James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
A groundbreaking book. Â Smith’s main points: human beings are primarily worshiping animals, moved more by desire that by thoughts or beliefs; we are formed by the “cultural liturgies” in which we participate, whether at the mall, the stadium, or church; therefore, Christian education involves far more than just the Christian perspective or doctrine – it involves the whole person. I expect I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
I’m a sucker for neuroscience stories. Ever heard of Williams syndrome, which gifts its victims with amazing musical, relational, and conversational skills but robs them on basic math? Or the man with Alzheimer’s who forgot his entire life, but continued his career as a world-renowned pianist? Or the Parkinson’s patients who could move only to the sound of dance music, remaining frozen at all other times?Â I’ll read anything Oliver Sacks will write.
Albert Haase, Coming Home to Your True Self
A book about putting off the false self by finding our true self in Christ, as well as an introduction to spiritual direction.Â This book made up a good piece of my devotions and reflections this month.Â Each chapter includes very well-thought-out discussion questions that made for good journal entries. This book was the perfect read for the new year.
Keith Yandell and Harold Netland, Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal
I read this to prepare for my World Religions class later this year.Â I’ve always found Buddhism a difficult religion to teach because the “traditional” version of Buddhism – the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path – really only applies to one branch of Buddhism (Theravada), which is not even the branch most commonly encountered by Americans. (Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism are much more widely known in the US.) Yandell and Netland provide an excellent overview of the complex, diverse world of Buddhism, with special attention paid to those forms that are better known in the West. I haven’t yet decided how I will revise my section on Buddhism, but this book has given me a lot to think about.
Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs
I think I would read anything Chabon wrote, including a cereal box. This collection of short essays deals with various aspects of manhood: being a husband, a father, a son, a brother. The quality varies greatly, but when Chabon nails it, he really nails it. “The Hand on My Shoulder” (a tribute to his ex-father-in-law) and “Faking It” (dedicated to the proposition that appearing to keep your head is an integral part of manhood) are among the best personal essays I’ve read in a while.
David Thomas, The Stories We Tell Our Children
David is the husband of my InterVarsity colleague Nan Thomas, as well as a history professor at Union University. David and Nan are passionate about good children’s books, and David has put that to use in his history classes.Â This lovingly written monograph explores the history inherent in well-written children’s books – for example, the industrial progress at the center of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, the perfect mid-century moments captured by Robert McCloskey, stories of immigrants, and so on. A great book for parents or anyone who wants to think a little bit more deeply about children’s literature.
Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball
Simmons is my favorite sportswriter, unless you consider Gregg Easterbrook a sportswriter (which probably isn’t completely accurate, since Easterbrook writes so many other types of things). A definitive history of the NBA, plus a ranking of the NBA’s 96 best players of all time. If you like sportswriting to just get to the point and not wander off topic, then you should avoid Simmons, but if you like to take your time and wander through lots of pop culture tangents, then you can’t do much better than Simmons.
John Piper, The Future of Justification (available for free here)
The first book that my new Florence Theology Book Club read. This is Piper’s initial salvo in the current controversy between the Reformed camp (personified by Piper) and the New Perspective camp (N. T. Wright, E. P. Sanders, among others) on the topic of justification. In this book, Piper argues that Wright, while getting much right, fundamentally misunderstands Paul’s theology of justification and needlessly includes works, and not just faith, in our relationship with God. Next up, we’ll read N. T. Wright’s response, Justification.
Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional
This book was required reading for InterVarsity’s Spring Leadership Meetings this month. Belcher analyzes 9 areas in which the “emerging” and “traditional” churches differ, and then scouts out approaches that honor both the “Great Tradition” (the historical creeds of the church, the practices of Christianity) of the historical church and the contemporary context of today’s Christians. Overall, a very good book, though there are several areas that I would like to process more deeply. For example: what about churches that don’t accept the Great Tradition? Why do baptism and communion not factor more prominently in Belcher’s analysis? Is this mainly a conversation among white, male evangelicals (an insight given by my colleague Lynn Gill)?
Elmore Leonard, Cuba Libre
I had never read any Elmore Leonard novels, but his new TV series â€“ set in Harlan, KY â€“ sparked my interest.Â Leonard is known for his urban crime thrillers, but this novel is a period piece set amidst the Spanish-American War: the sinking of the Maine happens in the first pages, and the war ends just as the novel is wrapping up, but the novel is still basically a crime thriller, focusing on a faked kidnapping and ransom.Â One of my biggest pet peeves about popular fiction is the low quality of writing. Leonard, however, passed my tests, and I’ll probably add him to the contemporary fiction writers that I pick up for quick pleasure reads.
N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision
I read this for my Florence Theology Book Club, as a follow-up to Piper’s book on justification. We’re still discussing it, but our consensus so far is that Wright has many excellent points (as with Piper’s book, I especially like when he gets out of the Romans/Galatians rabbit hole), but that he relies too much on the law court analogy for his explication.
Mizuko Ito, et al., Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings of the Digital Youth Project
John Palfrey and Urs Glasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
I read both of these for a research project on the next generation of college students. Living and Learning was the better, more helpful of the two, especially in its discussion of how youth and adults can learn together in a “pedagogy of collegiality,” in which adults serve more as mentors on a common journey than as authorities with all of the information on a subject. Much of the research can be downloaded from the project website.
Matthew B. Crawford, Shopclass as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (audio book)
I listened to most of this audiobook on my way down to the Southeast InterVarsity Chapter Camp, as I was also thinking over my role with InterVarsity and my understanding of my vocation. Crawford had me 100% until he started writing about work within corporations and in “high tech” fields – it’s not that I think he was necessarily wrong, but I found that he just didn’t know much about the real world of corporate work and took his own (pointless) cubicle work as normative.
Sir Norman Anderson, Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism
One of the true classics on world religions. Other books (like Neighboring Faiths) are probably better sources on the details of other religions, but Anderson helpfully examines core aspects of the Gospel in comparison with other religions. Unlike many other Christian writers who have undertaken similar projects, Anderson respects other religions and treats them fairly, while still recognizing the fundamental differences between Christianity and other religions. Anderson also holds out hope for salvation for non-Christians, observing that it is Jesus who saves, and not one’s personal understanding of the Gospel or specific doctrines. At the same time, Anderson doesn’t collapse into universalism, taking seriously Jesus’ words about judgment and hell.
David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery
A good follow-up to Haase’s book (above). Benner stresses that you can find your true self only by finding yourself in God. This thin volume (110 pp.) has much wisdom, as well as exercises at the end of each chapter based on the examen.
Stephen Carter, Palace Council
Oh, Stephen Carter, why did I wait so long to read your next book? And why couldn’t I have read a paperback version of it while relaxing on a Caribbean beach? Carter continues his theme of multigenerational political conspiracies among upper-class African Americans in Washington, New York, and Boston. H alternately makes me want to summer on Martha’s Vineyard and fear that I would end up killed in an “accident” arranged by Yale-educated CIA agents.
Robert A. Fryling, The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead By Who We Are
Bob Fryling is probably best known as the publisher ofÂ InterVarsity Press, but he has been a leader inÂ InterVarsity’s campus ministry in one role or another for most of his life. This book attempts to bring together two genres that don’t often mingle: outwardly-focused books on leadership, and inwardly-focused books on knowing yourself. Bob shares personal stories, wisdom gained from experience, and spiritual/psychological/sociological concepts to, well, shape how you lead by who you are. I found it very helpful, though it left me with many more questions (about myself) than before I read it.
Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Every few months, I enjoy picking up a nonfiction book on something that I know little about and learning a lot more. Wald’s thesis is fairly simple â€” basically, he tries to show that (commonly reviled) white jazz musicians of the 1930’s & 40’s were no different than the (commonly celebrated) white rock musicians of the 1950’s & 60’s, in that both made use of black music to become rich; and that the (commonly reviled) white jazz musicians had more artistic integrity than they are usually given credit for. Along the way, he shows how changes in musical technology (wax cylinders to 78s to 45s to LPs), customs for listening to music (dance halls to live radio to DJs to living room record players), and the business of music (e.g. the best musicians of the 1890s ignored recording because they could make much more money by playing live) all affected the popularity and perception of musical styles and specific musicians. I enjoyed this book a lot, but probably drove my wife crazy with all the trivia I shared.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day
This has been part of my book collection forever â€“ I can’t even remember when I got it â€“ but I have never read it. It was probably the cover: Â Anthony Hopkins (from the movie) in a posed shot with Emma Thompson. It looked like one of those movies I wouldn’t like, so I figured it was a book I wouldn’t like. Let’s just say that I was very, very wrong.
Gene Wolfe, The Sorcerer’s House
My first foray into non-Conciliator-related fiction by Gene Wolfe. A good read about a man who buys a house and enters (literally) a new world, but I didn’t like it as much as his earlier books.
Paul Gray and David Drew, What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School
A short (145 pp.) and pithy “rule book” for aspiring faculty members. Gray and Drew, both professors at Claremont Graduate University, cover almost every conceivable subject – the job hunt, research, teaching, academic life, personal life, etc. This probably shouldn’t be the only book you read about becoming a faculty member, but its humor and “straight talk” approach make it a “must read.”
Stephanie Meyer, The Host
Sigh…I hate to admit it, but I have now read a Stephanie Meyer novel. And I liked it. But hey, this is one is science fiction, with aliens and stuff…and a romantic love triangle between a young woman, the man she loves, and the man who loves the alien in her brain. Hmph.
Doris Lessing, Mara and Dann
Ever since Lessing won the Nobel Prize, I’ve been very interested in reading some of her science fiction. Her regular fiction sounded pretty boring to me, but Nobel-winning sci fi? Sign me up. This novel is set in some vague future, thousands of years from now, when a new ice age has buried Europe under glaciers and caused society to return to a more-or-less medieval level of technology, with remnants of the past all around â€“ decaying airplanes and skyscrapers, for example. Very well written, excellent conception of an Africa as the ark of humanity, very vivid characters and settings, though I can’t say that this novel, by itself, was significantly better than other great sci fi that I’ve read. Unlike in the sciences, the Nobel in literature is given for a lifetime of work, not a single accomplishment.
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity
A great introduction to the “new Christianity” (which is actually quite old Christianity) of Asia, Africa, and South America. If current growth and religious trends continue, by the year 2050, the 7 largest Christian-dominated countries in the world will be the US, Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. Christianity is not – and has not been for a long time – a “white man’s religion.”
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
Read for ourÂ Faculty Ministry Leadership Team meetings. Read my short review at theÂ Emerging Scholars Blog.
Rudy Rucker, First 2.5 books of The Ware Tetrology
Read in iBooks – my first adventure with Steve’s new baby. Technology was a good experience. Wish I could say the same about Rucker’s series. After a stimulating intro and a so-so second volume, the third book quickly became obsessed with kinky robot sex. Meh.
Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome
Fascinating look at the slow-but-steady growth of Christianity in its first 300 years. During that time, the church grew at only about 3% per year, following existing urban networks among Jews and Gentiles. That “slow” growth continued for centuries, however, until Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Louis Sachar, Small Steps
The sequel to Sachar’s classic children’s book Holes, Small Steps follows the post-Camp Green Lake stories of Armpit and X-Ray. Set a few years later, Armpit serves as the main protagonist, working hard (and mostly succeeding) to set his life straight, while X-Ray tries to exploit Armpit’s naivity in a get-rich-quick scheme. The book introduces two new characters: a young white girl with cerebral palsy who is Armpit’s best friend and a 17-year-old Beyonce-like singer whose celebrity intersects with Armpit’s ordinary life. Note: This book features several graphic scenes and is intended for an older youth audience than Holes.
Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
Be careful if you’re reading this in public. Stark puts the Crusades in context as a series of wars that were neither unprovoked nor more vicious than other conflicts of the Middle Ages. For example, when the Christian Crusaders reached Antioch, they were greeted as liberators by the city’s Christian majority. Stark also examines the key differences between the various Crusades to analyze why some were so much more brutal than others.
Stephen R. Donaldson, The Runes of Earth
The first novel of Donaldson’s new series, The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I trudged through this and the first half of the second book, Fatal Revenant, but ultimately just couldn’t find the energy or charity to finish them.
Robert V. S. Redick
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
The Ruling Sea (in September)
I had to wash out the taste of two massive fantasy novels with two more massive fantasy novels. Read my review to see why Redick’s is now my favorite current fantasy series. Now I’m cursed to wait until 2011 for the third book!
The Hunger Games
The nice thing about reading a series that already completed: all of the books are available. The bad thing about reading a really popular series that was just completed: the library has no copies available, the waiting list is months long, and you have to actually buy them. (To my author friends – sorry, but I’m cheap.) Elizabeth heard good things about these books and got me hooked, too. I’m glad I jumped on the bandwagon right after it finished.
Lloyd Alexander, The Chronicles of Prydain:
The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
The High King
I didn’t have the usual reading habits for a young boy, so I somehow missed Lloyd Alexander’s Newberry-winning fantasy series. Based on the mythology of Wales, with a number of superficial similarities to The Lord of the Rings (an unlikely hero from the boonies, a noble future king who looks like a humble woodsman, a loyal party of adventurers from different races), Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain has pleasures all of its own. In some ways, I liked the ending better than LOTR’s. I’ve already added this to the books I’ll read to Milo when he’s older.
Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church
Introverts make up half the population, but only 25% of evangelical ministers. McHugh, a Presbyterian pastor and former InterVarsity campus minister, explains why evangelical churches place such a high value on introverts, how introverts can flourish in the church and ministry, and what extroverts can do to make room for the whole people of God. I’m not really an introvert (more of a bashful extrovert), but Elizabeth is, and this book is helping me understand my wife much better.
Mark Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith
If you look above, you’ll see that I’ve read a number of books this year about global Christianity and world religions. Mark Noll takes a slightly different approach by examining connections between American Christianity — especially its evangelical and Pentecostal varieties — and Christianity around the world. Noll covers a lot of ground: America’s role in sending (and receiving) missionaries, the influence of American forms of religion on churches worldwide, American perceptions of global Christianity via magazines throughout the 20th century, parallels between the church in the United State and South Korea, and more.