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Thank God For Gutenberg!

Wherein PresbyterJon lists some of the books he’s been reading…

One of my vices is reading. No, I didn’t say that I read vice! Reading, itself, can easily turn into a vice for me. You see, I read not only to get information and to continue learning but, for me, reading is a great pleasure. It’s my preferred method of relaxing and getting my mind off of problems and difficulties. Of course reading can be a great help in finding solutions to problems, and a lot of my reading is for that purpose. But it’s the pleasure part that gets me in trouble. I find myself letting books get in the way of doing work I ought to be doing. There are times when I have to consciously avoid visiting the library lest I be tempted to neglect necessary tasks. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with the ability to read quickly.

The blessing of books

Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to think about the incredible blessing of books. Have you ever wondered what our world would be like without the invention of movable type? It was movable type which made the printing of inexpensive books possible. Without inexpensive books, only the wealthy would have access to much of the information in the world. We would be far less informed and far less able to verify what we’re told.

Movable type and literacy

Not only did the invention of movable type make the printing of books inexpensive, and therefore the availability of books widespread, it also had a profound effect on literacy. This goes deeper than simply making books widely available. Have you ever stopped to think about systems of writing and the impact of technology upon them? The English language is blessed with a relatively simple alphabet of only 26 characters. If you include both upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation, the entire English writing system can easily be represented by just 94 or so distinct characters. This is not so in other traditions. The writing system in the area of Asia in which I grew up consists of some 39 letters – depending on how you count them. English spelling may be crazy, but how would you like to have to contend with 4 different Zs? While it does not have the concept of upper and lower case, the shape of most letters changes depending on the location in a word. Some letters must connect to the letter on either side. Some may not, or only connect on one side. To complicate matters the vertical placement of the start of a word depends on the first letter and how long the word is. In some cases, some letters have descenders while in other cases they don’t. And don’t get me started on diacritical marks! (Some vowels are distinct letters, while others are only indicated by diacritics.)

I’ve never been able to compute the number of possible permutations of letter shapes, but it is probably in the 100’s of thousands if not millions. Yes, there are mono-spaced fonts based on compromised initial, middle and final shapes for each letter but, as a general rule, they look rather hideous. Is it any wonder that, until recently, the majority of books and newspapers in this language were hand-written by calligraphers? Is it any wonder that decent word-processors for this writing system weren’t developed for a couple of decades after they became common-place in English speaking countries? The word-processors are based on ligatures rather than discrete letters. The best of them boast some 15 to 20 thousand ligatures and, I can tell you from my own experience, that it is still far too few. I often run into letter combinations which just don’t look right.

Now think about the practical implications. I’m convinced that one of the major factors for why literacy is still so low in the area I grew up is the complexity of the writing system. It’s not a trivial task to learn it. It’s one reason why comparatively so few books and other material are written. It’s also one reason why the English language is becoming so universal – the writing system is simply much easier to deal with.

Though the English alphabet never was as complicated as the one I’ve mentioned, the invention of movable type is partially responsible for its simplicity. Our writing system was simplified to compensate for the limitations of the technology. To a certain extent, beauty was sacrificed to utility and, because people were willing to make that trade-off, mankind has been immensely blessed by the rapid spread of knowledge. It has also given innumerable people an outlet for self-expression. If someone has something to say, he has a far greater chance to put it in a form other people can access.

Library access

The catch is whether people really can access it. The production of inexpensive books is only part of the equation. Unless the books are distributed, they do little good. Even if a book is inexpensive, it still won’t be widely read if people can’t afford to buy it. For most of history, books, no matter how inexpensive, have been a luxury. It really wasn’t until the 20th century that most people in the West could afford to buy many books. But there was something else which made a huge difference, at least here in the US. No matter what you think of the the so-called “Robber barons” of the last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, we owe a lot to them. Yes, they were manipulative. Yes, they exploited. Yes, they can be accused of unfair labor practices – and all the rest of it. Yet, it has to be said that they amassed their personal empires and fortunes not so much by destroying, as so many have done throughout history, but by building up the infrastructure of this country. As despicable as some of their actions may have been, they laid the industrial and financial foundations of our present society. They also did something else. After they had amassed their fortunes, most of them turned to philanthropy. Part of that involved endowing libraries. All across this nation there are public libraries which came into existence because wealthy people decided it was important that ordinary folk, people who could not afford to buy them, have access to books. Those libraries have helped educate whole generations. Those libraries have enabled generations to dream and to pursue opportunities which, otherwise, they might not have known even existed.

Libraries and trust

Libraries by themselves, however, do not ensure the wide distribution of knowledge. There is another factor. Without that factor the libraries would soon be forced to close or drastically alter their methods of operation. In fact, libraries as we know them, could not exist in the country in which I grew up. What’s the factor? It’s called, trust. It’s a basic respect for the property of others. It’s recognizing that others have just as much right to access as I do. Think about it. When I walk into a library, no one checks to make sure I have a card giving me the right to be there. I can take as many books off the shelf as I want. (The last time I checked, the number of books one person could check out was so ridiculously high that, in effect, there is no upper limit.) They let me take the books home. No one inspects my bag as I walk out the door of the library to make sure that I’ve checked the books out. They trust me to let them know which books I’ve taken. They even allow me to check the books out of the library myself. They trust me to bring the books back. They don’t even hound me about paying the fines I’ve incurred by keeping books past the due date. Though there are many fine people in the country where I grew up, that kind of trust simply doesn’t exist in society as a whole. The books would disappear off the shelves, never to return, in short order. Because trust and integrity does exist in this society, library books have a wide circulation. Because most are willing to put the general good ahead of their own selfish desires, all benefit, not just a privileged few.

An even bigger revolution

Now, as big as the revolution brought about by the invention of movable type was, we’re in the middle of one which may prove even bigger. Let’s face it. Even though printing is cheaper than ever before, and the production of books is relatively inexpensive, it still takes quite a bit of money to print one – not to mention the expense of making any revisions! Also, regardless of whether they’ve brought it on themselves or not, a relatively small percentage of the world’s population has access to libraries. The Internet is in the process of changing all this. Not only is the Internet replacing physical objects (books you can hold in your hand) with something intangible (letters formed of light), it’s made it possible for more people than ever to have a voice and to have access to the voices of others. Hey, without the Internet, it’s highly unlikely you would ever hear of PresbyterJon, let alone read what he has to say! The Internet has brought us one step further out of the material world, and one step closer to mind communicating directly to mind – at least for those who use Western alphabets. (The Internet, and particularly the Web, was designed for English and other European fonts. Unfortunately, designing and maintaining a website in the writing system I mentioned earlier is a nightmare. To make it look halfway decent you have to first render text as a graphic rather than as discrete letters which can be assembled and rendered directly by the end-user’s browser. That means that once text has been written it can no longer be manipulated, corrected or changed unless you have access to the original. This severely constrains what can be done. I can only hope that the limitations of the technology will drive the same kind of simplification that movable type sparked for English.)

A book list

Wow! After chasing down that long rabbit-trail, let me just say that though I spend long hours in front of a computer screen; though I certainly am not blind to the benefits of the Web and the Internet, I still like the feel and utility of the real thing. I still like to lay down on the couch with a good book.

So what books has PresbyterJon read? There are far too many to list, but the following may be of interest to you:

Biblical Studies

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. An excellent and practical look at what is perhaps the most famous and best loved of the Psalms. Anyone aspiring to the work of Pastor should study this Psalm in order to gain a better understanding of what shepherding is all about. (The term ‘Pastor’ is also translated as Shepherd and, in New Testament usage, is equivalent to Elder or Presbyter.)

Hand Me Another Brick by Charles R. Swindoll. This is the best exposition of the book of Nehemiah I have ever read. It’s a ‘must read’ for anyone in leadership.

Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen with J. Robin Marson. This book helped me untangle a few things during a certain portion of my life. It’s the best discussion of biblical decision making that I know of.

What the Bible Says About Covenant by Mont W. Smith. This book was the first comprehensive treatment of the concept of covenant that I had ever read. It helped bring both the Old and New Covenants into perspective for me.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Christians tend to have a lot of misconceptions about heaven. This is a refreshing, and quite comprehensive, look at the subject. Very thought provoking and faith building. Not only is this a good read, I appreciate the author’s humility and frankness. Though he is candid about his premillenial beliefs, and there are several portions of the book which are colored by that viewpoint, he is not dogmatic about it and leaves open the possibility of being wrong.

As a general rule, I don’t recommend commentaries – at least to beginners. Not only do they promote laziness by encouraging students to short-circuit the process of studying things out for themselves, commentaries can be dangerous. A good many of them are written by scholars who do not believe some of the foundational truths of the Christian faith such as anything which involves miracles or predictive prophecy. Unless used with caution, commentaries can undermine faith. One exception to this is the College Press NIV Commentary. It’s an exegetical commentary, meaning that, while it attempts to give the meaning of each verse or passage, it does not go into many details of structure, grammar or the gamut of scholarly opinion. One of the strengths of this series is that, by and large, the doctrine is sound.

If you want a scholarly commentary, the best contemporary series I know of is the Word Commentary. It still must be used with caution but, in contrast to some series I could name, the scholarship is quite good and consistent from one volume to the next.

Revelation, Four Views edited by Steve Gregg. In spite of its title, Revelation remains a mystery to most. This book gives a good overview of the four major ways the book of Revelation has been interpreted.

Nobody Left Behind by David Vaughn Elliot. An important corrective to the doctrine of Dispensational Premillenialism which is so ingrained into popular evangelical thought. The title is a deliberate take-off on the ‘Left Behind’ novels.


Radical Restoration by F. LaGard Smith. This book raises profound questions about many aspects of church tradition. I had already come to many of the same conclusions on my own, but Smith expresses it far better than I could. Well worth reading and thinking about – even if you don’t agree with the direction the author takes.

The Worldly Church by C. Leonard Allen, Richard T. Hughes and Michael R. Weed. This book exposes a number of the trends which are taking root in many of the churches with which I am acquainted. It not only identifies the vulnerabilities of those of us who trace our heritage to the Restoration Movement, but suggests correctives. This book is actually the middle one in a series of three. The other two are Discovering Our Roots and The Cruciform Church. Of the three, I found this one the most rewarding, though all three are worth reading.

Death of the Church by Mike Regele with Mark Schulz. A fascinating look at the waves of change which are about to engulf the church. The argument of the book is that the church, as we know it, must die and remake itself in order survive the next few decades. I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of inward and outward looking eras and the impact of generational cycles.

The Open Church by James H. Rutz. Though at times flippant, over simplified and written in a deliberately provocative style, this book presents a refreshing alternative to church as we know it. The author points out that much of what we do is not modeled after the church in the New Testament, but is left-over baggage from cultural and ecclesiastical practices which were brought into the church from the outside.


Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen. This one ought to be required reading for all church leaders, not just missionaries or those on missions committees. Along with my own experiences and observations, Allen has radically changed my thoughts and my approach to mission work. The book was first published in 1927 and was written in a formal style, so some may find the language a bit difficult to understand and plow through. Also, Allen was an Anglican and he wrote from the perspective of a hierarchical system that I don’t agree with. In spite of those caveats, it is a highly rewarding read. Though expressly written about mission, the principles are applicable in any church.

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It by Roland Allen. This is the sequel to Missionary Methods. Though a harder read, it is also more provocative and hard-hitting. Allen raises a number of questions which are well worth thinking about.

I sort of grew up on Kipling. Though it is not primarily about missions, The Naulahka by Rudyard Kipling fills an important need. It does an excellent job of describing the culture shock which occurs when two diametrically opposed value systems come into contact. In spite of the differences, we can find understanding in our common humanity.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. Yes, this is the book upon which the Broadway musical and the movie The King and I, are based. Anna’s character and her actual role in the Kingdom of Siam have been the subject of much debate. But fairly recent discoveries of some long-lost letters written by the king to her, substantiate what Anna wrote about her time as a school teacher and royal secretary in the palace. I believe the accounts she wrote are true. This book is well worth reading. It’s an amazing testimony of the incredible impact one person can have in just a short time.

The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward as told to Christine Hunter. This is another story that tells about the influence one person who is sold out to God can have.

DMZ by Jeannette Windle. No one who has spent much time on the mission field comes back unchanged. The children of missionaries, in particular, often have a hard time adjusting to, accepting or even understanding the sacrifices and decisions their parents made. Written by a former missionary, this book is actually a thriller. Even somewhat of a techno-thriller. Aside from being an interesting (and clean!) read, what I appreciate about the book is that it confronts the questions and struggles that children of missionaries go though. I also appreciate the answer the book gives to those who claim that missionaries destroy and exploit other cultures.

History/Biography Related to Biblical Themes

Herod, Profile of a Tyrant by Samuel Sandmel. This book gave me a greater understanding, not only of a man who played a key role in the biblical story, but of the times just prior to Christ’s birth. It was helpful to understand the political context into which the Savior was born.

Mary Renault has written a trilogy about Alexander the Great and the period immediately following his death. The books are: Fire From Heaven, Persian Boy and Funeral Games. We sometimes forget, or don’t realize, how blessed we are by our heritage. We in the West live in an era and a culture that, no matter how badly it wishes to deny it, was shaped by Christian thought, ethics and morality. This trilogy should shock you. It helped me realize just how dark a world Christ was born into.

The Emperor Claudius is mentioned in Scripture (Acts 11:28, 18:2). Robert Graves has written a two-volume pseudo-autobiography of him. The books are I, Claudius and Claudius the God and Messalina His Wife. Both are excellent, though somewhat shocking, reads. They give valuable background information about the culture and political climate of the Roman Empire during the Apostolic period.

General Biography

It’s fascinating to read about what makes other people tick, particularly those who have had a major role in shaping our world. Here are some biographies and autobiographies I’ve enjoyed.

The Robber Barons; The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 by Matthew Josephson. A very interesting description of the men most responsible for building the industrial and financial infrastructure of the United States. Without a good understanding of these men and what they accomplished, it’s difficult to comprehend the United States of the 20th century.

Ford, The Men and the Machine by Robert Lacey. The Ford Motor Company is most famous for the production of the Model T automobile. Less known, but more important, Ford invented the moving production line which has dominated most industries since.

The Rockefellers by Peter Collier and David Horwitz. Most people probably know that the Rockefellers made their fortune in the oil industry. What many do not realize is their impact on the church. To a certain degree, anyway, the corporate form of church organization which is so prevalent today, can be traced back to the influence of this family.

Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton. The founder of the Hilton Hotel chain tells how it all began. One of the fascinating things about his story is the linking of faith to success as a businessman. I certainly don’t agree with the man’s theology, but it is refreshing to read a leading businessman insist on the need for total integrity.

Mover of Men and Mountains by R.G. LeTourneau. The man most responsible for totally changing the face of the earth-moving and logging industries tells his story. An incredible tale by someone who decided to totally dedicate his business to God.


There are many Christians who feel that fantasy is an unsuitable genre for godly people to read. They argue that it is wrong to let our minds dwell on things which aren’t real. The argument goes something like this: If it isn’t real, it isn’t true. If it isn’t true, it must be a lie and if it’s a lie, then it’s wrong. I strongly disagree with both the premise and the logic of the argument.

First, imagination is a God-given gift. In fact, if it weren’t for imagination, it would probably be very difficult, if not impossible, to have faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) It is our imagination which enables us to visualize those things we can’t see – in other words those things which we cannot prove to be real. Secondly, we use our imaginations to visualize concepts and ideas. The concepts and ideas may be very real, but we use the unreal as a means to understand them. This is the process Jesus used in the parables. He used something which was not real – in the sense that the stories He told had not actually happened – in order to explain or illustrate a real truth or concept. Thirdly, just because something isn’t real, doesn’t mean it’s a lie. As long as everybody knows that something isn’t real, then no falsehood is involved. Imagined things become a lie only if they are presented as being real or are accepted as real. Fantasy becomes wicked only if it is used to imagine or indulge in wicked things, or we allow it to divert us from doing God’s will. Having said that, here are some of my favorites:

Watership Down by Richard Adams. A thoroughly delightful book about the struggles of a colony of rabbits. The author uses the rabbits as a vehicle to discuss the virtues and vices of various forms of societies and governments. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the author’s, unstated but very present, theory of how story-telling and myth shapes society.

Another wonderful piece of imagination is The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. One of the arguments used against Christianity is that a merciful and loving God would not send anyone to hell. In this book Lewis explores the concept and shows that hell is actually a choice which people freely make.

Lewis wrote 7 fantasies for children. I have read them countless times, even as an adult. In the stories, children from our world are transported into another one called Narnia. There, they go on quests, overcome evil and, most of all, come to know the great Lion, Aslan, who is representative of Christ. They learn to love Aslan in Narnia so they may know and love Him in our world. Not only are the books delightful, Christian concepts are never far beneath the surface. The books can be an excellent way to introduce these concepts and ideas in a non-threatening way. In chronological, rather than publication, order the 7 books are:

The Magician’s Nephew

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Horse and His Boy

Prince Caspian

The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”

The Silver Chair

The Last Battle

Lewis writes that Phantastes by George MacDonald was one of the influences which eventually brought him to Christ. Frankly, I never could get into books like Phantastes or Lilith – perhaps because I’m too dumb to understand them. One fantasy of MacDonald’s which you might enjoy, however, is At the Back of the North Wind in which he explores the concept of death.

Science Fiction

Though the genre really appeals to me, I’ve just about given up on science fiction. So much of it has degenerated into little more than tales of lechery, debauchery and, ironically, magic, set in a distant time and/or alien place. Though there are exceptions, about the only stuff worth reading any more are the stories dealing with hard science. So, let me mention just a few of the classics:

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. The main theme of this book is the limits and ethics of technical progress. Should mankind pursue certain kinds of knowledge? What safeguards can be put in place to prevent the use of science for evil? In some ways, this book is a commentary on Genesis, chapters 6 through 8.

C.S. Lewis is best known for his popular explanations, and defense, of Christianity. But he also wrote a trilogy of SF novels. The first is, Out of the Silent Planet. In it Lewis exposes the philosophical bankruptcy of materialism and emergent evolution. My favorite of the three books is the middle one, Perelandra. Set in Venus, it is a commentary on Genesis, Chapter 3. It took me a long time to develop an appreciation for the third book in the series, That Hideous Strength. When I first read it, I was too young and inexperienced to understand it. When I began to understand it, I was uncomfortable with one of the themes, which is sexuality within the marriage covenant. Lewis, himself, wrote that this book was not suitable for adolescents. Over time, however, the book has grown on me. The older I get, the more I appreciate it. The broader point of the book is the same as Lewis made in his essay Abolition of Man in which he discusses the attempt of certain philosophies to destroy or deny everything which makes us more than a form of animal.

Though not a classic, I found The Return by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes rewarding. They discuss the future of the space program. The book reads almost like a thriller.


We humans have a tendency to hanker after the “good old days.” In doing so we tend to overlook the blessings we currently enjoy and compare the worst of now to an unreal, rosy-tinted past. In reality the old days often weren’t all that good. But they are fun to read about.

An author I enjoyed when growing up is Sterling North. His book, Rascal about a boy and his pet raccoon gave me many hours of pleasure. Another tale set in the backwoods of Indiana in 1903 may be of interest. It’s called, So Dear to My Heart. It’s about the struggles of an orphan to come to grips with faith and the tragedy of his parent’s death. The book is laced with homespun wisdom.

Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is one of those books that you find yourself reading over and over. It’s about a unique and irrepressible family with a dozen kids.

Everything But Money by Sam Levenson. This is a hilarious account of a Jewish family growing up in the slums.

Ralph Moody has written a series of semi-autobiographical books about growing up in the early 1900’s. Extremely well written, they not only describe a bygone era in an unforgettable way, but contain a wealth of practical wisdom about life in general. Highly recommended, especially the first book and the last two. The books are:

Little Britches; Father and I Were Ranchers

Man of the Family

The Home Ranch

Mary Emma and Company

The Fields of Home

Shaking the Nickel Bush

The Dry Divide

Horse of a Different Color: Reminiscenses of a Kansas Drover


It seems like most of human history has been defined by war. There have been relatively few periods when there hasn’t been a war going on somewhere in the world. Wars have often been major turning points in history. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand something about the wars which have been fought in order to understand our world and how we got where we are today.

John Keegan explores the nature of warfare and why men fight in his book, The Face of Battle. In it he compares 3 battles from different eras which were fought in roughly the same geographic area.

The American Civil War was the first war fought on an industrial basis. It had a profound effect, not only on the history of the United States, but on world history. The best history I know of it is Shelby Foote’s, massive, 3-volume, The Civil War, A Narrative. Foote has the ability to describe a complex battle in a way that is both understandable and easy to read. Another strength of this work is the essays he includes which give the strategic and political contexts which the protagonists faced. Well worth reading.

World War I was probably one of the most senseless conflicts ever fought. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is an extremely well researched and well written account of the first month of the war. One of the things which makes this book so valuable is the detailed account of the conflict’s background and context.

Of all the wars, World War II is a source of unending fascination for me. Here are just a few books which you may find of interest:

The Longest Day by Corneilius Ryan. This is an account of the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944.

Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. This recounts the defense and liberation of Paris.

Ultra Goes to War by Ronald Lewin. The amazing story of how the German communications were deciphered and used by the allies. The intelligence gained in this way had a huge influence on the conduct of the war.

A Bridge Too Far by Corneilius Ryan. This book is about operation Market-Garden, Montgomery’s ill-fated attempt to end the war early by an attack through Holland.

The Tenth Fleet by Ladislas Farago tells of the American anti-submarine efforts in the Atlantic theater.

I really hesitate to recommend anything by Herman Wouk. In my opinion, there is not enough redeeming value in most of his stuff to make up for the morally objectionable. Something which particularly disturbs me in his romance The Winds of War and its sequel, War and Remembrance is that many of the main characters consider themselves Christians, yet their Christianity does not translate into righteous living. That may be true to life, but I find it corrosive to my own spirit. So why mention the books here? First, though these are romances, the history is accurate. But the real value is that in both books, the author inserts essays written by a fictitious German general which explain and describe the war from the German point of view. Very interesting and insightful. So, should you run into these novels, read von Roon’s essays and skip the rest.

One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read about the war is Samurai by Saburo Sakai with Martin Caidin and Fred Saito. Sakai was the leading Japanese air ace to survive the war. Reading about the war through Japanese eyes is fascinating.

Popular History

I often learn more from historical novels than I do from history books. I suppose the reason is that the novel is able to express and explore emotions and attitudes that are outside the realm of ‘serious history.’ Though extremely well-written, I hesitate to recommend the novels of James A. Michener, because they often contain sections which are quite explicit. It could be argued, of course, that what he writes is true to life. Each person will have to make his own judgment whether the insights gained redeem the presence of objectionable passages. Two of Michener’s books which were a blessing to me are Chesapeake and Poland.

The books of Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre should probably be classed as narrative history. They aren’t novels, yet sometimes have the quality of a novel. One of their books which helped me understand the birth of the nation of Israel is O Jerusalem. If you’re interested in the end of the British Raj in India, Freedom At Midnight is a good book to read.


It’s possible for mysteries and thrillers to have a serious point. Just as historical novels sometimes teach me more than history books, a good mystery can sometimes teach things which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. It was a series by T. Davis Bunn which alerted me to the conditions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. A very interesting read, written from a Christian perspective. The books are:

Florian’s Gate

The Amber Room

Winter Palace

Another good series written from a Christian perspective is by Mindy Starns Clark. Each of the books deals with a particular social problem – all within the larger context of a story plot which is carried on from one book to the next. They are:

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels

A Dime a Dozen

A Quarter For a Kiss

The Buck Stops Here

Family Books

The children’s books by Arthur Ransome have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or spiritual things. They are just plain, good, clean, wholesome fun. They’re about a bunch of children who like boats, use their imagination, and manage to get themselves into some rather interesting predicaments. I spent many hours reading these books to my wife and children. We enjoyed them immensely as a family. The books, in order (the children grow older from one book to the next), are:

Swallows and Amazons


Peter Duck

Winter Holiday

Coot Club

Pigeon Post

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea

Secret Water

The Big Six

Missee Lee

The Picts And The Martyrs

Great Northern?

The only two books which some might find objectionable are Peter Duck and Missee Lee as they are a bit blood-thirsty. The extenuating circumstance is that both of them are tall-tales which the children imagine. In Peter Duck they embark on a hunt for buried treasure, while in Missee Lee they run afoul of Chinese pirates. In neither case do the children, themselves, do anything violent or even very bad.

Another series which you might enjoy either by yourself, or as a family was written by Jan Karon. The series is about an Episcopalian priest and his ministry. No, I don’t agree with some of his theology – particularly his concept of the process of salvation – but there’s a lot of quiet humor in the books and there are some surprisingly good insights into the character of people and the situations which all church leaders run into. The books are:

At Home in Mitford

A Light in the Window

These High Green Hills

Out to Canaan

A New Song

A Common Life

In This Mountain

Shepherds Abiding


Yes, I read thrillers, too. You’d be amazed at the things you can sometimes learn from them. Two, which I really enjoyed, written from a Christian perspective, are by an author I’ve already mentioned – Jeanette Windle. The first is Crossfire which gave me some valuable insights about the drug trade and the Christian response to it. The sequel is Firestorm which talks about the vulnerability of the U.S. to terrorism.

Another book, from a Christian point of view, which I really enjoyed is Double Vision by Randall Ingermanson. The science was so intriguing that I was inspired to check out what the author wrote about. (Ingermanson should know what he writes about – he is a physicist, after all. I don’t buy his multi-universe theory, but the hard science checks.) What I really enjoyed, however, was the character of the lead programmer, and his struggles to reconcile his feelings with his beliefs. Priceless. So is the recounting of the parable of The Prodigal Pappa.

Another series which some may find interesting is by Randall Arthur. Though the story lines are rather far fetched, he does tackle some real spiritual issues. The first book, Wisdom Hunter, deals with the issue of legalism. What is particularly valuable are the diary entries made by the main character as he finds his way back to faith after renouncing legalism. Jordan’s Crossing, is not nearly as rewarding. It deals with liberalism. The third book, Brotherhood of Betrayal, is about the church’s response to those who are hurting and those who have fallen.

Gothic Romance

Of course no list could possibly be complete without a few of these! Not only did George MacDonald write a lot of fantasy, he also wrote many novels. The novels are interesting, not so much for the plots which tend to be quite similar (lost heir, unexpected inheritance, love interest) but for the spiritual observations and comments which the author keeps interjecting. The Curate’s Awakening convicted me about always giving sources for the material I use. Perhaps my favorite of MacDonald’s books is The Baron’s Apprenticeship. In it, the main character keeps doing what is right even though it costs him dearly, only to have those decisions pay off big-time in the end. Two other books by MacDonald you may enjoy are The Fisherman’s Lady and its sequel, The Marquis’ Secret.

Enough Already!

Well folks, that should keep you occupied for a while! There’s a lot more which could be added to the list but it’s gotten long enough. Maybe, if the fit takes me, I’ll publish a supplement at a later date. In the meantime, happy reading!

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