What follows are a few short book reviews of what I’ve enjoyed recently.
Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri
Boy, did I enjoy this book. It’s definitely a top ten book of my lifetime so far. It took me a while to get into it, since Daniel Nayeri didn’t use chapters and spent nearly 360 pages bouncing around from one story to another from his childhood as an Iranian refugee growing up in Oklahoma. (The book is from the perspective of his twelve-year-old self.) But once I saw the mosaic he was putting together with stories of cultural differences, longing for acceptance, bullies, poop, and memories of his childhood fleeing Iran, I couldn’t put it down. Daniel (or should I say Khosrou) evoked so many emotions in me: nostalgia of childhood (I was a 90s kid, too), sadness of unjust experiences, laugh-out-loud humor (did I mention poop stories?–And, yes, I now want a bidet). There’s also the amazing spiritual thread of his mom’s faith, which is what got his family expelled from Iran in the first place. (Side note: Nayeri is a part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, founded by Tim Keller. I found out about the book on the Gospelbound podcast.) This is one of those books I didn’t want to ever end. And it’s bittersweet to think that there will never be another book like it since it took Nayeri half of his lifetime to write this one. I would love this to be a movie, but imagine the way it’s put together means it would be incredibly complicated.
As a book reviewer, I’m tempted to give far too many 5 star ratings. This one’s a six.
Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation by Nancy Guthrie
I’ll admit that some reading on the book of Revelation gives me less confidence in reading the book myself. It’s a shame, and one that certainly would have made John the apostle mad! But I’m grateful for books like Nancy Guthrie’s Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation because it opens up the message of Revelation that is actually very clear. She doesn’t get into all of the different views of every detail of the book, but rather sticks to a high level approach that focuses on helping readers receive the blessing promised in the third verse of the book (and reiterated at the end in 22:7): “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).
One helpful comment from Guthrie that frames the way I read the book now is that it was written to the first century church who would have heard the message read aloud in church. That audience didn’t have all of the scholars, theology textbooks, or knowledge of 21st century events for their interpretations; the transforming message of the book would have been clear to them, and it can be clear to us. Jesus is King. We will suffer in this world and need to persevere. One day the full reign of King Jesus will be consummated and His enemies vanquished. We need to worship the King and persevere in standing firm against the enemy to be blessed. I found this book and the accompanying podcast interviews very helpful.
Psalms Two Volume Set: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary by Dr. Jim Hamilton
There are a lot of commentaries on the Psalms, but I’ve never seen on like this. James Hamilton’s focus on the Biblical Theology is what sets it apart (as you would expect in this series), not only the canonical context but the relations between various Psalms. Hamilton has never met a chiasm he doesn’t like. That is to say, that he seems to find chiasms all over the place in individual Psalms and the organization of sections of the book in general. (Although I’ll admit I’m not always sure what to do with a chiasm!) Hamilton instructs me, “chiasms… [show] the reader how the meaning of the whole communicates more than the sum of its individual parts” (53).
I also appreciate how Hamilton sticks to the meaning of the text and doesn’t get into the weeds of technical comments, arguments with other commentators, and Ancient Near East details. He draws out the message of the Psalter and each Psalm, sharing many OT/NT connections that made this commentary refreshing. If you want to know more about the overall shape of the Psalter, Hamilton is a great guide.
40 Questions about Prayer by Dr. Joseph Harrod
As you know by now, I love reading and teaching about prayer. So when I saw a new volume on prayer by Dr. Joseph Harrod in the helpful series 40 Questions from Kregel (see my review on the Biblical Theology volume), I browsed the table of contents to see if it was worth picking up. It intrigued me enough to get a copy.
If you’re new to the series, the 40 Questions books provide good accessible introductions to theological topics from scholars.
Harrod divides the questions into five sections: 1) General Questions about Prayer, 2) Prayer and Theology, 3) Prayer in Scripture, 4) Prayer in Practice, 5) Prayer in Historical Context. I enjoyed the variety of questions and even the section that didn’t catch my attention at first (the fifth section).
Even after spending a lot of time thinking and reading about prayer, I found this to be enjoyable and insightful. It’s worth mentioning that many systematic theologies do not have a section on prayer; so having a book that weaves together several crucial elements of prayer is appreciated.
This volume is good as a reference for students, pastors, and others who want to study prayer from a wide variety of angles. It’s not necessarily for a casual Christian reader, although there is something for them. You don’t have to read cover to cover, but can flip around and read the 5-8 pages on the question that interests you. The resources in footnotes are a great jumping off point for going deeper on certain topics. My favorite chapters included the questions on God’s sovereignty and prayer, the two chapters on Paul’s prayers, and praying the Bible.
Chances are you haven’t thought this widely about prayer, and I bet you’ll find Harrod’s work helpful. (Heads up, I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff