January Book Reviews
I read three amazing books in January and wanted to share a short synopsis for each. Feel free to check my GoodReads page for more books that I have enjoyed recently.
C.S. Lewis' UK broadcasted talks during WWII that defended and explained common Christian doctrines were compiled into one of the most beloved and thought-provoking theology books written. His rational, intellectual, and metaphorical method of digging into fundamental Christian beliefs brings a whole new way to look at these beliefs, while still remaining true to the Biblical foundations. His brilliance is visible on each page as he dives from morality and human nature towards Christian beliefs, christian behaviors, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Not an easy task, yet Lewis' Mere Christianity is readable for both believers and nonbelievers alike.
It took me nearly six months to get through this book because my boyfriend and I read it together and would discuss it through emails and FaceTime dates. At the outset, I was not used to Lewis' intellectual way of writing. I felt like I was not smart enough to start such a book. Yet, G.W. (who read this book many years ago and loves it) encouraged me to press on and that I would understand it and come to really enjoy it. He was right; once I read a few more chapters, I was hooked. I am a lover of metaphors, so it came to my delight to remember that Lewis' writings drips of metaphors (the Narnia books are a great example of his metaphorical genius). His use of a three-dimensional cube to explain the Trinity (Book 4; Ch. 2), "obstinate" toy soldiers to explain our human nature to deny God (Book 4; Ch. 5), and pride as a spiritual cancer (Book 3; Ch. 8) are but a few examples.
Readers will quickly recognize oft-quoted theological phrases and paragraphs that originate from Mere Christianity. Likely most common is one of my favorite paragraphs from the book:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic -- on a level with the man that says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with the patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to". (Book 2, Ch.2, page 52)
Written for women, but applicable for men as well, Women of the Word starts out by explaining what has gone wrong with the bulk of Bible study techniques. Wilkin mentions counterproductive Bible study methods (aptly named the Xanax, Pinball, Personal Shopper, Magic 8 Ball, Telephone Game, or Picky Eater) and explains that though we are all likely guilty of using one or all of these methods, we are only skimming the surface of understanding the Bible when using them (see here for a great info-graphic of these methods). They focus on us rather than God, turning our attention from His Truth transforming our lives into using our circumstances and societal norms to dictate the Bible. It leads to picking verses out of context to create mantra-like slogans to get us through our rough days, while missing so much depth and pure gold that is waiting to be excavated and treasured.
So how can we start digging into this treasure? Wilkin introduces the Five P Method of Sound Bible Study. She explains that this method links both the heart and the mind in studying the Word:
- Purpose || How does the text your studying fit into the metanarrative (the Big Story) of the Bible, namely creation-fall-redemption-restoration?
- Perspective || Understanding the archaeology of the text, also known as historical and cultural exegesis. This includes:
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- To whom was it written?
- What style was it written?
- Why was it written?
- Patience || Don't rush through the text or skip to commentaries or studies. Take time to dig.
- Process || Methodically reading for comprehension, interpretation, and application.
- Comprehension answers the "What does it say?" and includes repetitive reading of the text, looking up unknown words in a dictionary, outlining the passage, reading other translations of the text, and noting repeated words or phrases as well as attributes of God.
- Interpretation: Answers "What does it mean?" by looking at cross-references, paraphrasing the text, and studying commentaries.
- Application: "How should it change me?" is answered by looking at what the passage says about God, how that truth about God changes our personal view of self, and what we should do in response.
- Prayer || Asking the Father to guide you in the study before starting, during the study, and afterwards.
I do not have enough words to say how this book changed the way I desire to study the Bible. It gave me a surge of energy to start a two-month study on Philippians using the 5Ps and I am pumped after the first week! I made myself a cheat-sheet with the 5Ps and have used it to guide my study. I wholly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh and Truth-filled way to study the Word.
Surprised By Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber
Carolyn poetically, charmingly, wittingly, and candidly shares her story of becoming a Christian during the first year in her graduate studies at Oxford. Issues such as fatherhood, feminism, doubt, and love are beautifully explored in a memoir that reads as easily as a novel (and as hard to put down as well!). As a Romantic literature major, she was immersed with religious texts (such as Milton's Paradise Lost), lectures, and conversations amongst students and faculty that led her from agnosticism to questioning and eventually to faith. She intricately weaves stories of her childhood, classic poems, and candid stories from her time at Oxford to create a tapestry showcasing God's grace and love.
Surprised By Oxford constantly left me in awe (and yes, surprised!) by Weber's magnificent gift of writing, but even more so, by God's magnificent way of bringing light to the eyes of our heart and mind to better understand Him. I cried. I laughed. I sighed when it was over (and immediately scoured the internet for the name of her newest book, Holy Is The Day. This is one book that I will treasure for years to come. Two cherries on top: 1) It is reminiscent of another Oxonion, the aforementioned C.S. Lewis' writing style and his own story of becoming a Christian 2) I recognized many of the Oxford locations she writes from my beloved day-trip to Oxford a few summers ago.