If you’re a reader, there’s a good chance you have a stack of books somewhere that you’ve really been meaning to get to. But, what with the busyness of life, that stack might well be growing as it is so hard to set aside the time. Wow then, can we get to the reading that we really want to do anyway?
The answer, for a trio of competitive lads, was to get a challenge going. So a lawyer, a minister, and an editor all agreed that they would read 52 books by the end of 2022. This “52 in 22” challenge is a race of sorts, and to up the motivation, the three will keep a public running total of their progress, posting short reviews of each book here on this web page (with selections appearing in each issue of the print magazine). Finally, to add a mildly punitive element to it, each agreed, at year’s end, to donate $20 for every book they didn’t complete to a charity of their choice.
Our hope is that the challenge might spur others on to read more great books, including, perhaps, some of the suggestions listed below. Follow it on MeWe, Facebook, and Gab under the hashtag #RP52in22
The lawyer – André Schutten: 2
The minister – Jim Witteveen: 2
The editor – Jon Dykstra: 2
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678/187 pages) is a series of theological debates and discussions wrapped inside an epic journey. Our hero, the Pilgrim, is setting out from “the City of Destruction” to find a home in the Good King’s “Celestial City” and the journey serves as a metaphor for the Christian life. Bunyan has many challenges and encouragements to offer, but the main one is that “the bitter must come before the sweet.” He wants readers to understand that turning to God won’t make our life easy, and might even make it much harder. But God is worth it! So, along the way, the Pilgrim has to contend with many trials including false friends, doubt, a corrupt judge and lying witnesses, depression, all sorts of temptations, and persecution. He is also strengthened along the way by “Shining ones,” faithful friends, and good counselors who show him what the Lord has done for other pilgrims. There’s loads of wisdom packed in here, which is the reason it was the English world’s most influential novel for at least a couple of centuries. Readers should take some care in finding a good version as there are many to avoid. For example, the Amazon Classic version kept the original language but omits “all the conversations and arguments concerning subjects belonging to the field of doctrine.” Most modernizations also cut out meat or sections that offend modern sensibilities. A fantastic exception is that done by C. J. Lovik, which only lightly – but effectively! – modernizes the text, and includes very helpful explanatory endnotes, with wonderful illustrations every ten pages or so. If you want to read it in the original, there is a great free version by three Johns: written by John Bunyan, introduced by John Newton (the former slave ship captain who wrote the song “Amazing Grace”), and including a biography of the author by John Piper. For those that want more, Bunyan wrote a sequel, this time describing the journey of the Pilgrim’s wife, called “Pilgrim’s Progress Part II: Christiana” – Jon Dykstra
Presbyterian pastor Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020/224 pages) is a beautifully written book on God’s heart for his people. A handful of people recommended this book to me and, since I received it as a Christmas gift from the ARPA Canada board, I decided to read it as my morning devotional. If you’ve ever struggled with the question of whether God might love you despite your sins, read this book. If you’ve ever thought that God’s attitude toward you is one of exasperation, read this book. It literally brought me to tears (in chapter 6, quoting John Bunyan), and encouraged me many times in the past couple weeks. I highly recommend the book for personal devotions or as an evening devotion for a couple, or as a dinner-time devotional for families with older children. It will provoke discussions of wonder, amazement and praise at how great God’s love for us really is. – André Schutten
Written from a Christian perspective, Carol M. Swain and Christopher J. Schorr’s Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House (2021/152 pages) is readable and brief – just 79 pages, plus glossary, notes, appendix, and index. That makes it an insightful introduction to Critical Race Theory (CRT) going back to its roots in Marxism, specifically the cultural Marxism of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt school of critical theorists. Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions, making it ideal for group study and discussion. Although written specifically for the American context, the book’s suggestions for engaging with and opposing CRT’s influence are easily applicable to readers in other countries as well. – Jim Witteveen
Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura’s We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration (2021/160 pages) is a graphic novel account of the tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the US in World War II based solely on their ethnicity. They lost their jobs, businesses, and even their homes. Despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their patriotism. However, some did dare to protest, and We Hereby Refuse shares three of their stories. One inescapable lesson: the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use it with great restraint. What happens when it doesn’t act with restraint? We can get victims by the thousands, as happened here. Another? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. – Jon Dykstra
Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2010/310 pages) is an excellent introduction to the major philosophical theories of justice, covering Aristotle, Mill, Kant, Rawls and others. It’s an easy read: Sandel uses very interesting stories and cases to highlight how the theories of justice work and what their failings are. Here’s the caveat: the book is not written from a Christian perspective. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be wishing for one more chapter, to accurately present a distinctly Christian theory of justice, which also critiques the other theories. Sandel himself gets close by his final two chapters (his point about being part of a narrative and community is compelling) but lacks the objective, transcendent standard by which to judge human action as just or unjust. Highly recommended to anyone interested in wrestling with theories of justice and how individuals, institutions, and governments should decide what the right thing to do is in any given situation. P.S. a fun exercise to do while reading the book is ask yourself which theory of justice is being employed by the government as it makes decisions around Covid-19 and what would the other philosophers say about it. – André Schutten
John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (2021/224 pages) is by an African-American who is himself not a believer. But he makes the case for thinking about the new anti-racism (based in Critical Race Theory) as a religious system, and its supporters (“the Elect”) as religious adherents. Highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the worldviews that form the foundation of Critical Race Theory, with the caveat that the book is not written from a Christian perspective, and does contain a bit of rough language. – Jim Witteveen