2011 Reading biographies books reading

December 2011 Reading

January 6, 2012

This post closes out my list of 2011 Reading. It was a good year in books, and I learned a lot. I’ll likely summarize my reading for 2012 slightly differently, which will hopefully allow me to avoid such long posts as these.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Clayborne Carson)

I am grieved that I grew up being taught (and accepting the belief) that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a good man, good Christian, or good American. His part in America’s history was either left out or glossed over in the majority of my history books. Or, the only mention of his name was that he was wrong in his actions and wrong in his theology.  However, as I read MLK’s autobiography, I was overwhelmed both at the man he was and the suffering (i.e., bombings, frequent death threats, beatings, killing of innocent children) that he and so many endured in their attempt to peacefully protest segregation.

Anyone who has encountered the teachings and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. will undoubtedly attest that he was a powerful, eloquent speaker. But what impressed me most about his life was his commitment to non-violence, love, and his refusal to lash out in response to both verbal and physical attack. (As I saw this, I couldn’t help but think that it would be impossible to respond in such a way without supernatural enabling.) Another part of his life that impressed me (and there are too many to mention here) was when he went to go help in the Chicago suburbs, and he felt that in order to understand what the blacks there were suffering he should move in among the poor areas and live like those he wished to encourage, empower, and enable. Though it was difficult on him and his family, he learned about things that made their situation more difficult, and he probably would not have had these same observations had he not made this move.

This book is helpful in that it includes many of MLK’s speeches, sermons, and letters. There is some criticism for the book. Although it is labeled as an autobiography, MLK did not write it himself as an autobiography in its entirety. However, it is a helpful compilation and he did write many brief autobiographical articles, which, pieced together with his speeches and correspondence, do form a rather coherent overview of much of his life. This book was on my top 10 list for 2011.

Through My Eyes (Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker)

Football is the American sport that I’ve had the least exposure  to and interest in, so I was possibly at a disadvantage right from the start reading Tebow’s autobiography.

I had a hard time not feeling that, at best, Tebow’s tone and approach comes across as a bit arrogant. This is slightly ironic, due to his emphasis (and titling of a chapter) that his parents taught their children to live by Proverbs 27:2, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.” For as many times as he shares this verse, he seems to include a good bit of praise for himself. He often attributed his success to homeschooling, hard work, and his parents encouragement. This isn’t necessary wrong, but there seemed to be an overemphasis that these attributes and life experiences set him apart in away that made him better than everyone else, and that these were the main reasons why.

Of course, when you’re 24-years old, truly successful in your field, and you write a book yourself, it is probably hard not to come across as arrogant. (I should mention that he wrote it with Nathan Whitaker, so I’ll give Tebow the benefit of the doubt that it’s possible some of the wording and emphases and inclusions of certain life experiences may not have been all of his own choosing. Of course, that’s possible working with the publisher as a single author, too.) Also interesting were some of the ways in which his parents encouraged his faith: when he made a profession of faith, his parents took the entire family to Disney World to celebrate and his parents paid their children $1 each time someone from outside the family would give a compliment to the parent about that child’s character qualities.

There are certainly some admirable things about his life (no one can accuse him of not being a hard worker), but I don’t know if we can call all his approaches truly evangelical (by which I refer to evangelism, rather than a specific branch of Protestant Christianity, which he is certainly a part of), and at times it seems very moralistic and superficial. (For this, I would say he shares the Gospel in a way that is very much a quick, easy “salvation culture,” as opposed to really sharing the fulness of the Gospel or “the Gospel culture,” as Scot McKnight labels such approaches in his book, The King Jesus Gospel.)

God is bigger than our methods, and I am quite certain that He can and is using Tim Tebow’s life for His glory. At the same time, I observe that those who are the biggest and loudest fans of his expressions of faith are mostly conservative, Evangelical Christians much like him, and to those who is supposedly trying to reach he often comes across as arrogant and in-your-face. I have to wonder if some of what he perceives to be evangelistic is actually doing more harm than good to those who don’t have the same background as his own.

Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives (Wendy Horger Alsup)

In this practical book, Wendy Alsup lays out the importance of women studying theology and applying it practically to their lives. (Although women are not limited to reading theology written “for women,” I think Alsup’s hope is that many women would be more likely to pick this book up than, say, a 600-page book on systematic theology. This book could have just as easily been titled, “An Introduction to Practical Theology.”) This book is basic, yet still in-depth and practical, avoiding the fluff. I’m not listing this book in my top ten because it was full of new revelation or even ten ways to revolutionize my life in 30 days. I list it here because I believe the simplicity and basic theology pointed to in this book would be a helpful book to women (or men), both myself and others desiring to grow in the knowledge of and walk with God and seeing the ways where that practically fits into life. There were a couple of statements that didn’t sit quite well with me, but overall I found this book very…practical. 🙂 This book was also on my Top 10 for 2011 list.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches (Rachel Jankovic)

If you read this book and get nothing else, you will certainly come away knowing that the author has five children under five and also had three children in diapers simultaneously. I have in the past found this author’s writing style to sometimes come across as condescending, and reading the first portion of this book I felt the same way. However, after I got further into the book I found her tone warmer, gentler, and helpful. This is not the book that builds chapter by chapter, but rather a short collection of assorted thoughts. As such, it is a short book, and each chapter is only a few pages long.

Rachel’s style is quick-to-the-point and often written in metaphorical language. However, sometimes the directness comes across as “do harder, try harder” and often the metaphors break down. She also uses Scriptural parables, takes part of them, and uses them as metaphors to serve her own ideas and messages. They are not all wrong thoughts that she tries to convey, but this is problematic in that some reading these portions (and seeing Scripture quoted or alluded to) could easily be led to believe that her idea is what that specific passage or parable is teaching.

Jankovic also makes dogmatic statements that aren’t necessarily Biblical and sometimes even contrary (e.g., “As married Christian women, our identity is in our husbands.” (62) No, even as married women, our identity is still in Christ.). In women’s books, this type of writing is often glossed over, swallowed wholeheartedly, and perpetuated; so it is important that the reader reads with discernment and disects these sort of statements.

Three foci I that I did find helpful were 1) an emphasis on viewing children (particularly in larger families) as individuals, not a group to be managed and 2) taking time to interact with children and make their day(s) and lives fun, and 3) realizing that your children may come into your family created with different interests, talents, and personality that his/her parents, and that parents need to be willing to see that as a gift and adapt and grow as a family to such differences (for instance, the example of a very outgoing, social child with parents who like quiet and staying home).

I read this book because it is popular right now (within some evangelical circles), and I wanted to be familiar with it. Admittedly, I may have had a bit of a bias going into it, and it’s likely that my giving this book anything less than a 99% approval rating will seem as if I am being condescending myself. Still, I had concerns and fear that the writing style makes them easy to overlook.

Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children (John Younts)

Generally, I agree with the authors’ emphasis that “the most important conversations you will have with your kids will be in the context of everyday life.” (Though, I don’t know as I’d go so far as to say I agree with the book’s dogmatic message: “The message of this book is that the most profound teaching your child receives is the everyday talk from your mouth,” since it maybe be possible for a child to receive “the most profound teaching” elsewhere, particular if everyday talk in a home is minimal.) Certainly, the everyday talk that is incorporated (or absent) in the home and family life plays an essential role in helping children understand life in general, and in Christian homes, man’s relationship with God.

I agree that this is desperately lacking in many homes, and even in Christian homes where things appear to be put together. Somehow, there is a hesitancy in adults/parents to talk about spiritual things or aspects of life that many consider topics to avoid discussing with their children. (And maybe even with adults in general: having received no “everyday talk” about some of these issues at home, I was also surprised that in our marriage counseling, when the topic of sexual relationships in marriage came up, we were told, “Well, we’re running out of time to discuss that. You’ll figure that out on your own pretty easily, though.” 🙂 I think that the “you’ll figure it out on approach” is simply assumed about much of a child’s learning and development in areas that may make parents uncomfortable to talk about.)

Younts also gives two specific areas in which he devotes a chapter each to topics parents should be discussing with their children: 1) sex and 2) music. Instead of simply addressing a general principle that parents need to be discussing these issues with children, I believe the author goes beyond and gives his specific opinions that may be confusing to children (and parents) if those aren’t their same interpretation of how Scripture deals with those subjects.

Overall, the premise of this book is helpful, but there is a lot of baggage and hermeneutical spirals sprinkled throughout the book that I fear could be conscience-binding and confusing to both parents (and therefore children). Like many parenting books directed to this audience, the author places an emphasis on the sin nature of children from birth without also giving emphasis to the specialness of children (people in general) being created in the image of God.

On an interesting side note (that I discovered while reading the end material of the book), the author is an elder at the church across the street (highway) from my own, and lives in our same little small town area.

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