Monday, November 19, 2007

On rereading

When I saw that Tim was reading John Piper I got so excited that I did what I usually try not to do and only skim-read the rest of his post before leaving a comment. Not a good thing, that. In fact, it's possibly bordering on sinful since it means I'm not truly listening. It's always better to read what someone says carefully before deciding whether it's wise to comment.

Anyway, on to the point of this post. Tim made some remarks in his opening paragraph to the effect of how he rarely rereads sections of books, and that made me think of Christian books that I find myself returning to time and time again. I don't think this is necessarily the catch-all criteria in determining if a Christian book is great; for instance, a really difficult theological work may be read with much profit but I might not necessarily want to reread the whole thing again. But, especially in the case of so-called "basic" books or books written for the layperson, if I find myself reaching for it repeatedly and still finding it helpful, challenging, encouraging, and so on, it must have something going for it that sets it apart from some of the dross that appears on many bookshelves these days.

Also, it can be fascinating to reread stuff because they can read differently from when you've first read them, owing to factors such as having more life experience, being in a different situation, having more knowledge in a specific area, having read more widely and critically, or having changed your mind about something. Frequently, there're sentences or paragraphs that leap out at you where before they seemed peripheral.

Of the top of my head, here are some of the books that I keep going back to (excluding reference works and such):

1. The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard. I find that I need to reread this book every once in a while. This is a brilliant book about personal holiness that is unfortunately not that widely known. I remember the first time I read it - at the end of every chapter I had to put it down and think about (or resist doing so!) about how I've lost my first love. I read and enjoy my fair share of works that remain in the abstract, but this isn't one of them! It's extremely, extremely readable and well-grounded, and I think it's one of those rare books that both new Christians and those who've been one for decades will find equally illuminating.

2. The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. Another book on sanctification. I just reread a couple of chapters tonight and it was good to be reminded of great foundational truths yet again. We tend to one of two extremes, either being unnecessarily weighed down by guilt or too unconcerned with our sin, and Bridges is an effective antidote to both.

3. Out of the Saltshaker by Rebecca Manley-Pippert. This is a classic on evangelism that I find really stands the test of time. It helps keep me sane. I go back to it, laugh at the stories she tells, feel challenged by the need for evangelism, and reminded that it's not about techniques but about loving God and neighbour. It's like spending time with a grandma who tells you the same stories and gives you the same advice every year, but it never gets old.

4. Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell. I think it was CJ Mahaney who said it's a good idea to read a book on the cross every year. I've overhyped this book that I've probably set up would-be readers for inevitable disappointment, but I still find that this book is one of the clearest expositions on how amazing the cross is.

5. Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III. This is a really good book on the place of the emotions in the Christian life. There's just so much good stuff here!

I'm sure there are others too. I haven't mentioned John Piper, because I haven't actually returned to him that much despite the fact that Desiring God was such an important book in my life, but I will surely love to reread it again. I suspect that I'd probably need to return to Os Guinness' The Call at some point. Some books that I've acquired too recently to know whether I'll be returning to them but which I think will be a permanent fixture on my bookshelf include Peter Jensen's At the Heart of the Universe, which was truly a pleasant surprise (it's a great Christianity 101 book), Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and Paul Miller's Love Walked Among Us.

So what about you? Are there any Christian books that you find yourself going to again and again? (Btw, this is true for fiction too, but that's for another day!)

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