Over the Christmas break, I wrote down a few goals and plans for 2013. One of these goals was to read 13 books in 2013. This will be the first calendar year (that I have the capacity to remember) in which I will not be enrolled in an institution of higher learning. However, the insatiable desire to know, instilled in me by my education, has motivated me to fight the temptation of growing lax in my reading habits. As a current minister and former student of the liberal arts, I wanted to put together a diverse list that would stretch me spiritually, intellectually, and professionally. In an attempt to organize this list, I have gathered them into three categories.
1. PERSONAL INTRIGUE:
This is a miscellaneous collection ranging from non-fiction classics I’ve wanted to read for a while to more recent sci-fi novels recommended to me by friends.
2. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:
I put this collection together in hopes of deepening my understand of myself, the Gospel, and the world around me.
3. ACADEMIC INTERESTS:
I’ll confess that I may be the only person whose eyes gaze this blog that finds these books interesting. As a Religion major in college, I wrote an honors thesis (Can Public Ethics be Christian? An Examination of 21st Century Ecclesial/Political Discourse) on political theology. As I begin to pursue getting that work published, and hope to one day continue these studies in graduate school, these books serve the purpose of broadening my understanding of a field that is growing increasingly important in an increasingly pluralistic society.
Listed below are each of the books I plan to read and a short blurb about why I am excited to read each work.
1. PERSONAL INTRIGUE
Walden | Henry David Thoreau
Part personal declaration of independence, part social experiment, Walden details Thoreau’s experience over the course of two years spent in a cabin he built near Walden Pond. By immersing himself in nature, he hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Although Thoreau’s writing had little influence in his lifetime, his work went on to heavily shape major social reformers such as Gandhi, JFK, and MLK, Jr.
East of Eden | John Steinbeck
Often considered Steinbeck’s most ambitious novel, his magnum opus is a tale of good & evil set in the Salinas Valley of California at the turn of the 20th century. This book explores the themes of depravity, benevolence, the struggle for acceptance and the capacity for self-destruction. These themes are woven together with references to and and many parallels with the Book of Genesis, in particular Genesis Ch. 4.
The Road | Cormac McCarthy
In this 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, a boy and his father lurch across the desolate landscape of a post-apocalyptic world. With brutal imagery, even by McCarthy’s standards, The Road is said to be an unflinching meditation on the worst and best of which we are capable: ultimate destructiveness and personal tenderness. It’s an embrace of faith in the face of hopelessness.
Ender’s Game | Orson Scott Card
Had I come across this book in a bookstore, I would have probably left it alone. However, I would say that about almost any science-fiction novel. This is certainly breaking the mold for me. However, this 1985 sci-fi novel was both critically acclaimed (Nebula Award: best novel and Hugo award: best novel) and recommended to me by a friend. Ender’s Game is a tale of war as seen through the eyes of a child as Ender Wiggins is taken from his family and drafted into a government funded program in which children are trained and prepared for battle in hopes of saving earth from a threatening alien race.
2. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The King Jesus Gospel | Scot McKnight
McKnight seeks to challenge modern evangelicals to rethink the Gospel. Furthermore he suggests that those who think of the Gospel in terms of personal salvation are not evangelicals at all but soteriologists – salvationists. McKnight urges us to think of the Gospel on a much grander scale (in terms of the Kingdom). The Gospel isn’t about personal salvation but about cosmic redemption as Christ becomes King on earth as he is in heaven.
This We Believe | Will Willimon
The former Dean of Duke Chapel who just completed his term as a bishop of the UMC, Will Willimon is the most read author by mainline protestant pastors. A fellow alumnus of Wofford College, I have had the great privilege of sharing dinner with Dr. Willimon and find him to be wonderfully prophetic. Was that gushing enough? This book is a presentation of key Wesleyan biblical and theological affirmations.
The Cruelty of Heresy | C. FitzSimons Allison
Ancient heresies have modern expressions that influence our churches and culture, creating cruel dilemmas for today’s Christian in the form of error, sin, and various distortions on orthodox faith. In Cruelty of Heresy, Allison captures the drama and relevance of the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and shows how the remarkable achievements of these early struggles provide valuable guidelines for believers today.
Grace in Practice | Paul F.M. Zahl
We all struggle with grace. Here, Paul Zahl contends that no matter how much we talk about salvation by grace, in our can-do “I built that” society, we cling instead to a righteousness by works. Thus, Zahl seeks to illuminate a systematic and expansive view of grace for all areas of life.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking | Susan Cain
I am an INTJ which means, among other things, that I have the personality of Karl Marx and Bobby Fischer, but it also means that I am the subject of Susan Cain’s new book. As someone who enjoys solitary activity and quiet reflection in a culture that rewards the outgoing, I hope to be encouraged by Cain who calls for a greater balance in power between those who rush to speak and those who sit back and think.
Resident Aliens | Stanley Hauerwas & Will Willimon
While I have already expressed my affection for Will Willimon no one has had a greater influence on my intellectual life as a Christians than Stanley Hauerwas. Through college, the writings of Hauerwas helped me to see how peculiar and how important the church is in shaping identity. In a world of competing loyalties, Hauerwas and Willimon insist that the church as polis is inscribed with its own set of virtues and can only be learned as one begins to see themselves as church, instead of going “to church.” Making the gospel credible to the world presupposes that one’s worldview is shaped more by the crucifixion and resurrection than by the nation-state. And for the gospel to be understood, it must be found where it is proclaimed and embodied: the church.
3. ACADEMIC INTERESTS
Exclusion & Embrace | Miroslav Volf
Volf, a professor of theology at Yale University, is best read…slowly. Volf studied under the great German Theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, whose work I admire but I first fell in love with Volf through his other book, Allah: A Christian Response. In this work, however, Volf tackles the topic of violence that occurs along racial and ethnic lines and that is often legitimized through divine invocations. This is anything but theoretical for Volf whose native Croatia was coming out of a long ethnic conflict with Serbia as he wrote the book.
Migrations of the Holy | William Cavanaugh
Professor of Theology at Depaul University in Chicago, Cavanaugh did his doctoral work under the tutelage of guess who??? STANLEY HAUERWAS!!! In this book, he contests that, contrary to popular opinion, religious fervor is not disappearing in the West, rather it has merely migrated to a new object of worship. In Migrations of the Holy he examines the disconcerting modern transfer of sacred devotion from the church to the nation-state.
Hospitality as Holiness | Luke Bretherton
Luke Bretherton is the recently appointed professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity. His hire was intended to fill the void left by the retirement of…wait for it…STANLEY HAUERWAS. Hospitality as Holiness is undoubtedly a book for our times as it seeks to address the issue of relations between people of different religions (or no religion) in a world that is increasingly multi-cultural and riven with an incommensurable variety of ethics. How are we to come to an ethical agreement within a society that takes serious account of different traditions?