Enemies Among Us, A Thriller

Recently I read a prepublication review copy of Jeffrey S. Stephens’ thriller, Enemies Among Us: A Nick Reagan Thriller. This is the second of his Nick Reagan books, though I have not read the first one. Regan is a CIA operative seeking to thwart terrorists who stumbles upon widespread corruption at high levels in the government.

The book is a fun read with fast-paced action and intrigue. It is clearly aimed at a more conservative audience, as this sort of thriller tends to do. Even the name of the hero, Reagan, seems to be a nod in that direction. All of this makes it a novel well suited for me. It is also relatively clean, which is not always the case for the genre. It is sad though, that while the book is clearly marketed to conservatives, there seems to be no problem with the hero being sexually active with his girlfriend. This is an example of what several people have noted about a divide between conservatives, with a significant number not thinking traditional, biblical morality being among the things which ought to be conserved.

A Peculiar People

May be an image of 3 people and text that says 'Touchsto +++ ne January February 2024 $8.95 A Journal of Mere Christianity Married with Children -Allan C. Carlson Authority, Love & Devotion -R. R. Reno Your Holy House -Thomas Howard Child's Play -Anthony Esolen Sarah'sChd Child Patrick Henry Reardon Loss ofa Vital Skill Daniel Witt A Father's Example David Mills M. Hutchens The Death ofa Daughter Keith Lowery Who's Mom? Kathleen Curran Sweeney Killing Innocents James Kushiner Kathie Johnson Ken Myers Mary Elizabeth Podles Ray Van Neste'

The latest issue of Touchstone Magazine contains my review of David Lyle Jeffrey’s excellent book, We Were a Peculiar People Once: Confessions of an Old-Time Baptist. Part memoir, part prophetic critique, this book is uproariously funny as well as insightful and devastating. You can read the review, and I hope you read the book. In short, Jeffrey rightfully reminds us that the church’s task is not to be cool but to be different. Despite good intentions, we do not make progress in reaching the world by trying to show how cool we are or how much we are just like them. Jesus told us clearly, “Do not be like them” (Matt 6:8). But it seems, too often we cannot bear the scorn of the world.

Best Reads of 2023

Each year I keep a list of the books I read all the way through, typically with brief notes, as a way of tracking my thoughts and a way to look back on each year and see some of what influenced me. So, in this post I have drawn from that list some of the best books I read this year with slightly edited versions of the notes I jotted down after reading them. These are only books that I read all the way through and do not involve commentaries and reference works I’ve used. You can see my assessment of new Bible reference works from the past year in my annual article for Preaching Magazine which should be out in the next issue.

I selected a Top 10 from the books I read this year. These 10 aren’t listed in a particular order, and they made this list for various reasons ranging from sheer enjoyment to level to impact on me. Following the Top 10 are some more books I enjoyed reading this year (in no particular order) as well as some disappointing ones.

Top 10

  1. The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrews, trans John Henry Newman- I deeply enjoyed this old, little book. Andrews was a lead translator for the King James Bible and he compiled these devotions for his personal use.
  2. Into His Presence: Praying with the Puritans, Tim Chester- a really wonderful collection of prayers. I found it immensely helpful.
  3. We Were a Peculiar People Once: Confessions of an Old-Time Baptist, David Lyle Jeffrey- My review of this book is in the January issue of Touchstone Magazine. Jeffrey is a master story-teller and humorist which can be seen in the stories he tells from his childhood among Canadian Baptists. He is also sound theological critic, as seen in the points he begins making as the book moves along. This is a book you don’t want to miss.
  4. The Godly Man’s Picture: Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, Thomas Watson- Excellent. I read this over most of the year. slowly to digest it. Watson is wonderful with his words, making rich points with well-chosen words. Much here also for the fearful soul.
  5. The Path to Home, Edgar Guest- Guest has long been one of my favorite poets, and this  wonderful collection of poems illustrates why. He revels in and celebrates family life, the joy of children, and everyday blessings.
  6. Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy, Henry Kissinger- excellent. Great history, some I had not known at all (Lee in Singapore. leader in Germany, etc). Excellent reflections throughout, especially on education in the conclusion.
  7. The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy), William McRaven- I have enjoyed every one of McRaven’s books, and this was no exception. He writes well, has great stories, and this is one of the best leadership books I’ve read.
  8. The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink, William Inboden- Great history, told well. I’m a Regan fan, and I really enjoyed this book.
  9. The Dark Tower: And Other Stories, C S Lewis- I did not remember hearing about this book before. It is fascinating to hear about some of these papers being saved from the fire literally! I was quite taken by the title story and lamented not having the rest of it. The beginnings of the current fascination with multiverses can be seen here. But what Lewis does with this is fascinating. The incomplete take on Menelaus and Helen after the sack of Troy was also quite compelling. Earthy, challenging as typical Lewis. The discussion about how the war was started (was going to happen anyway, Helen’s abduction was just an opportunity) and what to do with a Helen whose lost her beauty (hide the truth so that the people don’t get unhappy) was instructive in political science.
  10. Three Noirs & a Blanc (For the Love of Friends, Book 1), R. Kelvin Moore- I read a pre-pub copy and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know what to expect but I was drawn into the friendship of the four guys, and the love of the broader circle. I kept fearing a dark turn was coming that would ruin everything- which says something about what I’ve come to expect in novel.  Thankfully that did not come and it was a beautiful portrait of friends, people who each had come through deep sorrow, but trusted the Lord and helped one another.

Theology/Bible/Christian Living

  1. The Pastor and the Modern World: Reformed Ministry and Secular Culture, William Edgar, Kent Hughes, & Alfred Poirer- 3 great lectures on pastoral ministry. All three are helpful, though my favorite was Poirer’s. He examines Gregory of Nazianzus and his call for the care of souls. Resonated deeply.
  2. Letters to Heaven: Reaching Beyond the Great Divide, Calvin Miller- Miller was very creative and that shows in this book. Some are touching examples of faithful pastoral ministry. Others- and sometimes both of these things occur in the same letter- come across as pretentious.
  3. A Time to Build: 40 Days in Nehemiah, Eric Smith- An excellent devotional study, very accessible, engagingly written, good challenging and comforting truths. I also enjoyed Eric’s Consider Jesus: Christmas in Hebrews. Eric’s ministry in writing these devotionals which are made available for free through his church is wonderful and is spreading to a wide audience.
  4. The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Treasury of Classic Devotionals on the Christian Life, ed. Leland Ryken- It was slow starting, but it grew on me. Some entries were better than others, but I appreciate getting samples from some key, historic devotional writings.
  5. The Recovery of Family Life, Elton and Pauline Trueblood- Published in 1953, this is a clarion call that is much needed today. Some references are outdated, and many will say many of its ideas are outdated, but they need consideration. Particularly the comments about fatherhood, intentional training of children, the need of children for direction and authority (instead of letting them “choose their own way”) is very good.
  6. The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, Abigail Favale- Good strong critique of the gender paradigm. I liked hearing how her Catholic faith eventually pushed her away from radical feminism. I have points of disagreement, but overall I am very glad for her book.
  7. Letter of Consolation, Pierre Viret- Very good! Viret was a Swiss evangelist and Reformer, known as “the smile of the Reformation (1511-1571). A man who has seen and known persecution writes his flock encouraging them on persevering under persecution. Relevant. powerful.  
  8. Persuading Shipwrecked Men: The Rhetorical Strategies of 1 Timothy 1, Lyn Kidson- very detailed, a whole lot of data, but fundamentally unpersuasive. (my review can be found in Southwestern Journal of Theology)
  9. Still By Choice , Ruth Pitter- Pitter was C S Lewis’s love-interest for a while. He greatly respected her poetry and solicited her feedback. I didn’t enjoy most of the poems, though I did like “Angels.”


  1. To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision, Admiral James Stavridis- I like books that tell history and then draw leadership lessons from that. This one seems too self aware, careful to be more pc. Still, good points are made about leadership. Good things to learn, especially along the lines of balancing daring and caution.
  2. Four Critical Years Effects of College on Beliefs, Attitudes, and Knowledge, Alexander W. Astin- Dr Agee recommended this book to me and it contained helpful information from a secular, scientific study on what is and is not beneficial in college, and how important these 4 years are. You can skip to the last chapter which summarizes the important points.
  3. Faithful Learning: A Vision for Theologically Integrated Education, Jacob Shatzer- A helpful summary of key doctrines with an eye to how they should shape our approach to teaching each discipline in a college curriculum if we are going to truly integrate faith and learning.
  4. The Transformation Factor: Leading Your Company for Good, for God, and for Growth, J Frank Harrison III- I like Harrison’s story.


  1. Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis’ Fortress Prison, Ben Macintyre- great story, well told. He does have an interest in diving into sexuality particularly homosexuality. Not graphic just more interest than I’d ask for. But overall this is fascinating story which I had not heard about before. Examples of perseverance and ingenuity among the prisoners. I don’t know if this would be the same today. Also the general respect for human rights on both sides is something I think has been lost.
  2. The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919, James Carl Nelson- I was fascinated to read about this invasion of Russia, and of how this has even recently been referenced by Russian political leaders (i.e., they have not forgotten this even though we have).
  3. Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival, Tom Clavin- Engaging story, part paean to the P-38, which was fun, and part (mostly) tale of survival. I realize I’ve read a few of these now especially in WWII, in both Asian and European theaters. In fact some details in this one have come up in other ones (like Audrey Hepburn). The story wanders a bit chasing stories of other people. But the epilogue is especially moving when Moser (main character) finds out the French farmers who helped him were not executed as he thought. The tales of Buchenwald were terrible and even made me think about putting the book aside. These things don’t usually affect me this much, but they did here. The children disappearing, and then a sadistic guard smiling when asked their whereabouts and saying they’re still with us, pointing to the ash falling from the crematorium. The sadism of the guards is appalling, but sadly, I think can see in our culture the potential of people behaving this way. When it said that Moser, postwar, working as a repairman without people knowing what all he’d been through, would often have to leave a home when he smelled bacon frying because that is what the camp with the crematorium smelled like, that hit me. I am struck again by how so many men who had suffered and accomplished so much, simply went back to work once they were home, and went to work in very simple, non-glamorous jobs, jobs many today think are beneath them even though they’ve not done half of what these men did.
  4. Stories in His Own Hand: The Everyday Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, ed. Kiron Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson- enjoyable read.
  5. The Waters Between Us: A Boy, a Father, Outdoor Misadventures, and the Healing Power of Nature, Michael Tougias- I love a memoir of fathers and sons, and I love stories about growing up enjoying the outdoors. People talking about the freedom children had to roam the woods, forests, rivers, etc. in a previous day make me sad for what we have lost. This had all that. It also lacked morals and had anti-human environmental ideas in one place. So, I’d have to be careful about recommending it, but I did enjoy it. Very good on this man realizing later how hard his dad worked and all he did to make life good for his family. Also powerful portrait of love and service in his parents caring for their daughter after her debilitating accident. Sad to see the husband be willing to let them take the responsibility, and with their blessings, annul the marriage and move on.
  1. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, Charles Henderson- A good read. Some profanity and gory, but good account of Carlos Hathcock, regular Arkansas boy who became a legendary Marine sniper. I liked his down to earth nature and hard work. It was sad though to see that his work seemed to be his life. Still much about drive and determination.
  2. Savage Will: The Daring Escape of Americans Trapped Behind Nazi Lines, Timothy M Gay- I stumbled across this book and saw it was about a WWII incident I had not heard of. It is fascinating story and really amazing more hasn’t been made of it. The author tells the story well. Not the level of McIntyre, etc. but good. Nurses and medics in flight up the Italian peninsula to staff a battlefield hospital were blown off course by a bad storm and ended up crash landing in Albania which was held by the Germans. It took 2 months for them to make their way to safety without being discovered by the Germans. It is amazing what all they went through and yet persevered and when they got home they didn’t make a big deal of it.
  3.  The Lost Airman: A True Story of Escape from Nazi-Occupied France, Seth Meyerowitz- a great story and even better that it was unearthed by a grandson about his grandfather! Opening shows classic WWII selflessness when one gunner is injured and downplays it so others will keep going and when eventually he ends his life so his buddy won’t die by continuing to try to save him. On the other hand we also see failure in the pilots who jump before their crew gets out thus endangering more of them. The bravery and perseverance of the French resistance is strong and compelling. Great story all the way around.
  4. Lost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff- a fascinating account of tragedy, courage, and encounter with a relatively unknown people group in New Guinea in the closing days of WWII
  5. Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution, Christopher Wren- I knew of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys but I did not know that they were also fighting for independence from New York or that they flirted with switching to the British side in return for the opportunity to be their own province. Very interesting and well written
  6. Jefferson’s War: America’s First War on Terror 1801-1805, Joseph Wheelan- a bit slow at times, but very interesting history. I knew that the Barbary war had taken place but few facts. It was interesting to see how this issue led to developments in thinking about the role of the federal government, military use, trade, etc. Also striking to see so early the US get into the trade of trying to overthrow a foreign government and the trouble that ensued, and us ending up leaving those allies stranded when we didn’t need them anymore.
  7. Game Changer: Our Fifty-Year Mission to Secure America’s Energy Independence, Harold Hamm- I would not normally have picked up this book, but a friend asked me to look it over. I found the argument strongly compelling. It is well written too. Hamm makes a great point about his oil company working hard to be environmentally friendly because it is good business and not because of some government mandates, and that using our oil helps the US and is cleaner than what is used elsewhere. Devastating critique of government intervention and the emptiness of trying to shut down oil now. He says make the best us of what we have and with that seek innovation rather than making a fideist pledge to other sources before they are ready. Much good here.
  8. Mountain Man: John Colter, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Call of the American West, David Weston Marshall- fascinating account of the adventures and experiences of Coulter. A good overview of the West at this time, the Indian tribes and their lives, the animals which were threats, etc. The stories provide examples of grit, courage and perseverance.
  9. The Masculinity Manifesto: How a Man Establishes Influence, Credibility and Authority, Ryan Michler- a lot of good material. Overdone sometimes on masculinity, but he does emphasize service, humility, etc.
  10. The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, Melvyn Bragg- fascinating. I love how he writes. It sparkles. I can tell he’s playing with the words as he writes and I think he’s even using allusions I’m not catching. Wonderful. I do find myself more in sympathy with those who want to preserve proper English, knowing there will be changes, but wanting to push against those who toss away any effort for standardization. I do wish he used proper notes though so you could see the sources of quotes, etc.


  1. Collusion: A Novel (Mayberry and Garrett Book 1), Newt Gingrich & Pete Earley- I really enjoyed this one! It is an action, intrigue, espionage story. Standard Russians trying an evil plot with a former special ops guy with a bad rap on him saving the day. Well done with story, pacing, etc. Plus it had no sensuality. Some language. People of faith portrayed positively with mentions of Jesus and even a lady being Southern Baptist which was interesting.  The second book in the series, Shakedown: A Novel, was fun but had some more suggestive material.
  2. Duplicity: A Novel (The Major Brooke Grant Series Book 1), Newt Gingrich & Peter Early- Fair, over the top too often, less believable than the other series. Brooke Grant particularly is over the top. Fun at times, but I didn’t continue the series.
  3. The Russian: A Novel (Rob Tacoma, 1), Ben Coes- A decent thriller, but disappointing compared to others I’ve read. More language and sensuality than I expected. Not the worst in this genre, but I’d heard it was more clean.  Then, just not real well written, given to cliché more, style and grammar on the lower end. Also, these kinds of stories have swagger, but it was over done in this one. I didn’t pursue others in the series.
  4. The Man from the Broken Hills(Talon and Chantry), Louis L’Amour- a fun story with classic LL themes. Did seem to have more profanity and more times where the main character seemed slow on the uptake, when the point was telegraphed so I was waiting for him to realize the obvious.
  5. North to the Rails(Talon and Chantry), Louis L’Amour- fun one. Interesting that this time LL takes a man opposed to killing or carrying a gun. He acknowledges the honor in the thought, but makes the point that in some situations, esp where law is not in charge such things are a necessity. Hero is Tom Chantry. His father, who was killed, was Borden Chantry.
  6. Over on the Dry Side, Louis L’Amour- a Chantry novel. Owen Chantry is the hero, and his brother Clive was murdered. Clive is the scholarly one. So, LL brings together his interest in academic minded people out west with his fighting man hero. Fun story. Well done. I’d like to know how Owen and Clive are related to the Borden/Tom line.
  1. Crossfire Trail, Louis L’Amour- good story, straight forward, almost formulaic L’Amour, but I enjoy those.
  2. Brionne, Louis L’Amour- a good one! Crossfire trail was subpar for LL, this one was back on track. It did jump a bit at the end, or I just missed a thing or two. It could have used some smoothing and wrapping up a bit more, but he didn’t’ edit. Still, I really enjoyed this one.
  3. Conagher, Louis L’Amour- another good one. Makes the point that settling and making something of the land is what really matters. I find this often in Westerns. It seems the authors wanted to make clear that though the stories center on fighting men, the real progress is found when men and women settle down and make something of a place. Honorable fighting simply defends this.
  4. The Trail to Seven Pines, Louis L’Amour- one of his Hopalong Cassidy novels. Enjoyable, though I can see why he didn’t like the HC novels included in his list of works, and even denied authorship. I’m glad we have them, but they aren’t up to his other Westerns. The flashy guns and attire of Hoppy cuts across the grain of what he talked about elsewhere. But in these novels that’s what he had to work with. Still, the straightforward good guy standing for principle, protecting the weak, calling for courage, plus good natured humor makes this a fine book.
  5. The Lonesome Gods, Louis L’Amour- a fun read. Another of his really long ones. Probably only The Walking Drum is as long. Good typical themes (courage, education, respect, perseverance). He often has strong women characters, but Miss Nesselrode is the strongest one in any of his work I’ve read. Her dressing down of Don Isidro is amazing! He also often comments on old gods of people who used to live in a location, but he develops that more here. An odd spiritualism. The Alfredo character (one who has a thyroid issue leading to enormous size) was also unique and very interesting. So, this story covers the common themes I like in LA, while also standing out with several unique characteristics.
  6. The Man from Skibbereen, Louis L’Amour- another fun one. Has standard themes but more original. Main character is just over from Ireland and acclimates to the West. He is a fighter more than a shooter, so the standard boxing aspects are there. More about the Civil War with the bad guys being former Confederates bent on getting revenge on Sherman.
  7. The Shadow Riders, Louis L’Amour- Fun read
  8. To Tame a Land, Louis L’Amour- LL on his game. Standard themes, with a young boy orphaned and needing to grow up fast in the West. Independence, character, strength, family, and the danger of unrestrained violence are all strong themes here.
  9. Night Over the Solomons, Louis L’Amour- Collected short stories featuring heroes who are soldiers of fortune, pilots working in the Pacific, Asia, or South America. Fine, but not as good as the Westerns eventually were.
  10.  The Louis L’Amour Companion, Robert Weinberg- I read this slowly over a few years, reading different entries. It is a fun collection of various pieces- articles by and interviews with LL, articles about his work that were previously published elsewhere, lists of LL books by decade with a brief description.
  11. Oakseeds: Stories From the Land (Outdoor Tennessee Series), Gary W. Cook- I like books like this, stories rooted in love for the land, especially when, like this one, the land is my own state. For that reason I enjoyed it even when it started slow. Part 2 is actually a short story that is quite good about a young man’s love of his small hometown, but encountering his need to move away from college, not abandoning his hometown but taking its lessons with him into the broader world. Part 3 moves to essays, and here Cook could just about be Wendell Berry. The first essay was deeply moving and the others were great.
  12.  HMS Ulysses, Alistair MacLean-I didn’t think the story telling was great in this one though it is celebrated. The flow was complex making it hard to follow in places, when chapters would jump back and forth chronologically. Technical nautical jargon didn’t help. The strength of the book is its portrayal of dogged perseverance against all odds and willing sacrifice for one another. I have read and seen enough to know that the sort of bravery described here has been related in historical WWII events as well. It left me wondering if US or UK would have such people on her boats today. The men resented their conditions but did not seem to view it as beneath them which seems to be the big thing today. The conditions to start with are almost unimaginable today. Then throw in the sub-freezing temps, storms at sea, pitiful provision, lack of sleep, strain of attack, etc. This story should stiffen some spines.
  13. The Last Place God Made, Jack Higgins- Essentially a Buchan thriller devoid of the moral compass, ideals, and education. As such it shows what was lost culturally from Buchan to Higgins. People of faith are portrayed poorly, though they are not mocked. Compared to today the portrayal isn’t bad, and at least they are portrayed and granted that they have “their own way” of thinking about things- though that’s obviously not “our way.”
  14. Innocent Blood, P D James- Took me a bit to get into it but very good. Christianity plays a big part- the need for forgiveness, for love. Also, subtle critiques of humanistic views of life. But in the end still holds loose to morals, at least the main character does. Perhaps we are supposed to see that that doesn’t work well for her. Disturbing in parts, describing the crime against the child.
  15. The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories, P. D. James- The intro and preface were great, but the stories were just average. It may be that short stories weren’t her thing.
  16. The Sabbatical: A Novel, Michael O’Brien- Fascinating with its interest in history of ideas, philosophy, etc. It does seem like the story was not finished.
  17. Once an Eagle, Anton Myrer- Way too long, but insightful. Not sure it is up to all the praise it is given, but it is terribly insightful. The author is very perceptive about the way we think, feel, behave and lays that out powerfully in many ways. I like the hero, which is the key point for drawing me in. I like Damon a lot and see why he is described as a portrait of the ultimate officer. People who whine about him being too perfect- well they just whine. Since it was put back into print by the Army, I was surprised at how critical it is of war and of how commercial interests have too often shaped military and political objectives. It is very realistic about the horrors and terribleness of war. There is no rah rah here, but it does hold up nobility, courage, sacrifice, and honor. The critical take on Viet Nam was as surprising as I think it is accurate. I did not like Mrs. Damon, really not much at all. But there is a good message there in the end as well with them finding that it is worth preserving marriage even if it has been tattered. Much here about leadership even amidst the flood of profanity.
  18. Wide Awake, (Book 3 in Devin Gray series) Steven Konkoly- a fun listen like Konkoly’s others. Fast paced action. Among the contemporary action novels, Konkoly is one of my favorites.
  19. Hot Springs: A Novel (Earl Swagger), Stephen Hunter- a really well written story. The development drew me in and made me want to know how the wrinkles would be resolved. It was rougher in language and sensuality than I expected, though. There were quite a few good turns of phrase
  20. The Bullet Garden: An Earl Swagger Novel (4), Stephen Hunter- fun. He writes engaging stories with interesting turns. I can’t get into when he tries to be humorous, particularly with the Basil character. But Swagger and Leets are good. Swagger isn’t as dark here. The book isn’t as dark as the first one. Still there is the odd interest in homosexuality which seems unnecessary. But I come back for leathery Swagger finding a way. I’ve seen complaints that it isn’t realistic but that is genre confusion- this is supposed to work in the real world (not fantasy) but of course the hero is smarter, sharper, stronger, better shot, etc. than everybody. That’s the way it works. Then, yes it defies reality for a Marine sergeant from the Pacific to be chosen for this task in Europe. I was a bit disappointed at first, but it is a fun story. And I like how he pulls in historical figures even if it is far fetched. So Swagger meets Bradley, Eisenhower, even apparently George Orwell and Tolkien. Fun. Some good lines too.
  21. Basil’s War: A WWII Spy Thriller, Stephen Hunter- As noted above, I don[t think Hunter does humor well, but I tried this one on Basil anyway. I put it away but came back. Basil is an anti-hero, the sort I don’t care for- careless about morals or ideals. The story has an interesting idea, tying espionage to an ancient Christian manuscript as the code, but he goes out of his way to describe the Christian author as a hypocrite.
  22. Odin(Alex Mason Book 1), David Archer & Blake Banner- not great but some fun action and intrigue and clean
  23. Orphan X (Orphan X, 1), Gregg Hurwitz- sort of Jason Bourne becomes the Equalizer (original Equalizer). Fairly clean. Fun, not as good as Konkoly
  24. The Nowhere Man: An Orphan X Novel (Orphan X, 2), Gregg Hurwitz- Good concept, but not what I hoped. Similar to the previous novel in the series. Great concept. Could be more, btu I don’t’ plan to continue the series.
  25. Ember’s End (The Green Ember Series: Book 4), S. D. Smith- good, but didn’t catch me like the earlier ones did
  26. The Saint Steps In, Leslie Charteris- Published in 1942. A decent read, but not all I had hoped. The Bulldog Drummond stories are much better I think despite the fact that the Saint stories got TV and movie treatments (and I really liked the old Roger Moore series). This was a bit flat and smug, with little charm to the story itself.
  27. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, R F Kuang- A fascinating premise- a historical fantasy set in 19th century Oxford where the industrial revolution is made possible by the use of silver, particularly the power unleashed by engraving words of similar meanings in different languages on silver. This sets up some very interesting discussions about the work of learning languages, semantic differences, the importance of language, etc. And the first roughly two thirds of the story is pretty entertaining. Then the last third becomes very preachy with the Marxist ideas, which had been obvious before, come center stage in an anit-capitalist rant.
  28. Bilbo’s Last Song, J R R Tolkien- nice, very brief. Nicely illustrated.
  29. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson- Tammie read it to us once again, which is always fun. It hit me this time that part of the humor id how insightful the author is about people- the control freak lady who usually leads the pageant, the main lady being offended when it’s insinuated that she couldn’t do it, the dad being frustrated that all this is interrupting everyday life (like dinner!), etc.


  1. The Bible Is Not Enough: Imagination and Making Peace in the Modern World, Scot McKnight- This is largely a pacifist argument applied to culture. He is after our lust for war (helpfully critiquing both political parties in this regard) and he has his sights set on Christian nationalism. Along the way he argues against seeing the Bible as a set norm and says we must imaginatively improvise from the text to make application today. Therein lies the problem.
  2. Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament, Sandra Glahn- Not a strong academic work
  3. The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith- I finished and thought, So what? There was some interesting cultural critique along the way but the story was underwhelming.
  4. Christ In The Seasons of Ministry, John Killinger- Promising but disappointing. Some decent points but marred by being too self-referential. Any book like this would be self-referential to some degree but in this he seems to assume everyone else’s experience is the same as his, and it missed me. There was also an odd mysticism.
  5. Adventures in the Art of Living, Wilfred Peterson- some good, thoughtful points, combined with a mash up of various self-help, pan-religionist ideas.
  6. 36 Righteous Men, Stephen Pressfield- I thought Pressfield was a Christian (didn’t confirm) so I did not expect the flood of profanity and other perspectives. This is an odd story, though interesting with its Jewish and biblical themes, that is themes playing off biblical ideas but not biblical in their worldview.

New Book On Union University History

This week a new booked edited by Justin Wainscott and myself and published by Union University Press was released: Lest We Forget: Founders’ Day Addresses from Union University, Bicentennial Edition. I am excited to see this come to fruition. This is now the second published volume of Founders’ Day addresses from Union. The previous book was From the Cloud of Witnesses (Borderstone Press, 2014). This new book contains every Founders’ Day address since that book plus several other items including an address from a Homecoming chapel, Union’s new alma mater with with explanation of the ideas and music involved, and the bicentennial commencement address in which Union president, Dr. Dub Oliver, adapted Union’s first ever address, given by then president Joseph H. Eaton.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Why did we work to publish this book? There are several reasons, but foremost is this, as Justin expressed it: because we believe the history of Union University should be shared and celebrated. There is so much in our history to appreciate, but it can’t be appreciated if it isn’t known. Therefore, we wanted to help make some of those stories and some of that history known so that it might be better appreciated. That is the primary impetus behind our annual Founders’ Day Chapel, and that was the primary impetus behind the book. As both alumni and faculty of Union, we recognize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We owe it to those who have gone before us not to forget their sacrifices, and we owe it to those who will come after us to pass on this history so that it will be appreciated and preserved.

Prayer for Growth, Newton

My poem of the week this week is this powerful hymn from John Newton. I find it deeply challenging and instructive. It is a reminder of God’s good purposes in trials and that the ease which I so much crave is not always the way of life.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Left Out!

Looking back over quotes from my reading this past year, I realized I had failed to record three books on my master list which meant they were not included in my year end post. And two of them would have vied for inclusion in my top 10!

Since I left them out, I wanted to mention them and commend them to you as well.

First, An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers. I really enjoyed this portrait of Cleveland and hope to write a column drawn from it. Jeffers is convincing in his main thesis, that Cleveland was a particularly honest, principled man. Whether or not one agrees with Cleveland on each issue (and he dealt with significant issues which reverberate today in importance) his candor and principle are compelling. His willingness to veto items or to push them forward knowing they will hurt his candidacy but doing what he thought was right won me. We need more political leaders like this.

Then, the two which would need to fit somewhere in my top 10:

Ryan Holiday’s  Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave (The Stoic Virtues Series) is excellent. In fact, it was so good I asked and received permission to write a review of it for the Southwestern Journal of Theology. It should be out soon. While not Christian in perspective it has much of value as it encourages taking responsibility, not hiding behind blaming others, and taking risks for what it good and right.

Then, I greatly enjoyed Hal Poe’s completion of his C. S. Lewis bio trilogy, The Completion of C. S. Lewis (1945–1963): From War to Joy. As in the two previous volumes this is an engaging read. I did not want to put it down. And as he tells Lewis’s story he overturns long held assumptions based on information from Lewis’s letters and other primary sources and draws out lessons for today. As scholars are beginning to note, this three volume biography has set the new standard for Lewis studies.

Best Reads of 2022

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Each year I keep a list of the books I read all the way through, typically with brief notes, as a way of tracking my thoughts and a way to look back on each year and see some of what influenced me. So, in this post I have drawn from that list some of the best books I read this year with slightly edited versions of the notes I jotted down after reading them. These are only books that I read all the way through and do not involve commentaries and reference works I’ve used. You can see my assessment of new Bible reference works from the past year in the Fall 2022 issue of Preaching Magazine.

I selected a Top 10 from the books I read this year. These 10 aren’t listed in a particular order, and they made this list for various reasons ranging from sheer enjoyment to level of impact on me. Following the Top 10 are some more books I enjoyed reading this year (in no particular order) as well as some disappointing ones.

Top 10

  1. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh, 1891)- Truly a spiritual classic. Six years ago I began reading slowly through these letters, and have been delayed several times. It is easy to get lost in certain parts, but there is much wisdom and richness here. The most profound reflections on suffering I’ve read. Strong, earnest counsel to those in suffering from one in the midst of it himself. I’m struck by the directness of his words to those in suffering and those facing death. Good examples of pastoral counsel. [I did not link to a copy because I couldn’t find a link to the one I have. There are abridgements, but I’d encourage you to get the full treatment).
  2. Fight for Your Pastor, Peter Orr- This is the best, concise treatment I’ve seen on how a congregation ought to support and help their pastors. I had our church buy a copy for every family in our membership in preparation for the coming of a new lead pastor.
  3. The Good Shepherd, C S Forester- I read this book because I appreciated so much the Tom Hanks movie, “Greyhound,” which was based on this book. I saw parallels to pastoral ministry and this was heightened when I saw the title to this book. The book is shot through with scriptural allusions. It is a great story and portrait of leadership: duty, sacrifice, put yourself aside and work of the good of others (which may explain my disappointment with the Hornblower novel; see “Disappointments”).
  4. How To Be a Pastor, Theodore Cuyler- Published in 1890, this is an excellent treatment of my main theme on pastoral ministry, the necessity of knowing your people and caring for them.
  5. No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men, Anthony Esolen- Vintage Esolen, no holds barred, exceptionally well written, convicting.
  6. Between You And Me: My Philosophy Of Life, Edgar Guest- I have loved Guest’s poetry for years, after finding R G Lee’s library filled with Guest’s books. So, I was excited to find this gem in a used bookstore recently. This book is a beautiful example of the general wisdom that used to be widely held in our culture.
  7.  Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, James Webb- I did a dive into Webb this year and was fascinated by him. This was chief among his books which I read. I wish we had more democrats like Webb. His love of country is rooted in a love of family and knowledge of family line which is rare today. This is an insightful treatment of how history continues to shape our country. This book, written well before J. D. Vance’s Hilbilly Elegy, provides the background for much of what Vance explored. I also enjoyed Webb’s, I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir, particularly his growing up, his take on Viet Nam, and his politics. His celebrated Viet Nam novel, Fields of Fire, was more crude than I expected. Too bad. It does portray the hardship and feeling of senselessness of the war. Having read his memoir, it is easy to see the autobiographical parts.
  8. The Lessons of History, Will and Ariel Durant- I also did a dive into these smaller books by the Durants- which I’ve loved! Durant writes exceptionally well and is someone worth disagreeing with. In this first book, they see religion as something to get over, even thought they recognize the good it has brought. Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God, is a manuscript discovered after his death in which he sought to give his thoughts on most of the pressing issues of the day (1970’s). It is fascinating, even as I disagree deeply on God, religion, etc. as well as deeply in fundamental politics. However, I resonate strongly with where he ends up on many things related to culture, politics, education, human relations, etc. I also found very striking one of his early books, Tragedy of Russia, Impressions from a Brief Visit.  Will and Ariel were sympathetic to communism so in the early 1930’s they visited the Soviet Union and were repulsed by what they saw. This book is his devastating report on what things were really like in Soviet Russia.  
  9. First Blood, David Morrell- I gave this a try because I like the movie and heard the book was a bit different. I was surprised to learn the book had been commonly assigned in high school literature courses before the movie was made. The author’s retrospective introduction was intriguing as he explained what he was after in the book which is different from the movie. I can see how he sought to bring the Viet Nam war home to people in the US- what if these sorts of things were happening in our little towns. The novel is much more “in the heads” of Rambo and the sheriff. The sheriff is a bigger deal in the book, as are religious ideas. The book is both deeper and more religious than the movie. It is well worth reading.
  10. Lord of the World, Robert Hugh Benson- fascinating. Written in 1907 (one place said 1909) about the end of the world and eerie in its prescience. He imagines a century or so in the distance and how things have developed. He has mass commercial flight and what seems to be wireless telegraph, but no computers. But he writes about the rise of universal socialism, of the “collectivists” as opposed to the “individualists,” with Christians being the main individualists. The author is a Catholic priest so not surprisingly the Catholic church is the last holdout with all other Christians groups capitulating or joining Rome. Despite with my differences with Catholic ideas, this is a penetrating analysis as socialism is on the rise in the US. Tolerance is preached, though that means Christians must be kept out of the public square, and eventually- in the name of peace- exterminated. Human beings will worship, so they turn to the worship of man, which is also what is going on around us with the praise of who we are and the rejection of any idea of our fallenness.

Theology/Bible/Christian Living

  1. How the Church Fathers Read the Bible: A Short Introduction, Gerald Bray- very stimulating. Along the way Bray provides a good intro to doctrine, history, and hermeneutics. Engaging, accessible.
  2. Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands: Recovering Sacrament in the Baptist Tradition, Michael Haykin- This is a very good treatment of how Baptists have thought about and practiced baptism and communion. I have written a full review for Southwestern Journal of Theology.
  3. Chosen by God, R C Sproul- Returning to this classic reminded me of how great a teacher Sproul was and how much he influenced me.
  4. The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World, R C Sproul- A well-done overview of Western philosophy. This book helped me think about how to get into ideas that shape our thinking and apply the scripture so that the biblical affirmations don’t just fall on the tough outer exterior.
  5. Merry & Bright: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Christmas to the Glory of God, Eric Smith- This is a helpful, enjoyable devotional. Eric’s devotional books have become sensational favorites in my family and my church because of their clarity, faithfulness, and grace. You can get Eric’s devotionals simply by contacting Sharon Baptist Church.


  1. The Causal & Casual in History, John Buchan (1929 Rede Lecture)- Enjoyable, interesting. He essentially argues that history cannot be seen merely as a science. He firsts tips his hat to some of the ways history can be seen as scientific but then argues it cannot be merely scientific because human nature and the vicissitudes of life fit no single paradigm or theory. He does this largely by pointing to a series of events (illustrative of many, many more) when large turns in history hinged on very minor things which could be seen as accidental. In this way he points to the very things which make counterfactual history so interesting and valuable to me. Many professional historians despise it, but I value counterfactual history not because it points to any different history we can know but because it illustrates the fragility of events and should point us to humility and even to ponder the sovereign hand of God in history. Buchan explicitly makes the point about humility and suggests the contemplation of God’s providence as well.
  2. The Whig Interpretation of History, Herbert Butterfield- Buchan prompted me to finally read this important work which I often see cited.
  3. The Origins of Wisdom: Chivalry, O. B. Duane- A nice brief overview of the history and ideals of chivalry. It does not scoff at chivalry as seems to be the custom today, but takes it seriously noting its weaknesses and decline but asserting its value and continuing influence
  4. Saving Bravo: The Greatest Rescue Mission in Navy SEAL History, Stephen Talty – An amazing story, even though the author meandered into the backgrounds of various other people in the story rather than staying on the main track, which I found distracting. The basic story of a middle-aged officer having to survive behind enemy lines for many days in Viet Nam and the US effort to rescue him- because he knew too much classified info to allow him to be captured- is fascinating, as is the effort of those who eventually rescued him. An inspiring story of perseverance, courage, bravery. The main guy does come off looking bad I how he grasped at fame after being rescued. The guy who rescued him, however, is great in how he dealt with adversity. Because of this I watched the movie “BAT 21” which tells this story, but it distorts the story and isn’t as compelling.
  5. Indestructible: One Man’s Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII, John Bruning- fascinating story, well told. I had never heard of Pappy Gunn and here I learn what an influence he had on WWII in the Pacific theater, all the while worrying about his family who had been left behind in Manilla when the Japanese overran it.  There are many portraits here of perseverance, and it is compelling for that reason alone. Kids having appendectomies without being anesthesia and without antibiotics, the ingenuity and grit of Pappy as he came up with new ways to arm aircraft, guided planes into a makeshift landing strip with just a flashlight taped to a frying pan, and more! I loved the part where engineers in the US told Pappy his plans for arming certain planes could never work only for Pappy to tell him he’d already outfitted several planes in this same way on the field and they worked well!
  1. The Saga of Pappy Gunn, Gen George C. Kenney- I liked the previous book so I read this one by Pappy’s commanding officer. Not as exciting, but it was helpful to read the official take as well.
  2. River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, Candice Millard- she tells a story very well. I loved her previous three books, but the main guys in this story weren’t likeable.  
  3. Uncommon Valor: The Recon Company that Earned Five Medals of Honor and Included America’s Most Decorated Green Beret, Stephen Moore- This wasn’t the best in terms of weaving the different stories together, but it is a deeply compelling collection of stories particularly in terms of bravery and perseverance of these soldiers. I was struck by 1) how commonly these men thought of others over themselves, 2) the use of other ethnic groups in the region who disliked the Vietnamese, 3) how well the US soldiers treated the Montagnards(always put them on the rescue choppers first), 4) how often it seemed that everyone was injured 5) injured men carrying on like it wasn’t a big deal, 6) the resilience of the enemy even though they were getting hit with serious ordinance from jets, prop planes, and helicopters; but they kept coming
  4. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, John Oller- Very good! It was great to find a book that, while not hagiographic, did not mind affirming the heroic, especially of one whom I’ve appreciated since boyhood. Oller seemed to be careful with sources and in piecing together the evidence we have. Marion did not defeat the British army in the South, but he kept them from moving on to victory. In a sense he “held the fort” (metaphorically) for a few years until more help (in the form of Greene) could come. He did this while friends were killed and had their homes burned, while losing his own home, while being maligned by other SC militia leaders, while being looked down upon by the leaders of the Continental Army. He stuck with it and in the end was instrumental to victory.
  5. I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, from Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War, James Carl Nelson- I am fascinated by Cates, but this book is just average. At the beginning and end it focuses on him, but in WWI it seems to lose focus on Cates and to slip into mere recounting of battle facts. Plenty of data, but not compellingly told. Still, I am glad there is at least this book on Cates. I haven’t found another.
  6. Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines, Eric Blehm- an amazing story.
  7. Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History, Andrew Roberts- Roberts writes very well. More of a history book with some leadership lessons tacked on, but I love good history!
  8. Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story — The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company, Patrick O’Donnell- interesting. I appreciated learning more about the Korean War, which I had known little about before the last year or so of reading. A compelling tale of perseverance.
  9. When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan, Peggy Noonan- I love Reagan and enjoyed Noonan’s account. The audiobook is significantly abridged even though it doesn’t indicate that.   
  10. The Last Hill: The Epic Story of a Ranger Battalion and the Battle That Defined WWII, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin- For the last few years I watch for anything written by these two men. This is another good one, history engagingly told. I learned new info on Pointe Du Hoc and I wasn’t previously familiar with “The Hill.” Powerful examples of perseverance
  11. Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, Herman Wouk- I stumbled across this one. I have not read Wouk’d famous works, but was intrigued by the idea of reflections of a prominent author after 100 years! On that point, it was quite interesting.
  12. Portrait of a Father, Robert Penn Warren- Interesting. I can’t imagine this getting published except that the author was already famous. Still, good things here in terms of reflection on humanity, just usually oblique.


  1. I enjoyed several Louis L’Amour novels again this year. How the West Was Won is a longer, wide sweeping novel, with the classic L’Amour focus on brave people willing to work hard. Matagorda and The Empty Land were good too. Here’s a quote: “We’re all responsible. … Law and order is a job for all of us. If we shirk it long enough we will have anarchy, and all we’ve built will be destroyed.” I also enjoyed some short story collections- which I hadn’t before. I searched for Bowdrie’s Law because Reagan alluded to Bowdrie in the ceremony honoring L’Amour. The Strong Shall Live is an enjoyable collection of short stories, especially “Bluff Creek Station,” which is a rich reflection on life.
  2. Deep Sleep(Devin Gray, Book 1) & Coming Dawn(Devin Gray series, book 2), Steven Konkoly- I continue to enjoy Konkoly’s stories. This series like several of his others deal with special agents thwarted high profile good guys. Action and intrigue. Language warning.
  3. The Two Towers,  & The Return of the King,J R R Tolkien- Just as good this time through. Full of lessons as Tolkien brings to bear all that he thinks concerning the way life ought to be and the realities of a fallen world
  4. The Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas- Not the best from Dumas (Dumas was often paid by the word, and it shows here), but interesting especially with a view on the darker side of William of Orange before he became the Protestant hero in Britain.
  5. Maria Chapdelaine, Louis Hémon, – I listened to this because Anthony Esolen mentioned it. Only fair in terms of story but did represent hardy people in Canada wresting a living from harsh conditions while holding to one another and their Catholic faith.
  6.  The Little Minister, J M Barrie- Interesting story with some good insights on pastoral ministry, with examples of ministry ought to be, common problems (gossip, people watching a minister very closely and holding him to too high a standard, affectation, etc.).


  1. The Red Pony, John Steinbeck- I read this and thought, “So what?” With the Grandfather I could see some point- perhaps that the father wanted to live up to the grandfather but missed love. It seemed, overall, a rambling story without a point
  2. Right Ho, Jeeves, P G Wodehouse- finally completed my first Wodehouse. I tried one before but didn’t finish it. I was ready to stop this one shortly after starting but persevered. I appreciate watching slapstick but not so much reading (or listening to it). There were humorous moments, but overall, it was not an enjoyable experience, and I am glad to have finished it so that I might move on.
  3. Fightin’ Fool, Max Brand- Inferior compared to Louis L’Amour. Brand does have some good turns of phrase. This is more of a comedy, almost slapstick in places.
  4. The Black Monk and Peasants, Anton Chekhov- I don’t see the point in either of these stories unless it is to describe life in Russia at the time as miserable and brutish. The back cover describes these stories as “Two masterpieces of psychological insight”, but I don’t see it.
  5. The Happy Return, C S Forester- I did not like Hornblower at all. Perhaps we are to identify with his struggles, but he just seems to be a very poor model of leadership to me.