accessible to your average teenager.

What's most impressive about Geisler and Turek's book is that they do not use Scripture to support their claims until halfway through the book! Now, for some Christians, that might seem heretical or foolhardy, but their goals are loftier than re-converting the church choir.

Their goal, as they state from the outset, is to demonstrate why Christianity is the most reasonable and logically consistent worldview based upon the evidence we have in our reality. And, in doing so, the believer is armed with tools and arguments to combat logical fallacies and to defend Christianity with objectivity. The preface states it well:

Religious skeptics believe that books like this one can’t be trusted for objective information because such books are written by religious people who have an agenda. . . Their assessment may be true for some books about religion, but it’s not true for them all. If it were, you couldn’t trust anything you read concerning religion—including books written by atheists or skeptics—because every writer has a viewpoint on religion. . .
. . . If you’re a skeptic, please keep in mind that you should believe or disbelieve what we say because of the evidence we present, not because we have a certain set of religious beliefs. We are both Christians, but we were not always Christians. We came to believe through evidence. So, the fact that we are Christians is not the issue: why we are Christians is the important point. And that’s the focus of this book.[2]

The authors start at the foundational level, first asking if truth can really be known. It's unfortunate that such a chapter is necessary, but such is the world we live in today.

After establishing that truth about reality is knowable and the opposite of true is false, the authors proceed to establish that a god exists. They begin with the origins of the universe. The universe had a beginning, and all things which have a beginning must have a cause. Then they move to the argument from design (teleology), and then go on to use morality as yet more evidence.

From all of these arguments, the authors make a strong case for theism. And this is all without using Scripture. This is called general revelation. Logic and evidence show us that there is some sort of supreme being who created the universe with intelligence and design and who is the moral standard for humanity. Once these critical baseline arguments are in place, the authors argue that the God of the Bible is the only plausible god, and that Christianity is the only logically consistent worldview.

My goal is for each of my children to read through this book before they leave the house as an adult. So many Christians these days are lacking the fundamentals of their faith, and, as a result are like the seed sown on rocky soil that sprang up quickly but were scorched because they didn't have deep enough roots.[3] Understanding why one believes what one believes is critical regardless of what religion or non-religion that person adheres to.

This book will not replace the need for faith, as no worldview can provide every answer to every question we have. Nevertheless, when presented with the evidence, I must agree with the authors that it does indeed require more faith to be an atheist than a Christian.

Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying

Drew Dyck has a new book in 2019, and I'm excited to read it. Yawning at Tigers is the predecessor, and a good one at that. Dyck is thoughtful, conversational, and yet passionate about a problem he sees in Western Christianity: a lack of reverence for our creator. We have focused, he claims, too much on God's immanence and not enough on his transcendence. And, in so doing, we have remade God into something safer, something containable. Such is folly and causes many Christians to miss out on a true and fulfilling relationship with our heavenly father. As he writes:

It’s easy to believe we’re encountering God because we go to church, sing the songs, pray the prayers, and interact with Christians. But we can do all those things without ever having to grapple with the real presence of God.[4]

Dyck tells the story of visiting the lion exhibit at a zoo with his wife and young son. In the midst of observing the beast behind the safety of plexiglass, a group of people approached, tapping on the window and snapping pictures. Here was this massive creature capable of destroying them in a single motion, and they treated him with irreverence and disdain, like an attraction.

Too many Christians approach God the same way these tourists mocked the lion. (I'm guessing the author determined that "Yawning at Tigers" rolls off the tongue more easily than "Yawning at Lions".) God is holy, omnipotent, dangerous, and transcendent. But because of a lack of understanding or need for comfort, we've tried to contain him to something we can admire from afar and visit on our own terms. It's safer that way.

This book is a quick, easy read, which is code for well written. If you've never contemplated the tension between God's immanence and his transcendence, I recommend Yawning at Tigers.

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision

On Guard by William Lane Craig is an apologetic book, similar in many ways to I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist but with a different approach. Craig infuses much more philosophy into On Guard. The second chapter, for example, is titled "What Difference Does it Make if God Exists?" He seems to ask, "Why?" at every turn, which allows the reader to think deeply on the existential questions of life: origin, morality, destiny, meaning.

Dr. Craig also weaves into his work his own personal experiences that serve to complement the heavy topics at hand such as suffering and "Can we be good without God?" He also makes a detailed and compelling case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

Although this a different book than I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, it's hard not to compare them since I read both in the same year. I actually ready On Guard first, but if you are considering one, I'd start with Geisler and Turek's book. Then, if you need to wet your whistle further, proceed to On Guard. I found the latter more engaging and more memorable, even though Craig does an excellent job of defending the faith.

One concept that blew my mind was Craig's discussion of the beginnings of the universe. Some argue that the universe has eternally existed. But this can't be the case, according to Craig. Just as we would never stop if we tried to count to infinity the opposite is true also. If the universe has existed for all time, then today never would have arrived. As he writes:

If you can’t count to infinity, how could you count down from infinity? This would be like trying to count down all the negative numbers, ending at zero: …, -3, -2, -1, 0. This seems crazy. For before you could count 0, you’d have to count -1, and before you could count -1, you’d have to count -2, and so on, back to infinity. Before any number could be counted an infinity of numbers will have to have been counted first. . . So today could never be reached. But obviously here we are! This shows that the series of past events must be finite and have a beginning.[5]

If you have any interest in apologetics or philosophy of religion, you won't be disappointed with On Guard.

Your turn. Read anything good last year?

1. Stiles, Wayne. Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ (pp. 69-70). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Geisler, Norman L.. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Foreword by David Limbaugh) (p. 13-14). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
3. See Matthew 13.
4. Dyck, Drew. Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying (p. 21). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
5. Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (p. 84). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Note: this piece contains affiliate links to some products which means I receive a small percentage of the proceeds if you purchase. This does not, however, increase the price you pay. The retailer simply gives me a bounty for directing traffic its way.

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