Monthly Archives: November 2010


Ron’s #42: A Mind for God by James Emery White

A Mind for God by James Emery White is a book that I wished I could write. It makes a solid case for the active life of the Christian mind. Christians are often (and sometimes fairly) caricatured as backwoods simpletons who eschew logical thought in exchange for the ease of lazy faith. White describes the need for Christians to crave to develop our minds for the glory of Christ. We ought to seek to deeply understand our faith, our culture, our world. Living passively, whether a Christian or non-believer, is a wasted life.

The first step to engage our minds is simply to read. White makes a passionate plea to read often and read broadly. He tells an interesting story about a family trip to Disney World when, during a calm period between visits to the park, his family sat in the lobby reading books for an hour or so. A passerby commented that she wishes her family would do this ritual. His solution is simply to create the habit of reading. How often do we carve out time to intentionally read? I think of all the distractions and responsibilities that vie for my attention which take away my reading time. I need to heed White’s advice to make reading a priority in my life over television, the Internet, and other trifles. My favorite chapter in this book is titled, “The Library as Armory.” This puts reading and books in their proper perspective in our lives. Too often, we arm ourselves with pop-culture foolishness, and those weapons will never win a war. Reading hard books provides the proper training needed to interact with our culture today.

Another aspect of this book that I appreciated is the chapter titled, “Sacred Thinking.” In it, he describes the art of self-reflection between what we read and other areas of our life. It is incorrect to think that our thinking is compartmentalized. What we watch on television, what we read for pleasure, what we discuss over coffee, and what we hear in the Sunday sermon are not distinct areas of study. Do we allow ourselves time to contemplate how these areas fit together or how they are incongruent? This self-reflection is important in all circles, Christian or non-Christian. It’s an aspect that I want my students to do in a variety of readings in class, and I should do it with what I read as well.

The appendices are worth the price of the book alone. White offers three book lists to begin our quest toward a mind for God. The first list is “Ten to Start,” books that offer a basic overview to reading and to the Christian faith. Adler, Lewis, Packer, etc. The next is called “Twenty-Five Books Toward a Christian Worldview.” The third is “Entering the Great Conversation,” a compendium of great books that offer a broad education in world literature. These three provide readers of all levels to begin their diet of important texts to develop their minds for God.

I recommended many of the books on this list, but A Mind for God is really one of the best for an introduction to the importance of reading, learning, and thinking. If you are like me, you’ll appreciate the reminder to read and think more.


Mark’s #41 – Life as a Vapor by John Piper (178 pages).

Life as Vapor is 31 meditations on faith by John Piper.  Normally I am not a fan of devotional books.  They’re usually trite little pieces with a Scripture verse (taken out of context) and then a short little feel good story (think Chicken Soup for your soul books).   This is not the case for this book, nor did I expect it to be given the author.

If you’re not familiar with John Piper, you should be.  If you’ve ever tried to read one of Piper’s more lengthy books (like Desiring God), but found that your brain began to hurt because of the level of depth and insight by Piper, well join the club… but don’t give up!

I would highly recommend anyone to read this book, especially if you’re just beginning to get your feet wet with the works and thoughts of John Piper.   I believe John Piper stands head and shoulders above all the other pastors and theologians in our generation.

Even in these short 4-5 page devotions, the reader is brought into the depth and riches of God’s sovereign grace, and he or she will be reminded of the brevity of this life and encouraged to live in light of eternity.


Mark’s #40 – When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson (368 pages)

If you’re a fan of the NBA (as I am), then this would be a good book to read for you to learn how and why the NBA is so popular today.  If you’re a fan of either the Lakers (as I am) or Celtics, then this is a must read.

When the Game Was Ours traces the rise of two of the greatest players in NBA history – Bird and Magic.  Though their personalities were different, (with Magic being the outspoken man with the smile that fills a room, and Bird being the introverted, beer drinking, poor kid from French Lick, Indiana) both men shared a passion and dedication for the game of basketball that may be only matched by two other great NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant.

These two rivals began squaring off and pushing one another to greatness from their early days in College. In 1979 they met in the NCAA championship game, where Magic got the best of Bird and a championship for his Michigan State team.   The following year, both men went to the NBA.

This book was not only a biography of these two men, it was also a personal journey down memory lane for me.  As a child of the 80′s (born in 1975), my earliest memories of basketball revolve around loving the lakers and hating the celtics.  As games and events were retold, I found myself reaching back into my own childhood memories of these events

By the end of the 80′s, Magic Johnson would win five NBA Championships to Bird’s three NBA Championships (yes! Lakers!).

Beyond the games, shots made and missed, and the epic battles, this book was a great inside look at the men and their lives.   I was once again impressed with their competitive spirit, passion, and commitment to excellence that is so rare today, save Kobe of course.  These men hated losing, and thus they despised, yet respected their biggest rival.

Larry and Magic are also almost exclusively responsible for resurrecting the NBA, which was suffering from low ratings and a bad public image before their arrival.

The other thing that is perhaps most impressive about both men is their ability to dominate and control the game while only taking 8-10 shots – something Jordan could never do.  Larry and Magic were the consummate team players.  If it had not been for their rivalry, they each could have one 7-8 championships (Jordan had no real rival in the 90′s)

Perhaps the most engaging part of the book was the detailing of Magic’s HIV virus, it’s impact on him, the game and really the world.  Magic has been a great catalyst in the world to bring about HIV education and public knowledge.  Unfortunately for him, and for the Lakers, when he reported this to the world, the ignorance of the other players, and even his teammates forced him out of the game he loved.  A year later he tried to make a comback, but during a preseason game he got scratched on his arm and started bleeding.  The crowd went silent, and the opposing team did not want to go back on the court. Saddened, Johnson was forced to retire again… Five years later he made one more comeback at the age of 35…Unfortunately, his younger attention hungry teammates did not embrace him well… he played only a dozen games before the end of the season before he retired.

I believe Magic Johnson is the best and most complete basketball player of all time… and this book only helped to confirm that conviction.

Let me conclude with just one stat line from one game:

Game  6 1980 Finals versus the 76′rs (as a rookie filling in at center for the injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar):  45 points, 15 Rebounds, and 7 Assists.


Mark’s #39 – Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders (208 pages)

Originally written in 1967, Spiritual Leadership has become a classic in the realm of Christian leadership.   I first read this book a few years ago with some other men. I remembered being convicted and encouraged by Sanders solid biblical exhortations and guidance.

This time I listened to the audiobook version (as it was the free book of the month on a few months ago).   While I was once again convicted and encouraged by the book, I would not recommend the audio version.

This is a book that would be best read slowly and with another person or group.  As I drove down the highway, I heard good point after good point on leadership practice.  However, these kind of points are best read, then meditated upon, and preferably discussed with others for both personal and corporate application.

Final conclusion: This is a solid book to read… grab a friend and go through it together… don’t listen to it.


Ron’s #41: Candide by Voltaire

In a satire against the optimism of Leibniz, Candide has its young philosopher traveling the world searching for his love and attempting to see if his tutor Pangloss is correct in that this world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created.

The story begins as Candide is expelled from the Edenic castle in Westphalia for his scandalous kiss to the baroness, the fair Cunegonde. He travels across continents meeting a variety of common people and royalty; priests and sinners; wealthy and poor. Candide continues to struggle with the question of whether Pangloss (and ultimately Leibniz) is correct that this world, the one filled with greed and murder and hypocrisy and cruelty, is the best possible one out of the mind of God. He fights with what he believes and what he sees, and cannot justify the two. Candide is left to “cultivate his garden” rather than waste any more time thinking through these issues.

For the Christian, this book explores one of the key objections to a theistic faith: how can a good God allow suffering in this world? While that question is not specifically addressed, is it at the heart of Candide’s uneasiness. What happens when our world is filled with pain, disappointment, and horror? Can we reconcile a God with our life experience? This is a topic that Christians must not only address to those around who question the claims of Christianity, but we must also have an answer for ourselves when the horrors come.

It would be the height of hubris to state a simple answer to this issue, but we must begin our search for one in the gospel itself. We must remember that God the Father knows suffering and murder, as his Son hung on the cross to die for the sins of the world. He watched as Jesus was tortured and killed to become the payment for sins that we not his own. When we are trying to justify a good God with suffering, our question must begin with God himself. Candide met a cast of characters spewed from the bowels of humanity, but never discussed sin.

Christian doctrine teaches that Adam’s sin brought this world from perfection to the wastelands with people corrupted in the downward spiral. Leibniz’s optimism is wrong: this world is depraved and men have the capability to act like animals to one another. Candide’s observations should bring us back to the God who has provided his Son as a sacrifice to restore humanity to our true image-bearer state. The murderers, the rapists, the thieves in Candide’s journey point us back to a God, one who is perfect because we see that man is not. Corrupt men in the world show a moral structure beyond us that defines what corrupt men act like.

Candide’s decision to focus only on his own garden shows a hopelessness that Christians ought not have. Even in the light of pain and difficulty, we should see our “gardens” in light of the larger garden, the only that has the Tree of Life swaying. Because of this, we can have hope in that other world that is the best of all possible worlds.

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