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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gentle Field Guide For Christian Thought
Let's get this out of the way quickly. My objectivity regarding this book is compromised from the outset. The primary authors of this book John Pattison, Jordan Green, and Dan Gibson are the primary visionaries, gatekeepers and stewards of The Burnside Writer's Collective, which is where I submit a lot of my essays. So writing a positive review of this book could be seen...
Published on December 7, 2010 by Larry Shallenberger

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars Does not Build Christian "Community"
What immediately told me that this book is unhelpful is that it commends books that are entirely contradictory to one another. On one side you have Augustine's Confessions, Calvin's Institutes, Pilgrim's Progress, and Knowing God by JI Packer. On the other side you have the likes of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren among others. A person who believes in...
Published 12 days ago by Dante Spencer


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gentle Field Guide For Christian Thought, December 7, 2010
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This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
Let's get this out of the way quickly. My objectivity regarding this book is compromised from the outset. The primary authors of this book John Pattison, Jordan Green, and Dan Gibson are the primary visionaries, gatekeepers and stewards of The Burnside Writer's Collective, which is where I submit a lot of my essays. So writing a positive review of this book could be seen as the equivalent of letting my boss win at golf. I'm also one of the guest essayists. So, me endorsing the book is like the Pravda endorsing Lenin or Itunes endorsing Lennon.

Now that I've gotten my disclaimers out of the way ( F.C.C. disclosure: I will be receiving a complimentary copy of the book and I may be allow to continue writing at Burnside, but I am sure there is no correlation.) let's just say that this is an outstanding volume. Beside the Bible is an attempt to identify the 100 most important books that Christians should read, other than the Bible. The reader should consider this book a field guide for Christian thought, and the thought that sprung up in response and protest to Christianity.

Distilling 2,000 years of faith into a mere one hundred books is a high bar. That's letting a single volume into the fold for every two centuries. I'm sure John, Jordan, and Dan are grateful for the relatively late introduction of the printing press and high illiteracy rates of the Dark Ages before that. Even so, there's an inherent tension in the list. It's inevitable that worthy books were omitted and that questionable books wormed their way in their cannon. I'm expecting a lively conversation to break out over what books have and are defining Christian thought. This would be a welcome conversation. I am not anti-blogging or anti-twitter; but it seems to me that intellectually we are getting dangerously close to inhaling our own stale air. Our tweets and postings are all starting to blend together into a forgettable and homogenized stew of blandness. It would do us all some good to take a break from the group-think and to read a classic.

The essays are written in a down-to-earth voice. After reading the first dozen essays I realized that none of the authors or guest contributors was jockeying to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, I was surprised by inclusion of the occasional "dude" into the essays. The casual tone might be off-putting to some; this book wasn't written for the average librarian. And I'll admit it, I felt a little less dense getting a refreshing course on Kierkegaard and Hegel from an essayist who wasn't filled with self-importance.

Several of the choices in the books are obvious: The Apocrypha, The writings of the Church Fathers, The City of God, Confessions, Calvin's Institutes, The Divine Comedy. Time has already endorsed these books has having lasting value. However, the more immediate the selection, the more debatable is it's inclusion on the list. For example The Bros. K by Duncan made the cut while The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky did not. I've got nothing kind to say about that choice (and here ends my writing tenure at Burnside). I grew up listening to Keith Green and playing his music on the piano. Even so, I don't believe his biography No Compromise was worthy of being on the list. Most of the other choices were well reasoned. Mere Christianity was edged out by similar volumes Knowing God and Simply Christian. Sarah Thebarge's highly personal essay of a Grief Observed and the essay on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe more than make up for the slight.

Several of the books that made the cut are cautionary. The Left Behind Series is mentioned, but for its lyricism or sound theology, but because its record-breaking sales point to the fact that these books captures the political and theological leanings of millions of Christians. This Present Darkness made the cut. Jordan Green treats this book more gently than I would, but he is a better person than I. I think the book belongs. Yes, it shaped the future of Christian fiction. But I also think the book is an example of the power of story to shape theological imagination in positive and negative ways. Perhaps Perretti should not be faulted for how his fans reacted to the book; he was just telling a good story.

I found myself the most fascinated by the final thirty selections. Patterson, Gibson, and Green had the hard task of examining contemporary works and extrapolating the arc of Christian thought into the future. Anne Lammot, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Phylis Tickle, and Brian McLaren make the cut. This seems to be a nod to the undeniable shift in Christian thought toward valuing the emotional and relational aspects of our faith as much as we do the intellectual and dogmatic (I don't see that as a bad word). John Piper and Timothy Keller are represented on the list, but I'm not sure the tension between relational (that's not a bad word either) versus systematic expressions of our ancient faith is adequately captured on the list of 100.*

One caveat. This book was compiled by people who love literary. There's precious few references to philosophy or science volumes. This book biases toward all things literary. That's not a good or bad thing; it just is. Know that going in.

So who is this book for? It's for pastors looking for surprising sources of inspiration; readers who can't find a home for their minds within insular world of Christian books; its for the person looking for a crash course on Christian thought; it's for writers who want to improve their literary diet. But this book is mostly for the curious. Beside the Bible is a guide for those looking to get acquainted with our literary heritage.

...

* I agonized over that sentence. I don't intend to disparage the theology of those who I identified as emphasizing the relational; nor do I intend to swipe at the emotional intelligence of those I perceive to emphasize doctrine in their writings. I also don't pretend to think that good folk I herded into my artificial categories agree with each other, either. Why can't we all just get along?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Conversation Starter, March 7, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
Any list of the 100 books most influential to Christianity outside of the Bible is ripe for debate, and the conversation this book creates is a lot of fun. They pick the books they like, not the expected ones, which adds to the fun. It works, because they like good, interesting books, and because they don't try to hide their personal favoritisms. These guys are evangelicals who have branched out in interesting ways and dig the "Emergent" crowd. That's OK, because it's made obvious, and because they want to open up a conversation not only about the books they pick but also about the picks themselves.

So, as another evangelical who's branched out in lots of ways, but more as a mainline Protestant and early Christianity guy, here's my contribution: First, "Mere Christianity" belongs in there. It gets mentioned in at least three essays and they take space to explain why they didn't include it. "The Year of Living Biblically" has created Christian culture more than "Mere Christianity"? Please! I can see how "Screwtape" gets off the list, but this is a major mistake.

Second, if you put Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and all that crowd in there, how do you have nothing from Henri Nouwen, Barbara Brown Taylor, Will Willimon, or Frederick Buechner? These have been read by many more folks than the Emergent folks, but they're more popular with mainline Protestant readers. They should have thrown at least one bone.

"The Life of St. Anthony" belongs in there, and probably "On the Incarnation," too. Hard to say they have been less influential than a lot of books that made the list. These are accessible and engaging classics, too. "The Shack" is so new that it's hard to know its influence. They were right to include some poorly written books that have shaped common thinking in incalculable ways, namely, "Left Behind," and "This Present Darkness."

The essays are lively, interesting, personal, and generally open the books up without praising them uncritically.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get Me To The Library!, January 3, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
I'll keep this review short and simple. After reading Besides The Bible, all you'll want to do is visit the library or book store and get home to read. All three authors have succeeded in peaking my interest by writing concise, compelling essays about books I am now excited about. I guess you could say, this is a great beginning.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial, thought-provocative, all-engrossing, January 16, 2012
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Besides the Bible poses the intention of introducing readers to a collection of books--both secular and religious/sacred--that best frame the status of modern Christianity--modern in the sense of pertaining to the first decade 2000. Three co-authors supported by outside collaboration vary in their presentations as they sometimes provide brief book reviews, personal testaments of the books' relevance, histories, and appraisals of Christianity and the Church.

While this understated description posits the book as a kind of "The Christian's Version of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die--Except a Heck of a lot Shorter," the book far supersedes such a classification. In reality it reads more like a philosophical treatise for, without any references to outside works, one would quickly arrive at the assumption that s/he was reading a groundbreaking work of staggering genius that set out to reappraise the basic tenets of Christianity.

Readers will likely react differently to the various proposals, discarding some without a second's consideration, voraciously consuming others over and over, and sometimes finding familiar references. Really the read is like a tug-of-war-contest with one's consent and beliefs--at times oscillating to vehement denial or consent, and other times finding the perfect in between of, "I read that one and loved it: now I know why."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great gift for books lovers, February 5, 2011
By 
Brad Routh (Phoenix, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
A friend gave me this book, since he knows I love to read, and I immediately read through the essays of books I'd read. It was super interesting to hear another perspective and motivated me to pick up a few books I had forgotten I'd enjoyed. The essays on books I haven't read inspired me to start a book club with some friends. It's a great to have access to 100 summaries of books, it's helps me pick which one we should read next! It has essays by great authors like Don Miller ('Blue Like Jazz'), William P Young ('the Shack') and reviews about top books like 'The Fountainhead' (Ayn Rand) and 'Blankets' by Craig Thompson.

I've already bought it for several friends - a great gift for books lovers!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Resource, January 15, 2011
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This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
This book gives you insight to other books written that are amazing. It's not necessary to agree with all titles referenced in this book, but it definitely is a book that will enlarge your reading.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Any Fist Fights? Add Augustine - Drop Antoine!, July 19, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
What Important Books Haven't You Read Yet?

In the "Life-Changing Classics" series by Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, there's a jam-packed pocket-size gem of just 64 pages, Books Are Tremendous: What They Represent to Some of Those Who Have Written, Read and Loved Them (Life-Changing Classics). It's a nifty little tool for inspiring non-readers to pick up a book and begin their life-long learning journey. He quotes Orison S. Marden on "Intention, Attention and Retention."

"To read profitably one must keep these three things in mind: intention, attention, and retention. It is worth noting that the word retention comes from the Latin retces, a net. Nets are made so that the smaller and worthless fishes may slip through the meshes. So the mind trained to retention allows trivial things to escape and holds in memory only things of greater importance."

And to mix metaphors, Jones adds this counsel from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The foolishest book is a kind of leaky boat on a sea of wisdom; some of the wisdom will get in anyhow."

I mention all of this because this amazing "book about books" arrived recently and I was reminded of a haunting question asked of me my senior year of college. Dr. Ralph G. Turnbull (1901-1985), pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Seattle, was an adjunct prof at Seattle Pacific College (now SPU). He agreed to take me on for three hours of independent study--so I could graduate. But on Day 1, his first question took me by surprise: "John, what important books haven't you read yet?"

I faked an important sounding answer--but Dr. Turnbull wasn't impressed. After a prolonged and awkward silence, he blessed me by rattling off his distinguished list of important books. Clearly, no self-respecting senior would neglect these treasures. Most of those books (and I did read them) have slipped through the mesh, but significant wisdom remains, like the important truths from Christian Nurture, by Horace Bushnell (published in 1861).

So what's my point today? Well...what important books haven't you read yet?

I'm a sucker for book lists, such as the book I reviewed in 2009, The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You, by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten.

In 2010, three writers, Dan Gibson, Jordan Green and John Pattison, teamed up to deliver the "100 books that have, should or will create Christian culture." There's no way you can avoid these books list:
--It's part vanity. How many have I read?
--It's part contrarian. Really? Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness made the list?
--And it's part need-to-know. What do others know that I don't know?

I counted about 20 books I've actually read; another 10 or so are on my yet-to-read shelf. There are 20 or 30 others you probably think a guy like me would have read, but nope. (Gotta get around to those too. Dr. Turnbull's shadow still convicts.)

Their Top-100 list spans the centuries and culture:
--Foxe's Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe
--The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
--The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
--The Apocrypha
--The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
--The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
--A New Kind of Christian, by Brian McLaren
--Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller
--The God Trilogy, by Timothy Keller
--Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell

I was happy they included one of my all-time favorites, Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson, but wondered why God's Smuggler, by Brother Andrew (which I appreciate) made the Top-100 list. That's the fun of books lists. You resonate with the reviews you love--and whine about lower priority books that made the list.

Interestingly, there were no books by megachurch pastors Schuller, Swindoll, Hybels, Warren, Jakes or Osteen. Nothing either by Lucado, Alcorn, Chan or Maxwell. Beth Moore, Sarah Young or Joyce Meyer? Nada. Memo to publishers: making the prestigious ECPA Top-50 Bestseller list in 2010 was not a free pass to this list.

C.S. Lewis got two on the list. A.W. Tozer, Dallas Willard, John Piper and Madeleine L'Engle each scored one. The Left Behind series duo, LaHaye and Jenkins, also got the nod.

I would have paid to watch the video of this Literary Gang of Three narrow the list to just 100 morsels. Were there any fist fights or threatening emails? "Come on...Augustine and Chesterton just have to be on the list--so I'm warning you, drop Antoine Saint-Exupery today! Who cares about The Little Prince--and why should we?"

But in the end...you'll appreciate the inviting two to four-page reviews that will tempt your book budget at every turn. Charlie "Tremendous" Jones (no surprise: not on the list) preaches, "You are today what you'll be five years from now, except for the people you meet and the books you read." Now I understand Erasmus who wrote, "When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Bon appetite!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Compilation for Christian Readers, February 7, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
Having read the work of these authors in "Mosaic", when we heard the premise of this book we were stoked. Not only do these essays give philosophical perspective on works that we love, the writers introduce some classic and obscure works of art that uplift and help to further our understanding of our relationship to God.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid, go-to resource for any reader, February 4, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
For someone who doesn't have a lot (or prioritize a lot) of time to do research on what book to read next, Besides the Bible has been a huge breakthrough for me.

I couldn't agree more with 'advriderrich' and 'Tyler'. I like the conciseness of the essays and my book list has now grown dramatically - and I love having a list of things to do (read) vs. not.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listomania!, February 4, 2011
This review is from: Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Paperback)
I love lists. In my younger years have even written lists of all the lists I need to write. It helps to have all these important events or chores or movies or music...or books, all laid out in perfect order for what ever purpose I needed.

Besides the Bible is like a super list. It's not just a compilation of some astounding books, but a brief, insightful, and even humorous look into all of them as well. Since reading some essays and perusing others, I've been inspired to read 3 new novels and reread two more. Of course, I've made a list of all the others I plan on reading soon.
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