Sunday, December 02, 2012
"We read to know we are not alone" - C. S. Lewis
"Books are to be called for and supplied on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep; but in the highest sense an exercise, a gymnastic struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself." - Walt Whitman
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." - Frederick Douglass
I am frequently asked about books and reading material. This year's Christmas list of the top ten books to get and read consists of works I have read this past year and have recommended to various people. My list will be eclectic this year with a few old numbers and current hits. Each, and all, of these books are worthy of your attention and will bless your walk with the Lord as we seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
The book Christmas tree is in my office. It includes Homer, Taylor Branch, Martin Heidegger, Robert Burnham, Ernst Troeltsch,Walter Brueggemann, Dava Sobel, A. A. Milne, Alexander Campbell, Peter Gay, Gregory of Nyssa, W. F. Albright and a few others who would never be associated except in my book tree. :-)
1) Randolph Richards & Brandon O'Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. This is probably the best work on biblical interpretation on a popular level of the year. Not just another book on theoretical foundations or why parables are not epistles. This work introduces non-scholars to the "hidden" cultural assumptions in Scripture that shape its meaning is profound ways. The chapter on collectivism (communalism) vs "individualism" alone is worth the price of the book. This emphasis in Scripture is completely missed by most American Evangelicals and radically distorts our vision the Christian faith. While not a flawless work the authors have done a marvelous job of bringing Western, modern, post-Enlightenment believers to breath the air of the Eastern, ancient, pre-Scientific of the Bible. This work opens our eyes as Westerners to the world of biblical people and shows us how to "enter in." The prose are lively and the illustrations are clear and contemporary and make for a great read. Bible reading is at its most fundamental level a profoundly cross-cultural experience. We cannot but be more informed Bible readers by digesting this book.
2) Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin ed & annotated by Henry Louis Gates & Hollis Robbins. I first read Stowe in the late 1990s, revisited a couple years ago and have just finished it again as part of a larger project. In the last few years there has been some discussion whether it should be the quintessential American novel. If you have never actually read this classic (classics are "classic" but often not read) perhaps you should find out the reason why it was in fact the best selling book of the 19th century after the Bible and why - unlike the Da Vinci Code - it actually changed the world.You may be amazed that old Uncle Tom is nothing like the stereotyped "Uncle Tom" you have heard ... I will be posting a blog on Uncle Tom's Cabin and its use of Scripture in the next day or two.
3) Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God Truly one of the great little books in the world. Small in size but St. Bernard is a feast for the mind and the heart. Each page, even paragraphs, have the potential of leading to hours of reflection. This is a book that must be eaten.
4) Mirsolav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response . Volf is one of the premier theological thinkers of the present age. He is Conservative and Evangelical and interested in taking the Christian faith into the public square. This is an incredibly important book which is surprisingly easy to read. Volf seeks a position that can foster the common good of peace in the world and yet honor the true differences between Islam and Christianity. He does argue, and I believe convincingly, that Christians and Muslims do in fact worship the same God - that is if monotheism is true. This does not erase serious differences between the two in fact Volf does not mash us all together in one big happy family. However we can live peacefully ... from a Christian point of view ... in a pluralistic world. You will be challenged, you will think deeply, you will argue with Volf I promise you, but if you listen I believe you will be enriched and blessed for having read this stimulating book.
5) Sara Gaston Barton, A Woman Called: Piecing together the Ministry Puzzle Where do you come down on women preaching? It really does not matter to be blessed by this work. Anyone who has, in their soul, felt that God has led them to a vocation in life will be enriched. Barton takes us on a wonderful journey, though uniquely her own it is also one that I have shared as a minister of the word. This is one of the most recent books I've read and I confess I could not put it down. I had the whole book read in a single night. I, of course, made annotations to affirm my "amens," occasional "hmmmmmm" and even one or two "I'm not so sure." The book sort of lures you into the narrative and takes the rarefied air of exegesis and theology and places it within the incarnation of a single woman wanting to serve God with all her heart ... and mind. Suddenly we see that exegesis and theology actually have real life implications. It is a wonderful and even loving book. This is a book you should read though.
6) Edward J. Robinson, I Was Under a Heavy Burden: The Life of Annie C. Tuggle. My friend Edward Robinson continues to do a yeoman's task of resurrecting the history of African-American Churches of Christ. This small biography, however, combines excavation in black history and women disciples of Christ. Here is the story of tragedy and triumph, of struggle against racism and sexism, of finding security in the Lord in the face of abusive marriage and divorce. While engaged in the struggle in her own life Tuggle sought to be a blessing to all around her. She is one of the unsung heroes of the Churches of Christ. If you want to be motivated by a cross-bearer then this is a book you should read.
7) Thomas Chatterton Williams, Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture Williams is a "young" secular writer engaging in a work of "cultural criticism" while at the same time bearing witness to the power of the influence of a father in the lives of sons or daughters. I have personally given out eight copies of this book to different people. If only we could learn to engage in the kind of reflection Williams has done with the additional lens of the kingdom of God. This is a wonderful book and I pray it bears much fruit.
8) N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God Wright needs no introduction to most of the readers of this blog, he is (IMHO) simply the foremost NT theologian of the present era. But Wright has never been content to remain within the ivory towers of academia rather he believes scholarship must serve faith. And we find that in this book. A revision of his earlier work The Last Word this title includes two new chapters and applications. Outstanding work that holds much promise for our use of the Bible in our fellowship.
9) Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer that Changed My Life and Just Might Change the World. Richard Stearns is one of my heroes. He was successful by worldly standards (i.e. wealthy). Yet he found himself struggling with how his faith actually made any difference in the real world ... honestly it does not make any real world difference for some believers. Now the president of World Vision he challenges us to see the real "hole" in our gospel of comfort, gospel of success, gospel of "me," and embrace the massive amount of biblical teaching on changing the world and addressing poverty. Easy to read but one of those books that will demand a response as you engage it.
10) Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. McGrath has been, over the last 10-15 years, one of my favorite authors. He is a man with not one but two PhDs. One is in microbiology and the other in theology. I had been reading McGrath for years and profiting from his historical and theological studies before I knew that he was actually a former atheist. This work is now one of a number McGrath has authored on the subject of apologetics. In this one he looks at our cultural situation and helps understand that apologetics and evangelism are not necessarily the same thing. One valuable aspect of Mere Apologetics is the recognition we live in a postmodern world. This work sees itself in line with C. S. Lewis' classic Mere Christianity and it is evident that McGrath has absorbed much of Lewis's legacy. This is a good book and I believe you will be blessed through wrestling with it.
Bonus Books. For me, one of the most fascinating books I read this year likely will never become a best seller. That book is Larry Hurtado's The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. This book is not simply about textual criticism though it clearly has relevance for that. Rather Hurtado suggests that early Christian mss are witnesses to a Christian culture and that culture sheds light on the nature and history of early Christianity that is overlooked and even outright neglected by both NT scholars and church historians. What do the texts themselves tell us about the people who made them and read them? Why did Christians adopt the codex so early and so universally? Do the texts testify that early Christianity was an integrated community ... that is one that was in contact with itself in various parts of the world. The surprising answer to that is yes! A wonderful chapter is on the phenomena of the nomina sacra in early Christian texts. This book is a unique window into the world of Christianity in the second and third centuries and probably even the first. I loved it.
Don't forget my own books if you are looking for a stocking stuffer :-). Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding and also A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Sacred Encounter.