Summer Reads Pt.1

Looking for some interesting books to read this summer about Anabaptism, pacifism, social justice, or other topics that Mennonites love reading about?  Every year, my Tyndale friends and I set up a challenge with each other – who can read the most books.  I will be sharing with you some of the ones that I have read which stood out for me (if they are related to theology, Anabaptism, or social justice… I will also include some books about disability studies).  Books that don’t have anything to do with these topics won’t be put on this blog.

Here were the relevant books that I read back in the summer of 2010 (I read a total of 50 books equaling 12,657 pages)

MENNONITE BOOKS:

1) The Complete Works of Menno Simons (By: Menno Simons, Complied By: J.C. Wenger) (926 pages)

Review: Well if you have over a month to read a book, then try this one.  I joke. This book taught me a lot of what Mennonites believe on a variety of issues – I mean, obviously I knew our theology from what my pastors and church members taught me, but it’s cool to hear it right from our main leader’s mouth. I learned a lot mostly about what Mennonites believe on excommunication, the calling of pastors, why pastors in the Mennonite church were not paid a salary, and even what we think of hunting and spanking our children. I read some interesting stories that I didn’t know before, found some great quotes in it, and even found the answer to the question I’ve been asked many times before: WHY DON’T MENNONITES EVANGELIZE?* If you’re interested ask and I can tell you after read this book. There were a few problems with this book though: 1) It was really long and tedious. 2) It was extremely repetitive. 3) It was inaccessible in some areas and hard to understand. 4) It might be confusing or uninteresting to someone who does not have a solid Mennonite background because you need to at least be familiar with our concepts and have a basis for our theology. 5) His beliefs on the incarnation of Christ (which take up a lot of the book) are contrary to what most Christians would believe. He is still a Christian, but even J.C. Wenger says that most Mennonites today would dismiss these thoughts.

But despite all this, I found Menno Simons to be more evangelical and salvation orientated then I gave him credit for, despite the fact that I was a little confused with some stuff he said on sin and salvation. So this book both clarified my views and also confused me even more if that made any sense.

  • I do realize that some Mennonites evangelize, but I just put this question in here because it was constantly asked to me by people at Tyndale.  I think for the most part Mennonites live missionally, although I don’t think many agree with the concept of street evangelism.

2) Why I Am A Mennonite Edited By: Harry Loewen (Pages: 320)

Review: A collection of 31 essays written by various authors on what it means to be Mennonite. It was interesting because they asked a variety of people – everyone from modern day Mennonites to people who grew up Amish or Very Old Order and those who grew up on the Mennonite communes (such as Hutterites) to people who converted to Mennonitism to Mennonite professors. You get the picture, it goes across the board.

It was very realistic – like how we tend to think “Mennonite” as ethnicity rather than faith. How when someone asks what a Mennonite is we want to talk about our food, culture, traditions, etc instead of what we believe about our faith. And I could also connect with what the new converts said how ethnic Mennonites do not consider us full Mennonites because we don’t have a Mennonite last name or can’t speak plautdietch fluently. It is a sad fact that we try to be welcoming yet we always unintentionally separate people within our own church as “them and us”.

This book also talked about the effect American evangelism and Biblical fundamentalism has had on the Mennonite community and why today we do not like altar calls and why we don’t evangelize. But as a note, the new converts were actually quite evangelical in their writings, whereas the ethnic Mennonites were very liberal with an attitude that you can believe whatever you want and we should accept people of all religious backgrounds.

It was a good book, but that’s probably because I am a Mennonite.

3) On The Backroad to Heaven By: Donald B. Kraybill and Carl F. Bowman Pages: 246

Review: This book was about one of my favourite topics ever: The history of the Mennonite people. It’s a very comprehensive book that talks about 4 of the old order groups that exist today: The Hutterites, The Old Order Mennonites (think the ones with horse and buggy who live in St. Jacob), The Amish, and The Old German Baptist Dunker Brethren. It goes on to highlight some of great things that each group offers as well as unique challenges they each face, their key beliefs, and how they feel about things such as excommunication/shunning and why you would be expelled from each group. I liked the book a lot because I always find it interesting to know more about the beginnings of my own group and some of the stuff they talked about in this book really highlights what my church was like 50 years ago (so it’s also cool to see how much we have changed and “modernized” in less than a century).

4) Martyr’s Mirror Edited By: Thieleman J. van Braght Pages: 457 (It was actually 482 pages but I got rid of the 25 pages of illustrations)

Review: The sad and gruesome tale recounting the tragic deaths of the martyrs beginning with Stephen and ending in the 17th century. It was a good read despite the graphic content and the fact that it is long. Made me think of how fortunate I am that I never had to go through such trials because of my faith, but made me think about what it would be like if I would have had to.

* The actual title in Dutch is a mouthful: The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only Upon Confession of Faith, and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus, Their Saviour, From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660 Compiled from Various Authentic Chronicles, Memorials, and Testimonies By: Thieleman J. Van Braght Translated from the Original Dutch or Holland Language from the Edition of 1660 By: Joseph F. Sohm

PEACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

1) A Long Way Gone By: Ishmael Beah (226 Pages)

Review: A Long Way Gone is a story about a young boy’s journey from about age 13-17 as he goes from living with his parents, to traveling around the desolate country and escaping bombs, then seeing his village burn down in front of him, getting captured by the government army, later being rehabilitated by the UN, and then setting up a new life in New York. It is a sad book about the reality of child soldiers as written through the eyes of Beah (now 28) who was one of the soldiers in Seria Leone. It is a sad story and I couldn’t believe what a boy younger than me experienced and what they continue to go through in these countries. But it is also a story of redemption and hope.

2)Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes By: Kelsey Timmerman (243 pages)

Review: Timmerman is a man with a mission. Timmerman finds himself looking through where his clothes were made one day, and realizes that his boxers were made in Bangladesh, his jeans in Cambodia, his flip flops in China, his favourite t-shirt in Honduras and a pair of shorts that he has owned for 16 years right in his own country of the U.S. Timmerman than embarks on a quest where he tries to find the different factories and the workers who made his clothes. He spends time with them getting to know not only their working conditions, but also their life story, hobbies, hopes, and dreams. I liked this book because a lot of other books on this subject just seem to always press the fact that the factory use child labour or sweatshops, but Timmerman doesn’t do that. Instead he admits that against the backdrop of our society it seems like slavery, but to that culture and the average wage there it is not too far off. He does not justify what happens overseas, and in many regards his disagrees with how workers are treated, but he also warns us not simply to stop buying products made overseas because that would put the workers out of jobs and then they’d be even worse off than before. Timmerman gives you a lot to think about and it’s cool to travel around the world with him on his quest. Also, he has an amazing sense of humour which is hard to miss.

3)Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill ~ A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence By: Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano Pages: 150

Review: What might not be surprising to you is that I got this book from my church library which hosts over 200 books on the topic of nonviolence, which might surprise you is that this book was written by a former “big wig” in the army. Grossman and DeGaetano are two concerned parents who say that a lot of what’s on tv these days just can’t be good for the kids. For the most part, as a Mennonite, I agree with what they are saying… but sometimes this book just seemed kind of long and even tedious. Not a bad book though if you’re ever doing a project on media violence.

4) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Economics By: Craig Hovey and Gregory Rehmke (195 pages).

Review: If you are interested in understanding sweatshops, corrupt governments, and other things that make the world go round in the realm of economics read this book. I enjoyed it because the examples he used were practical and even a bit witty and he also had lots of graphs and charts to show world rankings. Economics doesn’t have to be boring you know ;P

CHRISTIAN DEVOTIONAL BOOKS

1) Blue Like Jazz Non-Religious Thoughts About Christian Spirituality By: Donald Miller (218 pages)

Review: If you’ve ever wanted to get down to the pure basis of the Christian faith and strip away all this religious jargon and confusing dogma Blue Like Jazz is the book for you! It is one of the most read Christian books of this year and for good reason. Miller writes in a friendly, casual style that invites readers not simply to try to figure out what the Bible has to say on a variety of topics, but rather to enter into Miller’s own personal testimony and those of some of his friends. He uses down to earth language that makes it seem as if he is talking to you over a cup of coffee. His writing is not elegant and oftentimes doesn’t flow very well, and he also uses a lot of rough words which some of you might not appreciate such as “crap” and he is also straightforward about the whole theme of sex. Nevertheless, Miller writes in such a way that he is able to mix the roughness of crude language with the beauty of Christian love as he combines his thoughts in a realistic way without trying to prove himself to be ultra spiritual. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is new to the Christian faith or even to those of us who are just looking to deepen our own walk with God but don’t want to necessarily be hit over the head with Greek and Hebrew. It’s an easy read and even has a few cartoons about Don Astronaut and the Sexy Carrots (read this book and see what I mean).

2) In the Eye of the Storm – A Day In The Life of Jesus By: Max Lucado (168 pages)

Review: If you have ever witnessed a perfect day turning into a complete disaster this is the book for you. If you have ever had so much stress you felt like you were about to explode, had doubts about your faith, or felt the sting of failure, this is the book for you. I am a huge fan of Lucado’s books, so it goes without saying that I think he is a great writer. Easy to read, yet not without theology. Tongue and cheek at point, yet never slap stick humour. Gentle yet firm in his stance. He draws from a wide range of creative explanations of common Bible stories, contemporary and historical examples, and personal experiences. He blends and combines the Gospel of Jesus with other stories – interweaving them together. Great read if you are looking for a book to read as a devotional.

3) Is This A God Of Love? By: A.E. Wilder-Smith (180 pages)
Review: A surprisingly accessible book written by a brilliant man and scholar. A.E. Wilder-Smith is an unapologetic Christian apologist when it comes to defending creation and a young earth theory over Neo-Darwinism and the theory of Evolution. And actually, since my father was a member of the Creation Society when I was growing up, I was often dragged to lectures and watched many Creation videos in which they featured A.E. Wilder-Smith. In this book, Wilder-Smith changed his pace around just slightly and instead of simply talking about creation he defended the fact that there was a God even in the midst of suffering and he addressed the problem of evil. Even though he still drew quite a bit from his studies in biology and chemistry, I was delighted when he used easy to understand concepts and real world scenarios such as going to the dentist and falling in love! Now who can’t relate with that? I highly recommend this book – if you have doubts of why God would let someone suffer I think it will help clear some of those up. And if you have any friends who are seriously interested in being Christians but are just a tad confused, recommend this book to them. I found it easy to read for the most part, and I couldn’t even put it down. It’s also great for a discussion if you want to get some friends together and all read it.

4) Total Forgiveness By: R.T. Kendall (175 pages)
Review: This is a great book about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about forgiveness. R.T. Kendall is a blunt, no-nonsense man who still maintains his compassionate composure as he talks about his own experiences. He teaches what it means to really forgive others and yourself, and what to do if you feel you just can’t forgive your enemy. It’s an easy read with many timely quotes in it.

5) Book 28: Fireproof Novelization By: Eric Wilson, Based on the Screenplay By: Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick (Pages: 275)

Review: I am guessing that most, if not all of you have seen, or at least heard of the movie Fireproof so let me simply say that this book is about the movie Fireproof (meaning it tells the story plot).

Like most of you know about me, I have a knack for watching the movie before reading the book, but I have actually never read a book that was based off of a movie (because usually the movie is based off of the book). In this regard, I was a bit disappointed (even though I did have fair warning). I find that when a movie is based from a book the book still differs quite a bit and it still holds suspense, yet when a book is based off a movie it is very predictable. In a sense, it seemed like the author was simply recounting all of the events that happened in the movie with no sense of originality of his own and he just seemed to be filling in blanks as necessary to make the story flow better. So it was really not his own work, but rather someone else’s work (which I would imagine is maddening to any author worth his/her weight in salt).

On the positive side though, just because it was predictable, it did not entirely lose its effect. I still enjoyed the story plot and also the challenges it presents. This book is still a pretty good book in terms of literary style and content and it is wholesome literature. As most girls will attest to, I also still had to choke back tears at the very end of it when things came together. So I would still recommend this book, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet then I would recommend reading this book BEFORE you watch it other wise you probably won’t get as much from it.

6) Two of Lewis’ Greatest Works – First and Second Things and The Problem of Pain By: C.S. Lewis (Pages: 238)

Review: OK, for this one I’m going to do a review of both individually. I’ll start with First and Second Things. F&S Things is a collection of essays written by Lewis often in response to letters that someone sent him. In this collection he talks about many different issues including how 20th century thought was formed, how our understanding is shaped, the state of Christianity at the time of his writing, and punishment theories to list a few. It was a bit hectic because he goes all over the place in this book, but I believe the title was fitting because he talks about how things were originally in Christendom versus how they were when he wrote and why that happened.

The Problem of Pain – This is a book about the timeless question “If God is all loving and all good how can He allow us to feel pain?”. This book really reminded me of A.E. Wilder Smith’s book “Is this a God of Love”.

Lewis is a brilliant writer, though his writing is somewhat “heavy duty”. I have read many books by Lewis and find that he is more of a philosopher than a theologian so if you know you’re stuff in philosophy I think you’ll like this book. He gives you a lot to think about as well, so that’s why after you’ve read it once you may find yourself revisiting it a few years down the road and notice that you missed half the stuff he said the first time.

7) The Divine Romance By: Gene Edwards (180 pages)

Review: This book is exactly what the title says – it’s a love story about the love that God has for us and it recounts His love for us from the time of creation to the time of Jesus’s resurrection. Edwards is a brilliant author who combine prose with poetry which makes it an enjoyable read. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the fact that it was not all that biblically accurate, but then again if you make a novel too literal it would no longer be a novel so I guess that’s not all that big of a fault.

8) Miracles By: C.S. Lewis Pages: 179

Review: Another brilliant book by Lewis debating the difference between supernatural and natural events and discussing the topic of whether miracles actually do exist. Very philosophical, and kind of hard to understand at times, but for anyone interested in Christian apolegetics this would be a good book to start off with. As a side note, one of the essays I read in Critical Reasoning was found in this book!

9) Made to Count ~ Discovering What to Do With Your Life By: Bob Reccord and Randy Singer Pages: 228

Review: This book was an excellent devotional that focused on a topic that has long held my interest – calling. Reccord and Singer’s thesis is that churches today focus too much on a “calling” in a “sacred” sense and ministry as being a pastor, missionary, Christian school teacher, etc. In fact, some churches believe that there are certain professions that are too “worldly” or “secular” for any “good” Christian to be a part of. They hypothesize that any profession can be a calling so long as we are serving God in it through the right attitude and perspective. This book is a very good book in terms of getting to know yourself and how God can use our personality for His Kingdom work. I think this book would be great for anyone searching for what God is calling them to do with their life next. I also love how the author interviews so many people and gets their testimonies to share with the readers. He interviews everyone from media superstars to politicians to real estate agents to professors of large liberal, secular universities who are Christians. They have some very encouraging things to say. Bottom line: I liked this book a lot.

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