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Tim Challies’ Vacation Reading List

The list:

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson – The book offers an amazing portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign. Larson accomplishes this through the stories of William Dodd, the American ambassador to Berlin, and his socialite daughter, Martha. While Dodd begins to discover what Hitler is up to (the book is set in 1933), Martha is socializing, dating and sleeping with a succession of Nazis, Communists and other notables. Between them, father and daughter offering a fascinating glimpse of the nation as Hitler began to turn his country against the Jews and began to gear up for war.

Decision Points

Decision Points by George W. Bush. The book is structured around 14 critical decisions Bush has had to make, most of which came during his presidency. He is feisty at times, remorseful at others. He certainly shows that he is not the unthinking, fundamentalist moron the press so joyously and consistently portrayed him as. I was particularly interested in the many portions of the book in which he speaks of his faith—portions which unfortunately often left me quite confused and with no better sense of what he truly believes. Overall, though, the book is well-written and quite enjoyable, even if it feels a chapter or two too long.

Inside Scientology

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. Society has justifiably turned on the church, even banning it in some countries. My concern with this is that many of the arguments used in opposition of Scientology could quite easily be turned against Christianity (“They indoctrinate children!”). Thus my interest in reading this book was largely to familiarize myself with the tenets of the religion and to seek to understand how people are battling against it. Reitman does a good job of exposing it as a secular kind of cult.


Three Cups of Deceit

Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer. Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Tea) authored two bestselling books before being exposed as a fraud. While he portrayed himself as a great humanitarian and while he told stories of all his heroics, he has since been shown to be a liar (or chronic exaggerator at the very least). In this Kindle Single, Jon Krakauer does the research and thoroughly outs Mortensen.

A Stolen LifeA Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. I actually bought this book by mistake (I hit the wrong button on the Kindle). I had no idea what it was or who the author was—only that it was the #1 seller on Kindle which probably means it is also destined for the New York Times list of bestsellers. Since I bought it, I began reading and learned that Jaycee Dugard is that woman who was in the news a short time ago, having been kidnapped at 11 and kept as a kind of sex slave for 18 years. I read only the first couple of chapters. When she began to describe the sexual abuse she was subjected to, I immediately stopped reading. Somewhere it seemed to cross a line that I found quite literally sickening.



The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived: Secrets for Unparalleled Success and Unshakable Happiness from the Life of Jesus

Jared Wilson:

Ever heard of The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived: Secrets for Unparalleled Success and Unshakable Happiness from the Life of Jesus? One of the customer reviews explains the book this way:

He started his career with eight failures and became a multi-millionaire. In this book, he shows you how to succeed at being the best YOU you can be, by being like Jesus. This book is “How to win friends and influence people” plus every book that John Maxwell ever wrote, all in one. You can save yourself a ton of time and money if you buy, read, highlight, study, and apply the principles of this book.

In an endorsement of one of the author’s previous books, JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman says, “I believe these breakthrough strategies could propel you to levels of success and happiness you haven’t imagined. No wonder the wisest man who ever lived also became the richest!”


We can scrutinize this spiritual vacuousness of this book till the cows come home. But the problem is that what makes books like this so popular is also what drives the message of too many of our churches: Jesus wants you to achieve your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The evangelical Jesus is the guru of our American dreams.

And why? Because that’s what we want. That’s what sells easily to us. That’s what draws the crowd.

In John 6 we get a breathtaking survey of the extremes of Jesus’ ministry. He begins by feeding a crowd of 5,000, a feat so miraculous and impressive they basically try to make him king by force. Then Jesus walks on the raging waters. The crowd loves it!

Then he says lunch is great, but eating his flesh and blood is best. And he teaches on God’s sovereignty, not man’s autonomy (John 6:65) and he loses a whole lot of people. He goes from packing out the arena to leading a small group.

Let us beware of negating the scandal for fear of losing a crowd. Jesus needs no bonus features, and he certainly won’t stand for having his message twisted or enhanced for maximum customer satisfaction. You don’t need to add more cowbell to Jesus.

You may end up with a crowd, but you will end up with no Jesus.

Matthew for Everyone

Chaplain Mike:

What do these parables tell us about the nature of God’s Kingdom that has dawned in Jesus?

These stories speak of a process.

These wisdom tales stress waiting.

These parables are about patience.

These talks envision a timetable.

They tell us God’s work is often hidden, that he is acting in ways that are real but may not be evident immediately.

They warn us that our zeal for acting with a view toward results now, may be misguided.

Coming home after worship, I sought some further insight from Tom Wright about these parables, and I was challenged by what I read in his Matthew for Everyone guide:

“Why doesn’t God do something?”

That is perhaps the most frequent question that people ask Christian leaders and teachers—and those of some other faiths, too. Tragedies happen. Horrific accidents devastate lives and families. Tyrants and bullies force their own plans on people and crush opposition, and they seem to get away with it. And sensitive souls ask, again and again, why is God apparently silent? Why doesn’t he step in and stop it?

These parables are not a direct answer to the question, and probably no direct answer can be given in this life. But they show, through the various different stories, that God’s sovereign rule over the world isn’t quite such a straightforward thing as people sometimes imagine.

Would people really like it if God were to rule the world directly and immediately, so that our every thought and action were weighed, and instantly judged and if necessary punished, in the scales of his absolute holiness? If the price of God stepping in and stopping a campaign of genocide were that he would have to rebuke and restrain every other evil impulse, including those we all still know and cherish within ourselves, would we be prepared to pay that price? If we ask God to act on special occasions, do we really suppose that he could do that simply when we want him to, and then back off again for the rest of the time.

Now those are good questions.

Gospel Worship

Ray Ortlund:

We come as children to our Father’s table and to sit there with Jesus Christ, our elder brother.  Now a father does not love to have his child sitting in a sullen and dogged way at his table or to be crying, but would rather have the child sitting in comfort with a holy cheerfulness, with a holy freedom of spirit, not in a sullen way, but as a child in the presence of his father, and not as a servant with the master.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Worship (Ligonier, 1990), page 330.

Luther: Echoes of the Hammer

Justin Taylor:

Here’s a look inside a new graphic novel on Martin Luther published by Concordia Publishing House.

Description below:

This is the story, from birth to death, of Martin Luther who headed a revolution that changed the world. From a small town in medieval Germany, the Reformation resulted in dramatic, sweeping change that still echoes today. Here is Luther’s story of adventure, courage, and faith told for the first time in graphic novel style. Scattered throughout the book are informational call-outs of key supporters and enemies of Luther including Frederick the Wise, Katherine von Bora, Charles IV, and many others. Also included is a comprehensive explanation of Luther’s Seal and an extensive history timeline that gives broad context to Luther’s life.
This Luther biography provides an educational and appreciation of Luther and the Reformation in a fun, comfortable format. It’s perfect for adults, children, and classroom use.
Author Susan K. Leigh is an editor and author who lives in a small town in Illinois. She is the author of several children’s picture books, including twelve titles in the popular “God, I Need to Talk to You” series.
Illustrator Dave Hill graduated from Glasgow School of Art. He has worked in the video game industry for ten years. As a freelance illustrator, Dave’s passion is children’s book and comic books. He lives in Scotland with his wife and their two children.

Is God Really in Control?: Trusting God in a World of Hurt

Stuart Dean at The Resurgence:

My wife and I may not understand God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of her pain, but our comfort is that he is totally in control, lovingly working out his loving purposes. Our confidence is that he brings or allows into our lives only what is for our good. By stripping God of his absolute sovereignty, Open Theism denies us that comfort and confidence. When the truth of God is abandoned, so is the hope and strength to face suffering.

In the face of pain and unanswered prayer we need a book of hope, comfort and profound biblical insight. We need orthodox theology with a big pastoral heart. We have found Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control: Trusting God in a World of Hurt to be such a book.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches

Justin Taylor:

Rachel Jankovic, author of Loving the Little Yearswrites:

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. Put their value ahead of yours. Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. Lay down pettiness. Lay down fussiness. Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.

Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone.

Read the whole thing here.

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