© 2014 Robert Osburn

Of the dozens of books I have read the past several years, four deserve special mention because you likely have friends or family that will treasure these books as much as I do. And, besides, these “sleepers” deserve a much wider audience than they are receiving. These recommended Christmas gifts are sure to not only spark conversations in 2015, but to perhaps change minds and hearts in the process.

Salt and Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China (2009), ed. by Carol Hamrin, with Stacey Bieler.

In nearly 30 years of ministry amongst international students, the most spectacular reality (then as now) has been the incredible hunger for the Gospel amongst Mainland Chinese students.  Reading this volume (as well as volumes two and three) will convince you that when Chinese students come to Christ they can become remarkable Christ-animated agents for redemptive change.  How do we know?  Since the late 19th century, Chinese students who went abroad to America for study often came back home determined to impart a Christian vision that would make their nation and her people flourish.  This volume, and the other two, tell many of their unforgettable tales of extraordinary sacrifice and courage.

Is Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews (2014), by Mary Poplin.

Mary, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate School in southern California, became a follower of Jesus Christ in the last decade of the 20th century. Since then, she has been on a quest to understand how to make sense of reality in light of her newfound worldview.  Would that every academic engaged in the same sort of sustained and earnest reflection!   Professor Poplin surveys alternative worldviews, explores their implications for thought in and out of academia, weaves in her remarkable personal story (a strong reason to buy this book), and draws conclusions that point to the unique plausibility of a Christian account of reality.  Yes, this book is for those who like to think, but, best of all, it shows what happens when academics really start thinking about their deepest assumptions.  They might just end up following the same God about whom Mary so winsomely writes in this book and in her talks on the lecture circuit.

I Just Need Time to Think! Reflective Study as Christian Practice (2014), by Mark  Eckel.

I quote from my Amazon.com review of the book: “This is a wonderful book to give the teachers you know! Eckel writes with the soul of an artist, the passion of a teacher, and the mind of a theologian. The book is a collection of 50 short essays on the subject of reflective study from a Christian perspective. Every essay includes a pithy, memorable story, a well-crafted text, and some kind of Christian reference that reflects the author’s deepest convictions about the source of and energy for education.”  Remember: Buy a copy for the educators in your life.

Waking Up: A Kid Grows in Brooklyn (2013), by Paul Volk.  

If you have never seen the movie Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), you should rent it.  Whether you do or you don’t, this volume will transport you into a life that Midwesterners can barely imagine.   Written as artfully, gracefully, and poignantly as any memoir I have read, this first of a two-volume memoir makes readers long to know more about Paul Volk.  I know how the story unfolds past the pages of the book, and let me just say that his brief allusions to a world beyond Brooklyn are much more than geographical. Volk knows a world shaped by a larger Grace that transcends the drug-filled and Eastern mystical cul-de-sacs he alludes to at the end of the book.  The book cannot be put down, and so, at 87 pages and a $7.95 price tag, the reader will be out little time or money.  But enriched you will be by the story of another time, another generation, another place, another culture, and another person in need of redeeming grace.